See translations of his history by G. Rawlinson (1858), A. de Selincourt (1954), R. Waterfield (1998), and A. L. Purvis (2007); studies by J. L. Myres (1953, repr. 1971), C. W. Fornara (1971) and J. A. Evans and F. Hartog (1982); W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus (2 vol., rev. ed. 1928); H. R. Immerwahr, Form and Thought in Herodotus (1966).
(born 484?, Helicarnassus, Asia Minor—died 430/420 BC) Greek historian. He resided in Athens and then in Thurii in southern Italy. His travels covered a large part of the Persian empire. He is the author of the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world, the History of the Persian Wars. It is a unified artistic masterpiece, with many illuminating digressions and anecdotes skillfully worked into the narrative. Despite many inaccuracies, it remains the leading source of original information about Greece between 550 and 479 BC, as well as that of much of western Asia and Egypt.
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How much of this is correct we do not know. It was common practice in antiquity for the biographies of poets to be pieced together out of inferences drawn from their works. Something similar may have happened in Herodotus' case. His casting as a tyrannicide may simply reflect the pro-freedom attitude that he expresses in the Histories, whereas the stays at Samos and Athens may have been invented to explain the pro-Samian and pro-Athenian bias that has often been thought to pervade his work. His exile from Halicarnassus may also be fictional: later historians, such as Thucydides and Xenophon, underwent periods of exile, and their fate may have been retrospectively imposed on Herodotus by later writers.
Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.
Herodotus provides much information concerning the nature of the world and the status of the sciences during his lifetime. He was arguably the first historian, and certainly the first to travel methodically around the known world in a bid to write more accurately, although this still involved second-hand and third-hand accounts relating to his primary subject, the Persian wars.
He reports, for example, that the annual flooding of the Nile was said to be the result of melting snows far to the south, and he comments that he cannot understand how there can be snow in Africa, the hottest part of the known world, offering an elaborate explanation based on the way that desert winds affect the passage of the Sun over this part of the world (2:18ff). He also passes on dismissive reports from Phoenician sailors that, while circumnavigating Africa, they "saw the sun on the right side while sailing westwards". Owing to this brief mention, which is put in almost as an afterthought, it has been argued that Africa was indeed circumnavigated by ancient seafarers, for this is precisely where the sun ought to have been.
Written between 431 and 425 BC, The Histories were divided by later editors into nine books, named after the nine Muses (the "Muse of History", Clio, represented the first book). His accounts of India are among the oldest records of Indian civilzation by an outsider.
Discoveries made since the end of the 19th century have helped greatly to restore Herodotus's reputation. The archaeological study of the now-submerged ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion and the recovery of the so-called "Naucratis stela" give extensive credibility to Herodotus's previously unsupported claim that Heracleion was founded under the Egyptian New Kingdom. Because of this recent increase in respect for his accuracy, as well as the quality and content of his observations, Herodotus is now recognized as a pioneer not only in history but in ethnography and anthropology.
One of the most recent developments in Herodotus scholarship was made by the French ethnologist Michel Peissel. On his journeys to India and Pakistan, Peissel claims to have discovered an animal species that may finally illuminate one of the most "bizarre" passages in Herodotus's Histories. In Book 3, passages 102 to 105, Herodotus reports that a species of fox-sized, furry "ants" lives in one of the far eastern, Indian provinces of the Persian Empire. This region, he reports, is a sandy desert, and the sand there contains a wealth of fine gold dust. These giant ants, according to Herodotus, would often unearth the gold dust when digging their mounds and tunnels, and the people living in this province would then collect the precious dust. Now, Peissel says that in an isolated region of the Deosai Plateau between India and Pakistan there exists a species of marmot (a type of burrowing squirrel) that may solve the mystery of Herodotus' giant "ants". Much like the province that Herodotus describes, the ground of the Deosai Plateau is rich in gold dust. According to Peissel, he interviewed the Minaro tribal people who live in the Deosai Plateau, and they have confirmed that they have, for generations, been collecting the gold dust that the marmots bring to the surface when they are digging their underground burrows.
Even more tantalizing, in his book, "The Ants' Gold: The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas", Peissel offers the theory that Herodotus may have become confused because the old Persian word for "marmot" was quite similar to that for "mountain ant". Because research suggests that Herodotus probably did not know any Persian (or any other language except his native Greek), he was forced to rely on a multitude of local translators when travelling in the vast polylingual Persian Empire. Therefore, he may have been the unwitting victim of a simple misunderstanding in translation. (It is also important to realize that Herodotus never claims to have himself seen these "ants/marmot" creatures—he may have been dutifully reporting what other travellers were telling him, no matter how bizarre or unlikely he personally may have found it to be. In an age when most of the world was still mysterious and unknown and before the modern science of biology, the existence of a "giant ant" may not have seemed so far-fetched.) The suggestion that he completely made up the tale may continue to be thrown into doubt as more research is conducted.
However, it must be noted that this theory of the marmots fails to take into consideration Herodotus's own follow-up in passage 105 of Book 3, wherein the "ants/marmots" are said to chase and devour full-grown camels; nevertheless, this could also be explained as an example of a tall tale or legend told by the local tribes to frighten foreigners from seeking this relatively easy access to gold dust. On the other hand, all these details of the "ants" are eerily similar to the description of the camel spider (Solifugae), which strictly speaking is not a spider and is even sometimes called a "wind scorpion". Camel spiders are said to chase camels (they can run up to 10mph), they have lots of hair bristles, and they could quite easily be mistaken for ants given their rather bizarre appearance. And as has been noted by some, on account of the fear factor of encountering one, there have been "many myths and exaggerations about their size". Images of camel spiders could give the impression that this could be mistaken for a giant ant, but certainly not the size of a fox.