Hecataeus of Miletus

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Reconstruction of the world map of Hecataeus: " Ocean " surrounds the " flat earth "

Hecataeus of Miletus ( Greek  Ἑκαταῖος ὁ Μιλήσιος , Latin Hecataeus ), son of Hegesandro, was an ancient Greek historian and geographer . He worked in Miletus in the period from about 560 to 480 BC. Chr.

In ancient times as well as today, Hecataus of Miletus was and is often confused with Hecataeus of Abdera , who lived about two centuries after Hecataeus of Miletus and who wrote historical works as well as Homer and Hesiod .

life and work

At the time of the Ionian Rebellion of 500 BC BC to 494 BC Hekataios is portrayed by Herodotus as a warning political advisor. Diodorus , who wrote in the late period of the Roman Republic , reports that after the suppression of this uprising he was one of the ambassadors who persuaded the Persian satrap Artaphernes to restore the old legal system to the Ionian cities.

According to his own statements, Hekataios undertook numerous research trips to Europe, Asia and Egypt in the course of his life. His practically acquired geographical knowledge enabled him to improve Anaximander's no longer extant map of the earth so significantly that later ancient sources claimed "that it was to be called a miracle" . Other experts, on the other hand, attribute to him having upgraded the existing world map primarily through his extensive commentary work.

He wrote a geographically and historically quite exact travel description for the time , the Periegesis (Περιήγησις "outline") of the earth known to him. He founded a literary genre that was still often cultivated in ancient Greece. His purely descriptive report, preserved in about 300 fragments, was frequently quoted by Herodotus.

He also created the work consisting of four books that later became known as Genealogiai (Greek Γενεαλογίαι), the oldest surviving Greek history book. He thus marks the beginning of a historiography, for the existence of which a historical consciousness had to be formed that is based on the foundation of a space-time knowledge. In his history, however, only cautious beginnings of a rational examination of the truth content of time-honored mythical traditions can be found. In no way does he question all the content or even the tradition of myths, but he tries to expose what is fairy-tale, exaggerated, and improbable in them. Ultimately, his criticism remains superficial and a distinction between fiction and historical facts is still denied his venture. Nevertheless, he stands at the beginning of a rationalistic approach that found its continuation in the works of Herodotus and especially Thucydides . What is new in his endeavors is also made clear by the fact that instead of a bound lyric language he uses unbound prose in the Ionic dialect.

Hekataios is one of the first classical authors to mention the Celtic people in their writings (see also Nyrax ).


In research it is still controversial to this day how the relationship between Hekataios' writings and the histories of Herodotus is to be assessed. According to the sources, both scholars are said to have undertaken extensive trips to ancient Near East and North Africa and are said to have inserted the knowledge they gained into their geographical writings. There is no clear answer to whether these statements are correct in all points.

With regard to the allegedly rational representation of history, some scholars claim that Hecataeus considered the stories of Homer to be credible documents in all respects. He was pejoratively counted by Thucydides to the so-called logographers , the forerunners of historiography and geography. Modern research emphasizes, however, that the critical attitude of Hecataeus was of great importance for the development of later historiography.

The lunar crater Hecataeus , which is located in the region southeast of Mare Fecunditatis and northwest of Mare Australe , was named after Hekataios.

Text output

  • Rudolf Heinrich Klausen (Ed.): Hecataei Milesii fragmenta. Scylacis Caryandensis Periplus . G. Reimer, Berlin 1831 ( archive.org - digitized version).
  • Karl Müller , Theodor Müller (ed.): Fragmenta historicorum Graecorum . tape 1 . Paris 1841.
  • Karl Müller, Theodor Müller (ed.): Fragmenta historicorum Graecorum . tape 4 . Paris 1851.
  • Giuseppe Nenci (Ed.): Hecataei milesi Fragmenta (=  Biblioteca di studi superiori XXII. Filologia Greca ). Florence 1954.
  • Felix Jacoby (ed.): The fragments of the Greek historians . Genealogy and mythography: A. Preface, text, addenda, concordance. tape 1.1 . Leiden 1957.
  • Felix Jacoby (ed.): The fragments of the Greek historians . Genealogy and Mythography: B. Commentary, Supplements. tape 1.2 . Leiden 1957.
  • Robert Fowler (Ed.): Early Greek mythography . Text. tape I . Oxford 2000, ISBN 0-19-814740-6 .


Web links


  1. Herodotus V 36.