|Born||c. 460 BC|
Halimous, Athens (modern
|Died||c. 400 BC (aged approximately 72)|
He also has been called the father of the school of
In spite of his stature as a historian, modern historians know relatively little about Thucydides's life. The most reliable information comes from his own
Thucydides identifies himself as an
Because of his influence in the Thracian region, Thucydides wrote, he was sent as a
Amphipolis was of considerable strategic importance, and news of its fall caused great consternation in Athens. It was blamed on Thucydides, although he claimed that it was not his fault and that he had simply been unable to reach it in time. Because of his failure to save Amphipolis, he was
I lived through the whole of it, being of an age to comprehend events, and giving my attention to them in order to know the exact truth about them. It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at
Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly.
Using his status as an exile from Athens to travel freely among the Peloponnesian allies, he was able to view the war from the perspective of both sides. Thucydides claimed that he began writing his history as soon as the war broke out, because he thought it would be one of the greatest wars waged among the Greeks in terms of scale:
Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.
This is all that Thucydides wrote about his own life, but a few other facts are available from reliable contemporary sources.
Combining all the fragmentary evidence available, it seems that his family had owned a large estate in
The remaining evidence for Thucydides' life comes from later and rather less reliable ancient sources;
Thucydides' narrative breaks off in the middle of the year 411 BC, and this abrupt end has traditionally been explained as due to his death while writing the book, although other explanations have been put forward.
Inferences about Thucydides' character can only be drawn (with due caution) from his book. His sardonic sense of humor is evident throughout, as when, during his description of the
It has been argued that Thucydides was moved by the suffering inherent in war and concerned about the excesses to which human nature is prone in such circumstances, as in his analysis of the atrocities committed during the civil conflict on
Thucydides believed that the Peloponnesian War represented an event of unmatched importance. As such, he began to write the History at the onset of the war in 431. His intention was to write an account which would serve as "a possession for all time". The History breaks off near the end of the twenty-first year of the war and does not elaborate on the final conflicts of the war. This facet of the work suggests that Thucydides died whilst writing his history and more so, that his death was unexpected.
After his death, Thucydides's History was subdivided into eight books: its modern title is the
The History of the Peloponnesian War continued to be modified well beyond the end of the war in 404, as exemplified by a reference at Book I.1.13 to the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC), seven years after the last events in the main text of Thucydides' history.
Thucydides is generally regarded as one of the first true historians. Like his predecessor
Thucydides exerted wide historiographical influence on subsequent Hellenistic and Roman historians, although the exact description of his style in relation to many successive historians remains unclear. Readers in antiquity often placed the continuation of the stylistic legacy of the History in the writings of Thucydides' putative intellectual successor
A noteworthy difference between Thucydides's method of writing history and that of modern historians is Thucydides's inclusion of lengthy formal speeches that, as he states, were literary reconstructions rather than quotations of what was said—or, perhaps, what he believed ought to have been said. Arguably, had he not done this, the gist of what was said would not otherwise be known at all—whereas today there is a plethora of documentation—written records, archives, and recording technology for historians to consult. Therefore, Thucydides's method served to rescue his mostly oral sources from oblivion. We do not know how these historical figures spoke. Thucydides's recreation uses a heroic stylistic register. A celebrated example is
The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men; they are honoured not only by columns and inscriptions in their own land, but in foreign nations on memorials graven not on stone but in the hearts and minds of men. (2:43)
Stylistically, the placement of this passage also serves to heighten the contrast with the description of the plague in
Though many lay unburied, birds and beasts would not touch them, or died after tasting them [...]. The bodies of dying men lay one upon another, and half-dead creatures reeled about the streets and gathered round all the fountains in their longing for water. The sacred places also in which they had quartered themselves were full of corpses of persons who had died there, just as they were; for, as the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became equally contemptuous of the property of and the dues to the deities. All the burial rites before in use were entirely upset, and they buried the bodies as best they could. Many from want of the proper appliances, through so many of their friends having died already, had recourse to the most shameless sepultures: sometimes getting the start of those who had raised a pile, they threw their own dead body upon the stranger's pyre and ignited it; sometimes they tossed the corpse which they were carrying on the top of another that was burning, and so went off. (2:52)
Thucydides omits discussion of the arts, literature, or the social milieu in which the events in his book take place and in which he grew up. He saw himself as recording an event, not a period, and went to considerable lengths to exclude what he deemed frivolous or extraneous.