The Historian Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War (c. 400 BC)

Essay 2008 10 Pages

History - World History - Early and Ancient History



“ […] the first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of real history. All preceding narrations are so intermixed with fable, that philosophers ought to abandon them, to the embellishments of poets and orators.”[1].Already this quotation by David Hume[2] – one of the most distinguished philosophers of empiricism – gives us a feeling of the great value of Thucydides works. Thucydides documented the History of the Peloponnesian War in an unprecedented objectivity. On the basis of these works he is still acclaimed as the founder of political historiography. Works which were storied as a work of a lifetime. The fact that Thucydides’ ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’ stands still so powerful in historiography let it seems consequential that long-range of later historians engaged with his works. On my work for this essay I considered works of these interrogative historians and took advantage of their qualified commentaries on Thucydides. With whose approaches I will assess Thucydides as a human and historian. I will pick up questions other commentarial historians and make use of those to describe the aftermath and importance of Thucydides works as well as to place it within its context of the development of historical writing.


The decision that Thucydides wrote his works is just as notable than the power to adhere a lifelong to this difficult project in spite of all external disasters. This fact certainly establishes the question on: who was this man, Thucydides? And what was his intention to write ‘The History of the Peloponnesian War’? For David Cartwright, who started his Introduction on Thucydides’ Life with the words “Thucydides, the Athenian historian, records that he lived through the whole of the Peloponnesian War and was of an age to understand what was happening.”[3], one important question emphasized. And this was about Thucydides age while he started with his works. There are a lot of attempts by historians to find out when Thucydides was born. And if you subsume all indications Thucydides was born in the early to mid 450s BC. “Unfortunately, we cannot be very precise about the date of his birth. It is commonly supposed that he was born not long before 454, […]”[4] what consequential means that he was end of twenty years when the war began in 431 BC. To assess Thucydides as a historical writer and according to the success of his lifework his young age is an easily overlooked factor. He had to be young so that he actually could stand this nearly thirty years enduring, physical and psychical arduous war. But even if Thucydides was older than thirty years, when he started writing, he still would be an exception. Ancient historians generally wrote after their political or military career. His point of origin is surely a crucial factor in his way of writing but less on the fact that he wrote. More important might be indeed the circumstance that Thucydides disposed of property. “It was probably from his father (unless it was from his wife) that he obtained a Thracian estate […]. With this property went the right of working the adjacent gold mines […]”[5] Beside his existence as an Athenian he also have had belongings outside of Athens. Which means on the one hand that he was already early able to improve his mind just widely above Athens and on the other hand that his Thracian estate provided him a facility to continue on his lifework even after his banishment in the year 424 BC. Because if all his material base were bounded to Athens he certainly had to abandon his scheme of life after the defeat of Amphipolis[6]. Up to date you can definitely say that Thucydides was a special character, different minded than other historians in that time and of course a person with a strong and brave personality. But how this characteristics can get in coherence with Thucydides way of writing?


[1] David Hume, Essays, Moral, Political and Literary, Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations (Part II, Essay XI), first published 1742

[2] David Hume (1711 – 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, economist and historian. In his epistemology he acted for an extremely empiricism and ascribed all imaginations to sensations and their copies.

[3] David Cartwright, A historical commentary on Thucydides: a companion to Rex Warner’s Penguin translation (London 1997), p. 1

[4] George Cawkwell, Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War (London 1997), p. 1

[5] Michael Grant, The ancient historians (London 1970), p. 74

[6] In 424 BC Thucydides took on the position as “strategos” for the Athenians. T. J. Luce wrote about Thucydides function “He managed to secure Amphipolis’ […]. But he did not save Amphipolis, and for this failure Thucydides went into exile, […].” T. J. Luce ., The Greek historians (London 1997), p. 61


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Institution / College
National University of Ireland, Maynooth – Department of History
Thucydides Thukydides Historian Historiker Peloponnesian War Peloponesischer Krieg Journalismus in der Antike Antike Geschichte History The Idea of History Philosoph The History of the Peloponnesian War Der Peloponnesische Krieg Athen David Hume David Cartwright T. J. Luce Michael Grant Beginn des Journalismus Journalismus Kriegsjournalismus



Title: The Historian Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War (c. 400 BC)