History of historiography

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The history of historiography deals with the origins and development of the representation of the past.

There were approaches to historical documentation already in antiquity with ancient oriental peoples such as Babylonians , Assyrians , Egyptians and Persians . In particular, inscriptions are preserved in which the deeds of the rulers are praised. These testimonies are only partly records of actual history , but mostly defensive writings . This also applies to the accounts of the Israelites in the Old Testament .

In ancient Greece , historiography in the modern sense began. Likewise, historical works were written in China in the time before the birth of Christ . Since the 19th century, modern history has developed critical-theoretical approaches to researching history and writing history ( source criticism ). In this academic study of texts, the attempt is made to capture the intent to make a statement.


The word history has an ambivalent meaning in German. On the one hand it describes the events themselves (Latin res gestae , actually "the deeds"), on the other hand the report of the events (Latin historia rerum gestarum , actually the experience of the deeds). Can Similarly, historiography , the history over a certain period (for example, the historiography of the French Revolution) as well as the Historiografiegeschichte, so the history of historiography mine. In addition to the history of historiography in the narrower sense, which cannot be reduced to the history of historical science , discussions of the theory of historiography are often included in historiography.

Historiography makes use of the sources of knowledge, inter alia, from literary studies and philosophy . Through the history of historiography, budding historians get to know the methodological controversies and political disputes, without whose knowledge they would not understand the historical specialist literature .

“However, the history of historiography is more than the history of science: with the help of methods of social and cultural history, it tries to analyze the institutions of the subject as well as the political, social and cultural requirements of the earlier professional practice of historians. By working out collective traditional patterns, areas of conflict, but also interdisciplinary economic cycles, she reveals the unconscious, ie misunderstood inheritance or non-reflected aspects of one's own scientific work or one's own professional position and situation. For example, it can reveal how the social dominance of men in this profession was for a long time associated with a decidedly 'masculine' view of the state, society and culture of earlier times and, in some cases, is still today. "

Insofar as the history of historiography critically examines the conditions of production and (hesitantly) also the reception conditions of historical knowledge, it is of general interest.



The history of European historiography began in ancient times . Most of the ancient historiography has been lost or only preserved in fragments (in quotations, summaries and excerpts). The Greek fragments are collected in The Fragments of the Greek Historians (incomplete) and in Brill's New Jacoby (still incomplete, with English translation and commentary). The fragments of Roman historians are collected in The Fragments of the Roman Historians (including English translation and commentary). For late antiquity, several previously inadequately edited texts with a German translation and a philological-historical commentary are published under the series title Small and fragmentary historians of late antiquity . The Translated Texts for Historians series (English translations with commentary) is also important.

The decisive feature of historiography is the existence of an (at least allegedly) researching author who organizes, interprets and presents the results of his explorations (Greek historiē ), selected by his reason ( lógos ). This is why Homer's epic chants from the Iliad and the Odyssey cannot yet be defined as works of history , although they naturally deal with historical experiences - but probably only from the time they were written (8th century BC). The actions of the 24 chants are poetic, the transmission of historical events is irrelevant, and above all the narrator of the epics (not mentioned in the text) refers to the inspiration of the muses and not, as is crucial for historiography, to his own research and considerations . While it used to be unclear whether there were any historical references in the Homeric epics, the existence of Troy is now mostly seen as proven by Heinrich Schliemann's research (only recently this identification has been vehemently questioned by researchers like Frank Kolb ). The intention to depict the epics is primarily an artistic one and not an attempt to reproduce what happened. The Homeric epics can therefore serve as historical sources, at least for the time of their creation, but do not represent historiography themselves.

Some modern and especially postmodern historians also consider older, predominantly literary, religious, legal or administrative texts or lists (not only from Europe) to be “narratives” or contemporary historical documentation that are relevant to historical studies. Although these texts also contain historical information and are therefore in part important historical sources, they do not represent historiography themselves.

Part of the Old Testament is designed as a historical report, for example the Book of Kings and the Chronicle; However, here too the element of the historian who takes responsibility for the content is missing; in its place comes the appeal to God. In addition, the Bible as a whole is not designed as a work of history, but serves to proclaim. On the other hand, contemporary chronicles, reports on the deeds of Egyptian pharaohs or the Sumerian list of kings are an important source . A characteristic of the oriental tradition is the extensive renunciation of internal consistency: internal contradictions are often not resolved, different versions of a story stand side by side. This applies to the Bible as well as to later Persian and Muslim authors.

Ancient historians pursued different methods and goals than modern historians . Central to the understanding of Greco-Roman historiography is the fact that these texts were literary works of art that were subject to genre rules and conventions: For more than 1000 years, the ancient historians conspicuously placed themselves in the tradition of their predecessors, in terms of method and style , Topic and choice of material. The fact that historiography as a genre with its own rules was already reflected on at a high level in antiquity is proven by, among other things, the - sometimes ironic - instructions by Lukians How to write history ( Πῶς δεῖ ἱστορίαν συγγράφειν , around 170 AD). For ancient historiography, the basic rule of literary studies applies that one always has to distinguish between author and narrator.

Herodotus , the "father of historiography" ( pater historiae ), was considered the first historian in antiquity ; One of the most important precursors is Hecataus of Miletus . The beginnings of ancient historiography in particular are closely linked to geography. Ancient historiography was an extremely diverse literary genre and included, among other things, universal and local history, contemporary history works, special monographs on individual topics (wars, regional studies, ethnography, etc.), biographical representations, etc. The interests of ancient historians were explicitly limited Questions and aspects, especially everyday life and socio-economic processes, were generally not considered suitable subjects. Ammianus Marcellinus summarized this in late antiquity as follows by responding to alleged critics:

They feel offended if one ignores what the emperor said at table, or leaves out the reason for which some ordinary soldiers were punished under the banner, or because one was not allowed to remain silent about the events in small forts and there are more similar allegations. But they contradict the rules of historiography, which only describes the high points of events, but does not track down the details of the lower spheres. Because if someone really wanted to research these, he might as well have the hope that those indivisible particles that float in empty space and that we Greeks call "atoms" could be counted. (Ammianus 26,1,1)

It would therefore be completely wrong to refer to the ancient historians presented below - by Herodotus in the 5th century BC. BC to Theophylactus Simokates in the early 7th century AD - to be measured by modern standards of historical objectivity, especially since many did not reflect on their sources or embellish their report, although "truthfulness" - sometimes only as a stylistic device - is always repeated was demanded and also partially realized (see below Thucydides , Tacitus , Ammianus Marcellinus ). The works of the important ancient historians (such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybios, Titus Livius , Tacitus, Ammianus, Prokopios) are rather artistic prose of often high quality. Their authors did not see themselves as scientists in the modern sense, but rather as philosophers, writers and rhetoricians who processed, filtered, interpreted and, in some cases, manipulated the material available to them according to their intended effect. This also applies to relatively reliable authors such as Thucydides or Tacitus.

The circumstances of the time made things even more difficult: the respective historians did not always get all the information they needed, this depended on their own abilities, among other things, on their position and social network. In the Roman Empire, very few historians wrote, even if they wrote contemporary history, about the immediate present in which they wrote their work, since critical portrayals of the emperors could be dangerous for the authors. Often they described a period up to a few years before the drafting period, when another emperor was in power and criticism could thus be more easily exercised; Panegyricists reported more about the contemporary rulers who only reported positive things.

Like other literary texts, the works of ancient historiography therefore always require thorough interpretation and criticism; their statements should never be accepted without questioning (see source criticism and hermeneutics ). Of course, it is also important for the evaluation whether it is a contemporary historical work, the author and intended audience of which had experienced the report themselves, or whether the report was about a time long past at the time of the author and his readers.

See also: List of abbreviations used by ancient authors and work titles



Historiography in the narrower sense begins, as already explained, with the Greek historians Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon , Polybios and Diodorus (for classification see the list of Greek-speaking historians of antiquity ). They are the most famous Greek historians up to the turn of the ages, whose works have been preserved in whole or in large parts. Only fragments have come down to us from others (such as Hecataeus of Miletus , Ephorus of Kyme , Ktesias of Knidos and most of the Alexander historians ) (see The fragments of the Greek historians ). In general, the majority of ancient literature has not come down to us, this also applies to historiography.

Ancient Greek historiography was the product of a protracted development process. Its roots lie in the epic, the development during the great Greek colonization (8th to 6th centuries BC), including the subsequent voyages of discovery and the associated expansion of geographical knowledge, as well as in the rationalistic approach developed by the Ionic natural philosophers 6th century BC Forerunners of the historians since Herodotus are the so-called logographers (a term that is increasingly rejected in modern research for methodological reasons because it suggests a false cohesion), which include Hecataeus of Miletus , Pherecytes of Athens and Dionysius of Miletus . Processes of change can be recognized in ancient historiography. Is with Herodotus, the "father of history", in the 5th century BC. Even though Herodotus also emphasizes that the actions of people determine the course of history, most of the later historians predominantly describe the factual, i.e. historical, with only occasional myths or religious motives.

The demands on your own work are important. Herodotus calls his historical work histories , which is to be understood in the sense of exposition and exploration , and repeatedly mentions his oral research and questions. He emphasizes that he only reports on connections that he has researched himself (Proemium I. 15; II. 19, 118). Thucydides proceeds even more systematically and, as he himself says, according to the principle of accuracy (Thuk. I. 22.2 f.), Whereby this statement was apparently also directed against Herodotus. Thucydides claimed to see his work as "possession for all time" (ktéma eis aeí). It should be noted that Herodotus and Thucydides, whose works are written on a high literary level, were central models for other ancient historians until late antiquity .

Herodotus' central theme in his nine books of comprehensive histories , which in principle represent a universal history, are above all the Persian Wars , in the context of which large parts of the population of ancient Greece developed a kind of “community feeling”, even if Herodotus portrayed an “East-West - Opposite "is probably not tenable. The histories , published around 430 BC. Chr., Represent a new literary genre in which historical events are recorded in prose form; However, some researchers believe that other historical prose writers were also active alongside Herodotus. The histories partly contain very valuable information, especially in ethnographic and geographical terms in his numerous digressions; partly reported Herodotus, who probably relied mainly on oral traditions, but also quite unreflected. Due to some errors, Herodotus' value is also not undisputed in modern research. At times he has been accused in modern research of having invented reports or even his travels, but his work as a whole, despite a more critical view, is valued as a literary work and as a source for the Persian Wars.

Thucydides , who wrote about 30 years after Herodotus, criticized Herodotus' methodology as inadequate. Thucydides is important because of his eight books, which date back to 411 BC. Chr. Rich history of the Peloponnesian War , with which the political historiography begins. His demanding contemporary historical treatise (unlike Herodotus, who reported on events that he had not witnessed himself) should form a "scientific" counterpoint to Herodotus' work. Thucydides, who believed to identify the urge for power as the mainspring of human activity, was strongly influenced by sophistry and was convinced that everything that happened can be explained rationally (this is also expressed in the stylized speeches in his work). He also succeeded in making the leap to a certain “scientification”, for example by making a strict distinction between pretended reasons and the (in his opinion) real reasons for the war between Athens and Sparta and placing value on his own research. This basic assumption, according to which the actual motives of the people are always kept secret, became groundbreaking for European intellectual history. Thucydides is also (probably not without good reason) praised as the most important historian of antiquity, although his work is problematic in some respects, as we do not always know his selection criteria, for example, according to which he analyzed, and this is one of the reasons why his approach is so appears modern because his work has had a massive impact on political thinking in Europe since its rediscovery in the Renaissance .

His successor Xenophon is known for his anabasis or the "train of ten thousand" Greek mercenaries into the Achaemenid Empire (see Cyrus the Younger ). With his work Hellenika (History of Greece from 411 to 362 BC in seven books) he followed directly on to the work of Thucydides and thus established an ancient historiographical tradition ( historia perpetua , i.e. a continued contemporary history). Xenophon did not reach the analytical level of Thucydides, as several modern researchers are of the opinion that the Greek historiography after Thucydides decreased qualitatively and only Polybius orientated himself again to the standards of Thucydides. This position is not without controversy, since it ultimately adopts value and taste judgments that were already widespread in antiquity, but according to its representatives can be substantiated by the following historical works: The only fragmentary works of the Ktesias of Knidos ( Persica and Indica ) for example, which were often read in antiquity, contain largely unbelievable episodes, although his work is being received more strongly again in more recent research (for example with regard to the perception of the Orient by the Greeks). Of the numerous works that followed on from Thucydides or Xenophon or dealt with the subsequent period, only fragments have been preserved, which makes the assessment very difficult. The Hellenika Oxyrhynchia (whose author is controversial), the works of Theopompus , the Ephoros of Kyme , the Timaeus of Tauromenion as well as the Dinon of Colophon and Herakleides of Kyme are to be mentioned . The latter two, like Ktesias , wrote Persika , that is, historical works about Persia; Special writings on India ( Indicá ) were also created (especially in later times ).

The works of the immediate historians of Alexander ( Callisthenes of Olynthus , Anaximenes of Lampsakos , Aristobulus of Kassandreia , Kleitarchos and others) have been lost, apart from a few fragments. Jerome of Kardia also wrote a reliable history of the early Diadoch period after Alexander's death . In the period that followed, several other works were created (see, among others, Duris of Samos , Demetrios of Kallatis , Phylarchos ). Several Greek authors also treated the events in the west in the 3rd / 2nd centuries. Century BC BC (such as Philinos from Akragas , Sosylos , Silenus from Kaleakte, etc.). The vast majority of Hellenistic historical works since the time of Alexander have been lost with the exception of a few fragments. Several of these works, however, were used by later historians. This includes, for example, the one in the 1st century BC. Diodorus who lived in BC, collected content from largely lost works (also from classical times) and a summary based on this in 40 books up to around 55 BC. Chr. Made. This is not always reliable, but still valuable, especially due to the poor transmission of sources from this period.


One reason why so little of the historiography between Xenophon and Diodorus has survived is the classicism of the imperial era. Since the 1st century AD, the view prevailed in educated circles that the literature of Hellenism was largely worthless, which led to these works in the course of the 2nd / 3rd century AD . Century were no longer copied and were largely forgotten. Imperial authors such as Arrian , who evaluated Hellenistic historians for his Anabasis Alexandrou , but linguistically corresponded to the taste of his time, only partially took their place. Mainly due to the subject matter of his work, only Polybius was an exception here . Came to Rome as a hostage and then wrote a story of Rome's rise to world power. In his comprehensive book 40 histories , which are partially received, he treated the period 264-146 v. Like Thucydides, on whom he obviously orientated himself, Polybius was keen to reproduce the events as precisely as possible - and like Thucydides, Polybius proceeded rationally and systematically, but also with an open mind. In doing so, he attributed a special share to the successes of Rome to the “constitution” of the Roman Republic : it was the model example of a mixed constitution that gave stability to the community. Polybius expressed himself contemptuously of most of the contemporary historians, whom he believed he was far superior. Poseidonios followed directly from Polybios , who in his (only fragmentarily preserved) work in 52 books the history up to 79 BC. Chr. Depicted.

In the period that followed, many ancient historians wrote in Greek, but lived after Rome entered the Mediterranean from 30 BC. Fully controlled, under Roman rule. They are therefore dealt with in the following section.

Rome and the Roman world

Roman historiography began late compared to Greek history. The first Roman historical work, the work of Quintus Fabius Pictor (end of the 3rd century BC) was also written in Greek; It is controversial whether he was therefore also addressing a primarily non-Roman public, as was generally assumed in the past. Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius wrote in the 2nd century BC BC, with its largely lost origins, is the first historical prose work in Latin. Particularly important representatives of Latin historiography are Gaius Sallustius Crispus , Titus Livius , Caesar (who presented his own deeds), Velleius Paterculus , Quintus Curtius Rufus , Tacitus , Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (not a historian in the narrower sense, but whose biographies are of value) and finally Ammianus Marcellinus . Only work titles or fragments are known of many other Roman historians.

In Latin there is the loan word Historia , which, in contrast to the previous annals , denotes a deeper, coherent (time) historical representation and expressly places itself in the tradition of Greek historiography with its rules and peculiarities. The mainly contemporary character of the Latin Historiae , in contrast to the Annales (which dealt with the more distant past), was already established in antiquity. Author of Historiae among other things were Sempronius Asellio (160-90 v. Chr.), Cornelius Sisenna (d. 67 v. Chr.), Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86-34 v. Chr.), Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 v. BC – 5 AD) and Cornelius Tacitus (approx. 58 – approx. 120 AD). Until the end of the Republic, historiography in Rome was primarily an activity that was carried out by senators and which therefore also had a pro-senatorial tendency (see Senatorial historiography ). And in the imperial era, too, many works with a pro-senatorial character were created, even though the changed circumstances initially led to the destruction of individual works that the emperors disliked (see Aulus Cremutius Cordus and Titus Labienus ). Especially in the works of Tacitus the reference to the lost “republican freedom” is palpable (see below). After him one finally came to terms with the monarchy, but even in late antiquity many historians wrote from the perspective of the senate aristocracy and exercised "imperial criticism".

Gaius Iulius Caesar described his own war in Gaul with the Commentarii . Although it is essentially a statement of accounts by Caesar and represents his view of things, indirectly highlighting his achievements, the factual, concise style and clarity of the work are remarkable. We have also received his work on the civil war, which has an even stronger legitimizing character and was continued secondhand. Moreover, even Sallust to call, among other things, on the Jugurthine war and the conspiracy of Catiline reported whose histories are obtained only fragmentary. Nevertheless, Sallust's understanding of history , which was strongly influenced by Thucydides (which concerns a more psychological-moral perspective), had an impact on several later historians. The work of Gaius Asinius Pollio , who described the civil war at the time of Caesar and probably tried to correct it, has not survived, but was used by later historians (including Appian ).

At the time of Augustus, Titus Livius wrote a monumental historical work of 142 books on the city of Rome . The important work, however, is only very incomplete. Livy began with his description of the legendary foundation in 753 BC. BC (which is otherwise not documented) and dealt with the time up to the year 9 BC. He has worked on numerous (partly lost) works, for example for long distances. B. heavily based on the aforementioned Polybios . Existing parts of Livy’s works only go back to the middle of the 2nd century BC, although most of the rest of the works contain information about their contents ( periochae ).

Tacitus , probably the greatest Roman historian, wrote the Germania (not a historical work in the narrower sense) at the end of the 1st century AD and at the beginning of the 2nd century about half of the history of the emperors ( annals from 14 to the Year 69 and the histories covering the period from 69 to 96). His imperial history (in the annals and histories ) is stylistically and intellectually the climax of Roman historiography. But Tacitus was also strongly republican and condemned the principate as the end of the old (noble) republican freedoms, although it was clear to him that the republic was irretrievably lost. His motto sine ira et studio has often been misunderstood as a commitment to objectivity; In fact, Tacitus just wanted to emphasize that he had no selfish motives such as revenge or flattery for his thoroughly subjective assessment of the events. Therefore, he was not unfaithful to his maxim by expressing his criticism indirectly and allowing his interpretations to flow into the presentation. His view of things has also partly strongly influenced modern research (see for example Ronald Syme ), but at the same time many of his judgments are often no longer shared, such as his extremely negative view of Tiberius . What has been lost, however, are the historical works of the older Pliny , Aufidius Bassus and Servilius Nonianus, as well as others, although several of these works were used by Tacitus.

We also have the (brief and incomplete) Roman history of Velleius Paterculus (from the time of Tiberius) as well as Sueton's imperial biographies from the 2nd century (from Augustus to Domitian , where he also treated Caesar, but not to counted to the Roman emperors). Sueton's emperor biographies contain all kinds of gossip as well as a lot of valuable information, as Suetonius had access to valuable sources in some cases. Sueton's biographical representation basically did not belong to the genre of historiography at all, although historiography and biographical representation were in some cases increasingly converging (as in Tacitus in the annals or, on the other hand, in Plutarch's biographies). The popular biographical form of representation exerted an enormous influence on Latin historiography, with the result that Roman historiography in Latin apparently flattened out considerably from the 2nd to the 4th century (see Breviary ). It was only Ammianus Marcellinus (see below) who wrote a demanding historical work in Latin that obeyed the traditional genre rules.

The Greek-language historiography in the Imperium Romanum was not affected by this development. During the Roman Empire , important historians continued to write in Greek, for example under Augustus Dionysius of Halicarnassus and in the 2nd century Appian and Arrian . While Appian wrote a Roman story and used several valuable, now lost sources (including Asinius Pollio and probably Timagenes of Alexandria ), Arrian described the campaign of Alexander the great . Arrian relied on good sources and has given us the most accurate representation of the Alexanderzug , since only fragments of the contemporary works on the life of Alexander have survived. Arrian also wrote some other historical works that have largely been lost today, such as a Diadoch story and a Parthian story .

The only more or less completely preserved story of Alexander in Latin is the work of Quintus Curtius Rufus (see also Alexander Historians ). Also to be mentioned is Junianus Justinus , who wrote a short version in Latin of the more comprehensive (and not preserved) historical work of Pompeius Trogus .

Also significant is Plutarch (end of the 1st century AD), whose historical biographies , like those Suetons, cannot be directly counted as part of the literary genre of historiography, but enjoyed great popularity in antiquity and thereafter. Lucian of Samosata wrote a satirical work around 170 AD that mocked the mannerism of contemporary Greek historiographers.

Furthermore, there are only a few narrative sources or only fragmentarily preserved works about the Roman imperial period up to the dawn of late antiquity. Most important of all is Cassius Dio , a Roman senator from the Greek east of the empire; In the Severan period (around 200 AD) he wrote a comprehensive Greek-language, only partially preserved history of Rome from its beginnings to his time in 80 books. In doing so, he probably relied on reliable sources. Noteworthy is his stylization of the time of the adoptive emperors as a supposedly golden time of Rome; its assessment has also been adopted by many modern historians and has only recently been increasingly questioned. Like Tacitus, Cassius Dio also described the event from a decidedly pro-senatorial point of view . Around the middle of the 3rd century, Herodian also wrote a Roman imperial story covering the years 180 to 238 (also in Greek), which has been completely preserved, but is not always reliable and also partly depends heavily on Dio.

Late antiquity

Only a few Greco-Roman sources are available for the time of the imperial crisis of the 3rd century , although the contemporary historiography was probably quite extensive. Apart from fragments such as those by Publius Herennius Dexippus , most of the works of this period have been lost, such as the historical works of Nicostratus of Trebizond , the younger Ephorus and a certain Eusebius .

In the early 4th century Praxagoras of Athens wrote three historical works, which (apart from a summary of his biography of Constantine) have not survived. For the later 4th century, however, we have another great historical work that is largely reliable and stylistically successful: The Res Gestae by Ammianus Marcellinus , who, although Greek himself, wrote in Latin. Ammianus' imperial history is among the surviving works the last great Latin historical work of antiquity. Ammianus had linked to Tacitus, but books 1 to 13 of his work have not come down to us. The remaining books (14 to 31) report on the events between 353 and 378 in more detail and overall very reliably. The work was created around 395, is one of the most important sources for the period of late antiquity and can certainly compete with other classical works .

In contrast, the so-called Historia Augusta , probably the most controversial “historical work” of antiquity, is an often very unreliable source, written by a late antique, non-Christian author, probably towards the end of the 4th century. However, the Historia Augusta partly includes the lost work of Marius Maximus and probably also the so-called Enmann's imperial story , with which the imperial servants at least up to Elagabal's time also offer some valuable information, but in many other areas also report simply invented things. Strictly speaking, the Historia Augusta is not to be assigned to the genre historiography, but to that of the biography and is therefore subject to different rules.

The so-called breviary literature, represented by Aurelius Victor , Eutropius and the Epitome de Caesaribus , became prominent even before Ammianus and the Historia Augusta . Among these, only the work of Aurelius Victor (around 360) can be considered linguistically and intellectually demanding, despite its brevity. Obviously the reading of longer Latin works no longer met the taste of the times, and a comprehensive knowledge of history could no longer be assumed. The Enmann's imperial story (see also Eusebius of Nantes ) obviously served as the most important model. In addition, chronicles were now popular in West and East, which reported briefly, in the simplest language and sorted by years on the past. Among other things, a world chronicle of the Heliconius of Byzantium has been lost .

A quarry for the now largely lost Greek historiography of the 4th century is the New History of the avowed pagan Zosimos (around 500), which is strongly subjectively colored and is largely based on the lost work of Eunapios von Sardis and other older authors. It deals with the period up to 410. The very important Greek historical works of Olympiodoros of Thebes and Priscus , which treated the 5th century as contemporaries, were evidently extensive and demanding. However, they are only preserved in fragments - like most of the late antique historians, they were in the classical tradition and tried to write works closely based on Herodotus and Thucydides. However, their works were used by later authors, so Olympiodoros demonstrably by Zosimos and even some church historians. The historical works of Malchus of Philadelphia , Candidus and Eustathios of Epiphaneia are also lost, apart from a few fragments . The passages that have been preserved prove that the tradition of ancient historiography continued to flourish, at least in Eastern Europe.

Only the work of Prokopios of Caesarea (Prokop), who wrote a high-level history of the wars of the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I in Greek around the middle of the 6th century , is complete again from the works of the late antique classicist authors receive. Prokopios also wrote a history of the emperor's buildings and a so-called “secret story”, a diatribe that was published only after his death, in which at the same time a wealth of arguments for a fundamentally oppositional attitude to Justinian is put together. Prokopios is generally considered to be the last ancient historian of rank.

One often reads that in the west of the Imperium Romanum the ancient historiographical tradition was extinguished as early as the 5th century. However, it is more correct that the Latin historical works that were written at that time have almost disappeared without a trace: at the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries, Virius Nicomachus Flavianus and Sulpicius Alexander wrote great historical works, and around the middle of the 5th century Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus wrote contemporary history . Only the poorest excerpts have come down to us from these works, the work of Nicomachus Flavianus is only known by name. The Roman history in seven books, published around 520 by the highly educated Senator Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus , is practically lost without a trace, as are several other works, including the historiola of Maximus of Saragossa and Secundus of Trento . Nonetheless, it was not until after 550 that the western Roman nobility as a bearer of the classical educational tradition went under that ancient historiography also died out in the west.

In the Eastern Roman Empire such historical works were even written until the 7th century. Examples of the ancient historiographical tradition that remained alive in the East are Agathias (who followed Prokopios), Menander Protektor (important but largely lost) and finally Theophylactus Simokates . In Estrom, around 552 , Jordanes also wrote his Latin “Gothic story”. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the numerous late antique chronicles that were written both in the west ( Prosper Tiro of Aquitaine , Hydatius of Aquae Flaviae ) and in the east ( Marcellinus Comes , Johannes Malalas and the Chronicon Paschale ) were also important. However, apart from a few fragments, the histories of Petros Patrikios (see also Anonymus post Dionem and Leoquelle ) as well as the historical works of Theophanes of Byzantium and John of Epiphaneia , all of which were written in the 6th century, are lost. At that time, historical works were also written in Syrian. After Theophylactus (around 630), historiography finally gave way to a new form, which was more Christian in character (see Byzantine historiography ), after a subsequent phase of crisis in which hardly any literary works were created in Ostrom either .

In the area of church histories of late antiquity , the Greek works of Eusebius of Caesarea (the "father of church historiography "), Theodorets , Socrates Scholastikos , Sozomenos , Philostorgios and Euagrios Scholastikos are to be mentioned, and those of the profane history are increasingly given wide space and in part contain important information.

Less known, but still of great value, are Syrian - such as the church history of John of Ephesus or the Chronicle of Joshua Stylites - and Armenian works ( Sebeos ).

The online database Clavis Historicorum Antiquitatis Posterioris (CHAP) now offers an overview of all known historical works of late antiquity .

Bible and Patristic

The Old Testament does not know the term "history" and consequently also does not know the "exploratory" character of historiography. The term for "chronicle" is dibre ha-jamin , i. H. The events of the day . The narrative writings of the Old Testament are called ketubim , the written (see also Tanach ). Also in the New Testament, originally written in ancient Greek, a word for the concept of history is missing in today's understanding.

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles of the New Testament form a special literary form. In his preface to his Gospel, Luke in particular gives the impression at first glance that he wants to write a work of historiography, and so the text is also misunderstood in connection with the Acts of the Apostles. But none of the evangelists saw themselves as historians. Lukas' intention was not to document past events, rather he wanted to show the truth and persuasiveness of the teaching he preached. Otherwise, his careful follow-up from the beginning could not have allowed a childhood story.

Rather, the Acts of the Apostles can be viewed as historiography if one takes into account that the author stands in the ancient Greek tradition. He was not concerned with the preservation of historical facts, but with a didactic goal that was to be achieved with the help of a representation of events formed on this basis. In the present case, the spread of the Christian faith to Rome is presented as God's plan.

In the early Church, the parousia delay also had an impact on historiography. The patristic begins to interpret the time between Jesus' death and his second coming as a period of development and growth to an end. Already the 1st letter of Clement developed the idea of ​​a maturity period. This maturation and education period is divided into periods parallel to the creation of the world within seven days. In the letter of Barnabas, the seven days of creation are related to world history: Six millennia have already passed, the seventh millennium was initiated by Jesus. The new world will begin on the eighth day. Next to it is the doctrine of the four kingdoms , which can be traced back to Daniel.

The historiography of patristics attempts to make predictions about the future. It represents a belief in the return of Christ and his millennial reign on earth, i. H. a chiliasm in its premillenarian variety. The Second Coming and the Last Judgment were foretold in the year 1000.

The church history , first served the Apology : The unbroken succession of bishops should prove the purity of doctrine, because the heretics could not have such continuity. This view was held by Clement of Rome , Tertullian and Irenaeus of Lyons . For the same reason, Eusebius of Caesarea undertook , following the preparatory work of Julius Africanus , to combine profane chronography with salvation history and thus compose a Christian world history, the Chronicon . In his later Historia ecclesiastica he wrote that he was the first to endeavor to collect the present fragments of earlier authors like flowers in the corridors of the mind and to put them together in historical representation ( Patrologiae cursus completus, Series I: Ecclesia Graeca 20, 51). The work begins with the primeval Logos , then is devoted to the signs referring to Christ and reports that humanity at the time of the Roman Empire was worthy to receive the Logos and ends with the reign of Constantine, under which the Church developed freely for the first time could.

At the instigation of Augustine of Hippo , Orosius wrote his historia contra paganos (story against the heathen). The historical material is described in more detail and also brought into the scheme of the four world empires following the example of Euseb, whereby the Roman Empire was the last of the end times. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Endreich is thought to have passed from the Romans to the Teutons ( translatio imperii ). The framework of salvation history remains largely determinative, even if it gradually fades into the background.

This type of historiography is based on a transcendent order scheme. Although the authors emphasize that they have critically examined the material found, the facts are subordinated to this prescribed order. The choice and weighting of the presentation result from the primacy of religion. A historiography independent of this, as it was partially developed in antiquity, becomes meaningless.

European Middle Ages

History as a science did not occupy a special place in the canon of the artes liberales . Augustine of Hippo and Isidore of Seville placed the story in grammar . The grammar serves to understand the sources and help to visualize what happened.

The historiography of the Middle Ages differed considerably from ancient historiography, even if it was based on the late ancient tradition, which the Roman Empire understood as the last world empire in history. The conception of history, like that of patristicism, referred to the eschatological expectation of the Last Judgment, was thus finite and was under the influence of God.

Isidore of Seville's understanding of history in the 7th century is important for understanding medieval historiography. Accordingly, the historian had to tell the truth and refer to past events. It was also about gaining insight into the divine plan of salvation or understanding it. He differentiated between ephemeris (diaries), calendars (reports that span a few months) and annals (reports over several years). The Historia spanned many years.

Medieval rhetoric required a truthful account of its subject, the notitia rerum . The demands of rhetoric on historia are shown in the terms vera, brevis, dilucida, probabilis ( true, short, clear, plausible ). The plausibility requirement was met when the circumstances were specified and a meaningful whole was created, if necessary by approximating different information. In the first third of the 8th century Beda Venerabilis considered it the true law of historiography to collect the generally known narrative material ( fama ) and to pass it on to posterity for education. Others emphasized the distinction between the rumor and the confirmed news, for example Rudolf von Fulda in the 9th century.

In the beginning , the focus was often on folk tales, for example by the Franks , Goths and Anglo-Saxons , but the reports of the popes' actions were soon added. The Carolingian Renaissance sharpened our view of antiquity again.

The main types of historiography were biographies , annals , chronicles and reports of deeds, although the differences were in part fluid. Gregory of Tours wrote with his Historiae a Christian universal history, which in the last books is a detailed contemporary history and a valuable source on the history of Gaul in the 6th century. As chroniclers example pseudo occurred Fredegar , Thietmar of Merseburg , Otto of St. Blaise and Matthias von Neuenburg out who wrote in Latin. Annals were already written in Carolingian times, including the Reichsannalen and the Metz Annals ; In the 11th century, Lambert von Hersfeld wrote historical annals in Latin, to name but a few. At first it was mainly monks or clergymen (partly at court) who drew up these sources through knowledge of the scriptures.

In Scandinavia came the time of the sagas , the main representative of which was Snorri Sturluson . To a large extent, it built on existing records. Significant information is also provided by the Annálar , which were written in the scriptoria of the episcopal see , but also on various Icelandic farms. In the east it is the Nestor Chronicle that provides essential information about the formation of the Rus empire .

According to Hugo von St. Victor (around 1128), an essential prerequisite for writing history is the examination of the facts in relation to the time, the place and the people involved. The description should show the course of the times in a continuous context. Hugo and, before him, Einhard and Regino von Prüm emphasized that the choice of material must be made according to the importance and worthiness of the events or people as well as its ability to create instructive examples (exempla) for a successful life.

The crusades broadened the geographical horizon. Important chroniclers for this time include Fulcher von Chartres and Wilhelm von Tire . In the High Middle Ages , especially the world chronicles enjoyed great popularity in the Roman-German Empire , which equated the Holy Roman Empire with the Imperium Romanum and, like Bishop Otto von Freising's Chronica sive Historia de duabus civitatibus, included it in the divine plan of salvation in the sense of the Hohenstaufen-friendly propaganda. In the 12th century, the theologian of history Joachim von Fiore presented biblical exegeses in particular and related them to future salvation history.

A great deal of historical material was collected in the 13th century. The schematic and dry chronicle of Martin von Troppau remained the main source of historical knowledge for a long time . Historians such as Jean Froissart , Giovanni Villani , Matteo Villani , Matthew of Paris , Salimbene of Parma and others emerged later and came mainly from the secular area.

In the late Middle Ages , the humanists turned to antiquity, which was associated with the attempt to separate religious history and secular history. In addition, more and more works are being written in the respective vernacular.

The historiography of the cities also gained in importance in the late Middle Ages in the form of chronicles, inscriptions and songs, but also illustrated chronicles and history pictures, especially since city governments began to recognize a political benefit in the presentation of their history. Such historical works attempted to underline the truth of what was represented by the fact that they contained exact dates, based on the authority of the ancients and ancestors who were cited as eyewitnesses of the events, as well as on documents in the archives. The participation of councilors went up to the final correction of city chronicles by the council and gave this historiography an official character.

The Venetian Marco Polo , who is considered to be the first travel reporter, should not go unmentioned . However, the authenticity of his descriptions remains controversial to this day.

Eastern Roman historiography

In contrast to the medieval Latin West, in the Byzantine Empire the nobility of reading and writing were usually powerful. There are Byzantine sources that were not written by clergymen. For example, in late antiquity Prokopios of Caesarea wrote a comprehensive work on the reign of Justinian I , which was written on a very high level - unlike, for example, the work of Zosimos , who wrote a few decades before Prokopius (see above the section on late antique historiography). The work of Agathias followed Prokop without, however, reaching the Prokop level. Finally, Menander Protektor , Theophylaktos Simokates and Johannes Malalas should be mentioned. With the extensive collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 7th century, however, ancient historiography died out. For the period from the middle of the 7th to the 9th century, there are only very few sources, mainly created by clergy (see especially Theophanes ). Between 650 and 850, most of the ancient literature was lost in the East (but to a lesser extent there) and in the West. It was not until the late 9th century, when the transformed empire was consolidated again, that ancient scholarship was revived.

In the 12th century Anna Komnena , the daughter of Emperor Alexios I , wrote a story about her father in her captivity under Emperor Manuel I. This source is important as a testimony to the First Crusade . She describes the arrival of the Latins in Constantinople , the problems during their stay there and the solutions that their father found. In this treatise, the daughter glorifies her father and describes the Latins known as Franks . There are also works by Johannes Zonaras , Johannes Kinnamos , Michael Psellos , Niketas Choniates and Georgios Sphrantzes , among others .

Early modern age

Niccoló Machiavelli

The special interest in art and science of antiquity gave historical science a new status from the 15th century. It became a discipline that, in addition to documenting events, was supposed to encompass rhetoric and poetry and contribute to the moral consolidation of man using examples from antiquity. The profane historiography broke away from the view of the church. At the beginning of the 16th century, Niccolò Machiavelli , on the other hand, developed a historiography that did not deal with moral questions, but rather described from a pragmatic point of view the instruments of power politics to maintain and consolidate the respective form of rule and wanted to show the causes of discord between peoples.

The reformers also valued the importance of knowledge of history. However, they again resorted to religion for moral instruction, which is to be substantiated by historical examples. According to Luther and Melanchthon , the story should "describe God's work, that is grace and anger" . However, a decisive shift in emphasis compared to medieval historiography can be observed with Luther: God's power was therefore nowhere directly visible, since it “rules miraculously” hidden in “larvae and mummery and is only recognizable to the faithful.

Christoph Cellarius ' Historia universalis (title page of the 11th edition from 1753)

The theory of the four world empires was shaken in the 16th and 17th centuries by new knowledge about the history of Asia. The division of space into continents and at the end of the 17th century that of the historical course of time in antiquity , the Middle Ages and modern times was important . Since Christoph Cellarius (1638–1707) the division into ancient , medieval and modern times finally prevailed. He distinguished between the history of Europe and the Mediterranean region in historically datable periods of ancient history , medieval history and modern history . This periodization is seen today as an essential methodological prerequisite for an academic study of history.

The dating of the beginning of the story from the creation of the world was also wavering, as the Bible on the one hand allows different dates and on the other hand was no longer regarded as a historical work. In addition, the very old oriental cultures did not fit into the previously chosen scheme. Attempts to gain an astronomical starting point failed, and the “ante Christum natum” count, which is still in use today, was introduced in Europe . The historiography of this time is characterized by the delimitation of time and space. The Historia mundi was divided into the Historia profana et politica and the Historia sacra et ecclesiastica or divina . This was counted as part of the theological discipline.

At the rulers' courts of the early modern period, state and imperial historiography served as a school for state servants and the education of princes, explained the legal situation of the territories and legitimized claims to power and rule. Church historiography had to justify the claim to truth of the respective denomination, as in the 16th century Matthias Flacius for the Protestant, Cesare Baronio for the Catholic Church. In addition, there was a court historiography that described the members of the ruling houses.

Since the truth of historiography could no longer be measured against Christian dogma, scientific criteria were required, for which methodological and epistemological considerations were to be made. The orientation towards the exact sciences (mathematics, physics) and the disappointment with the historiography, chatting like a novel and distorted for different reasons, led to skepticism or pyrrhonism (i.e. ethical skepticism), for example Jean Hardouins and Friedrich Wilhelm Bierling , at the turn of the 18th century . The story is "a single fraud".


The starting point for Petrarch's histography in the 14th century was the model of antiquity. He tried to apply ancient historical examples to the present (viri illustres). For this he chose the monographic form or reflected on important events (res memorandae). Petrarch understood history as an example. He made judgments based on morals. Historiography must encourage people and give them examples of what they do. He made no source criticism , but followed the source that convinced him the most. It was crucial for the development of historiography that in Petrarch the human being moved into the center of history and thus displaced God.

A historiography based on a scientific basis can only be ascertained among the Italian humanists since the 15th century in the age of Renaissance humanism . These include: Enea Silvio de 'Piccolomini , of whom there is a history of Bohemia, and Flavio Biondo with his books on the topography of ancient Rome.

In the 16th century, the Discorsi and Prince Niccolò Machiavellis were not only philosophical guides for the management of a state, but also treatises of historiography because of their historical reasons. Machiavelli also wrote a story from Florence to Lorenzo de Medici as a commissioned work by the city , which was translated into German by Alfred von Reumont . This work is considered to be the first work of modern historiography. In addition to Macchiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini deserves special mention. His history of Italy remained unchallenged for centuries. It was not until the 19th century that studies by Leopold von Rankes, critical of the source, revealed some inaccuracies in Guicciardini.

Another example is the world chronicle by Hartmann Schedel . However, their value lies mainly in the illustrations . Siegmund von Herberstein wrote the history of the Muscovite Empire during this time .

Reformation time


The contemporary historians were often unilaterally polemical against or for the Reformation . Johannes Sleidanus , Johannes Mathesius and Johannes Cochläus wrote against Martin Luther . The judgment of the later Catholic historiography refers for centuries to the Luther biography of Cochläus : Historia Ioannis Cochlaei de actis et scriptis Martini Lutheri Saxonis: chronographice ex ordine ab anno domini MDXVII. vsq. ad annum MDXLVI inclusine, fideliter descripta et ad posteros denarrata. - Colonia: Baumius, 1568 , as Adolf Herte first discovered in the 20th century . It was only with Herte and Joseph Lortz that Catholic historiography began to approach Luther.

The historical summaries of the native Roman Orazio Torsellini were disseminated in the Jesuit order .


In the course of the Enlightenment , history has been the subject of academic teaching since the 18th century . Until then, there was no institutional framework for writing history.

At that time philosophy was regarded as a decisive science, with which history, which was understood as universal history, could also be explained. In his inaugural lecture in Jena in 1789, Friedrich Schiller asked the question: What does it mean and at what end does one study universal history? Up until then, theological aspects were primarily of importance for historiography alongside philosophical ones.

In Germany, on the other hand, Gottfried Arnold wrote the impartial church and heretic history in 1699 and 1700 with the claim "to omit, cover up, twist or pervert anything that serves the whole concept of historical truth" (preface § 1). From a pietistic point of view , he subjected the official church historiography to a radical criticism and came to the conclusion that the persecuted heretics were the real bearers of the Christian faith. In France, Voltaire fought against church authority and against historical misrepresentation to justify political claims.

With regard to a philosophy of history, one often thought in aesthetic categories. The cultural historiography of this time is unmistakably marked by it. History was subordinated to a philosophical concept of reason . The classic progress theorists of France ARJ Turgot , Comte , MA Condorcet understood the development of mankind as a three-stage, goal-oriented process that leads from the natural state through science and technology to the perfect human being.

In England, David Hume represented the "natural progress of mankind" . In Germany, on the other hand, Leibniz remained the determining factor for a long time , and he maintained the theological orientation of historiography. According to Leibniz, history is the mirror of divine providence. But here, too, the refined biblical criticism led to a rethinking process, which was expressed in Lessing's doubts that "accidental historical truths should also be eternal rational truths" ( On the proof of the spirit and strength 1777). His solution was that reason itself had grown historically, divine revelation and human reason were in an interacting process.

History was interpreted on the basis of a concept of reason. Voltaire thematized programmatically in his Essai sur l'histoire génerale et sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations, depuis Charlemagne jusqu'à nos jours. not political conflicts and processes, but art, custom, society and family. In his dictionary article Histoire he did not deal with political history and only accepted the histoire des arts . Also, d'Alembert and Rousseau agreed with him agreed that the subject of history is the development of the human race as a universal cultural development.

Above all, historiography in the late Enlightenment was shaped by these ideas. The concept of reason is inextricably linked with the name of the philosopher Immanuel Kant , who is of extraordinary importance for the Age of Enlightenment as a whole. In his contribution, Idea for a general history with cosmopolitan intentions , written in 1784, and later in his treatise To Eternal Peace (1795), he laid out his political and historical philosophy. Kant sees no divine intention in history, rather it is an image of free man. Hence there is no indispensable regular development in history, for example towards progress, bliss or perfection. Nevertheless, Kant sees a plan in nature, whereby history receives a guide and as teleological , i.e. H. aimed at a goal. The law serves the coexistence of reasonable people. It is gaining influence and culminating in a republican, liberal constitution that will mark the end of history, even if laws have been passed for peaceful coexistence between states.

Among the most important historians of this time, alongside August Ludwig von Schlözer and Justus Möser , is Johann Joachim Winckelmann , who is considered the founder of classical archeology. Winckelmann was the first to place Greek art in a cultural-historical context. He mainly pursued history as an art history.

Friedrich August Wolf developed a cultural-historical approach to the description of classical antiquity, which was more philologically oriented. This made him the founder of classical antiquity, apart from the Italian Flavio Biondo in the 15th century, who soon after his death was forgotten, was first honored by Georg Voigt and his school (for example Alfred Masius ). In addition, Friedrich von Schiller and Johann Gottfried Herder, as historians of the Enlightenment in the above. Meaning apply.

Historiography was no longer a school for politicians and civil servants, as it was before, but became a school for world citizens . The idea of ​​the unity of mankind was also evident in the new publications: Were the history books previously called histories / stories of mankind etc. Ä., the collective singular prevailed in the 18th century: history / history of mankind . Here the unit of the description object was displayed programmatically. The term “history” gradually disappeared and gave way to the term “history”, which, in terms of etymology, seemed more suitable for capturing the coherent sequence of movements.

Furthermore, Edward Gibbon important of his work Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire greatly affect the historical picture of the downfall of Western Rome exercised. His views have been largely corrected by modern research.

Enlightened monarchs such as King Friedrich II of Prussia and Empress Catherine II of Russia were also important for the historiography. The French enlightenmentists Diderot with his encyclopedia of world knowledge and Montesquieu with his writings on the philosophy of history and the theory of the state are still influential today .

History as an overall view and narratives of the past still had primacy over the scholarly critical study of sources. The history of history , as it emerged as an independent scientific discipline in the course of the 19th century, has its roots in the Enlightenment. Until then, history was viewed as part of theology, law or political science or philosophy. A historical school of law in the sense of a philosophy of history did not exist until Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Karl Friedrich Eichhorn at the beginning of the 19th century.

Historiography of the 19th century


In German idealism the problem of history occupies the central position. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling saw the story in relation to the entire genus “man”. Idealism tried to grasp the entire being based on one principle and related the speculatively conceived concept of history to historical knowledge. This led to the assumption of a "hypothetical story" that was supposed to be a guide. A sharp distinction was made between a mere collection of facts, the so-called "history" and the representation of connections on the basis of philosophy as a discipline of unity, the true and the unchangeable. In this direction, Johann Gottlieb Fichte , Schelling and Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher provided the methodology of historiography until Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel put the collection of individual facts and the overarching representation of the historical process in a dialectical context in his philosophy of history .

GWF Hegel

While the focus of the Enlightenment was the rather unhistorical concept of reason, Hegel ushered in an age in the humanities that dealt primarily with historical and other developments. Hegel defines history as: "Progress in the awareness of freedom". Initially, only one person was free in human consciousness, for example the Pharaoh. Later there was a group of free people versus another group of unfree people, for example in ancient Greece. Christianity conveyed the awareness that man as man is free.

Hegel distinguished three differently weighted forms of historiography: In the "original historiography" the author writes essentially about his own experiences. The spirit of the author and the spirit of the actions of which he relates are one and the same.

He called the second type "reflective historiography". It presupposes a time lag, whereby the spirit of the historian is no longer in the matter. Hegel formed four subgroups these reflecting history: the "general history" provides great relationships kompilatorisch and makes them manageable. The “pragmatic story” aims at instruction. The "critical story" examines the credibility of the sources. The “conceptual history”, on the other hand, uses general aspects such as art, law, religion to systematize its presentation.

In addition, the third form is the “philosophical historiography”. It addresses world history and follows the development of reason in it. World history has an end point that is dialectically canceled and at the same time represents a beginning.

After 1830, German-language historiography was largely concerned with the philosophy of Hegel and his successors. In the philosophy of history , the thought structures and attempts at definition of the "right Hegelians", the "left Hegelians" and the "speculative theists" were discussed, who did not write any historical works themselves, but influenced the writing of history with their new ideas.

Different historiographies emerged: the " history of philosophy ", " political history " ( Ludwig Feuerbach , Bruno Bauer ), " social history ", economic history , etc. Universalistic world histories were rarely published. One tried to abstain from any construction. According to Feuerbach, recording the facts is enough to explain the story by itself.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed the “scientific” theory of historical materialism , which was initially invoked by social and political movements and parties, and later by communist regimes. Gradually a “Marxist historiography” emerged, the authors of which took and refer to different positions, but agree on the historically optimistic assumption of a necessary and possible progress of humanity.

DF Strauss wrote in connection with his research into the life of Jesus that the purpose was not to determine a past story, but to help the human spirit to free itself from an oppressive yoke of faith in the future.

The theoretical considerations of Hegel and his successors were taken up in the so-called " Historical School of Historiography ". History has now become an independent academic discipline at universities. While the 18th century was called the “philosophical century”, the 19th century was often called the “historical century”. Despite all the differences in detail, German historians were largely in agreement on the one hand to fall back on the historical tradition, but on the other hand not to refer to it schematically. Many turned against the “unhistorical” abstract Enlightenment, against revolutionary Jacobinism , but also against feudalism and persistence in traditions. Rather, the focus was directed towards the state and nation, which should be given more importance in historical research and presentation. Friedrich Carl von Savigny , Heinrich von Sybel and Leopold von Ranke committed themselves to this goal . From the perspective of the Enlightenment, humans were no longer seen as rational beings, but rather placed in relation to people, state and nation. The goal became the true knowledge of one's own condition as an awareness of one's own national peculiarities. This historiography, which in the extreme case was shaped by vehement German nationalism , dealt, for example, with research into Germanic law, German constitutional history, medieval regests and poetry. Johann Friedrich Böhmer dedicated himself to these tasks with his publication of the Regesta Imperii and Jacob Grimm with the German legal antiquities and the history of the German language . Heinrich von Treitschke postulated at the end of the 19th century that the idea of nationality was the moving force of contemporary history. The state is the people legally united as an independent power. Ranke represented a politically national historiography. According to this, history and politics are related to one another like theoretical and practical philosophy. The ancient historian Theodor Mommsen was his opponent in the so-called " anti-Semitism dispute ". The slogan “The Jews are our misfortune” goes back to Treitschke.

Parallel to the historiography related to German national politics, the portrayal of the human-general in the historiography continued to exist in the tradition of Herder. Wilhelm von Humboldt was of the opinion that the writing of history brings about the highest humanity through the deepest study of man. "Like philosophy for the first reason of things, art for the ideal of beauty, so history strives for the picture of human fate in true truth, living abundance and pure clarity" . In addition to Humboldt, Barthold Georg Niebuhr , Georg Gottfried Gervinus , and Johann Gustav Droysen were also committed to this claim .

Leopold von Ranke ( see also: Historicism ) finally set the "pure show" as his goal. He saw history as sharing in divine knowledge. According to this, historians should strive for the objectivity and factual relevance of the deity, survey the entire history of mankind and regard every population as equal. Historiography is therefore universal in nature. H. v. In 1858 Sybel defended the founding of the Historische Zeitung , saying that with each passing year history in Germany became more of a political ferment in general education and assumed the position that philosophy had previously occupied.

France and England

In France and England, early positivism with its unbroken belief in progress gained influence on historiography. Auguste Comte in particular set the new direction. Not theological or metaphysical thinking, but only l'esprit positive is able to provide an explanation of the entire past in accordance with the constant laws of the individual and collective nature of man. All great epochs are phases of development, the course and end of which are based on iron laws.

John Stuart Mill carried on Comte's thoughts. According to this, historiography, when asked correctly, records empirical laws of social life. These empirical laws are not laws of nature because their database is too small for them. They can only be regarded as real laws if they can be linked to scientific and psychological laws by humans. The liberal utilitarian thinker assumed that states could only thrive on the basis of human freedom, while despotic regimes can be appropriate in systems of barbarism .

Ch. Darwin postulated that the study of evolution will have an impact on human history. The English historian H. Th. Buckle made these theories his own in his writings. He consistently demanded a scientific study and a knowledge of statistics for the historian.

Historiography of non-European cultures

Other cultures have also developed forms of comprehensive historiography. In the ancient Orient and ancient Egypt , inscriptions were made that recorded important events, in particular acts of war, and not least served propaganda purposes. There were also annals or chronicles, which often documented important events in a rather concise form. This form of historiography differs quite clearly from the form of representation in the ancient Greco-Roman world and was also not as varied or structured in terms of content.

There is a long history of writing in China in particular . The oldest records in Chinese history are more than 3,000 years old. These are works whose authors are not known by name, but which already contain documentation of the sources used. Only Sima Guang with Zizhi tongjian from the year 959 presented a precise description of the historiographical methods. Chinese historiography is extremely extensive and diverse, also in comparison with surviving western records from antiquity and the Middle Ages. See for example Sima Qian and Ban Gu in the time of the Han dynasty and Fa-Hien in the time of the Jin dynasty from around 337 to around 422. In the following imperial period, court historiography with the respective dynasties and the events associated with them prevailed ( see 24 dynasty stories ).

The Islamic history ( ilm at-Tarikh ) religious origin. History was regarded as a traditional science whose mission was the unadulterated transmission of central religious content. For this purpose, the Arab historians used methods of source criticism, which is based on so-called “chains of narrators” ( Isnad ). In later times one increasingly finds works of secular content. The Arabic historiography is also important in relation to the Persian history ( Sassanids ), see above all the universal history of the tabari at the beginning of the 10th century. However, in modern research, early Islamic historiography is also assessed more critically than in the past. This is especially true of the period of early expansion policy and its reconstruction.

See also


See also the general literary histories and specialist encyclopedias.

  • Andrew Feldherr et al. (Ed.): The Oxford History of Historical Writing , 5 vols., Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011–2012 (basic, comprehensive and current presentation; discussion of the 1st volume at sehepunkte ).
  • Michael Bentley (Ed.): Companion to Historiography , Routledge, London 2002.
  • Michael Brenner: Prophets of the Past. Jewish historiography in the 19th and 20th centuries , CH Beck, Munich 2006. ISBN 3-406-54981-0
  • Eduard Fueter : History of the recent historiography , Zurich 1985 (reprint of the third edition from 1936).
  • Hans-Werner Goetz : Historiography and historical consciousness in the high Middle Ages , 2nd supplementary edition, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2008. ISBN 978-3-05-004506-1
  • Johannes Gruber u. a .: Historiography , in: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Vol. 5, Col. 45ff.
  • Herbert Grundmann : Historiography in the Middle Ages. Genera - Epochs - Eigenart , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1965.
  • Klaus Kliesch: Acts of the Apostles . Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-460-15351-2 .
  • Reinhart Koselleck , Christian Meier , Odilo Engels , Horst Günther: History , in: Basic historical concepts . Historical Lexicon on Political-Social Language in Germany , Vol. 2, Stuttgart 1975, reprint 1993, pp. 593–717.
  • Wolfgang Küttler , Jörn Rüsen , Ernst Schulin (eds.): History discourse . 5 vols., Frankfurt a. M. 1993-1999.
  • Otto Lendle : Introduction to Greek historiography: from Hekataios to Zosimos . Knowledge Buchges., Darmstadt 1992.
  • Jürgen Malitz : The interest in history. The Greek Historians and their Audiences , in: Herman Verdin, Guido Schepens, Els De Keyser (eds.): Purposes of History. Studies in Greek Historiography from the 4th to the 2nd Centuries BC Proceedings of the International Colloquium Leuven, 24-26. May 1988 , Löwen 1990, pp. 323-349 ( online ).
  • John Marincola (Ed.): A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography , 2 vols., Blackwell, Oxford a. a. 2007.
  • Klaus Meister : The Greek Historiography , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1990.
  • Gert Melville : Why write history? Position and function of history in the Middle Ages , in: Reinhart Koselleck : Formen der Geschistorschreibung , Munich 1982 (= theory of history 4).
  • Andreas Mehl : Roman historiography: basics and developments. An introduction , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart et al. 2001.
  • Volker Reinhardt (Hrsg.): Main works of historiography (= Kröner's pocket edition , 435), Kröner, Stuttgart 1997. ISBN 3-520-43501-2
  • Regula Schmid: History in the service of the city. Official history and politics in the late Middle Ages , Chronos, Zurich 2009. ISBN 978-3-0340-0928-7
  • Markus Völkel : Historiography. An introduction to a global perspective , Stuttgart 2006.


  1. Lutz Raphael: History in the age of extremes, theories, methods, tendencies from 1900 to the present . Beck'sche Reihe, Munich 2003, p. 14.
  2. The relevant specialist dictionaries provide reliable information on the following ancient authors. John Marincola (Ed.): A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography offers a good overview with further literature . 2 vols. Oxford a. a. 2007. See also Rainer Nickel : Lexicon of ancient literature . Düsseldorf et al. 1999, new edition 2006.
  3. See Nicole Loraux: Thucydides is not a colleague. In: John Marincola (Ed.): Greek and Roman Historiography . Oxford 2011, pp. 19-39.
  4. See Arnold J. Toynbee : Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius . Toronto 1924.
  5. Cf. Matthew Fox: Dionysius, Lucian, and the prejudice against rhetoric in history. In: Journal of Roman Studies . 91, 2001, pp. 76-93.
  6. F. Paschoud: How do you speak of the living emperor. In: K. Vössing (Ed.): Biography and Prosopography. Stuttgart 2005, pp. 103-118.
  7. See only Hermann Strasburger : A look around the rubble field of Greek historiography. In: Historiographia antiqua. Festschrift for Willy Peremans. Leuven 1977, pp. 3-52.
  8. ^ Robert Fowler: Herodotos and His Contemporaries. In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996), pp. 62-87.
  9. ^ Aulus Gellius , Noctes Atticae , 5, 18, 1ff.
  10. See also John Wilkes: Julio-Claudian Historians . In: Classical World 65 (1972), p. 177ff.
  11. Christopher Pelling (ed.): Plutarch Caesar. Translated with Introduction and Commentary . Oxford 2011, p. 13ff.
  12. See also Pawel Janiszewski: The Missing Link. Greek Pagan Historiography in the Second Half of the Third Century and in the Fourth Century AD. Warsaw 2006.
  13. On the history of late antiquity see, among others, Peter van Nuffelen (Ed.): Historiography and Space in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2019; Gabriele Marasco (Ed.): Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity. Fourth to Sixth Century AD Leiden u. a. 2003. Brief information on individual authors can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity .
  14. ↑ For an introduction see Richard W. Burgess , Michael Kulikowski: Mosaics of Time. The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD. Volume I: A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from its Origins to the High Middle Ages. Turnhout 2013.
  15. ^ Edition and translation of the fragments of Latin historians from late antiquity now with Lieve Van Hoof, Peter Van Nuffelen ( eds / translators) : The Fragmentary Latin Histories of Late Antiquity (AD 300–620). Edition, Translation and Commentary. Cambridge 2020.
  16. For Syrian historiography, see the information in Syri.ac
  17. Database: Clavis Historicorum Antiquitatis Posterioris (CHAP)
  18. Lit .: Schürmann p. 4.
  19. Lit .: Kliesch p. 14.
  20. ^ Melville p. 91.
  21. See also the relevant article in the Lexicon of the Middle Ages .
  22. Borst 1966.
  23. On literature in the Roman-German Empire, cf. especially the entries in the author's lexicon , 2nd edition.
  24. Cf. Regula Schmid: History in the service of the city. Official history and politics in the late Middle Ages . Chronos Verlag, Zurich 2009; Hans Patze (ed.): Historiography and historical consciousness in the late Middle Ages . Sigmaringen 1987; Peter Johanek (Ed.): Urban historiography in the late Middle Ages and in the early modern period . Cologne 2000.
  25. ^ Leonora Neville: Guide to Byzantine Historical Writing. Cambridge 2018.
  26. ^ Günter Johannes Henz: Leopold von Ranke in historical thinking and research. 2 vols. Berlin 2014.
  27. ^ Piotr Bienkowski, Alan Millard (Ed.): Dictionary of the Ancient Near East. London / Philadelphia 2000, pp. 21f. (sv Annals and chronicles).
  28. Like all other forms of European and non-European historiography, this is considered in detail in the authoritative series of manuals The Oxford History of Historical Writing (edited by Andrew Feldherr et al. 5 vols. Oxford 2011–2012).
  29. Overview by Endymion Porter Wilkinson: Chinese history. A manual. Revised and enlarged. Cambridge (Mass.) 2000.
  30. See especially James Howard-Johnston : Witnesses to a World Crisis . Oxford 2010.