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Thucydides (between 460 and 455 BC - 395 BC) was an ancient Greek historian, and the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens. This work is widely regarded a classic, and represents the first work of its kind.
Almost everything we know about the life of Thucydides comes from his History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides father's was Olorus1, a name connected with Thrace and Thracian royalty2. He was a man of influence and wealth. He owned gold mines at Scapte Hyle , a district of Thrace on the Thracian coast opposite Thasos3.
Thucydides was connected through family to the Athenian statesman and general Miltiades and his son Cimon, leaders of the old aristocracy supplanted by the Radical Democrats. Thucydides lived between his two homes, in Athens and in Thrace. His family connections brought him in to contact with the very men who were shaping the history he wrote about.
Before 431 BC he took no prominent part in Athenian politics. He was in his twenties when the Peloponnesian War occurred, and was in active service at the time. He contracted the plague4 that ravaged Athens between 430 and 427 BC, killing Pericles, in 429 BC, along with thousands of other Athenians5.
In 424 BC (his mid thirties) he was appointed strategos (general). He failed to save Amphipolis from the Spartan general Brasidas during the War in 424 BC (see Battle of Amphipolis), and, as a result, on his return to Athens he was exiled6. It is usually assumed that it was the prominent politician, Cleon, who brought about Thucydides’ exile – this is because Thucydides is often unnecessarily hostile towards him and, if it was the case that Cleon spoke against him, the hostility would be partly explained.
From 423 to 404 he lived in Thrace. During this time he travelled the Peloponnese, using his status as an exile from Athens to assimilate into the Peloponnesian allies7. He may have travelled to Sicily for the Sicilian Expedition, as there are excellent examples of local knowledge. During this period of time he conducted important research.
He returned to Athens in 404 BC, but was only there for a short time before he returned to Thrace to work on his book. His history contains the description of the war up until the year 411 BC. The sudden end of his work suggests that he may have died a sudden death, and there is strong evidence to suggest he did not live longer than 399 BC.
His remains were returned to Athens and were laid in Cimon's family vault.
Who was Thucydides
Thucydides is generally regarded as one of the first true historians. Unlike his predecessor Herodotus (often called "the father of history") who included rumors and references to myths and the gods in his writing, Thucydides assiduously consulted written documents and interviewed participants in the events that he records. By his discovery of historic causation he created the first scientific approach to history.
In addition to disputing his status as the first historian, some authors, including Richard Ned Lebow, reject the common perception of Thucydides as a historian of naked real-politik. Actors on the world stage who had read his work would all have been put on notice that someone would be scrutinizing their actions with a reporter's dispassion, rather than the mythmaker's and poet's compassion and thus consciously or unconsciously participating in the writing of it. His Melian dialogue is a lesson to both reporters and to those who believe one's leaders are always acting with perfect integrity on the world stage.
His character was said to be dry, humourless and pessimistic. Thucydides admired Pericles and approved of his power over the people, though he detested the more pandering demagogues who followed him. Thucydides did not approve of the radical democracy Pericles ushered in, but thought that it was acceptable when in the hands of a good leader.
Thucydides would have been schooled by Sophists. They were the teachers in Athens but today would be considered more like Philosophers and Astronomers Thucydides would have been taught by them not to accept things at face value but to question things. They would have taught Thucydides the mechanics of his writing, and they endowed him with his skills to assess the truth.
The Peloponnesian War
Thucydides does not take the time to discuss the arts, literature or society in which the book is set and in which Thucydides himself grew up. Thucydides was writing about an event and not a period and as such took lengths not to discuss anything which he considered unrelated.
The Peloponnesian War was under major revision by Thucydides at the moment of his death, following a renewed realization on his part of the significance of the Persian influence to the events of the war.
"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." ~ Thucydides
- Herodotus, Histories. A. D. Godley (translator), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920; ISBN 0674991338 
- Plutarch, Lives, Bernadotte Perrin (translator), Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1914; ISBN
- Strassler, Robert B, ed. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: Free Press, 1996; ISBN 0684828154
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910. 
- 1 Thucydides 4.104.1 
- 2 Herodotus 6.39.1 )
- 3 Herodotus 6.46.1 ); Thucydides 4.105.1 ; Thucydides 1.100.1 
- 4 Thucydides 2.48.3 
- 5 Thucydides 3.87.3 
- 6 Thucydides 5.26.5 
- 7 Thucydides 5.26.5 
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