“This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.”
(Herodotus, The Histories, Book 1)
Who Was Herodotus?
Herodotus was born in about 485 BC in the Greek city of Halicarnassus, a city on the coast of Asia Minor. He came from a wealthy Greek merchant family . However, in the middle of the 6th century BC, Halicarnassus became a province of the Persian Empire and was ruled by a tyrant by the name of Lygdamis. Herodotus’ family opposed Persian rule and fled to island of Samos. Years later, Herodotus returned briefly to Halicarnassus to take part in an anti-Persian rule rebellion (“Herodotus”). Afterwards, Herodotus began his worldly travels and his journey in creating The Histories.
Instead of settling in one place, Herodotus spent his life traveling from one place to another. He crossed the Mediterranean, explored the land of Egypt and traveled throughout the entirety of the Middle East. He headed to the Greek mainland and visited all the islands of the Greek Archipelago. He sailed throughout the Mediterranean Sea and up and down rivers – exploring whatever land the water touched. While he traveled, Herodotus collected personal inquiries (“Herodotus”). Meaning, he listened to myths and legends, recorded oral histories and made notes of the places and things that he saw.
Herodotus spent his entire life working on just one project: an account of the origins and execution of the Greco-Persian Wars (499–479 BC), which he called The Histories (“Greco-Persian Wars”). In part, The Histories was a straightforward account of the wars. It was also Herodotus’ attempt to try explain the conflict by exploring the Persians’ imperial worldview through a cause-and-effect lens. The Histories also incorporated observations and stories, both factual and fictional as scholars later identified, from Herodotus’ travels (“Histories (Herodotus)”). Sometime around the year 425 BC, the writer and geographer Herodotus published his long account of the Greco-Persian Wars and soon after died around the age of 60 (“Herodotus”).
After Herodotus died, editors divided his Histories into nine books – each one being named after one of the nine Muses (“Histories (Herodotus)”). The organization of the book is as follows:
- The first five books look into the past to explain the rise and fall of the Persian Empire, with special attention being paid to Egypt in Book 2. They describe the geography of each state, kingdom, and province the Persians conquered and explore the conquered people and their customs.
- The next four books tell the story of the war itself, from the invasions of Greece by Persian emperors to the Greek triumphs over the Persians. The Histories end with Herodotus writing:
“The Persians now realized that Cyrus reasoned better than they, and they departed, choosing rather to be rulers on a barren mountain side than dwelling in tilled valleys to be slaves to others.”
(Herodotus, The Histories, Book 9)
Why is Herodotus important?
Before Herodotus, no writer had even made such a systematic, thorough study of the past or tried to explain the cause-and-effect of its events (“History.com staff”). After Herodotus, scholars have been following in his footsteps for over 2,000 years as they analyze the past in order to preserve and learn from it. As a group of students, we decided to embody Herodotus’ spirit and analyze his work in order to see what we can gleam from the past using today’s digital tools for our group project so that we can better understand the world of antiquity.