Hecataeus of Miletus Analysis

Life

Born of an old family in Ionia, Hecataeus of Miletus (hehk-uh-TEE-uhs), the son of Hegesander, built an atlas based on Anaximander’s map of the world using poetry, mythology, and his own investigations of Greek and Persian trade routes. This work contained mountains, seas, cities, roads, rivers, gods, Greeks, aborigines, Egypt, economies, etymologies, kings, customs, priests, and peoples. As a prominent member of Miletus’s insurgent political faction and a foremost proponent of sea power, he advised Histiaeus of Miletus’s rebel kinsman Aristagoras during the disastrous Ionian Revolt of 499-494 b.c.e. After the war, Hecataeus served as emissary to the victorious Persians. Later, he wrote of the revolt and the Persian Empire, including the military.

Influence

Hecataeus was the most significant of the early Ionian narrators, preeminent in the Western transition from poetry to prose, from mythology to rationalism, from genealogy to chronology, from ethnocentrism to cosmopolitanism, and from Olympian creationism to secular enquiry. His is the first Western, personal sense of humor extant. He may have been the real father of history and anthropology a generation before the Greek historian Herodotus.

Additional Resources

Bury, J. B. The Ancient Greek Historians. London: Macmillan, 1909.

Drews, Robert. The Greek Accounts of Eastern History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Luce, T. James. The Greek Historians. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Pearson, L. Early Ionian Historians. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1939.