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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

The History of Herodotus is intended as a work of historical nonfiction and thus revolves around real people—or at least around those that were described by Herodotus's informants as real. One should note that although Herodotus made a considerable effort to collate multiple sources and to talk, when possible, to...

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The History of Herodotus is intended as a work of historical nonfiction and thus revolves around real people—or at least around those that were described by Herodotus's informants as real. One should note that although Herodotus made a considerable effort to collate multiple sources and to talk, when possible, to eyewitnesses and well-informed people, he also did enjoy colorful and exotic tales. Before recounting such tales, he often cautions the reader that he is relying on possibly unreliable informants, as when he tells the story of the Egyptian Pharaoh Cheops' daughter being forced into prostitution to acquire funds for her father's pyramid while managing to get her clients to provide stones for her own (smaller) pyramid.

The central events of Herodotus's history concern the wars between Greece and Persia, although there are many entertaining digressions into the earlier histories of the two regions and local history. The main characters in Herodotus's treatment of the Greek-Persian wars include the following:

Croesus, King of Lydia: Croesus ruled Lydia from approximately 560 to 546 BC. He was known in antiquity for his vast wealth. He managed to conquer some of the Greek city-states in Ionia and was in turn conquered by the Persian king Cyrus.

Cyrus: Cyrus II of Persia, sometimes called Cyrus the Great, lived from approximately 600 to 530 BC. He was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, which united the Medes and Persians and then conquered Lydia, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and some areas of Southwest Asia. He was a skilled ruler and administrator, offering his subjects an unusual degree of religious freedom and human rights during his rule.

Cambyses II: The son of Cyrus, Cambyses II (died around 522 BC) expanded his father's conquests into northern Egypt.

Darius: Darius I or Darius the Great lived from approximately 550 to 486 BC. He was responsible for several administrative reforms of the Persian Empire, including its division into provinces, creation of an extensive road network, and standardization of weights and measures. He was the son of the satrap of Bactria, and stories of how he replaced Cambyses on the throne are varied and not entirely reliable. He had several military successes in the east and eventually began a western campaign which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Marathon. He was married to Atossa, daughter of Cyrus.

Xerxes: Xerxes was the son of Darius, and he continued his father's attempted conquest of Greece. He succeeded temporarily after great losses in the Battle of Thermopylae but was eventually defeated by the Athenian navy at Salamis.

Themistocles: An Athenian general and great naval strategist, Themistocles engineered a successful strategy resulting in the defeat of the Persians at Salamis.

Leonidas: Leonidas, the king of Sparta, led a heroic defense of the pass of Thermopylae against a much larger Persian force, though he was eventually defeated by treachery.

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