Ancient History & Civilisation


The survival of Thucydides’ history over the last two thousand four hundred years is all the more remarkable in that his text has long been characterized by those who have read it (or have been assigned to read it) as difficult, complex, and occasionally obscure. Scholars have written detailed commentaries—and excellent ones too—to assist readers in comprehending its compressed and abstruse Greek, to discuss interpretations of certain problematic sections, and to clarify the sometimes confusing parallel structure with which Thucydides describes simultaneous events. Yet almost all these guides presume a knowledge of the ancient Greek language and a familiarity with many practices and mechanisms of Thucydides’ world that today’s student or general reader cannot be expected to bring to the text. Some very fine translations of Thucydides are available, but in unhelpful editions that contain little besides the text itself; they have uneven appendices, sparse indices, few if any explanatory footnotes, and maps of such poor quality as to be downright useless. As one reads them, it becomes difficult to remember what year it is at any given point in the narrative (even in the work’s own system of consecutive year dating). Since Thucydides’ work is a complex political and military history of a protracted war that took place long ago over a wide expanse of territory, it is not surprising that the general reader—in the absence of maps, specific dates, or knowledge of many practices, beliefs, or technical conditions of the time—is often puzzled by the text and unable to draw pleasure or instruction from it. Indeed, without the guidance of a teacher, or the acquisition of background knowledge from other sources, most readers simply cannot comprehend—let alone appreciate—many of Thucydides’ observations or the intentions and actions of his characters.

The goal of this edition is to fill that lacuna: to develop and employ a set of helpful features that can be used with any text of Thucydides—the original Greek version or a translation in any language—so that students or general readers will always be able to orient themselves both geographically and temporally, and thus more easily understand the narrative. Beyond an introduction to Thucydides and his work, this edition includes over one hundred maps embedded in the text, a running header providing information on the date and location of the narrative, marginal summaries of the text of each chapter, explanatory footnotes, a thorough and encyclopedic index, an epilogue, a glossary of terms, a regional and chronological outline of events by book and chapter, and a few relevant illustrations. Finally, it contains a number of short technical appendices that provide background information about those aspects of life in ancient Greece that Thucydides did not think required explanation for readers of his time, but that will not be commonly known by readers today. This edition attempts by itself to provide sufficient textual assistance, geographic information, and background material for the general reader to understand and enjoy the marvelous work of one of humanity’s first, and very best, historians.

Some elaboration is needed on a few of the important features mentioned above.

Maps of every significant episode are located in the text within that episode. Thus, every city, town, river, mountain, or other geographic feature that is important to the narrative and mentioned in a given episode is referenced to a location on a map found nearby in the text. For complex maps with many labels, a simple grid system permits footnotes to identify sites with map coordinates so that readers will know where to direct their attention on the map and thus minimize the time and effort required to locate a specific site. In the interest of clarity, each map displays the names of only those features that appear in the surrounding text: thus the reader is not forced to turn to a map section elsewhere in the book or a general map crowded with names drawn from the entire work. If the location of a place is unknown, the footnote admits this. If we moderns are not sure of its location, our uncertainty is mentioned in the footnote and indicated on the map with a question mark.

To orient the reader, a locator map with longitude and latitude coordinates appears in the outside margin of the page. It identifies the location of the main map by a rectangular outline placed in the larger, more easily recognizable regional setting. A few locator maps show outlines of two main maps to illustrate action occurring in widely separated locations. Some of the main maps show outlines of an additional inset map that displays particularly relevant areas at an enlarged scale. In the example on the following page, the area of the main map (Boeotia and Attica) is outlined on the locator map to the right, and the main map itself displays the outline of a detailed inset map of the Athens-Piraeus area, which is placed to the left. Figures containing more than one map are usually designed to be read from the outside inward on the page as map scales increase.

All maps display rudimentary scales in miles and kilometers and depict major topographical or cultural features cited in the text, such as mountains, rivers, roads, temples, defensive walls, and the like. A key to all map symbols used in this volume is located on page xxxii. The basemap used displays the modern positions of coastlines, major rivers, and major inland bodies of water, but the location and even the existence of some of these current features may be quite different from what existed in classical times. Significant differences in ancient and modern coastlines and bodies of water have been approximated using a narrow vertical stripe pattern.

Three reference maps showing all important sites named in the text are placed after the Index, at the very end of the book, where the reader can easily find them. Following cartographic convention, water and other natural features, such as islands and peninsulas, are labeled with italics to distinguish them from cultural features labeled in roman type. Centers of population are indicated using small dots and upperand lower-case lettering, while regions are labeled using several sizes of upper-case lettering designed to approximate their relative sizes and degrees of importance. With a few exceptions, specific regional boundaries have not been indicated because exact borders are not known or at best only partially known, and most of them tended to fluctuate over time. This lack of precision sometimes makes it difficult to arrange regions in a hierarchy of importance, or to classify certain sites as a village, a city, a fortress, a battle site, or a religious center, because a specific location might fit one or more of these categories at any given time, or over a period of time.



Footnotes not only refer place-names in the text to nearby maps, but also connect sequential episodes of regional narrative that are separated by Thucydides’ treatment of historical simultaneity. Since his method is to describe all the events that take place in a given season throughout the Greek world before moving on to the events of the next season, he cannot provide the reader with any sustained or continuous regional narratives. Events of the winter of 426/5, for example, are described serially for such regions as Sicily, Acarnania, and Attica, and this set of episodes is then followed by another sequence of regional episodes for the next time frame: the summer of 425. Thus regional narratives are broken up and extremely difficult for the reader to follow. This edition connects the regional episodes by footnote, specifying at the end of one such episode the book and chapter where the narrative returns to that region and, at that return, citing the location of the previous episode. Readers are thereby assisted to pursue a continuous regional narrative if they so wish. Footnotes are also used to mention and to discuss briefly some of the major points of scholarly controversy over interpretation, translation, or corruption of the text, and to indicate some of the more important connections of Thucydides’ narrative with other ancient sources.

The reader who reads discontinuously, who casually dips into the history as time permits, is well served by the repetition of certain useful footnotes, usually at least once in each of the eight books. Map data are also frequently repeated for the same reason.

A running header is placed at the top of each page in order to help the same intermittent reader to reorient himself each time he returns to the work. The sample header displayed below identifies the book to which the particular page belongs (BOOK SIX), the date by our calendar (416/5), the date by Thucydides’ own system (16th Year/Winter), the location where the action takes place (SICILY), and a brief description of the narrative (Settlement of Other Hellenic Cities).


More information is displayed in notes placed in the outside page margin at the beginnings of the hundred or so chapters into which each of the books is divided. In the sample marginal note shown on the next page, the first line identifies the book and chapter number (Book Four, Chapter 67). This identification is always aligned with the beginning of the new chapter, which usually, but not always, occurs at a new paragraph. The second line in the sample note, 424, is the date by our calendar; the line below that gives the date by Thucydides’ own system (8th Year/Summer). The fourth line describes where the action is taking place (MEGARA), and the final section briefly describes the action covered in the adjacent narrative. The text of each chapter contains section numbers in square brackets [2] to mark the divisions into which scholars have traditionally divided the text for ease of search, analysis, and discussion.

8th Year/Summer
The Athenians attack from ambush and gain entrance by a gate that has been opened by a stratagem of their Megarian confederates.

The Athenians, after plans had been arranged between themselves and their correspondents both as to words and actions, sailed by night to Minoa, the island off Megara, with six hundred hoplites under the command of Hippocrates, and took a position in a ditch not far off, out of which bricks used to be taken for the walls; while [2] Demosthenes, the other commander, with a detachment of Plataean light troops and another of peripoli, placed himself in ambush in the precinct of Enyalius, which was still nearer. No one knew of it, except those whose business it was to know that night. [3] A little before daybreak, the traitors in Megara began to act. Every night for a long time back, under pretense of marauding, and in order to have a means of opening the gates, they had been used, with the consent of the officer in command, to carry by night a rowboat upon a cart along the ditch to the sea and to sail out, bringing it back again before day upon the cart and taking it within the wall through the gates in order, as they pretended, to baffle …

Since Thucydides’ history ends abruptly in mid-war, mid-episode, and almost mid-sentence, I have written a short Epilogue in an attempt to satisfy the general reader’s curiosity as to how the war ended. It addresses the often-asked question of who really won what advantage from it and outlines what happened to the main protagonists during the next eighty years until the rise of Macedon ended this historical epoch.

A series of Appendices written by a number of scholars is intended to provide just the specific background information that would be necessary or useful to understanding the text. These essays provide limited discussions of such topics as the Athenian government, the Athenian Empire, the Spartan government, the Peloponnesian League, the Persians in Thucydides, hoplite warfare, trireme warfare, dialects and ethnic groups in Thucydides, religious festivals, classical Greek money, and classical Greek calendars and dating systems. The introduction by Victor Davis Hanson discusses what is known of Thucydides’ life, aspects of his work, and his place among ancient historians. Where appropriate, the introduction and the appendices are cross-referenced by footnote to relevant places in the text.

To assist the reader in finding passages or subjects within the text, this edition offers a more thorough and full Index than can be found accompanying any other translation. As a quick reference tool, and to display more clearly the relationship between many simultaneous but serially described events, the reader can also consult a matrix Theaters of Operation in the Peloponnesian War. There are, in addition, a Glossary and two Bibliographies, one concerned with ancient sources (more or less contemporary with Thucydides) and the other addressing modern books about Thucydides and his work. Finally, a number of illustrations have been chosen that bring to life places and objects that are contemporary with or prominent in the text: for example, Illustration 4.41 (located in Book Four, Chapter 41) is a picture of the Spartan shield (now on display in the Agora Museum at Athens) that was captured by the Athenians at Pylos and taken to Athens, where it was discovered some years ago in an abandoned well in the Athenian agora(central square and marketplace).

This edition uses the translation by Richard Crawley (1840-93) published in 1874, which remains one of the two most widely read translations today—a testament to its fidelity to the text and its power as English prose. It was necessary, however, to update some of Crawley’s Victorian English usages, to revise his outdated punctuation, and to replace terms he used whose meaning has shifted or been lost entirely. For example, I have substituted “trireme” (with an explanation of that term) for Crawley’s “galley,” a word that no longer means an oared warship so much as a nautical kitchen or a publisher’s proof. After much deliberation, I decided in the interests of clarity to break up a few of Crawley’s longest and most complex sentences (which often mirror the original Greek). I have also discarded the artificial and unhelpful titled segments into which Crawley divided his text.

On the whole, however, other than to americanize Crawley’s British spelling, revisions are few and minor. Almost no changes were made to the speeches themselves, as these are the most outstanding and powerful feature of Crawley’s work. Perhaps because he was educated at a time when oratory was still valued as a useful skill, and was systematically studied and taught in the schools, his translated speeches employ rhetorical devices in an expert and natural manner akin to the Greek usage itself. In this way, he achieves an eloquent rhythm and cadence that far surpass the speeches in all other translations that I have read—and which, sad to say, we rarely find in speakers today. Crawley’s Pericles, for example, is truly grandiloquent and perhaps even purposefully a bit pompous, but never commonplace, wordy, or banal. Indeed, it has been a pleasure to work with Crawley’s prose, and during the compilation of this edition my admiration and respect for his writing and diction skills have grown immensely.

Many of the best elements of this edition derive directly from the wonderful counsel and assistance I consistently received from many friends and colleagues, whom I try to acknowledge elsewhere. But since I did not in every case follow the advice of others, I must stand behind and be responsible for all errors of omission and commission, of which I can only hope that there are not too many. At the least, I hope to have designed and assembled the useful features of this edition, so that the basic task needs never be undertaken again. There is an unbroken string of readers stretching back from us to Thucydides himself—more than one hundred generations of humans who, despite many obstacles, have derived pleasure and instruction from the text sufficient to ensure that it did not become lost, as were so many literary works of the ancient world. It is thanks to these readers that Thucydides is still here for us to enjoy—and there must have been moments in time when there were precious few of them.

The Landmark Edition is intended to increase the number of general readers of Thucydides, both now and in the future, by assisting them to appreciate his great value as a historian, to consider the nature of historiography itself, and to learn about the extraordinary world of ancient Greece—from which our own still derives so much. Despite the edition’s focus on the non-scholar, I believe that the scholar too will find this work’s unique set of features quite useful. If this edition expands the number of general readers who tackle Thucydides and extends their grasp and appreciation of the text, or if it even marginally increases the number of professors and teachers who decide to incorporate Thucydides in their curriculum and to enlarge the amount of his text that they include in their course work, I will rest content. For if I may be permitted “to compare small things with great” (4.36.3), it is my hope that this array of maps, notes, appendices, and indices will also become “a possession for all time” (1.22.4)—admittedly a minor and derivative one, but one that will nevertheless prove useful to future readers of this marvelous history for as long as Thucydides is read.


Classicists today use the virgule (/) to denote the winter season that crosses our year terminations—e.g., 426/5 is the winter season that begins after the Fall of 426 and ends before the Spring of 425. The numbers 426-25 would signify the entire span of the two years 426 and 425. All dates in this edition are B.C., unless otherwise specified.

Note that Thucydides’ dating system is not included in the running headers and the marginal side notes of Book One because the war, whose years it measures, did not begin until the opening of the war in Book Two.

This is the chapter in which Thucydides completes his description of the battle of Pylos.

Key to Map Symbols


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