Timaeus of Tauromenion

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Timaeus of Tauromenion (* approx. 345 BC in Tauromenion , Sicily, † approx. 250 BC in Sicily) was an ancient Greek historian .

Childhood and exile in Athens

Timaeus was born as the son of the hegemon Andromachos in Tauromenion, today's Taormina. His father was a partisan of Timoleon , who from 345 BC. BC Syracuse had successively liberated both the tyrant aspirant Hiketas (who was supported by the Carthaginians) and Dionysius II (who knew influential circles of the oligarchy behind him) and established a moderate oligarchic rule. Timaeus spent his childhood under Timoleon's rule, which after the previous struggles of the parties for rule brought with it a longer period of peace and a new colonization of Sicily by Greeks from all parts of the world. However, Timoleon died in 337 BC. BC, which raised the question of his succession. On the pretext of wanting to restore democracy, Agathocles of Syracuse finally overthrew in 317 BC. The ruling oligarchy with a mercenary army, according to Diodorus, had 4,000 of his (suspected or actual) opponents (especially the most important members of the oligarchy and their supporters) executed and 6,000 put into exile. Among them was Timaeus as a member of the same oligarchy. He turned to Athens and studied with the then famous rhetor Philiskos (a student of Isocrates ). According to the Greek historian Polybios , he lived there for a little less than fifty years. Under the reign of Hieron II , he finally returned (probably around 265 BC) to Sicily (probably to Syracuse), where he was aged 96 around 250 BC. BC also died.


During his stay in Athens he completed his great historical work, the Histories (the original title is uncertain, however) in 38 volumes. It was divided into several sections of unequal length, which contained the history of ancient Italy and Sicily, Sicily itself, the manifold relationships between Sicily and Greece, the history of the cities and kings of Syria and the life of Agathocles and Pyrrhus I , king from Epirus. The text itself has not survived, the information mentioned about content and structure come from the Byzantine Suda , and we also have a little insight into some of the content of the work through some quotations from later authors (see below). The other records ascribed to him (such as the list The Winners of Olympia ) were probably appendices to this major work.


Timaeus was attacked by other ancient historians, especially by Polybius, in some cases extremely sharply. Above all, Polybios accused the Timaeus of his alleged habit of relentlessly uncovering even the smallest errors in the work of other historians, but at the same time cultivating a bad style (such as bad speeches, i.e. poor characterization of the people involved) and little practical knowledge, for example in the field of To have politics and warfare. This accusation earned him the nickname Epitimaios (bug finder). He also lacks the necessary research (interviewing contemporary witnesses, visiting the places described and criticizing the results) and is more of a "clerk's room historian". The most serious accusation against Timaeus, however, was that he willfully distort the truth when influenced by personal views. Therefore he was extremely unfair to the Syracuse tyrants Dionysius II and Agathocles, while singing praises of Timoleon.

On the other hand, even Polybius had to admit that Timaeus consulted all available sources and records. It must also be noted that Polybius' preoccupation with Timaeus in the (entire) 12th book of his histories serves to exemplify how a "good" historian (namely Polybios himself) proceeds in the development and presentation of his contents - with Timaeus in this case must serve as a negative counterexample. It cannot be established with certainty whether Polybios did not exaggerate a little: As mentioned, we only know the work of Timaeus from quotations from later authors (especially Polybios himself) or encyclopedias (Suda). Timaeus was, however, despite the negative image that Polybios drew, apparently one of the most important sources for Pompey Trogus , Diodorus and also Plutarch (e.g. in his life of Timoleon ), about whose works many other quotations have come down. Both Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Pseudo-Longinus described him as a prime example of cold-heartedness, but the latter at least admitted that he was a competent writer in other respects.

Cicero , who was an avid reader of the Timaeus, had a far more positive opinion of him. He particularly emphasized the alleged richness of the content and the variety of its expression.

What is significant is the fact that Timaeus devoted a great deal of attention to chronology in his history and introduced the system of counting in the Olympiads , in which he included the systems of the Attic counting according to archons , the Spartan counting according to ephors, and the system of counting according to priestesses in Argos has embedded comparatively. This chronological system, although not used in everyday life, later found common use among the ancient Greek historians and is of great importance to the modern historian for the classification of events.

Fragments from the work of Timaeus come from Polybius, Diodorus and Cicero.

Text editions and translations


Web links


  1. Suda , keyword Τίμαιος , Adler number: tau 600 , Suda-Online
  2. Polybios 12: 3-28.
  3. Diodorus 21:17.
  4. Cicero, De oratore 2.14