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Heritage: ‘The Histories’ by Herodotus: An open enquiry
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.

‘The Histories’ by Herodotus: An open enquiry
Marble bust of Herodotus [Credit: Open University]

In the resulting work, ‘The Histories’, Herodotus explores the world of his own time, offering a narrative discourse that reflects on conflicts in the past that had given rise to its present organisation. He remarks on noteworthy deeds of Greek and non-Greek people, placing his narrative in the context of towns and cities that had risen and fallen. In ‘The Histories’, Herodotus is carrying out one of the earliest known ethnographic descriptions, as well as historical enquiry.

‘Publishing’ in this period did not just involve the production of a written text, but the reading of that text out loud before an audience, and it’s claimed ‘the Histories’ were read aloud, in full, at the Olympic Games. Herodotus is described by some as the ‘Father of History’, but his fantastic stories have also given rise to the name ‘Father of Lies’.

For generations, ancient historians have been grappling with the challenge of sorting out the ‘truth’ of Herodotus’ stories. By exploring this Herodotus OpenLearn Collection, we can all join that grand tradition, and become research historians.


Our word for ‘history’ comes from the Greek word historia (or historiê in some dialects), meaning ‘enquiry’, which Herodotus uses right at the beginning of his narrative. In these activities, we try to show that history is really a matter of ‘open enquiry’. If you want to really understand the past, you have to research it, not just take someone’s word for it.

Herodotus structures his account as discourse: this group said this, the other group said that, I for one cannot say for sure . . . In this way, he reproduces the ‘enquiry’ effect, with the result that to be a reader of Herodotus is to become an historian. Find out how by following the links in the menu below.

The Hestia Project

The Open University in collaboration with the Hestia project have developed a short OpenLearn programme which enables users to respond to the challenge of Herodotus’s enquiry and explore a number of the Histories’ key themes using the resources developed by the Hestia project: a) to search the database of place names, b) to view the Histories in GoogleEarth, c) to read the text alongside maps of the places mentioned.

Introducing 'The Histories' by Herodotus:

  • Herodotus 'The Histories': a timeline
  • Understanding Classical terms
  • Classical studies: it's more than the words
  • Hestia Project map and partners’ resources
  • 'As rich as Croesus'
  • Battle of Thermopylae
  • ‘Lydios logos’: the story of Croesus
  • Consulting the oracle at Delphi
  • Crowdsourced annotation: what do you think?
  • Solon upsets the wealthy Croesus
For more information visit the Hestia Project Website

Source: The Open University [October 07, 2014]