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Thucydides


Thucydides is considered the greatest ancient Greek historian and is the author of History of the Peloponnesian War, which details the 5th-century conflict between Athens and Sparta. His work was the first to record a history using "modern" methods and the first moral and political analysis of a country's war policies.

Thucydides
Thucydides

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Thucydides

Thucydides was born in Alimos between 460 and 455 BCE. He was a Greek historian who wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, which is about the conflict between Athens and Sparta. Little is known about Thucydides, and what we do know of him comes from his only work - his history book. He was an Athenian aristocrat who, it is thought, was in his twenties or thirties when war broke out in 431 BCE. Many consider Thucydides the first historian to use "modern" methods, such as interviewing eyewitnesses and conducting cross-examinations.

Thucydides was in Athens during the great plague of 430-429; he wrote descriptions of those he saw suffering from it, and even contracted the disease himself. Later, he was elected strategos, a military general. As a general, Thucydides was stationed in Thasos and put in command of seven ships, but he failed to stop the capture of Amphipolis by the Spartan general Brasidas. Due to his failure to hold an important city, Thucydides was summoned, tried in court, and subsequently exiled from Athens for 20 years. This provided him the opportunity to travel and focus on his history book and gather accounts from both Spartans and Athenians throughout the Peloponnese.

Thucydides survived the plague and lived through the Peloponnesian war. His exile ended when Athens fell, along with its democracy. It is not certain if Thucydides went back to Athens at this time - around 404 BCE. It is likely that he died shortly after 404, and possibly by the ensuing violence of the Spartans, as his book stops abruptly mid-sentence. His cause of death is also uncertain, but his tomb and monument were visible in Athens in the 2nd century AD.

Thucydides is well known for attempting to write a history of events that he lived through and experienced in a way that few others have tried. His book is divided into eight parts and where it stops abruptly, others picked up and wrote their own histories. For this reason, it is sure that his work was well known even shortly after its publication. His methodologies were thought-out and executed slowly over time; he observed, asked questions, took notes, and added to and modified his work regularly. Throughout the book, Thucydides also tells us about the culture of the Athenians versus that of the Peloponnesians, particularly the Spartans. Overall, his history book has provided a plethora of information about this war, the opponents, the techniques, and the lives of various contemporary ancients. His work was also the first attempt to objectively view and document events, which is especially helpful for our understanding of the ancient world without the mythical and legendary accounts and explanations.

Thucydides Significant Accomplishments

  • Wrote the first history book without mythological and divine tales, using “modern” methods to collect information and firsthand accounts from both sides of a conflict.

  • Wrote History of the Peloponnesian War which documents the war between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century BCE as he personally lived through it.

  • Was elected a strategos - military general - and given command of seven ships to defend Amphipolis.

  • Holds the title as “the greatest ancient historian” and the founder of modern historiography.

  • Collected witness statements and conducted interviews of individuals from both sides of the war - Sparta and Athens - during his 20-year exile from Athens.

Thucydides Quotes

“But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

“The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.”

“War is a matter not so much of arms as of money.”

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