Sometime in the middle of the 5th century BC, Herodotus, a Greek, living in a city called Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) set out to explain the origins of the Great War from a generation before. This war was waged between his peoples, the Greeks, and the Persians.
As you explore the Herodotus OpenLearn Collection, use the Timeline to help you to place some of the events in chronological context. The Hestia Project map is referenced from some events, providing texts and geographical contexts to explore. Always be cautious with dates for events in this period, and cross-reference sources carefully and critically.
Always be cautious over dates in this period and cross-reference sources. This timeline provides 'approximate' and 'traditional' dates for events relating to 'The Histories' by Herodotus. There are links to Herodotus’ texts and mapping developed by the Hestia project.
This is the 'traditional' date, based on Herodotus' calculations for the Trojan War. Scholars debate whether the myths are based on archaeological evidence. Herodotus mentions Troy 16 times.
Greeks reach Italy
Known as ‘Magna Graecia' by the Romans, Sicily and Southern Italy were colonised by the Greeks. The earliest activity is at Pithekoussai in the Bay of Naples, where this vase was found.
Birth of Herodotus
Herodotus was born at Halicarnassus (modern day Bodrum), a city of mixed peoples (including Greeks and Carians), on the fringe of the Persian Empire. He has become known as ‘the father of history’ for his major work ‘The Histories’.
Death of Herodotus
Herodotus’ ‘The Histories’ refer to the war between Athens and Sparta, we can assume he died c.425 BC. There is no cartographic evidence from his lifetime. This map is from a translation, published in London, 1897.
Battle of Thermopylae
Around 7,000 Greeks attempted to halt the Persian army, alleged to number a million. The lie of the land was crucial to the outcome. Herodotus refers to Thermopylae 31 times, mainly in Book 7.
c.700 BCE is the ‘approximate’ date for composition of this epic poem, recounting the fall of Troy and attributed to Homer. Herodotus reflects on the myths of the poets from former times.
Birth of Croesus
Herodotus recounts that Croesus succeeded his father, Alyattes, as king of Lydia. He became extremely wealthy and made dedications to Delphi and to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
Sea Peoples attack Egypt
Egyptian records on the Ramesseum at Medinet Habu record a battle in the Nile Delta c.1175 BC. This reflects a general collapse of the Bronze Age world around the time some Greek sources place the Trojan War.
Greek city states entered athletic competitions at Olympia from 776 BC. Rooted in mythology, the Ancient Olympics had religious and political significance, providing a chronological marker for Classical Greece.
Cimmerians menace Urartu
Assyrian sources indicate nomadic Cimmerians threatened Urartu, a neighbouring state the Assyrians were at war with. According to Herodotus, the Cimmerians also attacked Lydia.
According to Herodotus, Greek settlers from Thera, led by Battus, founded a colony at Cyrene, Libya, advised by the priestess at Delphi. Cyrene became an important commercial centre.
The Athenian, Solon's poems document law-giving: eliminating debt-slavery and changing power distribution. He's credited with paving the way for democracy. Herodotus notes he made having no profession illegal.
Croesus: King of Lydia
Croesus succeeds his father, Alyattes, as King of Lydia in 560 BC. Croesus brought the Lydian empire to the height of its prosperity.
Pisistratus takes power
Pisistratus took power in Athens for a third time following exile. He established public fountain houses, aqueducts, reliable water supply and dramatic festivals with performances of Homer and tragic plays.
Sardis falls to Persians
What happened after the fall of Sardis is unclear. Herodotus tells us Cyrus takes Croesus prisoner planning to burn him on a pyre, but then takes him as a trusted advisor.
Cyrus conquers Babylon
Herodotus describes how Persian King Cyrus II took Babylon, during his expansion of the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus attempted to govern the vast empire, with respect for tribal traditions and cultures.
Cambyses conquers Egypt
Cambyses, eldest son of King Cyrus II, undertook a successful campaign to conquer Egypt. Herodotus suggests a reason for his invasion in the opening chapter of Book 3.
Assassination of Hipparchus
Hipparachus, son of Pisistratus, was assassinated by Aristogeiton and Harmodius, of the Athenian elite. A founding myth of Athenian democracy, Herodotus puts it down to a personal dispute.
Darius succeeds Cambyses
Herodotus notes that Darius ascended the throne after overthrowing a usurper who had taken power by claiming to be Cambyses' brother.
In Book 5 Herodotus maps out the Persian and Greek conflict with ‘the cause of evils’ as Athenian ships sent to help the Milesians revolt. Darius plots revenge against the Athenians.
Start of Persian Wars
The Ionian revolt sparked several conflicts between the Persian Achaemenid Empire and Greek city-states.
Battle of Marathon
An Athenian, Philippides, ran to Athens warning the citizens that the Persians may attack. On delivering his message, he is said to have dropped dead. It is his feat we commemorate with the marathon.
Battle of Salamis
Led by general Themistocles, the Athenians and their allies win a decisive naval victory over the Persian fleet at Salamis, Attica. This marks a turning point in the war. Explore on OpenLearn.
Acropolis and Parthenon
The Acropolis was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Following Greek defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, the Parthenon was rebuilt between 447 BC and 432 BC.
Peloponnesian War starts
Waged between the city states of Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian War lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC, changing the balance of power, culture and politics in the ancient Greek world.
Peloponnesian War ends
Besieged without access to food, having lost most of their fleet in a naval battle and the destruction of their walls, Athens surrendered to the Spartan general, Lysander, in 404 BC.
Alexander III of Macedon
Alexander III became King of Macedon, a powerful but volatile empire, aged just 20 when his father was assassinated.
Alexander the Great dies
By the age of 25, Alexander had led the Greeks to victory in Egypt, Asia Minor and Persia. By his death he was acknowledged a military genius in control of a vast empire.
Romans sack Corinth
Following the complete destruction of Carthage and Corinth by the Romans, mainland Greek territories (Athens, Sparta, Corinth, etc.) become a Roman province, Achaea.
Chronology in ancient Greece
Though the four-yearly cycle of the Olympiads provided some orientation, the Greeks didn’t really have a common system for recording dates. See, for example, Thucydides, 'The Peloponnesian War', Book 2, Ch. 2:
“The 30 years' truce which was entered into after the conquest of Euboea lasted 14 years. In the 15th, the 48th year of the priestess-ship of Chrysis at Argos, in the Ephorate of Aenesias at Sparta, in the last month but two of the Archonship of Pythodorus at Athens, and six months after the battle of Potidaea, just at the beginning of spring, a Theban force . . .”
Local time systems were used, notably based on the names of individuals who held some political magistracy such as eponymous archons (chief magistrates in various Greek city states) or who were in religious office. Extrapolating from these individual records, we can provide rough BC dates for the majority of events that take place in Herodotus’ ‘The Histories’.
Herodotus counts by generations, for example the kings of the Mermnads dynasty, ruling from c.680 - 547 BC in Lydia, form the background for Book 1: Gyges, Ardys, Sadyattes II, Alyattes and finally, his son Croesus who we look at in some detail. It has been argued that generational calculation was a standard way for early historians to come up with dates, and many students find this lack of a clear chronology very frustrating.
You may be interested in looking at Eusebius of Caesarea’s chronicle (c.311 AD), translated c.380 AD by Jerome, which forms a very early attempt to synchronise events to provide an absolute timeline. Another source for Greek chronology is the Parian Marble (Parian Chronicle or Marmor Parium), held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford since the 17th century AD. View scans and translations of the marble here (NB: Chrome, Safari and IE browsers only).