from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bust of Herodotus

Herodotus of Halicarnassus (os) ( ancient Greek Ἡρόδοτος Hēródotos ; * 490/480 BC; † around 430/420 BC) was an ancient Greek historian , geographer and ethnologist . In his philosophical work De legibus, Cicero gave him the epithet "Father of historiography" ( Latin pater historiae ), which is still often quoted today . His surviving work is probably from the 2nd century BC. Histories , divided into nine books in the form of a universal history , show the rise of the Persian Empire in the late 6th century BC. And the Persian Wars in the early 5th century BC Chr. Portray.

The geographical horizon opened up by Herodotus in the Histories even encompassed the fringes of the world imaginable to the Greeks of his time, in which there was room for mythical creatures and fantasy images. The composition of the Persian army under Xerxes I during the campaign against the Greeks was, however, also an occasion for Herodotus to look at the diverse peculiarities in the external appearance and culture of the peoples involved. He also referred to his own impressions from his extensive travels. The work contains a large number of references to a wide variety of everyday customs and religious rites, but also reflections on power-political constellations and constitutional issues of this time.


Herodotus says he was born in the Greek polis Halicarnassus in Asia Minor , today's Bodrum . Like others in his family, he was politically in opposition to the local dynast Lygdamis and was forced to do so sometime in the 460s BC. Chr. To Samos go into exile. After the fall of the Lygdamis, he returned before the mid-450s BC. BC, but left Halicarnassus for good a short time later.

According to Herodotus, he undertook extensive journeys, the chronology of which is uncertain: to Egypt , to the Black Sea region , to Thrace and Macedonia to the Scythian region , to the Middle East and to Babylon , but probably not to Persia proper . However, some researchers (the so-called Liar school ) doubt this information and consider Herodotus to be a “room scholar” who in truth never left the Greek world.

Between the journeys he reported, Herodotus preferred to stay in Athens, where, as in Olympia , Corinth, and Thebes, he gave lectures from his work, for which he was honored. According to an Athenian inscription, he received a gift of ten talents at the request of a certain Anytos . Herodotus became the second hometown in 444/3 BC. The newly founded Greek Apoikie Thurioi on the Gulf of Taranto , where, according to Roman tradition, he completed the history and where his grave was later shown in the area of ​​the agora . The year of death, like the year of birth, can only be roughly determined, but is in any case after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. BC, to which Herodotus also referred.

Herodotus histories

Introductory overview

Map of Herodotus "World".

The histories are valued in recent research as a work of “astonishing size and tremendous impact” . No other ancient author tried as Herodotus did to give his audience an idea of ​​the diversity of the whole world as he saw it: of the different peoples in their habitats, of their respective customs and cultural achievements. After the end of the bipolar East-West conflict, Wolfgang Will sees Herodotus' work in a new relevance to the current situation. Beyond the seemingly monolithic blocks at the time, the view has now opened up to “the mixture of ethnic groups with their conflicting orders”, as Herodotus already described it on a smaller scale from the ancient world. The histories offer links to the contemporary world in other respects , because with Herodotus, unlike, for example, with Thucydides , women are often the focus of events.

Originally, Herodotus may have presented individual sections with self-contained content (so-called lógoi ) to the audience . When the histories were published is controversial in research and can hardly be answered clearly. There are certain references to events in the year 430 BC. BC, probably also indirect allusions to events in 427 BC It is unclear whether other statements refer to events in 424 BC. Reference. The division of the work into nine books does not come from Herodotus; it hardly makes sense in terms of content and could be related to the assignment to the nine muses , perhaps originally created in Alexandria as a tribute to the author.

The pivotal point of the histories is the concluding description of the Persian Wars , as Herodotus already explains at the beginning:

“This is the presentation of the research (Greek: history ) of Herodotus from Halicarnassus, so that the deeds of men do not pass through the ages, so that the great and admirable deeds do not pass by ingloriously, on the one hand by the Greeks and on the other Side were exposed by the barbarians. He explained all of this, as well as the cause of the war against each other. "

- Herodotus : Proömium der Historien
Herodotus histories in a manuscript with corrections by the humanist Lorenzo Valla in the margin. Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Gr. 122, fol. 41r and 122r (early 15th century)

This short foreword is “the founding document of occidental historiography.” From a modern point of view, the constitutional debate contained in the histories , in which the ancient forms of government are weighed against each other, is also significant from a modern point of view . Among other things, it offers early approaches to democracy research .

For his work Herodotus collected reports from chroniclers, traders, soldiers and adventurers over many years and on this basis reconstructed such complex strategic processes as the campaign of Xerxes against Greece or the famous battle of Salamis . Similar to Hecataeus of Miletus , Herodotus, according to his own account, traveled to many of the distant lands about which he reported. His work set standards in the transition to written culture in ancient Greece and was at the same time strongly influenced by forms of expression from oral tradition .


Credibility and source value

There has been disagreement about the question of Herodotus's credibility since ancient times. Around 450 years later, Plutarch wrote a tract condemning him as a liar. In recent research, some see in him a reporter who works methodically surprisingly well for his time, others believe that he invented a lot freely and only pretends to be eyewitnesses. To date, no unified opinion has emerged in research.

The source value of the histories is consequently continuously controversial. For many events, however, Herodotus is the only source, which gives particular weight to the long-standing discussion about the reliability of his statements. It is not always possible to say with certainty which sources Herodotus used. According to his own statements, it can be assumed that he mainly relied on his own travel experiences, although the historicity of these trips is also partly questioned in research, as well as on reports from local informants. Detlev Fehling even viewed Herodotus' sources largely as fictional and his alleged research and travel primarily as a literary construct.

Herodotus undoubtedly also consulted written sources, including perhaps Dionysius of Miletus , but certainly Hecataus of Miletus . Herodotus devoted himself, among other things, to taking a closer look at the advanced oriental cultures, particularly Egypt. His explanations on pyramid construction and mummification are well known. Its sources were probably primarily the Egyptian priests; but Herodotus himself did not speak Egyptian. In research it is generally controversial how carefully Herodotus proceeded in individual cases, especially since the oral tradition and a reference to inscriptions (whose texts Herodotus could only read in translation, if at all) are problematic. In any case, the histories are not free from errors, imagination and mistakes (incorrect route or number information, location and place names); In doing so, Herodotus often succeeds in describing large-scale contexts, but also small marginal events. Incorrect information can be found, for example, in relation to older Near Eastern and Persian history. Herodotus' presentation of the Persian Wars closest to him is also viewed critically in some research, especially since inaccuracies or incorrect information can be proven. B. regarding troop strengths or certain chronological details.

Herodotus spiced up his work with anecdotes and also gave more or less fictional or novel-like stories - probably also to entertain his audience. These include, among other things, the story of an Egyptian master thief or his well-known report about almost dog-sized ants digging for gold in India ; the narrative benefited from the fact that India appeared to the Greeks as a (semi-mythical) “wonderland” anyway. Herodotus' earliest description of a silent trade between Punic seafarers and " Libyan " (presumably black African) gold dealers in West Africa, which was taken up as a topos by Arab and European travelers from the Middle Ages to the colonial period, was more difficult to assess than legend . Seen as a whole, Herodotus treated a multitude of topics of the most varied kinds (for example geography, peoples, cults and important rulers), whereby his "geographical horizon" received special attention, although he could definitely fall back on templates (e.g. Hecataeus of Miletus).

Reception in ancient times

Herodotus' writings were recognized as a new form of literature soon after their publication . His prose work is also written on a high literary level, so that his style should still have a lasting influence on ancient (especially Greek ) historiography up to late antiquity (including Prokopios ).

Without referring to Herodotus by name, Thucydides succeeded him as a historiographer with his history of the Peloponnesian War , whereby with his work, which was written as a contemporary witness, he placed emphasis on the most precise and critical examination of the events as possible (cf.Thukydides 1.20-22). A clear reference to Herodotus, who is stately honoring from his work in front of listeners and others. a. Lecturing in Athens, Thucydides, when recommending his own work, states: “Perhaps this leaky presentation will seem less enjoyable for listening; But whoever wants to clearly recognize what has been and thus also what will be in the future, which will once again be the same or similar according to human nature, may consider it useful, and that should be enough for me: for permanent possession, not as a showpiece it is written down so that it can be heard once. ”An essential difference was that Thucydides usually opted for the variant that he considered plausible, and not as Herodotus offered different versions of the same processes. Both became the founders of Greco-Roman historiography, which only ended around 600 AD, at the end of antiquity , and which, viewed as a whole, was at a high intellectual and artistic level.

Some time after Herodotus, Ktesias of Knidos wrote a Persian story ( Persika ), of which only fragments have survived. Ktesias criticized Herodotus with the intention of "correcting" him. In doing so, he varied Herodoteic motifs and rearranged them with a veiled intention, but at the same time reproached his predecessor as a liar and storyteller. As a result, he presented a much more unreliable account of the history of Persia, which was strongly fictional. Nevertheless, Ktesias, who worked as a doctor at the Persian royal court, offered some useful information despite the fragmentary nature of the tradition of his work; and he became an important contributor to the picture the Greeks had of Persian conditions.

"Pater historiae" - characteristics of Herodotus historiography

Herodotus by Carl Kundmann on the attic of the Natural History Museum in Vienna

Interest in Herodotus - not primarily as the narrator of many curious stories, but as the first great historian with a phenomenal research horizon - has increased significantly in recent times. It may have contributed to the fact that literary and historical studies have recently come under a common roof with cultural studies, and Herodotus can be seen as the first great cultural theorist in this context. In addition, his reports are partially accessible for objective review through source research and archaeological finds in the Middle East. As an analyst of interstate relations in antiquity, he can finally be reread as "the first theoretician and critic of imperialist politics."

His repertoire of methods encompasses a spectrum that extends from personal research and critical reflection to speculative assumptions based on probabilities. Reinhold Bichler sees in Herodotus' work the endeavor "to gain a standard for the idea of ​​one's own history and to grasp and present all of this in a synopsis, the narrative grace of which is equal to its historical-philosophical content."

Universal historical exploration in time and space

The comprehensive perspective that is decisive for the structure of the histories contributes significantly to the significance of the work. Herodotus' information on chronology and dating as well as on location and spatial distances follow a comprehensible approach to graduated accuracy or vagueness depending on the proximity to the main narrative. Its extension period covers the 80 years from the beginnings of the Persian ruler Cyrus to the failure of the expansion policy of Xerxes in the battles of Plataiai and Mykale . "Herodotus carefully classifies his chronological information and not only shows the decrease in secured knowledge with increasing distance in time, but also shows how much the accuracy of the chronological information decreases with the spatial distance to the events of the main narrative." He devotes himself thoroughly to this the border line between Asia and Europe marked by the straits of Hellespont and Bosporus , which in his view acquired fateful importance through the Xerxes march against the Greeks, and refers to his own calculations of the length and breadth of the straits. Other detailed information relates, for example, to the distances and daily stages from Ephesus to the Persian rulership center of Susa , for which he calculated 14,040 stadiums (each 177 m). Only the distance calculations for the course of the Nile from the Mediterranean coast to Elephantine (a total of 6,920 stages) are of similar density and accuracy .

Herodotus' efforts to create a differentiated and comprehensive chronology also refer to the areas of the Persian-Egyptian ruling dynasties: “With his exploration of the Egyptian historical tradition, for which the knowledge of the priests vouches for him, Herodotus can advance into a depth of the times the Trojan War and the founding acts associated with the heroes Herakles and Perseus or the Phoenician Kadmos must appear as events in the near past. ”So he reckons (questionable from today's perspective) for 341 Egyptian rulers with a total reign of 11,340 years for the older kings alone .

Herodotus' sometimes extremely detailed (but not always error-free) chronological and geographical information with regard to his main narrative is much more vague not only for western and northwestern regions of his European horizon at that time, but also for Greece. For the time before the Ionian uprising, there are no events in Greek history with Herodotus that can be dated to a specific year; and thus the 36 years Herodotus set for the Peisistratiden tyranny swim in its chronological structure .

The same applies to pentecontact , which he witnessed at least partially as a contemporary witness. Herodotus is conspicuously reserved with references to the present. He seems to want to hide himself and his social existence, even where he can be recognized with allusions as a contemporary of at least the beginning of the Peloponnesian War . "The story of the events told by him, which is supposed to be saved from oblivion, gets a timeless dimension precisely because of this."

Driving force at the transition from oral to written transmission

Only when viewed superficially, says Michael Stahl , did the individual logoi of geographical, ethnographic and historical content appear loosely connected. It can be shown that every single event, including the excursions, was historically significant for Herodotus and was therefore taken up by him.

Until the 4th century BC According to Stahl, individual reading as a form of literary reception was still an exception, although recent research suggests that other authors wrote historical prose works during Herodotus' lifetime. Herodotus wrote primarily for the oral presentation. Naturally, he could only ever make a few parts of the entire work heard. From these prerequisites, Stahl deduces that some of the histories still belonged to the oral culture and that there were no formal difficulties for the inclusion of oral evidence in the work.

The transmission of elements from the archaic history of Greece, in particular, was shaped and selected by the historical interests of the informant Herodotus. Herodotus had, for his part, once again evaluated what came to his ears with regard to what suited his own views. The social control accompanying the oral presentation should have ensured that he would not have been able to replace the information from his sources with his own fictions. “Therefore, despite everything, one can say that the oral tradition found its 'mouthpiece' in Herodotus.” On the other hand, however, the written version of large parts of the oral tradition in Stahl's words represented an “unavoidable frame of reference for possible further formations of the Tradition drew very narrow boundaries. "

Included mythological elements

Herodotus' involvement in a traditional narrative structure is often addressed in research, often linked with the reference to his critical distance from the mythical-religious tradition, to which he raised rational objections. On the other hand, it is important for Katharina Wesselmann to note that mythical elements also shape and permeate histories. The traditional thought patterns of his contemporaries can be found in Herodotus; because “the atrocities of the historical figures are the same as those of their mythical predecessors.” But the inclusion of elements of the mythical narrative tradition is also important for the composition of the work. It enables Herodotus to embed the wealth of facts, episodes and digressions introduced into structures known to the public. “It is only through the connection established in this way, through the recognition effect in the mirror of tradition, that the data acquire color: the orientation on known thought patterns helps the recipient with structuring and mental processing; the perishing of individual elements that are important for the overall narrative is prevented by adapting the facts of tradition and tradition to the facts ”.

The tension between factuality and functionality in histories appears to Wesselmann primarily to be created by the demands placed on Herodotus after historiography had established itself as a genre of its own. "Since then, attempts have been made to 'divide' Herodotus into the ethnographer Herodotus and the historian Herodotus, or even into the 'chatterbox' and the historian." At least before Aristotle , however, an awareness of fictionality in the modern sense could not be assumed for ancient Greece . Even with Thucydides , who disparagingly attested to his predecessors that they aimed more at the audience's desire to listen than at the truth, according to Wesselmann, a consistent renunciation of mythical elements can not be ascertained, since he, for example, included King Minos in his historical work, although he did Epoch eludes documentation. Even with Plutarch , “a traditionalizing formation of the material” can be seen, which is why Herodotus' location at the turning point between orality and written form is rather misleading: “The institutionalization of the medium of writing and the loss of meaning in oral narrative modes are by no means a selective event, but rather a centuries-long process; not even the point of his graduation seems to be clearly ascertainable. "

Continents and peripheral zones in Herodotus' world

Modern representation of the "world" of Herodotus.

"Appreciating geography as a factor in understanding what we call history is part of Herodotus' legacy," says Bichler. Herodotus had built on already existing ideas, but formed something new from them. For him there were only two continents with Europe and Asia, since he did not regard Libya as a separate continent, but as part of Asia. He imagined both continents to be separated by a borderline marked mainly by water and running in a west-east direction. According to his imagination, Asia was enclosed in the South Sea in the south, but Europe in the north was too extensive and unexplored to show that it was also surrounded by a continuous sea connection. The border line between the two continents runs from the Pillars of Heracles (on the Strait of Gibraltar) through the Mediterranean, the Dardanelles , the Bosporus , the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea , which Herodotus first appears as an inland sea surrounded by shores.

The mysterious fringes of that world of that time offered plenty of material for fantasy images from time immemorial. Herodotus was aware of this and, in his information about these remote regions, demonstrated his own distance by referring not to direct eye and ear witnesses but to indirect sources and voicing his own doubts. However, according to Bichler, "his criticism has its limits where it gets in the way of your own narrative pleasure."

Herodotus deals extensively with the treasures and mythical creatures presented in the fringes of the world according to the usual pattern. He reports more or less skeptically more or less recognizable about the treasures of tin , "electron" (probably meant amber ) and gold in the far north-west of Europe, about griffins guarding the gold and about one-eyed people who chase it away from griffins. Gold is also about gold in the above-mentioned story of almost dog-sized giant ants in India's gold-rich desert, which throw gold dust upwards when the tunnels are being built, which the locals cleverly take for themselves. A third type of gold mining leads to the faraway coast of Libya, where girls draw gold from a lake using bird feathers that have previously been coated with pitch.

It has not been clarified beyond any doubt, but it is at least likely that Herodotus was able to refer to a writing about the air, water and localities (cited as environmental writing) for the histories, which was previously incorrectly ascribed to Hippocrates . In it Bichler sees "an early example of medical and scientific speculation and at the same time an important piece of ethnographic and political theory", according to which the climate and geographical milieu shaped the physical condition as well as the character and customs of the respective country residents. Herodotus' line of thought is much more complex compared to environmental writing, for example in that he gives the geographical view a historical dimension and reckons with the formation of the country's nature through long-term natural, but also through cultural forces such as dikes and canals.

Ethnologist and cultural theorist

In the same way that Herodotus weaves his geographical description of the world into the far-reaching narrative of the prehistory of the Persian Wars, his diverse ethnographic considerations and information are also embedded as excursions into the military undertakings of the Persian great kings. In the great army show that Xerxes held at Doriskos after crossing the Hellespont , Herodotus gave an overview of the numerous peoples in the catchment area of ​​Persian domination, focused on external features such as costume, armor, hair and skin color. At other points in his work composition that seem appropriate, Herodotus goes into the social behavior, manners and customs of a large number of peoples in the core and peripheral regions of the world that is accessible to him. In contrast to modern racial teachings, Herodotus' ethnographic types of classification are not accompanied by an appreciation or depreciation. His cultural-theoretical focus seems to be more on showing the fragility of his own civilization in the mirror of the behavior of distant peoples: “Herodotus ethnology gives the impression that with increasing distance to our own world all those features dissolve which fix our life in an orderly society Giving contours: personal identity, regulated communication and social awareness, regulations of sexuality and cultivation of nutrition, life in family groups and in one's own dwelling, caring for the sick and dead and respect for higher norms that are reflected in religious beliefs and Practices. "

What Herodotus was able to tell his contemporaries about known and unknown regions of the world at that time and their inhabitants results in a multi-faceted mosaic that sometimes aroused astonishment and shudders and was not stingy with the fascinating and exotic. It is noticeable that the behavior described in relation to the traditional Greek culture was a striking breach of taboo, so u. a. Raw meat consumption, cannibalism and human sacrifice. Perhaps Herodotus was also influenced by the contemporary cultural theory of sophistry , which assumed an initial rawness for the near-natural early human existence and translated it into all kinds of horror images.

Gender position and sexual habits

In view of the diversity of other ways of life, there is an awareness of the peculiarities of one's own culture and customs, which are also called into question. Herodotus created an enormously rich offer of orientation in this regard. For example, he gives examples of an unusual distribution of roles between the sexes. He tells of the Egyptians that the market trade was determined and conducted by women, while the men did weaving at home. It is said to have been customary among the Libyan Gindans for women to indicate their social status by placing a leather strap around their ankle for each of the men sleeping with them. The Lycian according to Herodotus had the character not to name the offspring to the fathers, but by mothers, and to promote women in law or in other ways.

Elsewhere, women were treated as common property, with the massage therapists, for example, when the men attached their bow to the car of the copulation partner they had just chosen as a temporary signal. Similarly proceeded Nasamonen with their wives by communicated intercourse by a placed in front of the door staff. In the course of the first wedding of a Nasamonen, the male wedding guests were given the opportunity to have sex with the bride in connection with the presentation of gifts. With the Auseern , however, there were no marriages at all. According to Herodotus, the mating process was carried out according to the type of animal, and paternity was subsequently determined by examining and determining the similarity of the child to one of the men.

For this, as well as for the other areas of Herodoteic ethnology, according to Bichler, it should be noted that Herodotus did not press his ethnographic classifications into a fixed cultural scheme: “A people who, in the light of their sexual mores, prove to be raw, can be more civilized according to other standards work and vice versa. "

Dealing with the deceased

Scythian archer on a bowl of Epictetus , approx. 520–500 BC In the British Museum (GR 1837.6-9.59)

Another aspect that Herodotus often included when highlighting the cultural characteristics of the individual peoples is the attitude towards death and how the dead are dealt with. Here, too, a very diverse and sometimes contradicting spectrum emerges from his hints. On the one hand, according to his research, there were Indian peoples on the eastern edge of the world, whose old and sick retreated to the loneliness of nature to die and were left to themselves there without anyone caring about their death. In the case of the Padai , who were also located far to the east , the sick were allegedly killed by their immediate relatives in order to then eat them: a sick man was strangled by male family members, a sick woman by women. One didn't like to wait for the disease to spoil the meat. With the Issodons in the north, the consumption of family fathers after their death was common, mixed with cattle meat. The prepared heads of the fathers, covered with gold sheet, served the sons as cult objects at the annual sacrifice festival. While the kings of the Scythians and the strangled servants were buried in barrows with horses and golden table utensils, the Ethiopians , who live on the South Sea, are said to have placed their dead as mummies in columnar, transparent coffins and kept them in their house for a year and sacrificed them, before they put them up somewhere out of town.

So may the customs of dealing with the deceased have been far apart and may sometimes also cause horror among the Greeks who burned their dead - Herodotus tried to warn urgently against mockery or scorn in these things by an anecdote from the Persian royal court. According to her, Darius once asked the Greeks at court what they would charge if they were to eat their parents; But they rejected that under all circumstances. Then he sent for the Kallatier from India, who ate their dead parents , and inquired about the price for their willingness to cremate the corpses of their own parents. He received screaming protests and accusations of godlessness from them in response. Herodotus sees this as proof that every people places its own customs and laws above those of all others, and confirms the poet Pindar in regard to moral law as the highest authority.

Religious horizons

Dionysus in conversation with Hermes , in hand a kantharos (wine cup), on the left a satyr

For Herodotus, worship of gods, sanctuaries and religious rites were only found sporadically among the marginalized peoples of his world at that time and were not very complex. It is said of the atamarants that live under the scorching sun of Libya that they were the only ones to get along without individual names, but that they occasionally turned collectively cursing and cursing against the plaguing sun. According to Herodotus, the tauren neighboring the Scythians in the north of the Black Sea sacrificed all the castaways of Iphigenia , impaled their heads on long stakes and let them act as guards high above their houses. Herodotus reports a belief in immortality of the Thracian getes by ascertaining to the god Zalmoxis who of them perished. They considered their god to be the only one at all, but whom they in turn threatened by shooting arrows in the sky during a thunderstorm.

Herodotus essentially traces the origin of the anthropomorphic and diverse community of gods familiar to the Greeks back to the Egyptians with their much older history. Only the Egyptian pantheon could compete with the Hellenic world of gods in exemplary diversity. According to Herodotus, it was the Egyptians who first gave the gods their names and erected altars, temples and cult images for them. Sacrificial customs and processions , oracles , the interpretation of signs and astrological conclusions came from them . Egyptian origin were also among the Pythagoreans common doctrine of transmigration and the Dionysos been associated -Kult underworld teachings. In general, Herodotus interpreted a whole series of domestic cults, ecstatic festivals and rites as foreign adoptions of various origins.

From Bichler's point of view, Herodotus consistently historicized the process of theogony , “not least under the impression of the sophistic doctrine of the emergence of culture, which also thought of the genesis of the knowledge of the gods as a process of gradual change in human history.” Approach to treat the knowledge of God as a phenomenon of the cultural-historical process, Herodotus was "a son of the 'Enlightenment' 'of his time, regardless of his reservations about intellectual arrogance."

Political analyst

As a notable interpreter of political constellations, Herodotus has only recently come to the fore in the history of reception. Christian Wendt attributes the fact that he has so far received little attention in this regard, especially in comparison with Thucydides , to doubts about Herodotus' methodological consistency and his credibility, but above all to his broad presentation horizon and the abundance of the material he worked on in general: “Herodotus covers a much broader field than Thucydides, the 'political history' is only a facet, not the core of the investigation. "

The political observations and interpretations of Herodotus, like the geographical, ethnological and religious excursions, are scattered throughout the work and are anchored and subordinated to the history of the great war between the Persians and the Greeks. How he himself thought about war and civil war, Herodotus revealed in utterances that he put into the mouth of the defeated Croesus as an insight: “... nobody is so foolish that he chooses war instead of peace of his own free will. Because this is where the sons bury their fathers, but there the fathers bury their sons. ”On the other hand, he had the Athenians swear by the fate of the civil war in the face of the Persian threat:“ Because a struggle within a people is as much worse than a war waged unanimously, as war is worse is as peace. "

According to Bichler, the political leitmotif in Herodotus' histories is the lure of power , which leads to unjust campaigns of conquest and ruin - Greeks and non-Greeks alike. The main driver of action is often a pure urge to expand. A defining element of intergovernmental politics is therefore the balancing of self-interests, to which morality, law and contracts are sacrificed as required. The calculation of power constellations is at the center of almost every political actor, the primacy of one's own advantage is constantly effective. In Herodotus' view, different systems of rule do not differ fundamentally. Because as soon as the Persian danger was averted, the Athenians, long freed from tyranny , showed "that tendency towards the imperialist addiction to the big man".

The mighty 's urge to expand

The Lydian king Croesus was the first in the series of Asiatic rulers who were dealt with in detail by Herodotus in the genesis of the Persian Wars. He had first raised tributes from the Greek Poleis in Asia Minor and thus left the Persian great kings Cyrus , Cambyses , Darius and Xerxes a marginal focus of tension in their domain. Each of these rulers embarked on military campaigns of conquest and ultimately failed.

Croesus went to the field against Cyrus with the intention of conquering his great empire, was defeated, captured and carried to the stake before Cyrus pardoned him and made him his adviser from then on. For his part, Cyrus started successfully submitting the peoples of Asia to his rule and also conquering Babylon for the first time. But when he, urged by Croesus and convinced of his own invincibility, tried to subjugate the massagers on the other side of the Caspian Sea, his army was finally defeated by the forces of the massager queen Tomyris , Cyrus himself was killed and his body was desecrated by Tomyris, who so that she took revenge for her son.

Cyrus' son and successor Cambyses followed in his father's footsteps as the conqueror by subjugating Egypt in a comprehensive undertaking on land and sea and now also drawing tribute payments from Libya. He thus ruled over the largest historically known empire to date - and was not content with that. With the main part of his army he went on an expansion course far south to the Ethiopians, practically at the end of the world at that time. Even beyond Thebes, however, the provisions for supplying the army were becoming scarce. Soon the draft animals were also consumed; after all, the famine was so great that every tenth comrade was killed and consumed by the comrades using the lottery system. Only then did Cambyses break off the enterprise and turn back.

Xerxes, in turn, was not deterred by the double failure of his father Darius - first in the campaign against the Scythians and then in the first major attack on the Greek mainland - from mobilizing again and even more intensely for a punitive and conquering campaign. Herodotus attests to Xerxes an apparently boundless striving to expand power by having him say verbatim in the Council of War that he will, as it were, exercise world domination with his Persians as a result of the impending conquests:

"Because then the sun will not look down on any country that bordered on ours, but I will unite them all together with you to form a single country when I have moved across Europe. Because as I hear it is like this: There will be no more city in the world and no people among the people left who would be able to face us in battle when those of whom I spoke have been cleared out of the way. So they will bear the servant's yoke, both guilty and innocent. "

Power blindness and hubris

In Herodotus' portrayal of the aforementioned main actors in historical and political events, the position of power and the desire for conquest appear almost fatefully and inescapably linked. Apparently they are incapable of timely moderation; they are ultimately inaccessible to good advice; Warnings are smugly ignored, dreams, omens and oracles are often misinterpreted. The arrogance that grows with power leads to arbitrary violations of the natural order as well as of moral and religious norms.

Herodotus Croesus already shows in the legendary encounter with the wise Athenian Solon how little he understands the true conditions of a happy life with all his ostentatiously displayed wealth. Before his attack on the Persian Empire under Cyrus he tried to protect himself by meticulously questioning and examining all the important oracle sites, but then, among other things, decided to evaluate the Delphic oracle that was relevant for him - if he went against the Persians, he would become a large empire destroy - frivolously the conclusion that victory is foretold him. Only after the defeat does he come to the realization that he has ultimately destroyed his own empire. The same thing happened to the tyrant Polycrates of Samos, who had ruled unchallenged for many years and was envied for his existence, at the end of his life when, attracted by prospects for additional wealth through military expansion, he fell into a trap and met a terrible end. For neither seers and friends with their warnings nor his daughter, plagued by nightmares, could hold him back from stepping into ruin.

Monumental cuneiform tablet with a self-portrayal of Xerxes as "King of Kings"

With Herodotus, the decision of Xerxes to undertake a vengeance and conquest campaign against the Greeks goes through a process of prolonged vacillations and multiple reversals. The effect of contradicting advice and pressing dreams would have made him feel insecure and hesitant. Ultimately, the decisive factor was again a dream, namely that of his uncle Artabanos , who originally bravely argued against the euphoria of expansion as an advisor . In this case too, the insatiable lust for domination finally took its fateful course.

Herodotus' progressive lust for power is usually accompanied by hubris , with self-exaggeration and self-exaggeration that believes it can defy human measure and moral law and even the order of nature. It is said of Cyrus, who drowned one of the holy steeds in the current of the Gyndes river during the campaign against Babylon, that he then wanted to punish and humiliate the river itself by ordering canalization measures that should lead even women to cross it afterwards without even touching the water with their knees. From Xerxes, in turn, it is reported that he had the insubordinate sea whipped under insults when a storm destroyed the bridge made of hemp and Byblosbast over the Hellespont , over which the army was to reach Europe from Asia. In his opinion, nature had to subordinate itself to the will of the ruler. In addition, the heads of the construction managers of this bridge were cut off.

Greek tyrants were also infested with hubris, as Herodotus first shows with the example of the Peisistratiden tyranny in Athens , whose founder Peisistratos is said to have subjugated the island of Naxos in order to arrest the sons of his possible Athenian rivals as hostages. The tyrant Periander is said to have done even worse in Corinth. He had his tyrant colleague Thrasyboulos, who ruled in Miletus, ask a messenger for a recipe for the optimal configuration of his rule. Thrasyboulos led the messenger to a cornfield and cut off all the above-average ears of corn. The messenger himself did not understand the message, but the recipient Periander did, who then displayed a hitherto unknown cruelty by ensuring that every major head among the Corinthians was killed or expelled.

Constitutional issues

Like all of Herodotus' political and analytical statements, the constitutional debate is also purposefully integrated into the context of the presentation and subordinated to it. The context to be observed here is Dareios' I cunning initiation of rule. In the course of events reported or arranged by Herodotus, the first thing he wanted to do was to prove the monarchical form of rule to be the best in relation to popular rule and an aristocratic rule by a few. In the opinion of most scholars, Herodotus does not reproduce Persian ideas, but the Greek constitutional discourse of his own present.

The Otanes as an advocate of popular sovereignty can Herodotus already known and drastically experienced under Cambyses evils of autocracy (from the preferred position arising arrogance; crime of arrogance, over-saturation, distrust or resentment towards others; despotic tyranny and despotism in the final result) as a plea for present his counter-model: equality of all before the law, dissolution of office, accountability of the incumbent, people's assembly as a decision-making body. It is no coincidence that these are the basic principles of Attic democracy .

According to Herodotus, Megabyzos , who advocates an oligarchical exercise of power, agrees with Otanes in his argument against autocracy, but on the other hand sees above all the unbridled masses as obsessed with ignorance and arrogance and concludes that a selection of the best men - whom you can be sure of had to be attributed - the power to be transferred. Because only from them the best decisions can be expected.

Herodotus first has Darius explain that one must consider the constitutions in their ideal, best form. Then in his plea for the monarchy he agrees with the megabyzos regarding the rejection of popular rule, but praises the sole rule of the really best man, which is free from the rivalries and disputes which in an oligarchy inevitably lead to stasis , murder and manslaughter among aristocrats aristocrats led. Nothing could be better than the rule of the best. Popular rule, on the other hand, favors the companionship of the particularly bad citizens and their community-damaging activities until someone emerges, creates order and thus recommends himself as the sole ruler.

Herodotus refrains from expressing his own position in the presentation of the three pleadings. The fact that Darius' position prevails and that it only remains open who is “objectively best” for sole rule is due to the course of history itself with Herodotus. However, the historian connects this with an ironic punchline: among the seven remaining aspirants to the throne, a joint ride was allegedly agreed with the aim of identifying the future king whose horse neighed first after mounting. Dareios also prevailed because his groom had skilfully prepared his master's horse.


In 1986 the asteroid (3092) Herodotus was named after him. The lunar crater Herodotus is also named after him.

Editions and translations


  • Egbert J. Bakker, Irene JF de Jong, Hans van Wees (eds.): Brill's Companion to Herodotus. Brill, Leiden 2002, ISBN 90-04-12060-2 ( review by Stanley M. Burstein)
  • Reinhold Bichler , Robert Rollinger : Herodotus . 3. Edition. Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 2011, ISBN 978-3-487-14661-4 (current overview work)
  • Reinhold Bichler: Herodotus world . 2nd Edition. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2001.
  • Bruno Bleckmann (Ed.): Herodotus and the era of the Persian Wars. Realities and fictions. Cologne 2007, ISBN 978-3-412-08406-6
  • Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge u. a. 2006, ISBN 0-521-53683-9 ( review by Jessica Evans)
  • Hartmut Erbse : Fiction and truth in the work of Herodotus. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1991.
  • James AS Evans: Herodotus, explorer of the past. Three essays. Princeton 1991.
  • Boris Dunsch, Kai Ruffing (Hrsg.): Herodots sources - The sources of Herodots. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2013.
  • Detlev Fehling : The sources in Herodotus . Berlin / New York 1971 (influential but controversial work, which advocates the thesis that Herodotus fabricated the reported data and never undertook the alleged research trips)
  • Edith Foster, Donald Latin (Ed.): Thucydides and Herodotus. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 2012, ISBN 978-0-19-959326-2 .
  • Linda-Marie Günther : Herodotus. Francke, Tübingen 2012.
  • John Hart: Herodotus and Greek history. London 1993.
  • Martin Hose : In the beginning was there a lie? Herodotus, the "father of historiography". In: Martin Hose (Ed.): Large texts from ancient cultures . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2004, pp. 153–174.
  • Felix Jacoby : Herodotos . In: RE supplement volume 2 (1913). Sp. 205–520 (basic study of the life and work of Herodotus, but obsolete in individual questions)
  • Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Historian's Craft in the Age of Herodotus. Oxford et al. a. 2001.
  • Nino Luraghi: The stories before the Histories: Folktale and traditional narrative in Herodotus. In: Rosaria V. Munson (ed.): Oxford Readings in Herodotus . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013, pp. 87-113.
  • Walter Marg (Ed.): Herodot. A selection from recent research (= Ways of Research, Vol. 26). 3rd edition, Darmstadt 1982
  • Christopher Pelling : Herodotus and the Question Why . University of Texas Press, Austin 2019.
  • William K. Pritchett: The liar school of Herodotos. Gieben, Amsterdam 1993 (criticism of the Liar School )
  • Antonios Rengakos : Herodotus . In: Bernhard Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Handbook of the Greek literature of antiquity , Volume 1: The literature of the archaic and classical times . Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-57673-7 , pp. 338-380 (current overview)
  • Jennifer Roberts: Herodotus. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011.
  • Wolfgang Will : Herodotus and Thucydides. The birth of the story. Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-68217-9


  • Stefan Kipf: Herodotus as a school author. A contribution to the history of Greek teaching in Germany from the 15th to the 20th century. Böhlau, Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-412-09199-5 .
  • Jessica Priestley, Vasiliki Zali (Ed.): Brill's Companion to the Reception of Herodotus in Antiquity and Beyond. Brill, Leiden 2016, ISBN 978-90-04-27229-3 .

Web links

Commons : Herodotus  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Greek original  sources and full texts
Wikisource: Herodotus  - Sources and full texts


  1. ^ Cicero, De legibus 1.5.
  2. Will, Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 61, points out that the amount corresponding to 60,000 drachmas seems high (one drachma could be used to cover a day's living); on the other hand, the sophist Protagoras had rich students pay him 10,000 drachmas for his lessons.
  3. Will, Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 62.
  4. Will, Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 63.
  5. See Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 11.
  6. For Will, Herodotus is one of the few gratifying “globalization winners”. (Will, Herodot and Thucydides 2015, p. 246.).
  7. More than 200 women act according to Will in the histories ; over 300 are mentioned. (Will: Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 149.).
  8. See Reinhold Bichler: Herodots Welt. 2nd edition, Berlin 2001, p. 377, note 204.
  9. Will: Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 211. “In the 1st century BC. This division was canonical. The historian Diodorus knows them in his world history, which was published before Augustus . "(Ibid.)
  10. Will 2015, p. 66.
  11. Herodotus 3, 80–84, Greek text with translation
  12. Summary of the research, for example in Antonios Rengakos: Herodot . In: Bernhard Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Handbook of Greek literature in antiquity. Volume 1: The literature of the archaic and classical times . Munich 2011, here pp. 345–349.
  13. See as an overview the contributions in Boris Dunsch, Kai Ruffing (Ed.): Herodots Quellen - Die Quellen Herodots. Wiesbaden 2013 and Simon Hornblower: Herodotus and his Sources of Information. In: Egbert J. Bakker, Irene JF de Jong, Hans van Wees (eds.): Brill's Companion to Herodotus. Leiden 2002, pp. 373-386.
  14. ^ Evidence from Antonios Rengakos: Herodot . In: Bernhard Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Handbook of Greek literature in antiquity. Volume 1: The literature of the archaic and classical times . Munich 2011, here p. 346.
  15. Detlev Fehling: The sources in Herodotus. Studies in the narrative art of Herodotus. Berlin 1971 (the English translation from 1989 under the title Herodotus and his 'Sources': Citation, Invention and Narrative Art [ ISBN 978-0-905205-70-0 ] offers several changes in close collaboration with the author). This position was mainly taken up by Anglo-Saxon researchers like Stephanie West and developed further; This line of research is referred to by its opponents as the Liar School , because it ultimately considers Herodotus to be a liar - which, for example, Fehling himself denied throughout his life. It is true that the radical skeptics could not prevail; As a result of the research discussion that took place primarily in the 1980s and 1990s, however, Herodotus' source value for the 6th century is generally more skeptical than in older research.
  16. Antonios Rengakos: Herodotus . In: Bernhard Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Handbook of Greek literature in antiquity. Volume 1: The literature of the archaic and classical times . Munich 2011, here p. 346f. See also Robert Fowler: Herodotos and His Contemporaries. In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996), pp. 62-87.
  17. To summarize the credibility and sources, the condensed research overview in Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, pp. 130f. and 133ff.
  18. Herodotus 2, 121. See also Stephanie West: Rhampsinitos and the Clever Thief (Herodotus 2.121). In: John Marincola (Ed.): A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography . Chichester 2011, p. 322 ff.
  19. Herodot 3, 102. Cf. also Reinhold Bichler: Herodots Welt. 2nd edition, Berlin 2001, pp. 25f.
  20. For the structure of the work and general characteristics see Felix Jacoby: Herodotos. In: RE supplement volume 2 (1914), here col. 281ff .; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodotus . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 13ff .; Klaus Meister : The Greek historiography . Stuttgart 1990, pp. 25ff.
  21. Felix Jacoby's RE article Herodotus is fundamental to Herodotus' work . For the aftermath cf. the remarks in Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, here p. 114ff.
  22. Thuk 1:22. Will, Herodot and Thucydides 2015, pp. 72–76 in particular, compare the methodological postulates of both ancient historians , who also attest Herodotus to a critical distance from what has been attributed to him by various sources.
  23. For the end of historiography in late antiquity, see for example Gabriele Marasco (ed.): Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity. Fourth to Sixth Century AD Leiden u. a. 2003.
  24. On his work cf. Josef Wiesehöfer, Robert Rollinger, Giovanni Battista Lanfranchi (eds.): Ktesias' world. Ctesias' World. Wiesbaden 2011.
  25. Will, Herodot and Thukydides 2015, p. 237.
  26. Introduction. In: Klaus Geus, Elisabeth Irwin, Thomas Poiss (eds.): Herodotus ways of telling. Logos and topos in the "Histories". Frankfurt am Main 2013, pp. 11-14.
  27. D. Müller, quoted from Bichler / Rollinger 2000, p. 160.
  28. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 11.
  29. Reinhold Bichler: The analogous structures in the gradation of knowledge about the dimension of space and time in Herodotus' histories. In Geus / Irwin / Poiss (eds.) 2013, p. 25 f.
  30. Reinhold Bichler: The analogous structures in the gradation of knowledge about the dimension of space and time in Herodotus' histories. In Geus / Irwin / Poiss (eds.) 2013, p. 34.
  31. Reinhold Bichler: The analogous structures in the gradation of knowledge about the dimension of space and time in Herodotus' histories. In Geus / Irwin / Poiss (eds.) 2013, p. 25
  32. Reinhold Bichler: The analogous structures in the gradation of knowledge about the dimensions of space and time in Herodotus' histories. In: Klaus Geus, Elisabeth Irwin, Thomas Poiss (eds.): Herodotus ways of telling. Logos and topos in the "Histories". Frankfurt am Main 2013, pp. 17–42, here: p. 39 f.
  33. Michael Stahl: Aristocrats and Tyrants in Archaic Athens. Investigations into tradition, social structure and the formation of the state . Wiesbaden 1987, p. 36.
  34. See Robert Fowler: Herodotos and His Contemporaries. In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996), pp. 62-87. Accordingly, Herodotus could have made use of already existing literary techniques.
  35. Michael Stahl: Aristocrats and Tyrants in Archaic Athens. Investigations into tradition, social structure and the formation of the state . Wiesbaden 1987, p. 34.
  36. Michael Stahl: Aristocrats and Tyrants in Archaic Athens. Investigations into tradition, social structure and the formation of the state . Wiesbaden 1987, p. 42 f.
  37. Katharina Wesselmann: Mythical narrative structures in Herodotus "Historien". Berlin 2011, p. 1 f.
  38. Katharina Wesselmann: Mythical narrative structures in Herodotus "Historien". Berlin 2011, pp. 300-302.
  39. Katharina Wesselmann: Mythical narrative structures in Herodotus "Historien". Berlin 2011, pp. 317-319.
  40. Thuk. 1.21
  41. Katharina Wesselmann: Mythical narrative structures in Herodotus "Historien". Berlin 2011, pp. 326-330.
  42. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 11.
  43. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus Welt ), pp. 17-21.
  44. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 24.
  45. Herodotus 3, 115 f .; 3, 102-105; 4, 195; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 25 f.
  46. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 18.
  47. Herodotus 4, 36-45.
  48. Herodotus 7: 59-100.
  49. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 44.
  50. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 45.
  51. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 50.
  52. Herodotus 2:35 .
  53. Herodotus 4, 176.
  54. Herodotus 1, 173.
  55. Herodotus 1, 216.
  56. Herodotus 4, 172.
  57. Herodotus 4, 180.
  58. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 84.
  59. Herodotus 3, 100.
  60. Herodotus 3:99.
  61. Herodotus 4:26 ; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 48f.
  62. Herodotus 4:71.
  63. Herodotus 3:24 .
  64. Herodotus 3:38; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 48.
  65. Herodotus 4, 184.
  66. Herodotus 4, 103.
  67. Herodotus 4:94.
  68. Herodotus 2: 4; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 160 u. 171.
  69. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 56.
  70. Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 161 u. 172.
  71. Christian Wendt: Herodotus as the father of political realism? In: Klaus Geus, Elisabeth Irwin, Thomas Poiss (eds.): Herodotus ways of telling. Logos and topos in the "Histories". Frankfurt am Main 2013, pp. 345–357, here: pp. 346 f.
  72. Herodotus 1, 87 and 8: 3; each quoted from Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 84.
  73. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 98.
  74. Christian Wendt: Herodotus as the father of political realism? In Geus / Irwin / Poiss (eds.) 2013, pp. 349, 354–56.
  75. Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodot . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 83; Herodotus 8, 3 and 9, 106.
  76. Herodotus 1, 76-89.
  77. Herodotus 1, 177-191.
  78. Herodotus 1, 205-213.
  79. Bichler 2000 ( Herodots Welt ), p. 270 f .; Herodotus 3:25
  80. Herodotus 7: 8; quoted from Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus Welt ), p. 319 f.
  81. Herodotus 1: 30-33.
  82. Herodotus 1, 46–55 and 1, 90; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodotus . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 86 f.
  83. Herodotus 3: 122-125; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodotus . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 97.
  84. Bichler 2000 ( Herodots Welt ), pp. 320–322; Herodotus 7: 9-19.
  85. Herodotus 1, 189; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 267.
  86. Herodotus 7:34; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), p. 323.
  87. Herodotus 1:64; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodotus . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 81.
  88. Herodotus 5:92; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger: Herodotus . Hildesheim u. a. 2000, p. 77.
  89. Herodotus 3, 80-86; Bichler 2000 ( Herodotus World ), pp. 282-284. Wolfgang Will also gives a lecture on comic aspects and laughter in the histories of Herodotus : Laughter from the outside: Comedy in Herodotus. In: Klaus Geus, Elisabeth Irwin, Thomas Poiss (eds.): Herodotus ways of telling. Logos and topos in the "Histories". Frankfurt am Main 2013, pp. 359–373.
  90. Minor Planet Circ. 11159