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BirthplaceHalicarnassus, Caria, Asia Minor


(hērŏd`ətəs), 484?–425? B.C., Greek historian, called the Father of History, b. Halicarnassus, Asia Minor. Only scant knowledge of his life can be gleaned from his writings and from references to him by later writings, notably the Suda. He traveled along the coast of Asia Minor to the northern islands and to the shore of the Black Sea; he also at some time visited Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Egypt. By 447 B.C. he was in Athens, and in 443 he seems to have helped to found the Athenian colony of Thurii in S Italy, where he probably spent the rest of his life completing his history. That classic work, the first comprehensive attempt at secular narrative historyhistory,
in its broadest sense, is the story of humanity's past. It also refers to the recording of that past. The diverse sources of history include books, newspapers, printed documents, personal papers, and other archival records, artifacts, and oral accounts.
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, is the starting point of Western historical writing. It is divided into nine books named for the Muses (a division made by a later editor). Herodotus was the first writer to evaluate historical, geographical, and archaeological material critically. The focus of the history is the story of the Persian WarsPersian Wars,
500 B.C.–449 B.C., series of conflicts fought between Greek states and the Persian Empire. The writings of Herodotus, who was born c.484 B.C., are the great source of knowledge of the history of the wars.
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, but the extensive and richly detailed background information put Greece in its proper historical perspective. He discusses the growth of Persia into a great kingdom and traces the history and migration of the Greek people. Among his grand digressions are fascinating histories of Babylon, Egypt, and Thrace, as well as detailed studies of the pyramids and specific historical events. The value of the work lies not only in its accuracy, but in its scope and the rich diversity of information as well as the charm and simplicity of his writing.


See translations of his history by G. Rawlinson (1858), A. de Selincourt (1954), R. Waterfield (1998), and A. L. Purvis (2007); studies by J. L. Myres (1953, repr. 1971), C. W. Fornara (1971) and J. A. Evans and F. Hartog (1982); W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus (2 vol., rev. ed. 1928); H. R. Immerwahr, Form and Thought in Herodotus (1966); D. Hamel, Reading Herodotus (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born between 490 and 480 B.C., at Halicarnassus in southwest Asia Minor; died circa 425 B.C., at Athens or Thurii in southern Italy. Ancient Greek historian.

In his youth, Herodotus took part in the struggle against tyranny and was forced to leave Halicarnassus after the system of tyrannical rule was established there. For a while he lived on the island of Samos; he traveled a great deal, visiting Asia Minor, Babylon, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Cyrene, as well as various cities of Greek culture in the Balkans and the Black Sea coast as far as Olbia, where he gathered information about the Scythians. He lived in Athens for a long time, and his close acquaintance with Pericles, the leader of the Athenian democracy, had a great influence on his political views. He moved from Athens to Thurii in approximately 443 B.C.

The book by Herodotus conventionally called the History deals with the most important political event in Greek history—the Greco-Persian Wars of 500-449 B.C.; the account is carried forward as far as the capture of the city of Sestos on the Hellespont by the Greeks in 478 B.C. Herodotus’ work later was divided into nine books by Alexandrian scholars, each book being named after one of the nine Muses. The principal theme of the History is the idea of the struggle of the Greek world against that of the East. Herodotus writes in a clearly epic style with a multitude of digressions and special excursuses, recounting the early clashes between Greeks and the inhabitants of Asia. He surveys the history of Lydia, Media, and the Persian state under the Achaemenidae. He tells of the various campaigns of the Persian emperors: of Cyrus against Media in 550 B.C. and against Babylon in 539 B.C., of Cambyses in Egypt in 525 B.C., and of Darius I in Scythia in 512 B.C. In each case he gives a detailed description of the geographical location of the country against which the Persian campaign was directed, the customs and traditions of the local inhabitants, their religion, and the peculiarities of their economic and political life. Only in the fifth book does Herodotus begin to take up the basic theme of his narrative—the history of the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus’ work differs in essence from the epic and from the historical-mythological narratives (local chronicles, genealogies, and travelogues) of earlier Greek writers of prose (logographers); he develops a style of historical narrative in which the presentation of factual information is blended with literary artistry. The historical significance of his main theme and the grandeur and unity of his conception make Herodotus’ the first historical work in the true sense of the term and fully entitle the author to the distinguished epithet of “Father of History.”

Herodotus’ approach to history lacks theoretical consistency and the exactness of science. He allows for various possibilities in the explanation of historical events, referring at times to divine will and at times to fate; at other times he applies rationalistic interpretations to events or actions. Scattered instances even of historical criticism may be met in his work. On the other hand, his political views are marked by a very definite sympathy for Athenian democracy.

Herodotus’ work is based on the most varied sources. In part these include personal observations, oral tradition, eyewitness reports, or legend; other sources included may be the written materials of the logographers (chiefly Hecataeus of Miletus), oracular pronouncements, or official records. The facts cited in the History are as a rule reliable, making this work a valuable source not only for the history of the Greco-Persian Wars but also for other periods and problems in the earlier history of Greece and the ancient Orient. Herodotus’ work also holds great importance for the study of the ancient history of our own Motherland (Book 4 offers the first systematic description of the life and customs of the Scythians in all of ancient literature).


Herodoti Historiae, vols. 1-2. Edited by C. Hude. Oxford, 1908.
In Russian translation:
Gerodot: Istoriia v deviati knigakh, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Translated from the Greek by F. G. Mishchenko. Moscow, 1888.


Buzeskul, V. P. Vvedenie v istoriiu Gretsii, 3rd ed. Petrograd, 1915.
Lur’e, S. Ia. Gerodot. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Dovatur, A. I. Povestvovovatel’nyi i nauchnyi stil’ Gerodota. Leningrad, 1957.
How, W. W., and J. Wells. A Commentary on Herodotus, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Oxford, 1928.
Powell, J. E. A Lexicon to Herodotus. Cambridge, 1938.
Myres, J. L. Herodotus: Father of History. Oxford, 1953.
Riemann, K.-A. Das herodotische Geschichtwerk in der Antike. Munich, 1967. (Dissertation.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


called the Father of History. ?485--?425 bc, Greek historian, famous for his History dealing with the causes and events of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians (490--479)
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