The Birth of Political History

J.B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians:

“But if all these circumstances helped and conditioned the achievements of a profoundly original mind, which always thought for itself, we must seek the stimulus which aroused the historical faculty of Thucydides in — the Athenian empire. If it was the wonder of the Greek repulse of the Persian hosts that inspired the epic spirit of Herodotus, it was the phenomenon of the Empire of Athens, a new thing in the history of Hellas, — an empire governed by a democracy, a new thing in the history of the world — that captured the cooler but intense interest of Thucydides. He did not take up his pen to celebrate; his aim was to understand, — to observe critically how that empire behaved in the struggle which was to test its powers. It has not, I think, been sufficiently realised what an original stroke of genius it was to form the idea of recording the history of the war at the very moment of its outbreak. Contemporary history in the strictest meaning of the term was thus initiated. Thucydides watched the events for the purpose of recording them; he collected the material while it was fresh from the making. Further, he designed a history which should be simply a history of the war and of the relations of the militant states, which should confine itself to its theme, and not deviate into geography or anthropology or other things. Thus he was the founder of “political” history in the special sense in which we are accustomed to use the term.”

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