Greek History

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Greek History

"In this book, the result of my inquiries into history, I hope to…preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own

and of the Asiatic peoples…." With this "mission statement" Herodotus introduces his Histories, the first recorded history text in the western world. Using fragments

of the past he reconstructs a picture of the whole; the objects of his researches included first-hand accounts and tales passed down through generations, physical

remains and artifacts, and his own intelligence and creativity. Using sources such as these (though he cites nothing), Herodotus describes the foundation of the Theran

colony of Cyrene, ca. 630 B.C.E.. In compiling this account, he may have used the colony's foundation decree. The facts given in this decree, which we know through

a fourth century B.C.E. inscription, agree with those given in the Histories. The authenticity of this decree is strong. The decree could not have been the only source

Herodotus consulted, for while certain details in the Histories agree with the foundation decree, Herodotus gives an account of Cyrene's founding containing much more


Both accounts begin with Apollo's oracle at Delphi urging the Therans to found a new colony in Libya, on the coast of northern Africa. Already Herodotus' account

goes into much more detail than the inscription. The inscription tells only that, on the oracular advice, Thera sends Battos with colonists to Libya. Herodotus, however,

records how the Theran king Grinnos chose Battos, not a Theran by birth, to be the leader of the colonists. Herodotus' account continues with a description of a long

delay in the found...

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...Works Cited addendum to the Histories, and scholars have often maligned his work for taking many liberties with sparse evidence to flesh out the work. Such scholars

can, however, use facts and artifacts known to modern archaeology to confirm his writing, and the inscription of the Theran decree does verify the Histories on several

counts. Other aspects of the events related in the Histories, such as Herodotus' record of the dead at Marathon, archaeologists have proven through research and excavation. Alone the colonization decree cannot completely prove the truth of Herodotus' account, for he provides many aspects to the story which lie beyond the scope of the decree, but it does serve to reign in the skepticism with which several classicists regard the Histories.


Demand, Nancy. A History of Ancient Greece. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
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