Analysis of Herodotus: Book Nine

Herodotus’ concluding book ties all loose ends and draws the main part of the conflict between the Persians and the Greeks to a close. The reader not only learns of the widening differences between the Spartans and Athenians but also how Herodotus’ own views have shaped the text.


The Book begins with Mardonius, Xerxes’ second in command, desperately picking up the pieces of Xerxes’ failed invasion. This should not invoke sympathy, after all, he was responsible for urging Xerxes into fighting the war in the first place and he provided little tactical or strategic advice of any worth. We are reminded of his difficult position from the last book: he needs to please his King yet he is desperate not to be overthrown or defeated. Once again, Herodotus shows that the follies of man are often of their own causing; this is an interesting view from a man who accounts for the intervention of the Gods.

Mardonius is shown to make his next move on the Greeks by invading Attica for the second time and capturing Athens. However, like much of the Persian campaign, this is a superficial move this Athens has been evacuated and much of the sacred buildings previously burned and destroyed. Herodotus does not slander Mardonius or completely criticize his every move. He does attribute the delayed destruction of the Attic area due to Mardonius’ wish to be reasonable and reach a truce with the Athenians.

What makes him a truly failed leader is his inability to exploit the Greek weakness at this point: the division between Athenians and Spartans. These two factions have always had their divisions but with the wall across the Isthmus nearly built, the Spartans would have good reason to withdraw their troops and the Athenians would have to abandon any alliance. Instead, he marched his troops into Boeotia and attempts to build a wooden fortress. In some ways he improves upon his Persian predecessors. He has local support since many Boeotians have allied themselves to his cause. However, his action of rooting himself down in enemy territory appears to be reminiscent of Darius in Book Four in Scythia and symbolic of Mardonius’ lack of confidence in his military expedition.

Athens today

Battle of Plataea

The actual Battle of Plataea, which takes place after Mardonius leaves his wooden fortress, is not given pages upon pages of description. The lead up to the Battle is and many significant details can be gleaned in these observations. Both sides are shown to be superstitious and religious with both using diviners and the contents of intestines to determine when the battle should be fought. In the case of Mardonius this is revealed to be strategic since he uses it as a way of not engaging with the Spartans. However, in the case of the Spartans this is significant, partly  because they make greater use of diviners throughout Thucydides’ history as well. This also allows the Athenians and Spartans to be distinguished at this point since the Athenians do not make as much use of the diviners as the Spartans.

In the course of the preparation, the Athenians win over the right to lead the right flank from the Arcadians. I report this since it is significant as it shows the growing and developing relations between the Greek nations; a theme that becomes more important in the Peloponnesian Wars. In addition, it allows the Spartans and the Athenians to work in sync and use strategy to throw Mardonius’ army as they switch flanks before battle is met. Again, the Greeks win the battle due to their superior tactics. They use similar tactics and strategies to Thermopylae by leading the Persians away from the battle and then turning on them when they least expect it.

Much of what happened before at Plataea is repeated again through Mardonius this time. He argues with his Greek slave, much like Xerxes and Demaratus, about the tactics and warfare of the Greeks. Once again, it is the failure to understand the opponent which leads to their demise and Mardonius is slain. In reinforcing what I think is Herodotus’ view about history, Mardonius previously promised the Spartans their desert for Thermopylae; the Spartans ultimately get this. Therefore, it is personal failings and arrogance which cause defeat and loss. Herodotus seems to reinforce this by arguing that the war was ultimately going to be decided by the Persians. Here we see his judgement that history is decided upon the natural forces of men, their reason and ability to understand and not the Gods. Though he qualifies this by saying that Demeter’s shrine was not encroached upon because of her intervention in the battle preventing Persians from nearing it, this suggests his view of the Gods is that they interfere only in their matters. The majority of mankind’s history, it would seem Herodotus thinks, is decided by man.

The Spartan leader Pausanias is shown to have benefited from his victory at Plataea. He is described as being enriched by his victory. It is interesting that Herodotus does not mention later allegations of treachery that Pausanias will face and he is shown with a halo above his head when Herodotus describes how he refused to mutilate Mardonius’ corpse in revenge for Leonidas. I mention this because Thucydides does relate this in Book One of his work and thus it could show a differing opinion of the Spartans. More interesting is the meal Pausanias orders the Persian cook to prepare. In comparing the Persian’s lavish food to that of the dour Spartan food he mocks the Persians for wanting to invade Sparta. The tale’s importance really goes to relate back to Cyrus’s feast he held for the Persians before they fought the Medes. The original tale is Cyrus’s way of persuading the Persians to fight back so as to gain a lavish, material wealth. However, this shows how it has been perverted by Xerxes since they are now risking their Empire on an invasion in which they would gain very little. In many ways this shows how the Persians forgot reason in the pursuit of power and status.

Plataea today


Whilst the Plataean battle commences the Greeks sailed to Mycale to defeat the Persians. Herodotus does give more evidence of his beliefs on the divine here, stating that it must have been divine intervention which allowed the Greeks to fight in the same place at the same time. However, I think this comment is largely trivial: two events coinciding of such great importance will always attract attention and depending on how superstitious or religious one is, it will either be counted as religious or just coincidence. In the battle it self, Leotychidas, in order to secure the battle, uses Themistocles’ tactic of trying to persuade the Ionians on the shore to switch sides. It has a similar impact as it did at Artemisium. However, it is the Greek determination that wins the battle as the soldiers are described as ravaging the armies on the shore and burning the hall that others reside in to the ground.

After this event, one of the most important parts of Greek history happens: the formation of the Delian League. This happens when the Athenians, refusing to depopulate Ionia and seize colonies from Boeotian traitors, decide to ally themselves with other Ionians. This essentially ends the dominance of the Spartans over defining Ionia since the Athenians decide they are willing to be independent even if it means having to defend themselves against the Spartans. What is also puzzling is why Herodotus did not give more attention over to this event? It does seem strange as it will go on to dominate political and military events in the history to come (and in Herodotus’ own time). One could argue that he did not have the sources to comment on the events that occurred or perhaps he did not see them as relevant to the conflict between Persia and Greece. Perhaps equally as telling is how the Spartans do not decide to end the conflict with Persia by sailing to the Hellespont. Strategic explanations have been offered by Kagan, who hypothesized that this was because they had to return to Sparta to prevent either a helot or Argive attack. However, symbolically it shows the conservative retreat the Spartans would make and the Athenian’s forward approach to affairs.

Before Herodotus ends his History he recounts how Xerxes had lusted after different people’s wives and how he had tried to secure their love. This anecdote confirms certain elements of Xerxes’ character already previously known, such as indecisiveness. However, I think it serves another purpose and that it must since it is placed, rather peculiarly, after Xerxes has exited the History. His infidelity and lust after women does bear some similarity to Candaules’ behavior in Book One such as trying to arrange manipulations of women. Many times in the history, women are recounted to be the cause of issues for leaders and this now seems to show that being sexually immoral is indicative of a greater character flaw. This seems true in the present times with politicians who are caught adulterating often being fraudulent and corrupt in other ways.

Returning to the final pages of the History, Herodotus recounts how the Athenians under Xanthippus crucified Arctyates and stoned his son to death in front of him. The Athenians, we are told, then dismantled the bridge and offered the materials to their gods in temples. The ending here of the Athenian’s history is unbelievably bloody and barbaric. This goes to challenge any reader who believes Herodotus was a pusher of the ‘clash of civilizations’ esque argument. His final remarks concern Cyrus. This is the conclusive proof that his History was written with specific purposes and hypotheses in mind. Cyrus’s words seem to indicate that the Persians should be weary of expansion and invading other lands because of the nature of the people’s on them, he ultimately encourages them to remain masters of what they own. I believe Herodotus’ message extends beyond this. His history stands testament to what can be known about the history of other peoples. I think this inclusion thus is a mockery of the Persians as it offers a misunderstood reason for they could lose and be conquered as slaves.



Herodotus sets out in Book One to investigate the causes of why things happen and why things are the way they are. He calls his work an investigation and something to be prized throughout the ages. In Book One this may seem like pompous talk, but by Book Nine his purpose has been fully realized: the investigation is a prize in of itself as it not only presents findings but the method and reason for making those findings in the first place. Above all Herodotus documents the failure of humans to reason and to think. Too often people of all races and nations resort to base emotions of anger, jealousy and fear. Herodotus’ history shows the value that a scientific study of the world can have and that all details are relevant. For those who think Herodotus is the ‘Father of lies’ or unscientific, they are mistaken: Herodotus defines the study of history.




Digging in the archives

On Friday,  a friend and I spent a couple of hours going through our school archives. We were looking for images of the original house coat of arms but what we found were early editions of our newsletter. This began in the early 1920s and copies in the archives stretch to the mid 1990s. What is fascinating is that contained within these pages are the writings of previous students on the subjects of history and debating. These of course allowed a personal connection to be formed since these are topics of interest to myself and my friend. Below are images of a select copies of the newsletter.

An extract from the report of the Historical Society from 1991 describing a trip to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum
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A report and picture of the Historical Society on their trip to the USSR
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The report from the Literary and Debating Society discussing the use of funds in the society

The beauty in looking down the hole of history is seeing the connection to the present. Today I help to run the History Society and the Debating Society at school and to see a rich heritage, one made by students who sat in the same classrooms as I, is ultimately a reward for anyone interested in history.


Analysis of Herodotus: Book Seven

Herodotus’ seventh book brings together many of the strands developed in previous books of hubris, Greek development and the clash of civilizations. This rests on an interpretation of Herodotus which states he was a purposeful, subtle historian, one which I agree with.

Darius’ last days

Herodotus opens with the failure of Darius to comprehend his armies’ defeat at Marathon and his decision to invade Greece. This is all indicative of the arrogance of Persian kings from Cyrus through to Xerxes since it is Athens’s size which should act evidence for the Persians that size and established power is not all that is required for effective rule and military success. This message is seemingly reinforced by the news that Darius received after that Egypt had revolted, showing his control over the Empire waned and was problematic. Like Cyrus and Cambyses he ended his reign with failure which was the reflection of arrogant leadership and shortsightedness.


Unfortunately, the education history provides all with was lost on the rising prince in Persia. Xerxes is told by Herodotus to have not been Darius’ eldest son but instead the first born son of the daughter of Cyrus. Whilst this gives some legitimacy to his claim to being ruler, when compared to the madness of Cambyses, an actual son of Cyrus, this claim immediately appears weak to the reader. Interestingly, he becomes king through the machinations of the former King of Sparta, Demaratus. Demaratus will go on to be a wise adviser to Xerxes, unfortunately, his advice is not heeded to at times of import.

In presenting the debates around the invasion of Greece, a task Xerxes is showed to be incapable of doing, Herodotus shows his key character failing. Xerxes is despotic and tyrannical, but he is also weak and indecisive. At an important time in the existence of the Empire, facing a rebellious group of nations, he is swayed by Mardonius’ arguments to launch into a rash attack against the Ionians. Whilst Mardonius puts forward a convincing argument, that invasion will punish the Greeks and give greater way to expanding the Empire, Herodotus clearly shows that this is rooted in his own self interest. The fact Herodotus gives little attention to his sources in this part would suggest that this may have been his hypothesis, further strengthening the argument that Herodotus was shaping this Book to make a point about the nature of rule and despotism.

Xerxes’ failings continue since not only is he easily swayed but he is shown to be ignorant and dismissive of his uncle, Artabanes’. This is of course problematic since his uncle points out that Mardonius has selfish intentions in persuading the King to go to war, though this is conveniently ignored by Xerxes. Fundamentally he is fundamentally despotic since even after it is  pointed out that Xerxes will be defeated as his father was in Scythia (they will rout them and then deconstruct Hellespont bridge) he refuses to acknowledge this evidence. Furthermore, he is shown to be weak and unsure of his own command. For example, he asks that Artabanes go to his bed as he would so as to invoke a dream giving prophesies. His issue is thus that he acts despotically but ineffectively since he is unsure of his own decisions.


The crossing and invasion of Greece

Xerxes personal failings are symbolized in his actual invasion of Greece. He decides he will enter Greece by constructing canals and the bridge at the Hellespont but with such drama and stagecraft so as to prove his might. Herodotus devotes pages to carefully listing the armies, their equipment, their country of origin and their military statuses who come with Xerxes to Greece. One cannot help but feel that this is Herodotus showing the complete ridiculousness of Xerxes’ nature. His observation of the failure at Marathon is the numbers, whilst numbers of course did not cause the Athenian victory. His misdiagnosis and flaunting of his military strength becomes evidence of his failings as a leader and signposts to the reader that the expedition itself would fail. Later, when he crosses the Hellespont and offers the sword, cup and bowl to the Gods, he shows himself to be a dramatist and peacock. Ironically, this magnificent display sets him up for failure.

His tyrannical, dictator like cruelty is on full display in the journey into Greece. This is made apparent in the murder of a patron’s eldest son who he wanted to stay behind to look after him. The patron’s crime was to think that he was above the status of a slave, which is everyone in Xerxes’ eyes excluding his own person. This behavior is the kind of Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin and thus Herodotus’ characterization is worth its study since it provides some psychological insight into the mind of dictators. He does display some compassion: on looking out on his vast army, he notes how it is sad that all men will cease to be. Artabanes counters saying  the sadness comes from the fact that the Gods make life sweet enough to be missed. This conversation also has hints of Solon’s discussion in Book One. There is thus the suggestion that failure to understand happiness is coming back to haunt leadership. This raises the question of whether Herodotus is making a judgement about humanities’ inability to understand happiness throughout the History.

Herodotus also shows through the eyes of Demaratus that Xerxes is destined to fail. The reader is presented with two contrasting images of Xerxes’ expedition: that of the physical armies and the inner workings of Xerxes’ strategy, one is magnificent, the other weak. Demaratus points out that the Greeks will not so easily be pushed over and will fight for their freedom. He argues that the Greek’s strength comes from an obedience to the law which Xerxes is obliged to dismiss. The irony is that misunderstanding of other cultures and peoples has led to the defeat of the Persians time and time again. Darius fundamentally failed to conquer Scythia because he failed to see how their way of living would make a traditional invasion useless. Xerxes here is ignoring a vital source of information about the Greeks: their former king. As a general comment on Herodotus’ writing, these passages could be Herodotus is writing himself into the narrative. He is saying that the studies of culture, heritage and history are essential because these are organs of society which are connected to geopolitics.

The Hellespont with modern settlements

Athens joins

Herodotus’ complexity as a historian is only further developed in this passage since he makes use of the modern idea of the counter-factual. Whilst he used it earlier in the history his use is most obvious here. He argues that Athens was essential to the liberation of Greece because without it the Spartans would have been cut off and would eventually have been defeated. This use of the counter-factual could point to Herodotus’ favored side in the war. Whilst he does, in Book Eight, provide further evidence of his support for the Athenians this is by no means conclusively true. The need for the Spartan troops and aid at Thermopylae show how much of the Athenian strategy rested on Spartan co-operation.

An interesting passage is that of the Athenians debating with the message of the Oracle of Delphi over whether they should fight in the oncoming war. Thucydides rarely shows the Athenians consulting any form of religious authority, with the Dorians being more preoccupied with religious matters. However, this is evidence that consultation with the Oracle was not uncommon. The eventual decision to side with Themistocles regardless and dismiss the Oracles’ message is also revealing of the Athenians. Ultimately, they are shown to favor the opinion of man over the divine and practical, reason over hypothetical superstition. This all seems to be true since much of Pericles’ later leadership in Athens promotes the limitless expansion of the Athenians and joins the achievements of the ancestors, the dead and current Athenians with the man made creation of the city-state. A Straussian reading would definitely agree that the Athenians had a godless streak within them (further supported by Cleisthenes’ deceitful use of the Oracle to persuade the Spartans to aid them).

The peak of Athenian pragmatism and reason is shown in these passages. Firstly, the leadership of Themistocles is fixed upon the development of a navy, utilizing the recently developed silver mines to fund this. This shows the elevation of the community and development of the Athenians, a departure from some of the later hyper-realist acts of Themistocles. Secondly, the Athenians do attempt to build alliances. Their efforts with Sparta manage to overcome their ‘Athenian Exceptionalism’ (i.e. claiming rights to leadership because of their ancient Ionian status) and they put aside their feuds with the Aeginetans in order to gain an alliance. Even their attempts to recruit the Syracusans, which are marked with bitterness, show their willingness to compromise. They ultimately cannot recruit the Syracusans, not because of their arrogance or obstinacy, but because of their agreement with the Spartans. As a side note, the Syracusans attack the Athenians for wanting everything but not being willing to concede anything. Interestingly, this does not describe the Athenians now, but it is an accurate description of their interests in the late 5th century when they are not willing to compromise Alcibiades’ imperialism with Nicias’ realism and invade Sicily. My own constant comparison between these passages of Herodotus and Thucydides are deliberate: this is because there is a development of portrayal of sophisticated diplomacy many critics associate only with Thucydides.



Sparta encounters similar issues that the Athenians had. They try to attempt compromise with the Argives, their long standing enemy, but to little success. Herodotus does show some pan-Hellenic unity with the Athenians and Spartans working together by positioning land forces first in Thessaly, then at Thermopylae and moving fleet to Artemisium. The Athenian’s dominance of naval matters and Sparta’s primacy in hoplite military strategy shows that the two are natural allies and not enemies. This accounts for much of the awkward ‘intercourse’ of the early stages of the Peloponnesian War in which the Spartans ravage Attica by foot whilst the Athenians target Spartan allied islands and carry out naval raids.

Herodotus once again draws the reader’s attention back to Solon’s words in Book One. According to Herodotus, the Spartans claim that they should not fear Xerxes since the greater the man, the greater his fall will be when his luck runs out. Once again the words of Solon about chance, success and leadership come back to haunt Xerxes. Herodotus ultimately knows this will happen since he lives in the post-invasion Greece and thus he could be applying his interpretation to history which is empirically true. Modern historians do similar things, whether intentional or not; Prof. Simms in his work Three Victories and a Defeat works from the premise that British policy was successful when working with Europe and he then analyses history from this viewpoint.

The actions of the Spartans in the battle show that Herodotus is true in this respect. Though vastly outnumbered (the three hundred Spartans is true, albeit they have support from helots and other Greeks). They lead Xerxes’ army into the pass only to turn on the army and annihilate them one by one. This of course plays on the arrogance of the Persians, who through Xerxes, already revealed that they believed Greeks would always flee at the sight of them. Demaratus clearly understood the Spartan tactic and thus berated Xerxes for not listening. Once again Xerxes’s arrogance was his downfall.

Thermopylae by Jacques Louis David, 1814

Though the Spartans were eventually defeated, this was not through the military expertise or strategic thinking of the Persians. Ultimately, they are aided by the actions of Ephialtes who reveals the hidden path through the pass which allows the ambush and final defeat of the Spartans. Xerxes does have the fortune of good luck in this instance, but as Solon said it would, this will quickly evaporate.

Herodotus also uses the battle to fulfill the typical duties of his role as a historian. He notes the Greeks of honor and especially the achievements of Leonidas. Importantly, many of those who were successful in the Battle were members of different parts of society, they were not all members of an aristocratic elite- this further reinforces Herodotus’ interest in society as a whole and with presenting a history for the Greek peoples.

Whilst Xerxes mutilates Leonidas’ body – an act that Herodotus denigrates as a truly despicable act- Demaratus advises attacking Sparta from an island. This seems to be a good piece of advice since the Spartans cannot abide the attack on their land. This raises the questions of Demaratus’ loyalty and where his heart truly resides. His character is resolved since Herodotus reveals that Demaratus helped the Spartans by sending the wax tablet with message carved into wood. This makes us, the readers, think Demaratus is wise after Xerxes’ adviser just chastised him and thus restores the reader’s faith. Importantly, though he helps the Persians, wisdom is shown to be present in all armies and civilizations. Herodotus thus shows it is the civilization that decides to utilize reason and experience which will be effective.

Memorial at Thermopylae


Herodotus’ depiction of the events not only shows his complexity and intrigue as a historian but shows the Spartans and Athenians in a new light. Athens is shown as pragmatic and reasoned, willing to make compromises with previous enemies and not quite destined for a path of hubris and eventual destruction. The Spartans make a Thermopylae the ultimate sacrifice and thus are made heroes in this tale; something which their words of wisdom before the battle shows is fitting of them. However, Herodotus also uses this history to show the need for the study of history itself by showing the failings of man when it places power with those who have no care for the study itself. Herodotus writes his own case into the failing of Xerxes.




Analysis of Herodotus: Book Four

Much like Book Two the reader is given Herodotus the ethnographer, history playing a secondary rule. Though like Book Two, Herodotus’ ethnography has another purpose and this illuminates much about the Persians and the Greeks.

The Scythians

Herodotus discusses the ancestry of the Scythians at great detail at the beginning of Book Four. As he did with the Egyptians, he tends to disagree with the common consensus about them that exists in the Greek states. An example of this is his description of the two mythical accounts for the Scythians’ origin. The Greek version has Heracles bed a woman and instruct her that one of her children will be the king of a group of people. Herodotus quickly dismisses this mythical account of the Scythian origin in favor of their own. The Scythian origin story is far more plausible and therefore Herodotus is establishing his credibility as a historian who was able to overcome cultural assertions and incorporate different sources.

Another key part of their culture which Herodotus describes is their ethnocentrism. They are known to him as being a group of tribes that refuse to bow down to other cultures and establish the primacy of their own. He discusses two accounts of different Scythians, one a king, who practiced Greek rituals and ceremonies: both Scythians were duly punished for their dissension from the established tradition. This makes the Scythians an interesting group since they remain rooted in their heritage and steadfast later against Darius. The Scythians had infighting and various feuds with mixed groups such as the Black Cloaks, however, they contrast strongly with the expansionism of Darius.

Herodotus also describes other various cultural norms that were accepted by the Scythians. For example, they relied on cattle as their source of food, worshiped only Zeus and Hera and built no towns or roads. This will all become relevant when facing the forces of the Persians.

An example of Scythian art

Darius’ Invasion

As is learned in Book Three, Darius wanted to invade Scythia before he launched reconnaissance missions into Greece and the behest of his doctor. His motivation is given that he wanted to take revenge on a group that centuries before had repelled the Medes. However, given his firm establishment of previously conquered lands, it is safe to assume that he wanted a reason to expand and gain new territory.

The theme of man conquering nature recurs with Darius having the pontoon bridge built across the Ister of the Bosporus (something he took immense pride in having achieved). In fighting his war he enlists the aid of the Ionian tyrants who hold the pontoon bridge, so as to prove their worth. This would suggest a certain amount of arrogance on his part since leaving a conquered people in charge of your most strategic point of retreat is a great risk in warfare.

His invasion soon turns out to be a complete folly since he cannot compete with the tactics the Scythians employ against him. Not only do they deprive them of their wells and land but they lead them deeper into their own territory and even into the land of the Black Cloaks so the Persians are forced to engage with a new enemy. Darius is shown to be an ineffective commander and a poor strategic thinker. Whilst he is constructing forts in the Scythian land, the Scythians are evading capture and taunting him. His arrogance and ignorance raise a key issue. I think Herodotus is pointing to an important point- ignorance of the ‘other’ is unrealistic and impractical. Herodotus, before detailing the Invasion, has described every aspect of Scythian society and thus understands fully the strategic moves they made in the defensive.

In addition to this, the Scythian king sends a telling message to Darius. He says that he answers only to Zeus and Hera perhaps suggesting that the power of man should be limited in deference to the Gods. Darius and his Persians, in their conquests of foreign lands in ignorance, have shown that human power is ultimately ineffectual without a basic understanding of the characteristics of the land: geography, culture, religion and agricultural practices. An understanding of just the fact that the Scythians were nomadic and could move constantly due to their subsistence on cattle would have informed his conquest substantially.

Darius’ last hand is played trying to retreat back to the Ister, a difficult task when he has no understanding of the geographical layout of Scythia. Whilst this continues, the Scythians intercept the Ionians and argue that they should abandon the Persians and then the Scythians will finish them off. The Ionians are offered salvation: complete freedom from invasion is what the Scythians propose. Interestingly, though Miltiades of Chersonese favors abandoning Darius, the other tyrants favor semi dismantling the bridge and then re-assembling it when Darius arrives. Though Darius’ other strategic attempts had failed in acquiring Scythia, his support for the satrap/tyrant infrastructure saved him- the Ionian tyrants ultimately argued that they only received power from the Persians. In the end they looked out for themselves over the fate of the other Greeks.


Greece and Libya 

Herodotus ends this chapter by discussing the founding of Greek colonies in Libya and their relation with the Persians. He begins with the founding of Thera by the uncle of the first Spartan king and how Battus was destined to conquer Libya and establish colonies there. Suspension of disbelief is in order: the notion of dreams instructing imperialism would have been a stretch for John O’Sullivan to argue for with the Manifest Destiny. However, Cyrene was established in Libya and after a conflict with the Barcians erupted, the Persians under Aryandes became involved. Aryandes successfully won against them, securing Cyrene as a colony and leading to the exodus of an enslaved Barcian people.

So what is the purpose of this history? As noted above, this contains a very early history of Greek colonialism on two accounts: the foundation of Thera and of Cyrene. In this respect, these anecdotes have an important place in Herodotus’ work since the colonialism of Sparta and Athens later on became a major theme of his and Thucydides’ work. However, other very interesting observations are relayed back to the reader. An example is the description of Athena. Herodotus makes the claim that the effigies of Athena were based on the apparel of Libyan women. If this were to be true then this impacts the image of the Greeks enormously- they are again shown to be a group of people who were highly interactive with North Africa and Asia and thus have less of a claim to uniqueness than one could believe.

The ‘Athens of Africa’ Cyrene


Herodotus gives many contrasts in this chapter between the non Greeks and the Greeks. However, many connections are established between Greece and other cultures. Therefore, his histories of other people have a purpose since they enrich the understanding of the Greeks. His often damning descriptions of the sexual practices of the Scythian and Libyan cultures aside, he provides much information to the reader. In addition, Herodotus carefully illustrates the strategic strengths and weaknesses of Darius. In doing so he disproves his critics; his ethnographic history of the Scythians is not the ignorant criticism of a Greek but the full understanding that a failure to understand culture, geography and history can have a damning effect of the success of civilizations.