Nikolaos of Damascus

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Nikolaos of Damascus (Latin Nicolaus Damascenus ; * around 64 BC in Damascus ) was an ancient Greek historian and Peripatetic philosopher . The author, who appeared in the border area of ​​Greek-Oriental culture in the late Hellenistic period, was friends with the Jewish King Herod and later with the Roman Emperor Augustus . He wrote an extensive world history, larger fragments of the first parts of which have been preserved, a biography of Augustus also handed down in more detailed fragments, as well as philosophical works, among other things.


Nikolaos of Damascus, from whose autobiography some fragments have been preserved, probably not of Jewish descent. He was the son of the wealthy politician Antipater, who was apparently highly respected in Damascus, and the Stratonike. His father Antipatros served the Damascene common good, settled civil disputes, held high offices and carried out extensive missionary work.

Little is known for certain about Nikolaos' youth. He received a comprehensive education, first studied grammar and poetry, then rhetoric, music, mathematics and philosophy, was particularly interested in Aristotle in the latter area and therefore joined the Peripatos. He became the educator of the children of Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius - whether he did this task during Cleopatra's lifetime or after her death in 30 BC. Was transferred, but is controversial. Around 20 BC He saw in Antioch an Indian embassy sent with gifts to the emperor Augustus. It is not known whether he was already in the vicinity of King Herod at that time.

Since 14 BC at the latest In any case, Nikolaos was in the service of Herod, whose friend, adviser and court historian he became. 14 BC He accompanied Herod to Agrippa in Asia Minor . He succeeded in getting Agrippa to waive a fine on the inhabitants of Ilion after long hesitation and successfully campaigned for the interests of the Jews of Asia Minor who felt they were being treated negatively by the Greeks there. Flavius ​​Josephus reproduces Nikolaos' speech given to Agrippa, which, according to Richard Laqueur , could actually have been given by Nikolaos in its basic thought processes.

As Herod in 12 BC Chr. Traveled to Italy for the last time, Nicholas was probably in his entourage. Later, too, the Jewish king entrusted Nikolaos with diplomatic missions several times. The most important mission that Nikolaos carried out around 7 BC. Chr. Undertook alone and completely independently, was his legation trip to Rome to Augustus on the occasion of the dispute between Herod and Syllaios . Thanks to his diplomatic skills, he was able to prevent Herod from being convicted for his unauthorized incursion into the Nabatean empire and to ensure that the emperor was reconciled with Herod. After his return he tried in vain to prevent Herod from the immediate execution of his sons Alexander and Aristobulus on accusations made by their half-brother Antipater . Soon thereafter, however, there were also proceedings against Antipater, which 4 BC. BC ended with his execution. Here Nikolaos appeared alongside Herod as a representative of the prosecution before Publius Quinctilius Varus . According to his own testimony, his speech at that time found recognition and is partially passed down through Josephus.

Nikolaos' brother Ptolemy of Damascus was an important advisor to Herod in economic matters. After the death of Herod (4 BC) Ptolemy brought the seal ring and the will of the dead king to Rome to Augustus. Both brothers were also present at the quarrels between members of Herod's family about his succession before the throne of Augustus, who was Herod's executor. Nikolaos acted as advisor and advocate for Herodes Archelaus , who was ultimately appointed as successor by his late father Herod and who sought confirmation from Augustus. Ptolemy, however, supported, albeit in vain, the claims to the throne of Herod's son Herod Antipas . After this mission, Nikolaos stayed in Rome for a long time, perhaps until the end of his life. The year and place of his death are unknown.


World history

Nikolaos' best known work was his extremely comprehensive Universal History, which, according to Athenaeus, consisted of 144 books. The suggestion for the writing of the work came from Herod. The representation ranged from the beginnings of world history to probably Herod's death 4 BC. Only fragments of the work have survived , especially larger fragments of books 1–7 (around 50 printed pages in the edition by Felix Jacoby ) in the so-called Constantine excerpts , i.e. in an excerpt collection that the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. around 950 AD by writing out lots of works by earlier Greek historians that were still preserved at the time. The later books were probably already lost because of the excess of material.

In the first seven books of his great historical work, Nikolaos dealt with the ancient Orient, in which he went into the history of the Assyrians , Medes , Lydians and Persians and probably used Xanthos and Ktesias as sources, as well as the early history of the Greeks, for whose presentation he probably relied on the historians Ephoros and Hellanikos . A long fragment has been preserved mainly from the rise and seizure of power of Cyrus . Another deals with Cyrus' meeting with Croesus after the fall of Sardis ; Croesus only narrowly escaped being burned at the stake. Excerpts of the depiction of Nikolaos have also been preserved for earlier Lydian history. The main emphasis here is on the fact that the overthrow of the Herakleid dynasty by the Mermnaden took place as an atonement for a murder of a Mermnaden committed by a member of the Herakleiden on the basis of divine commandments, and the same fate then met the Mermnaden, whose first king Gyges came to power through the assassination of the last king of Heraklion, Sadyattes I ; this outrage was finally avenged by Cyrus' overthrow of the last Mermnaden Croesus.

The fragments of ancient Greek history that have been handed down to us are much shorter than those of oriental history. They include the description of the downfall of the legendary Spartan legislature Lykurg , who, absent from his homeland, took his own life in order to force the Spartans to perpetually keep their oath to maintain the constitution he had passed until his return. Furthermore, for example, a fragment dealing with the ascent of Kypselos has been preserved.

Only sparse direct fragments are available for books 8-144 of Nikolaos' world history, which mainly provide Athenaios and Flavius ​​Josephus. The former quotes Nikolaos primarily on events that took place in the late Roman Republic . A preserved fragment reproduces a passage from Caesar's work about his Gallic War very clearly, so that this writing by the Roman dictator Nikolaos may have served as an immediate model.

For Josephus, the great historical work of Nikolaos was one of the most important sources for Jewish history in Herod's time. After all, Nikolaos was able to report a lot of his own experiences and also draw on Herod's memoirs. According to Josephus, Nikolaos' portrayal of the Jewish king was already coloring and tendentious. In books 123 and 124 Nikolaus dealt, among other things, with the clashes between the Ionians and Jews before Agrippa.

With today's ancient historians, Nikolaos' method of working when creating his work is controversial, namely how he proceeded with the evaluation of his sources. Richard Laqueur speculated that Nikolaos often used two informants to work out a section of his world history, taking one as a basis and taking the bulk of the material from it, but adding supplements from the other. Any duplicates and contradicting passages caused by this, if the two sources used diverged, were only marginally balanced out by Nikolaos and otherwise left side by side. In accordance with the peripatetic requirement, the rhetorically trained author often presented the historical events he treated in a dramatic way.

Biography of Augustus

Another important work by Nikolaos is his biography of the emperor Augustus, for the composition of which he probably used up to around 25 BC. Chr., Now lost autobiography of Augustus, De vita sua , used as a source. The surviving parts of Nikolaos' biography of the emperor can also be found in the Constantine Excerpts; besides, there is no tradition at all in this regard. When Peirescius discovered one of the four partially preserved (of the original 53, the rest of which have been lost) sections of Constantine excerpts, namely de virtutibus et vitiis , in a codex in 1627 , he noted the first fragments of Nikolaos' Augustus vita there. The extent of the surviving sections increased approximately fourfold when another manuscript of the Constantinian excerpts, namely the department de insidiis , was found in the library of the Escorial in 1848 .

The first fragments of Augustus' biography that were discovered deal with the childhood and youth of Octavian (as Augustus was called before his elevation to emperor) up to 45 BC. The extensive fragments found later in the Constantinian excerpts de insidiis begin with Octavian's stay in Apollonia, where he is informed about the assassination attempt on Caesar, and then continue with the description of Oktavian's actions up to his arrival in Rome, whereupon he is informed Long insertion about the plot to murder Caesar and the assassination attempt itself. In the last part of the excerpts, the now developing opposition between Mark Antony and Octavian is told up to the point in time when Octavian was still in the year 44 BC. BC to recruit Caesar's veterans to Campania .

The image of Augustus conveyed by Nikolaos is extremely positive and apparently tendentious. Octavian's conflict with Antonius, for example, is portrayed in a very one-sided manner from Octavian's point of view. Obviously, Nikolaos' assertion that Caesar expressly denied his paternity of Cleopatra's son Kaisarion in his will is untrue . Regarding the historical value of the work, however, it should be noted that due to the loss of other sources exclusively through Nikolaos, some information that fits very well into the overall historical picture has been handed down.

Nikolaos, who himself was a youth educator, describes the development of Oktavian's youth from a pedagogical perspective. Octavian was constantly supervised by his mother Atia and brought up to be a morally pure young man, who had shown himself to be shy and reserved about all unseemly things. Therefore, he did not take part in carousing parties or indulge in sensual pleasure. Tacitus also sees the same old Roman educational ideal realized in Octavian. Augustus, who as emperor strongly advocated the moral elevation of his subjects, would certainly like to have such a picture drawn up by him, which portrayed him as a person who had matured into a strictly moral man in the sense of ancient Roman tradition, passed down to the world and posterity.

It is unclear when Nikolaos wrote his Augustus Vita; the approaches considered range from the late 1920s BC. Until a publication after the emperor's death in 14 AD. Furthermore, it cannot be determined to what end Nikolaos led his description of the life of the Roman emperor.

Other works

At an advanced age Nikolaos wrote an autobiography with an encomiastic character. Some fragments of this can also be found in the Constantinian Excerpts; furthermore, some details of the Suda about Nikolaos go back to them. Nikolaos compares his educational path with a long journey to his “own hearth”, philosophy, and emphasizes that he really lived the Aristotelian ethics. The work also reveals a number of facts about the educational system of the time.

Furthermore, according to Photios , Nikolaos wrote a collection of strange ethnic customs dedicated to his patron Herod, many of which, but only short fragments, can only be found in Stobaius . This work is in the Aristotelian tradition and was probably put together by Nikolaos on the one hand from material taken from his Universal History and on the other hand from materials that were collected in the Aristotelian school on the subject of paradoxical customs. Since the surviving fragments are closely related to those of Ephorus , this author on which Nikolaos' great historical work is based was probably one of the sources for the collection of strange ethnic customs.

Since Nikolaos had studied “the whole of poetics”, he was also able to compose tragedies and comedies, for which he probably chose purely Greek subjects. Their titles are unknown and they are completely lost.

Nikolaos also emerged as a writer in the field of philosophy. In antiquity he was often referred to as a peripatetic philosopher and was highly regarded by the late antique Aristotelians and Neoplatonists . Porphyrios and Simplikios, for example, invoked his authority and handed down some fragments from Nikolaos' philosophical writings. The Syrians and Arabs also valued Nikolaos as an Aristotelian and contributed to their partial preservation through translations of his philosophical works.

In his work On the Philosophy of Aristotle , Nikolaos paraphrased and commented on Aristotle's treatises on physics , metaphysics and the theory of the soul . It was translated into Syriac and explained through scholias . An epitome of this translation is preserved in a Cambridge manuscript that was written around 1400 but is today damaged . The Dutch classical philologist Hendrik Joan Drossaart Lulofs published the Syrian text as well as its commentary and translation into English in 1965 . The metaphysical part of Nikolaos' writing received special attention from the Arab philosopher and doctor Averroes .

Another philosophical work by Nikolaos is his treatise on Aristotle's treatise on plants. A corresponding script found in the corpus of Aristotle is probably a reverse translation of the original work by Nikolaos, which is no longer available, from Latin - probably obtained by Maximos Planudes . This Latin version, produced by an Alfredus around 1250, was published by EHF Meyer in 1841 and is based on an Arabic translation of a Syrian version of Nikolaos' Greek original made in the 9th century and rediscovered in 1923. Finally, there are other philosophical works by Nikolaos in which he dealt with the universe or the gods, but only a small number of fragments still exist.


  • Felix Jacoby (Ed.): The Fragments of the Greek Historians II A, Berlin 1926 (Nachdr. Leiden 1961), No. 90, pp. 324–430 [contains the historical fragments]
  • Jürgen Malitz (Ed., Translator): Nikolaos von Damascus. Life of the Emperor Augustus . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2003.
  • Édith Parmentier, Francesca Prometea Barone (ed.): Nicolas de Damas. Histoires; Recueil de coutumes; Vie d'Auguste; Autobiography. Fragments . Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2011, ISBN 9782251742113 [Edition of various fragments with French translation]
  • B. Scardigli (ed., Transl., With P. Delbianco): Nicolao di Damasco, Vita di Augusto . Introduzione, traduzione e commento storico a cura di B. Scardigli in collaborazione with P. Delbianco, Florence 1983 [biography of Augustus]
  • Mark Toher (Ed., Transl., Comm.): Nicolaus of Damascus: The Life of Augustus and the Autobiography. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2017.
  • Hendrik Joan Drossaart Lulofs (ed., Transl.): Nicolaus Damascenus. On the philosophy of Aristotle, fragments of the first five books. Transl. from the Syriac with introduction and commentary. Leiden 1965 (= Philosophia antiqua, 13).
  • Theophilus Roeper (Ed.): Nicolai Damasceni de Aristotelis philosophia librorum reliquiae. In: Theophilus Roeper, Lectiones Abulpharagianae. Volume I, GProgr. Danzig 1844, pp. 35-43.
  • Hendrik Joan Drossaart Lulofs (ed., Transl., With ELJ Poortman): Nicolaus Damascenus, De plantis. Five translations (Aristotle Semitico-latinus). North-Holland, Amsterdam 1989 (Arabic and Latin translations of the botanical scripts)
  • EHF Meyer (Ed.): Nicolai Damasceni de plantis libri duo . Leipzig 1841 [Latin text of the botanical writings]


Web links


  1. Suda , p. Antipater and Nikolaos .
  2. Nikolaos of Damascus, in: Felix Jacoby , The Fragments of the Greek Historians (FGrH), No. 90, F 132.
  3. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90, T 2.
  4. So z. B. Felix Jacoby, The Fragments of the Greek Historians II A, Berlin 1926, No. 90, p. 229 and Christoph Schäfer , Cleopatra , 2006, p. 88.
  5. ^ For example, Hans Volkmann , Kleopatra , 1953, p. 204.
  6. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 100.
  7. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 134.
  8. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 T 4, F 81 and F 142.
  9. Flavius ​​Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 16, 31-57.
  10. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Col. 362-424, here: 370.
  11. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus. FGrH 90 F 135.
  12. a b Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 136.
  13. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 136, 7.
  14. Flavius ​​Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 17, 107ff.
  15. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 138.
  16. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 T 11.
  17. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 1-102.
  18. Klaus Meister : Nikolaos 3rd In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 8, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01478-9 , Sp. 920-922, here: 920.
  19. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 66.
  20. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 68.
  21. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 44ff.
  22. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 56.
  23. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 57.
  24. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 80.
  25. ^ Caesar, De bello Gallico 3, 22.
  26. ^ Flavius ​​Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 16, 184.
  27. Flavius ​​Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 12, 125ff.
  28. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 389f. and 398f ..
  29. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 401.
  30. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 125-129.
  31. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 130.
  32. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 130, § 20, 68; on this Christoph Schäfer, Cleopatra , p. 89.
  33. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 402.
  34. ^ Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus 28.
  35. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Col. 362-424, here: 407-410.
  36. ^ So Felix Jacoby, Commentary on FGrH 90, pp. 261-264.
  37. So z. B.Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 405f ..
  38. ^ Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 131-139.
  39. a b Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 132.
  40. ^ Photios, Libraries , Codex 189.
  41. Nikolaos of Damascus, FGrH 90 F 103-124.
  42. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 400f ..
  43. Richard Laqueur: Nikolaos 20. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XVII, 1, Stuttgart 1936, Sp. 362-424, here: 423.
  44. Klaus Meister: Nikolaos 3rd In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 8, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01478-9 , Sp. 920-922, here: 921.
  45. Klaus Meister: Nikolaos 3rd In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 8, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01478-9 , Sp. 920-922, here 921f ..