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Ancient Historians

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The Greeks were great thinkers and are credited with developing philosophy, creating drama, and inventing certain literary genres. One such genre was history. History emerged from other styles of non-fiction writing, particularly travel writing, based on the voyages of curious and observant men. There were also ancient biographers and chroniclers who produced similar material and data used by historians. Here are some of the major ancient writers of ancient history or the closely related genres.

Ammianus Marcellinus

Ammianus Marcellinus, the author of a Res Gestae in 31 books, says he is a Greek. He may have been a native of the Syrian city of Antioch, but he wrote in Latin. He is an historical source for the later Roman empire, particularly for his contemporary, Julian the Apostate.

Cassius Dio

Cassius Dio was an historian from a leading family of Nicaea in Bithynia who was born around A.D. 165. Cassius Dio wrote a history of the Civil Wars of 193-7 and a history of Rome from its foundation to the death of Severus Alexander (in 80 books). Only a few of the books of this history of Rome have survived. Much of what we know of the writing of Cassius Dio comes second hand, from Byzantine scholars.

Diodorus Siculus

Diodorus Siculus calculated that his histories (Bibliotheke) spanned 1138 years, from before the Trojan War to his own lifetime during the late Roman Republic. 15 of his 40 books on universal history are extant and fragments remain of the rest. He has, until recently, been criticized for having simply recorded what his predecessors had already written.

Eunapius

Eunapius of Sardis was a fifth century (A.D. 349 - c. 414) Byzantine historian, sophist, and rhetorician.

Eutropius

Almost nothing is known about the man Eutropius, 4th century historian of Rome, other than that he served under Emperor Valens and went on the Persian campaign with Emperor Julian. Eutropius' history or Breviarium covers Roman history from Romulus through the Roman Emperor Jovian, in 10 books. The focus of the Breviarium is military, resulting in judgment of emperors based on their military successes.

Herodotus

Map Showing Herodotus' View of the Ancient World
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Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.), as the first historian proper, is called the father of history. He was born in the essentially Dorian (Greek) colony of Halicarnassus on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (then a part of the Persian Empire), during the Persian Wars, shortly before the expedition against Greece led by the Persian King Xerxes.

Jordanes

Jordanes was probably a Christian bishop of Germanic origin, writing at Constantinople in 551 or 552 A. D. His Romana is the history of the world ,from a Roman point of view, reviewing the facts concisely and leaving conclusions to the reader; his Getica is an abridgement of Cassiodorus' (lost) Gothic History.

Josephus

Josephus - From William Whiston's translation of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews.
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Flavius Josephus (Joseph Ben Matthias) was a first century Jewish historian whose writing includes History of the Jewish War (75 – 79) and Antiquities of the Jews (93), which includes references to a man named Jesus.

Livy

Sallust and Livy Woodcut
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Titus Livius (Livy) was born c. 59 B.C. and died in A.D. 17 at Patavium, in northern Italy. In about 29 B.C., while living in Rome, he started his magnum opus, Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome from its foundation, written in 142 books.

Manetho

Manetho was an Egyptian priest who is called the father of Egyptian history. He divided the kings into dynasties. Only an epitome of his work survives.

Nepos

Cornelius Nepos, who probably lived from around 100 to 24 B.C., is our first surviving biographer. A contemporary of Cicero, Catullus, and Augustus, Nepos wrote love poems, a Chronica, Exempla, a Life of Cato, a Life of Cicero, a treatise on geography, at least 16 books of De viris illustribus, and De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium. The last survives, and fragments of others remain.

Nepos, who is thought to have come from Cisalpine Gaul to Rome, wrote in an easy style of Latin.

Source: Early Church Fathers, where you'll also find the manuscript tradition and an English translation.

Nicolaus of Damascus

Nicolaus was a Syrian historian from Damascus, Syria, who was born around 64 B.C. and was acquainted with Octavian, Herod the Great, and Josephus. He wrote the first Greek autobiography, tutored Cleopatra's children, was Herod's court historian and ambassador to Octavian and he wrote Octavian's biography.

Source: "Review, by Horst R. Moehring of Nicolaus of Damascus, by Ben Zion Wacholder." Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 85, No. 1 (Mar., 1966), p. 126.

Orosius

Orosius, a contemporary of St. Augustine, wrote a history called Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Augustine had asked him to write it as a companion to City of God to show that Rome wasn't worse off since the advent of Christianity. Orosius' history goes back to the beginning of man, which was a much more ambitious project than had been asked of him.

Pausanias

Pausanias was a Greek geographer of the 2nd century A.D. His 10-book Description of Greece covers Athens/Attica, Corinth, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia, Arcadia, Boeotia, Phocis, and Ozolian Locris. He describes the physical space, art, and architecture as well as history and mythology.

Plutarch

Plutarch
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Plutarch is know for writing biographies of famous ancient people Since he lived in the first and second centuries A.D. he had access to material that is no longer available to us which he used to write his biographies. His material is easy to read in translation. Shakespeare closely used Plutarch's Life of Anthony for his tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra.

Polybius

Polybius was a second century B.C. Greek historian who wrote a universal history. He went to Rome where he was under the patronage of the Scipio family. His history was in 40 books, but only 5 survive, with fragments remaining of the others.

Sallust

Sallust and Livy Woodcut
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Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus) was a Roman historian who lived from 86-35 B.C. Sallust was governor of Numidia in When he returned to Rome, he was charged with extortion. Although the charge didn't stick, Sallust retired to private life where he wrote historical monographs, including Bellum Catilinae 'The War of Catiline' and Bellum Iugurthinum 'The Jugurtine War'.

Socrates Scholasticus

Socrates Scholasticus wrote a 7-book Ecclesiastical History that continued the history of Eusebius. Socrates' Ecclesiastical History covers religious and secular controversies. He was born about A.D. 380.

Sozomen

Salamanes Hermeias Sozomenos or Sozomen was born in Palestine perhaps around 380, was the author of an Ecclesiastical History that ended with the 17th consulship of Theodosius II, in 439.

Procopius

Procopius was a Byzantine historian of the reign of Justinian. He served as a secretary under Belisarius and witnessed the wars fought from A.D. 527-553. These are described in his 8-volume history of the wars. He also wrote a secret, gossipy history of the court.

Although some date his death to 554, a prefect of his name was named in 562, so the date of his death is given as sometime after 562. His birth date is also unknown but was around A.D. 500.

Suetonius

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.71-c.135) wrote the Lives of the Twelve Caesars, a set of biographies of the heads of Rome from Julius Caesar through Domitian. Born in the Roman province of Africa, he became a protegé of Pliny the Younger, who provides us with biographical information on Suetonius through his Letters. The Lives are often described as gossipy. Jona Lendering's Bio of Suetonius provides a discussion of the sources Suetonius used and his merits as an historian.

Tacitus

Tacitus
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P. Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 56 - c. 120) may have been the greatest Roman historian. He held the positions of senator, consul, and provincial governor of Asia. He wrote Annals, Histories, Agricola, Germany, and a dialogue on oratory.

Theodoret

Theodoret wrote an Ecclesiastical History up to A.D. 428. He was born in 393, in Antioch, Syria, and became bishop in 423, in the village of Cyrrhus.

Thucydides

Thucydides
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Thucydides (born c. 460-455 B.C.) had first hand information about the Peloponnesian War from his pre-exile days as an Athenian commander. During his exile he interviewed people on both sides and recorded their speeches in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Unlike his predecessor, Herodotus, he didn't delve into the background but laid out the facts as he saw them, chronologically or annalistically.

Velleius Paterculus

Velleius Paterculus (ca. 19 B.C. - ca. A.D. 30), wrote a universal history from the end of the Trojan War to the death of Livia in A.D. 29.

Xenophon

An Athenian, Xenophon was born c. 444 B.C. and died in 354 in Corinth. Xenophon served in Cyrus' forces against the Persian king Artaxerxes in 401. After the death of Cyrus Xenophon led a disastrous retreat, which he writes about in the Anabasis. He later served the Spartans even when they were at war against the Athenians.

Zosimus

Zosimus was a Byzantine historian of the 5th and perhaps 6th century who wrote about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to 410 A.D. He held office in the imperial treasury and was a count.

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