The Greek Historian, Herodotus

The Father of History

Close up of a bust of Herodotus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

 edenpictures / CC / Flickr

Herodotus is known as the father of history. We may think all the famous ancient Greeks came from Athens, but it's not true. Like many important ancient Greeks, Herodotus was not only not born in Athens but wasn't even born in what we think of as Europe. He was born in the essentially Dorian (Hellenic or Greek, yes; but not Ionian) colony of Halicarnassus, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, which at the time was part of the Persian Empire. Herodotus had not yet been born when Athens defeated Persia in the renowned Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) and was only a young child when the Persians defeated the Spartans and allies at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.).​

Herodotus' Homeland 

Lyxes, the father of Herodotus, was probably from Caria, in Asia Minor. So was Artemisia, the female despot of Halicarnassus who joined Xerxes in his expedition against Greece in the Persian Wars.

Following victories over the Persians by the mainland Greeks, Halicarnassus rebelled against foreign rulers. In consequence of his part in rebellious actions, Herodotus was sent into exile to the Ionian island of Samos (homeland of Pythagoras), but then returned to Halicarnassus around 454 to take part in the overthrow of Artemisia's son, Lygdamis.

Herodotus of Thurii

Herodotus calls himself Herodotus of Thurii rather than Halicarnassus because he was a citizen of the pan-Hellenic city of Thurii, which was founded in 444/3. One of his fellow colonists was the philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos, probably.

Herodotus Travels the Known World

Between the time of the overthrow of Artemisia's son Lygdamis and Herodotus' settling in Thurii, Herodotus traveled around most of the known world. Herodotus traveled to learn about foreign countries. He traveled to "have a look," the Greek word for looking is related to our English word theory. He also lived in Athens, spending time in the company of his friend, the renowned writer of great Greek tragedy Sophocles.

The Athenians so appreciated Herodotus' writing that in 445 B.C. he awarded him 10 talents—an enormous sum.

The Father of History

Despite major shortcomings in the area of accuracy, Herodotus is called "the father of history" -- even by his contemporaries. Sometimes, however, more accuracy-minded people describe him as "the father of lies". In China, another man earned the father of history title, but he was centuries later: Sima Qian.

Herodotus' Histories 

Herodotus' Histories, celebrating the Greek victory over the Persians, were written in the mid-fifth century B.C. Herodotus wanted to present as much information about the Persian War as he could. What sometimes reads like a travelogue, includes information on the entire Persian Empire, and simultaneously explains the origins (aitia) of the conflict, by reference to mythological prehistory.

Even with the fascinating digressions and fantastic elements, Herodotus' history was an advance over the previous writers of quasi-history, who are known as logographers.

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