Ancient History and Society

The narratives of historical events originate in antiquity with the great historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon on the Greek side, and Cicero, Caesar, Livy, and Tacitus on the Roman.  Thus the study of ancient history always begins with the examination of these surviving classical texts.  But other kinds of historical sources—inscriptions, papyri, coins, and archaeology--must also play their roles in the larger understanding of the subject matter of what the ancients, and we, regard as “history.”  Nor has history’s “subject-matter” remained unchanged from antiquity.  The Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the campaigns of Alexander the Great, the Punic Wars, the conquest of Gaul, the Roman Revolution, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—all are typical of the political and military topics and interests of the ancient writers.  But in modern times the scope of historical inquiry has expanded to include as well the study of women, children, foreigners, and the ubiquitous practice of slavery—in short, the whole of classical society in all its diversity.  Add to these new subjects the specialized study of Greek and Roman cultural institutions—entertainment, clothing, diet, athletics, law, medicine, and the sciences, for example—and it is clear that “ancient history” now encompasses the reconstruction, over time, of the emergence and evolution of classical civilization in all its dimensions.

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