Nicolaus of Damascus Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Nicolaus of Damascus (NIHK-uh-lahs of duh-MAS-kuhs), the historian and adviser of Herod the Great, was born into a wealthy Damascene family. His father, a high officeholder, was a skilled rhetorician who ensured that his son had an excellent classical education.

Wide travel helped Nicolaus develop a cosmopolitan outlook. By the 30’s b.c.e., his scholarly works had begun to attract attention. He accepted Cleopatra VII’s invitation to tutor her children by Marc Antony. Probably after the Battle of Actium in 31 b.c.e., he came to the court of Herod, the client king of Judaea and a Hellenistic patron. As Herod’s relationship with Augustus flourished, so too did that of Nicolaus. Perhaps to solidify both relationships with Augustus and to propagandize for the emperor in the east, Nicolaus wrote a laudatory biography for Augustus.

He served as a mediator between Augustus and Herod and advised Herod in his conflicts with his sons. His final years, he lived in Rome. His numerous works, among which are a universal history in 144 books and an autobiography, are nonextant or fragmentary.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, whose works survive, used Nicolaus as his major source for the postbiblical period.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Feldman, Louis H., and Gohei Hata, eds. Josephus, the Bible and History. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1989.

Nicolaus of Damascus. Life of Augustus. Bristol, England: Bristol Classical Press, 1984.

Wacholder, Ben Zion. Nicolaus of Damascus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.