History after Thucydides

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History after Thucydides


The fourth century had many historians, but only a small portion of their output remains. The author with the best survival record is Xenophon, an Athenian of good family and a member of Socrates' circle. Against Socrates' advice he joined a corps of Greek mercenaries in the army which Cyrus, the younger brother of the Persian king, mustered in 401 b.c.e. to usurp the throne. The expedition was a disaster, but Xenophon led them safely out to the Black Sea coast, and from there they dispersed to seek other employers. Xenophon himself took service with the Spartans. Athens exiled him shortly after Socrates' death—he would return to Athens only in 365 b.c.e.—and he lived on a estate granted him by Sparta for much of his banishment until the upheavals after Sparta's defeat at Leuctra in 372 b.c.e. forced him to move. He wrote on subjects ranging from the Spartan constitution to training horses, but he is best known for his memoirs of Socrates (the Memorabilia); his Anabasis or "March Up Country," which tells the story of the failed attempt of prince Cyrus, younger brother of King Artaxerxes II of Persia, to seize the Persian throne; and his Hellenica, which continues Thucydides' history to the Battle of Mantineia in 362 b.c.e. Xenophon is an easy author to read, and among his other claims to fame is his introduction of a new literary genre: the historical novel. His "Education of Cyrus" (Cyropaedia) is a fictional account of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire. It is a bad novel, full of moralizing and not much read nowadays, but it is a groundbreaking venture into historical romance.

The Lost Historians.

Many historians were writing in the fourth century b.c.e. but their works have not survived. We know them because they were quoted by later writers, or were used by later writers as sources for their own histories—or in some cases, because papyrus fragments have turned up in the sands of Egypt that contain remnants of their works. One of the most prominent was Theopompus of Chios, who wrote an exceedingly long history on Alexander the Great's father, Philip II of Macedon. It was innovative in that it focused on only one personality, whom Theopompus represented as the greatest man that Europe had produced. Another historian of high reputation was Ephorus of Kyme who produced what became the standard history of Greece: a universal history of Greece from the Dorian invasion to his own day. Some of what he wrote has survived at second hand because his history was used as a source by another universal historian who wrote in the first century b.c.e., Diodorus the Sicilian, and we still have Diodorus' history. Diodorus based his history of the world on other authors as well as Ephorus, but Ephorus was a favorite source for him to copy. Alexander the Great's conquests produced a body of historical writings, but none of it survived except as sources for the work of other Greek and Roman historians such as Plutarch and Arrian, both of whom wrote in Greek, and Curtius Rufus in Latin—all of these date to the period of the Roman Empire. Greece in the fourth century b.c.e. also developed a taste for local chronicles; the chronicles of Athens were known as Atthides, or "Chronicles of Attica," and two of its notable authors were Androtion and Philochorus. There is also an historian of the second century b.c.e., Polybius of Megalopolis (208–126 b.c.e.), who was exiled from Greece to Rome, where he wrote a history of Rome in forty books beginning with the first war between Rome and Carthage (265–241 b.c.e.). About a third of it survives. He is a major source for information on Rome's war with Hannibal. A dry writer, he is nonetheless reliable, and he was a shrewd observer of the rising power of Rome.


John K. Anderson, Xenophon (New York: Scribner, 1974).

William E. Higgins, Xenophon the Athenian: The Problem of the Individual and the Society of the Polis (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1977).

Gordon S. Shrimpton, Theopompus the Historian, (Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press, 1977).

Frank W. Walbank, Polybius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972).

—, Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World: Essays and Reflections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

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History after Thucydides

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History after Thucydides