Herodotus’s Histories

Herodotus’s View of the Egyptians and Scythians

Herodotus Discussion: Introduction to Herodotus’s Histories

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Herodotus’s Histories was published around 425 BCE, and is the earliest known piece of systematic history. This very long piece of writing is divided into 8 “Books” (what we would call “Chapters”), and deals with the famous conflict between a small collection of Greek poleis and the vast Persian empire, known as the Persian Wars.

While the Histories is famous for telling the story of how the Greeks managed to defeat the Persian fighting force despite being massively outnumbered on the battlefield, it also contains very long passages devoted to the customs of the people who lived under the Persian Empire, including the Babylonians, the Lydians, the Egyptians, and the Scythians. By describing these far away peoples in great detail, he could emphasize even more the vastness of the empire that the Greeks had defeated. This map shows what Herodotus thought the world looked like (the Greeks are in the area right below the label “Thracians”; note the “boot” of Italy to its left): (MAP ATTACHED BELOW)

Because of Herodotus’s interest in writing about non-Greeks, the Histories is considered not only the first “history”, but also the first work of cultural anthropology—that is, the study of peoples whose way of life differs from one’s own. Herodotus certainly visited some of the places he wrote about or otherwise had access to eyewitness sources for the history and customs of faraway places, but scholars also generally agree that he made a lot of things up—almost as if to emphasize how extremely different these non-Greek barbarians were from Greeks.

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