Ancient Greece People


Bust of Thucydides residing in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage.

Thucydides was a Greek historian who was born in Alimos between the years 460 and 455 B.C and died between 411 and 400 B.C. He is known for his book The History of the Peloponnesian War which details the war between Sparta and Athens in the 5th Century. As with many authors of that time much of the information we know about him comes from this, his sole work, where we gain our views of his personality and his thoughts on the leaders of Athens.

Thucydides was an Athenian aristocrat who it is believed was in his late twenties or early thirties when the war first broke out in 431 B.C. Thucydides famously describes to us the plague of Athens in 430 B.C, which killed nearly a third of the Athenian population and also Athens leader Pericles. Thucydides gives us a detailed account of the plague and the hardship it caused the Athenians

".Externally the body was not very hot to the touch, nor pale in its appearance, but reddish, livid, and breaking out into small pustules and ulcers. But internally it burned so that the patient could not bear to have on him clothing or linen even of the very lightest description; or indeed to be otherwise than stark naked. What they would have liked best would have been to throw themselves into cold water; as indeed was done by some of the neglected sick, who plunged into the rain tanks in their agonies of unquenchable thirst; though it made no difference whether they drank little or much.
Though many lay unburied, birds and beasts would not touch them, or died after tasting them1".

It is also known that he was an Athenian general (Strategos) in 424 B.C and was in command of 7 ships which were stationed at Thasos and was subsequently to blame for the capture of Amphipolis.

"It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly2".

This led to him being condemned to death and fleeing to his Thracian estate. Thucydides did not return to Athens for another 20 years. It was because of this that he decided to write The History of the Peloponnesian Wars. Having been exiled from Athens Thucydides was able to travel among Peloponnesian allies, giving detailed accounts from both sides. Using interviews, researching records, providing giving eye witness accounts and his own take on events provides an insightful look at the war from both sides.

The date of his death is also the subject of much debate as some argue that because of the abrupt ending of his narrative in the middle of 411 B.C., he may have died around that time. However, it is also stated by Pausanias that a law was passed which allowed Thucydides to return to Athens in 404 B.C. but he was murdered on the way home. Therefore as is evident there is room for much debate on when he actually died but it would be fair to assume that he died between 411-404 B.C.

1 Thuc 2.47.1-55.1
2 Thuc 5.26.5

Copyright © 2003-2023 University Press Inc. All Rights Reserved