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Thucydides (historian)

Thucydides (c.460-c.395): Athenian general and historian, author of  the History of the Peloponnesian War.



Being exiled because he had during the Archidamian War been unable to defend Amphipolis against the Spartan commander Brasidas, the former Athenian general Thucydides wrote the history of the wars fought between Athens and Sparta in the years 431-404. And nothing else. Because of the absence of romantic digressions, the History of the Peloponnesian War is less easy to read than the Histories of Herodotus, but Thucydides offers an in-depth analysis of the mechanisms of war, which - he hoped - would be useful in all ages. And indeed, his description of the changing use of language in times of war has become a classic.

Although he does his best to remain objective, Thucydides can not always hide his personal judgment. For example, his account of the plague at Athens in 429 slowly develops into a shocking story about moral corruption. His judgment of people like Pericles, Cleon and Nicias is, according to modern historians, hardly accurate, and the last word has not yet been spoken about his dismissal of the Megarian Decree as a mere pretext for war.

Still, his History of the Peloponnesian War is one of the greatest texts from Antiquity. It breaks off in 411, although Thucydides lived on to see the final defeat of Athens in 404, and appears to have been aware of several events that happened after 400. A continuation of Thucydides' History was written by Xenophon, and is called Hellenica.

Panorama of Amphipolis
Panorama of Amphipolis

There is an ancient biography of Thucydides by one Marcellinus, but it is essentially unreliable, although the detail that his works were published by his daughter is so odd that it can hardly be invented.



This page was created in 2005; last modified on 28 October 2018.