When addressing history or historical events many overlook or forget the basis of what a history really is. Defining history or a history is one that is not easily done. Few have been able to critically analyse and assess the characteristics that involve a history to an extent to which the majority agree. Ancient scholars such as Herodotus, Josephus and Thucydides have all tried to take on this enormous task of defining history, each coming up with their own characteristics on what compiles into one. For Herodotus these factors are primarily two things. The first is research, its accuracy and bias, and the second comprehending occurrences from various perspectives and views. Thucydides argues that underlying themes and the immediate past are what makes a history[1], whilst Josephus describes what Antiquarian history and the divine providence have influenced in history. This essay will address all three of the Historians views, assessing their work in order to come to a balanced conclusion on what critical characteristics form together to make history.

Born in 484BC, Herodotus ‘the father of history’[2] has been remembered and marked as one of the world’s first true historians. He received this title due to his precision in his work, collecting historical materials precisely and assessing the degree to which they were accurate. During this period not many historians were questioning the accuracy of their findings or addressing the potential bias of sources.

Historian Holland addresses him as ‘a chronicler (who) set himself to trace the origins of a conflict not to a past so remote… but rather explanations he could verify personally.’[3] When recording his works they were made in a truly fabricated fashion allowing for future readers to get a clear view of his argument and analysis. For defining history, Herodotus has addressed research as a key characteristic. Though not necessarily from Greece, Herodotus learned during his own research that the word historia in Ancient Greek was to mean ‘learning through research, narration of what is learned.’ This backs up his reasoning to consider research as a key characteristic. He has been known to prioritise researching sources rather than to criticise them. Herodotus also took time to name his sources, in order to create a greater accuracy. By doing this he stresses the importance of research and maintenance as a key characteristic in making a history. He himself has said ‘it is my principle throughout the whole history to record what I have heard said by each of my informants.’[4] This shows a great depth of assessment, which shows his second characteristics of different perspectives. It shows he always takes into account what he has heard.

Another quote of his, ‘I feel obliged to tell what is told to me, but I do not feel at all obliged to believe it: let this hold as the governing principle for the whole history.’[5] This stresses his need to show the perspectives of others when using words such as ‘obliged.’ He also holds the principle that he feels no pressure to believe what is said. This is a critical part of any historians work, as they cannot, like many did at the time believe all that is said. This second characteristic of perspective is etched firmly by Herodotus as a key part of what makes a history.

Josephus, born in 37AD, was a Jewish historian who has been famed for his works of The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities. He fought during the first Roman-Jewish war at the age of 29 so was an involved primary in what he went onto report and research. Unlike Herodotus however, he had a different view on what were the key characteristics in making a ‘history’.

It is Josephus who sees Antiquarian history and the divine providence that make the biggest influence as characteristics in making history. Antiquarian history involves comprehensive work and information on history. This is what Josephus sees as key to making history viable and accurate. He also addresses the fact of the political constitution’s interference in history. Their influence can affect the bias of history and manipulate the truth of the past.

A final part of this characteristic is religious and moral instruction and how they too affect the way history is told. He states that karma is a part of history and that the balance of rewarding those who are good and punishing those who go against the word of God. He believes that this has a vital role in determining history and that it can be argued as a key characteristic in making a ‘history’. There is also some emphasis placed on prophecy by Josephus.[6] He briefly discusses their importance in history, their predetermined fate is inevitable in the creation of history and therefore it is another characteristic.

Though not as influential as Josephus and Herodotus, Thucydides believed that underlying themes and the immediate past were the most important parts of history. This may have been where the term of history repeating itself comes from and it is understandable why Thucydides believed in these themes. War could be one of these themes explored along with political movements and colonialism.

In making history or a ‘history’ it is clear that there are a number of characteristics that are prevalent in all of them or it. The ones developed by these three scholars all have definite importance in the definition of history. However in answer to the question, from what has been learned and argued in this essay and from research, it is reasonably clear that Herodotus’ argument is the one that stands out most. Research is a critical part in the creation of history and assessing the value of set sources. Different perspectives are also critical in creating a non-bias view of the past as only through this can we create a greater understanding. It would also however be foolish to disregard the other two historians as each has given clear argument into there characteristics. It is therefore arguable that both research and perspectives are the key characteristics in creating a ‘history’ and history itself.



[1] Grant, M., The Ancient Historian, (New York, 1994)

[2] Durant, W., The Life of Greece, (New York, 2011)

[3] Holland, T., Persian Fire: The First World Empire and Battle for the West, (London, 2006), 15-16.

[4] Herodotus, Histories II, 123.

[5] Herodotus, Histories VII, 152.

[6] Feldman, L.H., Flavius Josephus Judean Antiquities 1-4, (Massachusetts, 1999)