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Historia

ἱστορία, “investigation”).


1. Greek

The composition of history, and indeed of all forms of prose composition among the Greeks, originated with the Ionians of Asia Minor, who also created the epos, the elegy, and iambic poetry. It was among them, in the sixth century B.C., that the Logographi (q.v.) made their appearance. These writers treated the materials supplied by family traditions and local legends in a style which gradually approached more and more to prose, but without any attempt at critical investigation or scientific arrangement. The most important writers in this style and also its latest representatives were Hecataeus of Miletus and Hellanicus of Lesbos. The latter was a contemporary of Herodotus of Halicarnassus (about B.C. 485-424), called by Cicero the Father of History. His work, also written in the Ionic dialect, was founded upon a vast collection of historical and geographical material gathered in his extensive travels, and through the researches of many years. This mass of information he, with great art, moulded into a homogeneous work, the leading theme of which is the struggle of the Greeks against the barbarians. The narrative is simple, but always attractive. See Herodotus.

The line of historians who wrote in the Attic dialect is headed by the Athenian Thucydides, whose history of the Peloponnesian War is a masterpiece of the first order, noble alike in style and in matter. A continuation of Thucydides was written by his countryman Xenophon (about B.C. 431-355) in his Hellenica. In his Anabasis, Xenophon described the famous retreat of the Ten Thousand in a style which won for him the name of “the Attic Bee.” In the Cyropaedia he gives a picture, much idealized, but not without a foundation of fact, of the history of the Persian Cyrus. His contemporary Ctesias of Cnidus, writing in Ionic Greek, introduced his countrymen to the formal history of the Persian Empire. At the same time Philistus of Syracuse, an imitator of Thucydides, compiled the history of Sicily from the earliest times down to his own. In the second half of the fourth century B.C. appeared two celebrated historians, Theopompus of Chios and Ephorus of Cymé, both disciples of the rhetorician Isocrates. The chief work of Theopompus was a history of Philip of Macedon, from his accession to his death. Ephorus, in a great work embracing the whole course of events from the invasion of the Peloponnesus by the Heraclidae, to B.C. 345, was the first writer who attempted a universal history. To this period belong the numerous chronicles of Attic history, called Atthides. (See Atthis.) In these, comparatively little regard was paid to style—less, certainly, than was paid by the historians just mentioned as succeeding Xenophon.

The period of Alexander the Great and his successors was very fertile in historical writing. One may mention Callisthenes, Aristobulus, Chares , Onesicritus, Clitarchus, and Hieronymus, who narrated contemporary events in a style sometimes plain and simple, and sometimes rhetorically exaggerated. This was the age of the Sicilian Timaeus, whose great work on the history of his native island, in some forty books, won him little recognition, but who simplified chronology by introducing the method of reckoning by Olympiads, and thus established a lasting claim on the gratitude of historians. Among the better histories should be named also the great work of Phylarchus (about B.C. 210), which began with the invasion of the Peloponnesus by Pyrrhus, and ended with the death of Cleomenes.

The Alexandrian scholar Eratosthenes conferred a great boon on scientific historical investigation by his attempt to place chronology on the firm foundation of mathematics and astronomy. His labours were continued by Apollodorus, whose Chronica was the most important work on chronology produced in antiquity. This was a brief enumeration of the most important events, from the taking of Troy (by him assigned to the year B.C. 1183) down to his own time (B.C. 144). Only isolated fragments of the histories written after Xenophon have, in the greater number of instances, come down to us; but we have a considerable part of the work of Polybius of Megalopolis, who died about 122. This was a general history of the known world from the beginning of the Second Punic War to the destruction of Carthage. Its style has no just claim to artistic merit, but its contents make it one of the most remarkable of ancient Greek histories. About the year B.C. 40, the Sicilian writer Diodorus compiled a valuable general history from the works of Greek and Roman writers now lost. Of this a considerable part still remains. Nicolaüs of Damascus, who lived a little later, was the author of a great general history, in 144 books, of which we have considerable fragments. Dionysius of Halicarnassus composed, a few years before Christ, his Roman Archaeology (Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία), about half of which has survived. This was the history of Rome from the earliest period down to the First Punic War. It was written with taste and care. In the second half of the first century A.D. the Hebrew Iosephus wrote a work on Jewish archaeology and a history of the Jewish War. At the beginning of the second century, Plutarch of Chaeronea produced his fascinating biographies of famous Greeks and Romans. In the course of the same century appeared the Anabasis of Alexander the Great, written after the best authorities by Arrian of Nicomedia, the Strategemata of the Macedonian Polyaenus, a number of examples of military stratagems collected from older writers; and a part of the Roman history of the Alexandrian Appian, ethnographically arranged. At the beginning of the third century Dio Cassius of Nicaea conceived and executed his great work on Roman history, which has unfortunately come down to us in a very mutilated form. His younger contemporary, Herodianus, composed in eight books an interesting history of the Caesars, which still survives, from the death of Marcus Aurelius to Gordian (A.D. 180-238). Ancient chronology is much indebted to the Chronicle (Χρονικά) of Eusebius , bishop of Caesarea. This was written in the fourth century A.D., and only survives in quotations and an Armenian translation. Among later writers we may mention Zosimus (in the second half of the sixth century), the author of a history of the Roman emperors, from Augustus to A.D. 410. For a bibliography of the great writers, see the separate articles in this dictionary. The fragments of their lost works will be found in the Historicorum Graec. Fragmenta, ed. by C. and Th. Müller for the Didot series, 5 vols. (Paris, 1868-74). The text of the minor historians is edited by L. Dindorf, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1870-71).


II. Roman

The beginnings of Roman history date from about B.C. 200. The form of composition was, until the first half of the first century B.C., almost exclusively that of annals (annales), and the historians previous to that period are, in consequence, usually mentioned under the term “annalists.” They confined themselves exclusively to the history of their country in its widest extent, from the earliest times to their own. In later times, but not till then, Roman historians undertook to write on the events of special periods, generally on those of their own time. At first they wrote in Greek only. Among the greatest of these annalists are Fabius Pictor, L. Cincius Alimentus, C. Acilius, and Postumius Albinus. The first annalist to write in Latin was Cato the Censor (B.C. 184) in his Origines, now unfortunately lost. His example was followed by Cassius Hemina, L. Calpurnius Piso, Sempronius Tuditanus, and many others. The early annalistic writers of Latin had no style. It is not until the knowledge of Greek literature and the development of style had reached a higher stage in the second half of the second century B.C. that one finds any attempt at good writing. In the age of Cicero, good prose was at last attained, and many men of distinction, such as Varro, Atticus, Hortensius, and Cicero himself, wrote historical works and memoirs. Some even sought to include foreign history, as was the case with C. Cornelius Nepos in his well-known collection of biographies entitled De Viris Illustribus. The biographies which remain are mostly those of non-Roman generals. Iulius Caesar and Sallust surpass all the other historical writers of this period both in form and matter. Sallust is an imitator of Thucydides, and the first Roman historian who can lay any claim to finished execution. The other historians of the time whose works have come down to us are Aulus Hirtius, who continued Caesar's commentaries, and the unknown authors of the Alexandrian, African, and Spanish Wars.

The Augustan Age produced the Roman history of Livy , a work as remarkable for its comprehensiveness as for its delightful literary finish. The greater part of it is unhappily lost. The first general history written in Latin, by Trogus Pompeius, belongs to the same period, but is preserved only in an epitome by Iustinus.

The first century A.D. was fruitful in historical literature, but only a certain number of works have survived, including a short sketch of Roman history by Velleius Paterculus, which is unduly animated by the adulating spirit of the courtier; a collection of historical anecdotes by Valerius Maximus; a very rhetorical history of Alexander the Great, by Q. Curtius Rufus; and a number of instances of military stratagems by Iulius Frontinus. The great history of the Empire comprised in the Annales and Historiae of Tacitus, one of the most important monuments of Roman literature, was written partly in the first and partly in the second century A.D. Dating from the beginning of the second century A.D. we have the lives of the twelve Caesars, by C. Suetonius Tranquillus, and the panegyrical account of Roman history by Florus.

After this period, Suetonius becomes the model of historians, and their favourite subject is the doings of the emperors and of the imperial court. These lost writings were the main sources of the Historia Augusta, a collection of biographies of the emperors from Hadrian to Numerian (A.D. 117-284), abounding in personal details often scandalous and disgusting. (See Augustae Historiae.) For the history of the fourth century, the excellent work of Ammianus Marcellinus survives. At this time, writers began to content themselves with merely epitomizing and revising the books of their greater predecessors. Among the authors of historical summaries of this sort are Vopiscus, Eutropius, Orosius, St. Jerome, and Cassiodorus. There are valuable special histories by Iordanis (relating to the Goths), and by Gregory of Tours (relating to the Franks).


Bibliography

See Peter, Zur Kritik der Quellen d. ält. röm. Geschichte (Halle, 1879); Vossius, De Historicis Latinis (Leyden, 1627; 2d ed. 1651); Schäfer, Quellenkunde d. griech. und röm. Geschichte, ed. by Nissen (Leipzig, 1885); and the chapters on Roman literature in Mommsen's History of Rome. The fragments of lost historical works are collated by H. Peter in his Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae (Leipzig, 1870), and Historicorum Rom. Fragmenta (Leipzig, 1883). For bibliographies of the great writers, see the special articles in this Dictionary.

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