Herodotus ( ; grc, , }; BC) was an
ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Dark Ages (), the Archaic ...
historian and
geographer A geographer is a physical scientist, social scientist or humanist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural environment and human society, including how society and nature interacts. The Greek prefix "geo" means "earth" a ...
from the Greek city of
Halicarnassus Halicarnassus (; grc, Ἁλικαρνᾱσσός ''Halikarnāssós'' or ''Alikarnāssós''; tr, Halikarnas; Carian: 𐊠𐊣𐊫𐊰 𐊴𐊠𐊥𐊵𐊫𐊰 ''alos k̂arnos'') was an ancient Greek city in Caria, in Anatolia. It was located i ...
, part of the Persian Empire (now
Bodrum Bodrum () is a port city in Muğla Province, southwestern Turkey, at the entrance to the Gulf of Gökova. Its population was 35,795 at the 2012 census, with a total of 136,317 inhabitants residing within the district's borders. Known in ancient t ...
Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a small portion on the Balkan Peninsula i ...
) and a later citizen of Thurii in modern Calabria ( Italy). He is known for having written the '' Histories'' – a detailed account of the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus was the first writer to perform systematic investigation of historical events. He is referred to as " The Father of History", a title conferred on him by the
ancient Roman In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It encompasses the Roman Kingdom (753–509 B ...
orator Cicero. The ''Histories'' primarily cover the lives of prominent kings and famous battles such as
Marathon The marathon is a long-distance foot race with a distance of , usually run as a road race, but the distance can be covered on trail routes. The marathon can be completed by running or with a run/walk strategy. There are also wheelchair div ...
Thermopylae Thermopylae (; Ancient Greek and Katharevousa: (''Thermopylai'') , Demotic Greek (Greek): , (''Thermopyles'') ; "hot gates") is a place in Greece where a narrow coastal passage existed in antiquity. It derives its name from its hot sulphur ...
, Artemisium, Salamis,
Plataea Plataea or Plataia (; grc, Πλάταια), also Plataeae or Plataiai (; grc, Πλαταιαί), was an ancient city, located in Greece in southeastern Boeotia, south of Thebes.Mish, Frederick C., Editor in Chief. “Plataea.” '' Webst ...
, and Mycale. His work deviates from the main topics to provide a cultural,
ethnographical Ethnography (from Greek ''ethnos'' "folk, people, nation" and ''grapho'' "I write") is a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures. Ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subject o ...
geographical Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia''. Combination of Greek words ‘Geo’ (The Earth) and ‘Graphien’ (to describe), literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and ...
, and historiographical background that forms an essential part of the narrative and provides readers with a wellspring of additional information. Herodotus has been criticized for his inclusion of "legends and fanciful accounts" in his work. The contemporaneous historian Thucydides accused him of making up stories for entertainment. However, Herodotus explained that he reported what he "saw and hat wastold to him". A sizable portion of the ''Histories'' has since been confirmed by modern historians and
archaeologists Archaeology or archeology is the scientific study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts, sites, and cultural landscap ...


Modern scholars generally turn to Herodotus' own writing for reliable information about his life, supplemented with ancient yet much later sources, such as the Byzantine '' Suda'', an 11th-century encyclopedia which possibly took its information from traditional accounts. Still, the challenge is great:


It is generally accepted that Herodotus was born at
Halicarnassus Halicarnassus (; grc, Ἁλικαρνᾱσσός ''Halikarnāssós'' or ''Alikarnāssós''; tr, Halikarnas; Carian: 𐊠𐊣𐊫𐊰 𐊴𐊠𐊥𐊵𐊫𐊰 ''alos k̂arnos'') was an ancient Greek city in Caria, in Anatolia. It was located i ...
in Anatolia around 485 BC. The ''Suda'' describes his family as influential, and that he was the son of Lyxes and Dryo, and the brother of Theodorus, and that he was also related to Panyassis – an epic poet of the time. Halicarnassus was within the Persian Empire at that time, making Herodotus a Persian subject, and it may be that the young Herodotus heard local eyewitness accounts of events within the empire and of Persian preparations for the invasion of Greece, including the movements of the local fleet under the command of Artemisia I of Caria. Inscriptions recently discovered at Halicarnassus indicate that Artemesia's grandson Lygdamis negotiated with a local assembly to settle disputes over seized property, which is consistent with a tyrant under pressure. His name is not mentioned later in the tribute list of the Athenian Delian League, indicating that there might well have been a successful uprising against him sometime before 454 BC. Herodotus wrote his ''Histories'' in the Ionian dialect, in spite of being born in a
Dorian Dorian may refer to: Ancient Greece * Dorians, one of the main ethnic divisions of ancient Greeks * Doric Greek Doric or Dorian ( grc, Δωρισμός, Dōrismós), also known as West Greek, was a group of Ancient Greek dialects; its vari ...
settlement. According to the '' Suda'', Herodotus learned the Ionian dialect as a boy living on the island of Samos, to which he had fled with his family from the oppressions of Lygdamis, tyrant of Halicarnassus and grandson of Artemisia. Panyassis, the epic poet related to Herodotus, is reported to have taken part in a failed uprising. The ''Suda'' also informs us that Herodotus later returned home to lead the revolt that eventually overthrew the tyrant. Due to recent discoveries of inscriptions at Halicarnassus dated to about Herodotus' time, we now know that the Ionic dialect was used in Halicarnassus in some official documents, so there is no need to assume (like the ''Suda'') that he must have learned the dialect elsewhere. The ''Suda'' is the only source placing Herodotus as the heroic liberator of his birthplace, casting doubt upon the veracity of that romantic account.

Early travels

As Herodotus himself reveals, Halicarnassus, though a Dorian city, had ended its close relations with its Dorian neighbours after an unseemly quarrel (I, 144), and it had helped pioneer Greek trade with Egypt (II, 178). It was, therefore, an outward-looking, international-minded port within the Persian Empire, and the historian's family could well have had contacts in other countries under Persian rule, facilitating his travels and his researches. Herodotus' eyewitness accounts indicate that he traveled in Egypt in association with Athenians, probably sometime after 454 BC or possibly earlier, after an Athenian fleet had assisted the uprising against Persian rule in 460–454 BC. He probably traveled to Tyre next and then down the Euphrates to Babylon. For some reason, possibly associated with local politics, he subsequently found himself unpopular in Halicarnassus, and sometime around 447 BC, migrated to Periclean Athens – a city whose people and democratic institutions he openly admired (V, 78). Athens was also the place where he came to know the local topography (VI, 137; VIII, 52–55), as well as leading citizens such as the
Alcmaeonids The Alcmaeonidae or Alcmaeonids ( grc-gre, Ἀλκμαιωνίδαι ; Attic: ) were a wealthy and powerful noble family of ancient Athens, a branch of the Neleides who claimed descent from the mythological Alcmaeon, the great-grandson of Nes ...
, a clan whose history is featured frequently in his writing. According to Eusebius and Plutarch, Herodotus was granted a financial reward by the Athenian assembly in recognition of his work. Plutarch, using
Diyllus Diyllus ( grc-gre, Δίυλλος), probably the son of Phanodemus the Atthidographer (a chronicler of the local history of Athens and Attica), wrote a universal history of the years 357–296 BC. His work seems to have been a continuation of ...
as a source, says this was 10 talents.

Later life

In 443 BC or shortly afterwards, he migrated to Thurii, in modern Calabria, as part of an Athenian-sponsored colony. Aristotle refers to a version of the ''Histories'' written by "Herodotus of Thurium", and some passages in the ''Histories'' have been interpreted as proof that he wrote about
southern Italy Southern Italy ( it, Sud Italia or ) also known as ''Meridione'' or ''Mezzogiorno'' (), is a macroregion of the Italian Republic consisting of its southern half. The term ''Mezzogiorno'' today refers to regions that are associated with the peop ...
from personal experience there (IV, 15,99; VI, 127). Intimate knowledge of some events in the first years of the Peloponnesian War (VI, 91; VII, 133, 233; IX, 73) indicate that he might have returned to Athens, in which case it is possible that he died there during an outbreak of the plague. Possibly he died in Macedonia instead, after obtaining the patronage of the court there; or else he died back in Thurii. There is nothing in the ''Histories'' that can be dated to later than 430 BC with any certainty, and it is generally assumed that he died not long afterwards, possibly before his sixtieth year.

Author and orator

Herodotus would have made his researches known to the larger world through oral recitations to a public crowd. John Marincola writes in his introduction to the Penguin edition of the ''Histories'' that there are certain identifiable pieces in the early books of Herodotus' work which could be labeled as "performance pieces". These portions of the research seem independent and "almost detachable", so that they might have been set aside by the author for the purposes of an oral performance. The intellectual matrix of the 5th century, Marincola suggests, comprised many oral performances in which philosophers would dramatically recite such detachable pieces of their work. The idea was to criticize previous arguments on a topic and emphatically and enthusiastically insert their own in order to win over the audience. It was conventional in Herodotus' day for authors to "publish" their works by reciting them at popular festivals. According to
Lucian Lucian of Samosata, '; la, Lucianus Samosatensis ( 125 – after 180) was a Hellenized Syrian satirist, rhetorician and pamphleteer who is best known for his characteristic tongue-in-cheek style, with which he frequently ridiculed superstit ...
, Herodotus took his finished work straight from Anatolia to the Olympic Games and read the entire ''Histories'' to the assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause at the end of it. According to a very different account by an ancient grammarian, Herodotus refused to begin reading his work at the festival of Olympia until some clouds offered him a bit of shade – by which time the assembly had dispersed. (Hence the proverbial expression "Herodotus and his shade" to describe someone who misses an opportunity through delay.) Herodotus' recitation at Olympia was a favourite theme among ancient writers, and there is another interesting variation on the story to be found in the ''Suda'': that of Photius and
Tzetzes John Tzetzes ( grc-gre, Ἰωάννης Τζέτζης, Iōánnēs Tzétzēs; c. 1110, Constantinople – 1180, Constantinople) was a Byzantine poet and grammarian who is known to have lived at Constantinople in the 12th century. He was able to p ...
, in which a young Thucydides happened to be in the assembly with his father, and burst into tears during the recital. Herodotus observed prophetically to the boy's father, "Your son's soul yearns for knowledge." Eventually, Thucydides and Herodotus became close enough for both to be interred in Thucydides' tomb in Athens. Such at least was the opinion of Marcellinus in his ''Life of Thucydides''. According to the ''Suda'', he was buried in Macedonian Pella and in the agora in Thurium.

Place in history

Herodotus announced the purpose and scope of his work at the beginning of his ''Histories:''


His record of the achievements of others was an achievement in itself, though the extent of it has been debated. Herodotus' place in history and his significance may be understood according to the traditions within which he worked. His work is the earliest Greek prose to have survived intact. However, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a literary critic of Augustan Rome, listed seven predecessors of Herodotus, describing their works as simple, unadorned accounts of their own and other cities and people, Greek or foreign, including popular legends, sometimes melodramatic and naïve, often charming – all traits that can be found in the work of Herodotus himself. Modern historians regard the chronology as uncertain, but according to the ancient account, these predecessors included Dionysius of Miletus, Charon of Lampsacus,
Hellanicus of Lesbos Hellanicus (or Hellanikos) of Lesbos ( Greek: , ''Ἑllánikos ὁ Lésvios''), also called Hellanicus of Mytilene ( Greek: , ''Ἑllánikos ὁ Mutilēnaῖos'') was an ancient Greek logographer who flourished during the latter half of the 5th ...
, Xanthus of Lydia and, the best attested of them all, Hecataeus of Miletus. Of these, only fragments of Hecataeus' works survived, and the authenticity of these is debatable, but they provide a glimpse into the kind of tradition within which Herodotus wrote his own ''Histories''.

Contemporary and modern critics

It is on account of the many strange stories and the folk-tales he reported that his critics have branded him "The Father of Lies". Even his own contemporaries found reason to scoff at his achievement. In fact, one modern scholar has wondered if Herodotus left his home in Greek Anatolia, migrating westwards to Athens and beyond, because his own countrymen had ridiculed his work, a circumstance possibly hinted at in an epitaph said to have been dedicated to Herodotus at one of his three supposed resting places, Thuria: Yet it was in Athens where his most formidable contemporary critics could be found. In 425 BC, which is about the time that Herodotus is thought by many scholars to have died, the Athenian comic dramatist Aristophanes created ''
The Acharnians ''The Acharnians'' or ''Acharnians'' (Ancient Greek: ''Akharneîs''; Attic: ) is the third play — and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays — by the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BC on behalf of the young drama ...
'', in which he blames the Peloponnesian War on the abduction of some prostitutes – a mocking reference to Herodotus, who reported the Persians' account of their wars with Greece, beginning with the rapes of the mythical heroines Io,
Europa Europa may refer to: Places * Europe * Europa (Roman province), a province within the Diocese of Thrace * Europa (Seville Metro), Seville, Spain; a station on the Seville Metro * Europa City, Paris, France; a planned development * Europa Cli ...
Medea In Greek mythology, Medea (; grc, Μήδεια, ''Mēdeia'', perhaps implying "planner / schemer") is the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, a niece of Circe and the granddaughter of the sun god Helios. Medea figures in the myth of Jason and ...
, and Helen. Similarly, the Athenian historian Thucydides dismissed Herodotus as a "''
logos ''Logos'' (, ; grc, λόγος, lógos, lit=word, discourse, or reason) is a term used in Western philosophy, psychology and rhetoric and refers to the appeal to reason that relies on logic or reason, inductive and deductive reasoning. Arist ...
''-writer" (story-teller). Thucydides, who had been trained in rhetoric, became the model for subsequent prose-writers as an author who seeks to appear firmly in control of his material, whereas with his frequent digressions Herodotus appeared to minimize (or possibly disguise) his authorial control. Moreover, Thucydides developed a historical topic more in keeping with the Greek world-view: focused on the context of the ''
polis ''Polis'' (, ; grc-gre, πόλις, ), plural ''poleis'' (, , ), literally means "city" in Greek. In Ancient Greece, it originally referred to an administrative and religious city center, as distinct from the rest of the city. Later, it also ...
'' or city-state. The interplay of civilizations was more relevant to Greeks living in Anatolia, such as Herodotus himself, for whom life within a foreign civilization was a recent memory.

See also

Critical editions

* C. Hude (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Tomvs prior: Libros I–IV continens.'' (Oxford 1908) * C. Hude (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Tomvs alter: Libri V–IX continens.'' (Oxford 1908) * H. B. Rosén (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Vol. I: Libros I–IV continens.'' (Leipzig 1987) * H. B. Rosén (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Vol. II: Libros V–IX continens indicibus criticis adiectis'' (Stuttgart 1997) * N. G. Wilson (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Tomvs prior: Libros I–IV continens.'' (Oxford 2015) * N. G. Wilson (ed.) ''Herodoti Historiae. Tomvs alter: Libri V–IX continens.'' (Oxford 2015)


Several English translations of Herodotus' ''Histories'' are readily available in multiple editions. The most readily available are those translated by: * Henry Cary (judge), translation 1849
Internet Archive The Internet Archive is an American digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, ...
* George Rawlinson, translation 1858–1860. Public domain; many editions available, although Everyman Library and Wordsworth Classics editions are the most common ones still in print. * George Campbell Macaulay, translation 1890, published in two volumes. London: Macmillan and Co. * A. D. Godley 1920; revised 1926. Reprinted 1931, 1946, 1960, 1966, 1975, 1981, 1990, 1996, 1999, 2004. Available in four volumes from
Loeb Classical Library The Loeb Classical Library (LCL; named after James Loeb; , ) is a series of books originally published by Heinemann in London, but is currently published by Harvard University Press. The library contains important works of ancient Greek and ...
Harvard University Press Harvard University Press (HUP) is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. After the retir ...
. Printed with Greek on the left and English on the right: ** A. D. Godley ''Herodotus : The Persian Wars : Volume I : Books 1–2'' (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1920) ** A. D. Godley ''Herodotus : The Persian Wars : Volume II : Books 3–4'' (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1921) ** A. D. Godley ''Herodotus : The Persian Wars : Volume III : Books 5–7'' (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1922) ** A. D. Godley ''Herodotus : The Persian Wars : Volume IV : Books 8–9'' (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1925) * Aubrey de Sélincourt, originally 1954; revised by John Marincola in 1996. Several editions from Penguin Books available. * David Grene, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. * Robin Waterfield, with an Introduction and Notes by Carolyn Dewald, Oxford World Classics, 1997. * Andrea L. Purvis, ''The Landmark Herodotus'', edited by Robert B. Strassler. Pantheon, 2007. with adequate ancillary information. * Walter Blanco, ''Herodotus: The Histories: The Complete Translation, Backgrounds, Commentaries''. Edited by Jennifer Tolbert Roberts. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013. * Tom Holland, ''The Histories, Herodotus''. Introduction and notes by Paul Cartledge. New York, Penguin, 2013.




* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Pitcher, Luke (2009). ''Writing Ancient History: An Introduction to Classical Historiography''. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. * * * * * * * Waters, K.H. (1985). ''Herodotus the Historian: His Problems, Methods and Originality''. Beckenham: Croom Helm Ltd.

External links

Herodotus on the Web

at Livius.org * * * ** (translation by George Campbell Macaulay, 1852–1915) ** * *
The History of Herodotus
at The Internet Classics Archive (translation by George Rawlinson).

at the Internet Sacred Text Archive

Herodotus ''Histories''
on the
Perseus Project The Perseus Project is a digital library project of Tufts University, which assembles digital collections of humanities resources. Version 4.0 is also known as the "Perseus Hopper", and it is hosted by the Department of Classical Studies. The pr ...