Diodorus of Sicily

diodorus

Historian, Writer (1st century BC)

Diodorus Siculus was one of the most famed historians of antiquity, widely considered today as a pioneer in historiography. His massive work Bibliotheca Historica comprises 40 books and spans the universal history of mankind, from the mythical era until the age of Julius Cesar. With the majority of the work having been destroyed, Diodorus nevertheless presents himself as a master of his art and an authority on world history.

As his name implies, Diodorus was born in Sicily and was active primarily in Rome. A restless spirit, he dedicated 30 years risking his life and subjecting himself to dangerous feats in order to accumulate the best material needed to compile his magnum opus, travelling to various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In Rome he learned Latin and researched the libraries, collecting information that could be found elsewhere.

Years of meticulous research resulted in the compilation of the largest history treatise that existed at the time, the Bibliotheca Historica. Diodorus follows a chronological order, describing not only the most significant events that occurred during each year, but also the geographical relations, the culture, the customs and the traditions of peoples. Furthermore, he names notable individuals in the fields of arts and poetry, not solely on politics and military affairs. Even though he did not possess the experience and the skill of his predecessors Thucydides and Xenophon, Diodorus adheres to the scientific method of historiography.

Bibliotheca Historica is divided into 3 parts. The first part covers the mythical era up until the fall of Troy. The second part contains the history from the fall of Troy until the death of Alexander the Great. The third part picks up from the second part ends and ends with the conquests of the Romans against the Britons. Out of the 40 books in total, only the first five and the second decade survive in their complete form.

In the remaining surviving books, Diodorus writes about the following: the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Atlantians, the Assyrians, the Scythians, the Hyperboreans, the Persians, the Indians, the Arabs, the Africans, on the Greek mythology, the Greek islands and the Greek colonies, Xerxes’ campaigns against Greece and Cyprus up until the battle of Syracuse, the 30 Tyrants of Athens until the fall of Rome by the Galatians, King Philip’s rule of Macedonia, Alexander’s conquest of Asia, his death and the Diadochi up until the contemporary events of Diodorus.

Overall, Diodorus’ ambitious undertaking of writing down the entire history of mankind from the beginning until his contemporary times places him among Greece’s most acclaimed historians Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius. His writings are the only surviving source of certain parts of history that are considered as landmarks at a time when the Greek history was synonymous to universal history.

Bibliography:

  1. “Diodorus Siculus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Badian, Ernst. Diodorus Siculus. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Iranicaonline.org. December 15, 1995. Web
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Diodorus of Sicily

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