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date: 30 March 2023

historiography, Hellenisticlocked

historiography, Hellenisticlocked

  • Daniel Tober


Of the nearly one thousand Greek histories written between the deaths of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra VII, only a handful have survived, in particular, 2 Maccabees and portions of the Histories of Polybius (1), the Library of Diodorus (3) Siculus, and the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius (7) of Halicarnassus. What remains, along with the copious fragments of what does not, belies a strict dichotomy between Hellenistic and Classical historiography. Classical and Hellenistic historians explored similar themes and topics: the great majority wrote local histories; those who did not tended to focus on individual wars or campaigns, on inter-polis affairs more generally, or on broader global history. And they did so in similar ways: there is little to suggest that Hellenistic historians in general were more rhetorical, pathetic, or tragic than their Classical counterparts. The Hellenistic period saw advances in chronography, which allowed for a more comprehensive approach to universal historiography, and the proliferation of books and book culture, which influenced the way historians constructed and articulated their narratives. But what primarily distinguishes Hellenistic from Classical historians is their multitude (a consequence of the spread of Greek literacy in the Mediterranean world and beyond) and their regrettable failure to enter the canon.


  • Greek History and Historiography

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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