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1. Of Miletus, one of the earliest and most distinguished Greek historians (logographers) and geographers. He was the son of Hegesander, and belonged to a very ancient and illustrious family (Hdt. 2.143). According to Suidas, he was a contemporary of Dionysius of Miletus, and lived about the 65th olympiad, i. e. B. C. 520. Hence Larcher and others conclude that he was born about 550, so that in B. C. 500, the time at which he acted a prominent part among the Ionians, he would have been about fifty years old. As Hecataeus further (Suidas, s. v. Ἑλλάνικος) survived the Persian war for a short time, he seems to have died about B. C. 476, shortly after the battles of Plataeae and Mycale. Suidas tells us that Hecataeus was a pupil of Protagoras, which is utterly impossible for chronological reasons, just as it is impossible that Hecataeus should have been a friend of Xenocrates, as Strabo says (xii. p. 550.) Hecataeus must have been possessed of considerable wealth, for, like many other eminent men of that age, he satisfied his desire for knowledge by travelling into distant countries, and seeing with his own eyes that which others learnt from books. We know from Herodotus (l.c.) that Hecataeus visited Egypt, and from the manner in which later writers speak of his geographical knowledge, there can be no doubt that he visited many other countries also. (Agathem. 1.1; Agatharch. De Rubr. Mari, p. 48.) The fragments of his geographical work, which have come down to us, lead us to suppose that, besides the provinces of the Persian empire, he visited the coasts of the Euxine, Thrace, the whole of Greece, Oenotria, and even Liguria, Spain, and Libya, though of the last-mentioned countries he may have seen little more than the coasts. The time during which he was engaged in these travels cannot be accurately determined, though it must have been previous to the revolt of the lonians, that is, previous to B. C. 500, for after that event the war between the Greeks and Persians, as well as the advanced age of Hecataeus, would have thrown too many difficulties in his way; and it further appears that he was well acquainted with the extent and resources of the Persian empire at the time when his countrymen contemplated the revolt from Persia. (Hdt. 5.36.) His geographical work, moreover, must have been written after the year B. C. 524, since in one of the extant fragments 140,ed. Müller) lie speaks of Boryza in Thrace asa Persian town, which it did not become till that year.

The only events in the life of Hecataeus of which we have any definite knowledge, are the part he took in the insurrection of the Ionians against the Persians. When Aristagoras was planning the revolt of the Ionians, and all those whom he consulted agreed with him, Hecataeus was the only one who dissuaded his countrymen from such a rash undertaking, explaining to them the extent of the enemy's empire and his power. When this advice was disregarded, he exhorted them at least to provide themselves with a naval force, and for this purpose to make use of the treasures amassed in the temple at Branchidae. But this opinion also was overruled by the sanguine Ionians (Hdt. 5.36), and the Ionians revolted without being prepared to meet the enemy or to protect themselves. Subsequently, when Artaphernes and Otanes had invaded Ionia and Aeolis, and taken the towns of Clazomenae and Cuma, Aristagoras, who had brought about the misfortunes without the courage to endure them, meditated upon flight either to Sardinia or to Myrcinus. Hecataeus advised him to do neither, but to take up a fortified position in the neighboring island of Leros, and there to watch the issue of the events. (Hdt. 5.124, 125.) This advice was rejected again, but the conduct of H ecataeus had been throughout that of a wise and experienced man. Even after the fall of Ionia under the strokes of the Persians, he did not desert his countrymen ; for we are told that he was sent as ambassador to Artaphernes, and prevailed upon the satrap to win the confidence of the lonians by a mild treatment. (Diod. Fragm. Vat. p. 41, ed. Dindorf.) After this we hear no more of Hecataeus, but the little we know of him is enough to justify the high praise which some of the ancients bestow upon him in mentioning him along with the greatest men. (Eratosth. apud Strab. i. p. 7, xiv. p. 635; Aelian, Ael. VH 13.20; Hermog. De Gen. dicend. 2.12.)


Hecataeus deposited the results of his travels and studies in two great works; one geographical, entitled Περίοδος γῆς, or Περήγησις, and the other historical, entitled Γενεαλογίαι, or Ἱστορίαι. (Suid. s. v. Ἑλλάνικος, where the heading of the article is a mistake for Ἑκαταῖος). The passage of Suidas compared with one of Strabo (i. p.7 ) clearly shows that Hecataeus wrote only two works, and that the other names or titles we meet with refer to subdivisions of the geographical work. The latter consisted of two parts, one of which contained a description of Europe, and the other of Asia, Egypt, and Libya. Both parts appear to have been subdivided into smaller sections; thus we find one section belonging to the first part referred to under the name of Hellespontus (Steph. Byz. s. v. Τένεδος), and others belonging to the second part, under the titles of Αἰολικά, Περιήγηρις Αἰγύπτου, and Περιήγησις Λιβύης. (Steph. Byz. s. vv. Ἀμαζόνειον, Διηβρις, Ἐλένειος). It is not easy to determine the order in which Hecataeus described the different countries, and consequently also the order in which the fragments still extant should be arranged. The mode in which he treated his subjects may still be seen from some of the longer fragments : he first mentioned the name of the people, then the towns they inhabited, and sometimes he gave an account of their foundation and of any thing that was remarkable in them. The distances of the places from one another seem to have been care-fully marked. Hecataeus was the first historical writer who exercised his own judgment on the matters which he had to record, and used historical criticism in rejecting what appeared to him fabulous, or endeavouring to find out the historical truth which formed the groundwork of a mythical tradition (Paus. 3.25.5; Arrian, Arr. Anab. 2.16); still he is nevertheless very dependent on Homer and other early poets, whereby he is led to mix up fables with truth; but wherever he gives the results of his own observations, he is a correct and trust-worthy guide. Eratosthenes (apud Strab. i. p. 7) seems to deny that Hecataeus made geographical maps; but if we compare the statement of Agathemerus (1.1) with Herodotus (5.49), it is clear, on the one hand, that Hecataeus corrected and improved the map of the earth drawn up by Anaximander, and it is probable, on the other, that the map which Aristagoras carried to Sparta for the purpose of persuading Cleomenes to engage in a war against Persia was either the work of Hecataeus, or had been drawn up according to his views of the physical structure of the earth. Callimachus (apud Athen. ii. p. 70, comp. ix. p. 410), whose opinion seems to be followed by Arrian (Arr. Anab. 5.6), regarded the Περιήγησις τῆς Ἀσιας, ascribed to Hecataeus, and belonging to the second part of his geographical work, as spurious, and assigned it to a νησιώτης (an islander). It is not impossible that he may have found in the library of Alexandria a periegesis of Asia ascribed to the celebrated Hecataeus, but which was in reality a forgery, and had nothing in common with the genuine work but the name of the author; for such forged title-pages were not uncommon in the time of the Ptolemies, and literary impostors made a lucrative traffic of them. (Hippocrat. vol. xv. pp. 105, 109, ed. Kühn.) At any rate, even if we admit that Callimachus really found a spurious periegesis, it does not follow that the genuine work did not exist.

The second work of Hecataeus, the Histories or Genealogies, was a prose account, in the form of genealogies, of the poetical foibles and traditions of the Greeks. From the fragments which are quoted from it, we see that it must have consisted of at least four sections. The first contained the traditions about Deucalion and his descendants; the second, the stories of Heracles and the Heracleidae ; the third, apparently the Peloponnesian traditions ; and the fourth, those of Asia Minor. The value of this, as well as his other, work cannot be diminished in our eyes by the fact of Herodotus controverting several of his opinions (6.137, comp. 1.146, 202, 2.3, 15, 21, 23, 143, 4.8, 36); but, on the contrary, it is evident that Herodotus looked upon him as a rival, whom it was worth whileendeavouring to refute and excel, and that he actually did excel him, does not require to be proved in this place. Herodotus knew the works of Hecataeus well, and undoubtedly availed himself of them ; but the charge of Porphyrius (apud Euseb. Praep. Evang. x. p. 466), that Herodotus literally transcribed whole passages from Hecataeus is wholly without foundation. (Comp. Hermog. De Form. Orat. 2.12; Dionys. Jud. de Thuc. 5; Diod. 1.37; Strab. i. p.18; Suidas.) Respecting the style of Hecataeus, Strabo says, that though prose, it approached very nearly to poetry, and Hermogenes (l.c.) praises it for its simplicity, purity, clearness, and sweetness, and adds that the language was the pure and unmixed Ionic dialect.


The fragments of the Genealogies are collected in Creuzer's Histor. Graecae Antiquissimorum Fragmenta, Heidelberg, 1806, 8vo. p. 1-86; and the fragments of both the Periegesis and the Genealogies by R. H. Klausen, Hecataci Milesii Fragmenta, Berlin, 1831, 8vo., and by C. and Th. Müller, Fragm. Hist. Graec., Paris, 1841, p. 1-31. Each of these collections is preceded by a dissertation on the life and writings of Hecataeus.

Further Information

Comp. Dahlmann, Herodot. p. 112, &c.; Ukert, Untersuchungen über die Geographie des Hecataeus u. Damastes, Weimar, 1814.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.143
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.124
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.125
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.36
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.49
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.25.5
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 2.16
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 5.6
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.37
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 13.20
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