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Rise and Fall of Empires




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Mediterranean Chronology


c. 485-425 BC


Herodotus is the first Greek historian. His great work, The Histories, is the story of the war between the huge Persian empire and the much smaller Greek city-states. In itself it is an exciting story, but the work is important for a number of reasons.

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Herodotus was not the first historian, but he was the first to make investigation the key to history. The word "history" comes from a Greek word which means "inquiry" or "investigation." He wanted to find what actually happened, so he traveled extensively in the Eastern Mediterranean, including visits to Egypt and Persia. He talked to many people, including people who actually witnessed the events he wrote about. While people today might criticize him for his tendency to include inaccurate and often implausible information, he nevertheless established the notion that history must begin with research.

His book is also significant for its scope. While its focus is the Persian Wars, the book covers the entire Eastern Mediterranean world from the time of the Lydian Empire (ca. 672 BC) to the defeat of Xerxes in 479 BC. In the course of telling this story and reflecting this sense of inquiry, he also takes time to tell us about the customs of the Egyptian, the Hittites, and most of the peoples the Greeks would have come into contact with. The result is not a tightly reasoned argument about the Persian War, but rather a kind of loosely organized encyclopedia of the Ancient Mediterranean. Much of what we know about many of the ancient peoples comes to us only from Herodotus.

The theme of The Histories is the struggle between The East and The West. The East, represented by the Persian Empire, signifies tyranny and oppression. The West, represented by the Greek city-states, signifies freedom. Thus as Herodotus interprets the Persian Wars we have the beginnings of Western Civilization and the association of that tradition with freedom.

Edited, Researched and Written by: David Koeller
Sept. 17, 1996

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