home   :    index    :    ancient Greece

Thucydides


Thucydides. Bust from the Roman villa of Welschbillig. Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Thucydides. Bust from the Roman villa of Welschbillig (Germany). Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier. 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 oped- 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.

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.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine


 
Amphipolis, seen from the southwest. Photo Jona Lendering
Amphipolis, seen from the southwest.

Translations:

  • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian war. Translated by Rex Warner (Harmondsworth 1972)

Commentaries:

  • A.W. Gomme/A. Andrewes/K.J. Dover, A historical commentary on Thucydides, five volumes (Oxford 1945-1981).
  • S. Hornblower, A commentary on Thucydides (Oxford 1992- )
  • D. Cartwright, A historical commentary on Thucydides: a companion to Rex Warner's Penguin translation (Ann Arbor 1997)

Articles:

  • M. Cogan, "Mytilene, Plataea, and Corcyra: ideology and policy in Thucydides, Book Three" in Phoenix 35 (1981), 1-21
  • W.R. Connor, Thucydides (Princeton 1984)
  • K.J. Dover, Thucydides (Oxford 1973)
  • S. Hornblower, Thucydides (London 1987)
  • J.J. Price, Thucydides and internal war (Cambridge 2001)
  • T. Rood, Thucydides: narrative and explanation (Oxford 1998)
  • H. Strasburger, "Thukydides und die politische Selbstdarstellung der Athener" [1956], in: Studien zur Alten Geschichte II (Hildesheim/New York 1982), 676-708.
  • S. Swain, "Thucydides 1.22.1 and 3.82.4", Mnemosyne 46 (1993), 33-45
  • F. Walbank, "Speeches in Greek historians" [1965], in: Selected Papers (Cambridge 1985), 242-261.
 

This brief article has been written to offer background information
to the real articles on Livius.Org. One day, this webpage will be
improved. A list of completed articles can be found here.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2005
 home   :   index    :    ancient Greece