The Life of Thucydides

It is the purpose of this paper to outline the life of Thucydides and how he has made a mark as one of the greatest historians who have ever lived. Thucydides was the author of The History of the Peloponnesian War and this has made him famous because he stated that:

The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but I shall be content if it is judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it. My history has been composed to be an everlasting possession, not the show piece of an hour.1

This means that Thucydides wrote the history of the war for future reference to those who wanted an accurate account of the things that took place during the war. He did not write it persuasively, he wrote it so it would be everlasting and that a thing such as the Peloponnesian wars would never happen again.2 “He designed a history which should be simply a history of the war and of the relations of the militant states, which should confine itself to its theme, and not deviate into geography or anthropology or other things. Thus he was the founder of ‘political’ history.”3

There are many controversial issues surrounding Thucydides because his biographical facts are not clear. All that we know about him are taken from his books. The dates of his birth and death are estimated and have a twenty-year range between reputable sources.4 Thucydides had realized the importance of the wars early on and began to write about it using eyewitness accounts, speeches, and impressions from other people and that he himself had made. Thucydides’ father was named Oloros, a name that shows that Thucydides’ relatives were royal Thracians. He himself was not. He was an Athenian aristocrat born around 450 B.C. and died around the end of the fifth century, living through the whole of the wars. Thucydides writes in his account that he was strategos meaning general. “This position was important, more important than that of juryman or councillor, offices for which the minimum age was thirty. If the same age qualification applied to generalship, then Thucydides was perhaps a little over thirty.”5

After serving as strategos he was appointed to command in Thrace. The loss in Amphilpolis led to his banishment and “for twenty years he did not see Athens, and while he probably lived for the most part on his Thracian estate, he also traveled to collect material for his work.”6 Thucydides’ work consisted of providing citizens with relevant facts that would help set new goals for the future. It was somewhat easy for him to do this because “his family connection to Athens provided him, perhaps, with exceptional facilities for obtaining authentic information, while his military training and experience qualified him to be the historian of the war.”7

“At the beginning of his history, Thucydides claims famously that the Peloponnesian War was the greatest disturbance in recorded history.”8 The first Peloponnesian war went from 460-445 B.C. and the second or “great” war went from 431-404 B.C. These wars were between Athens and Sparta and their allies. The first war ended in a truce and the second ended with Sparta being the dominant force.9 The wars were violent and it was because of this that he felt it was an important part of history.

In the first book, Thucydides introduces himself and why he is writing the account of the wars. He tells us that his writings are unbiased and based on actual fact. He also states that although he is writing from eyewitness accounts and speeches, he can not say with absolute certainty the words he uses to describe each occurrence are exact. He also tells the reader that one’s memory is imperfect and he can not declare everything he writes is one hundred percent accurate.10

The second book that Thucydides wrote was a funeral speech that Pericles gave. It was not in the exact words of Pericles but is thought to be what Thucydides remembered or took notes from. The funeral speech