Timaeus (historian)

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Timaeus of Tauromenium (Ancient Greek : Τιμαῖος; born 356 or 350 BC; died c.260 BC) was an ancient Greek historian. He was widely regarded by ancient authors as the most influential historian between the time of Ephorus (4th century BC) and Polybius (2nd century BC). [1] [2] [3] In the words of scholar Lionel I. C. Pearson, Timaeus "maintained his position as the standard authority on the history of the Greek West for nearly five centuries." [4]



Timaeus was born 356 or 350 to a wealthy Greek family in Tauromenium (modern Taormina), in eastern Sicily. His father, Andromachus, was a dynast who had been ruling Tauromenium since 358 after he seized the city from Dionysius of Syracuse. [2] [3]

In 316 or 315 BC, Timaeus is said to have been driven out of Sicily by Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse, possibly because of his hostility towards him, although it is likely that he left his hometown considerably earlier. Timaeus stated that he spent at least 15 years in Athens, where he studied under Philiscus of Miletus, a pupil of Isocrates. He wrote at that time his major work on history. [3]

Timaeus may have returned to Sicily in c.265 BC, under the reign of Hiero II. He died shortly after 264 BC, allegedly at the age of 96. [2] [3]


While in Athens, he completed his great historical work, the Histories, which comprised thirty-eight books. [2] This work was divided into unequal sections containing the history of Greece from its earliest days until the first Punic war. The Histories treated the history of Italy and Sicily in early times, of Sicily alone, and of Sicily and Greece together. [5] The last five books address the time of Agathocles in detail; the work most likely concluded before the Romans crossed over into Sicily in 264. [2] Timaeus also wrote a monograph on the Greek king Pyrrhus, which almost certainly had the wars against Rome as its centrepiece. [2]

Timaeus devoted much attention to chronology and introduced the system of reckoning by Olympiads. In order to plot chronologies, he employed the years of Archons of Athens, of Ephors of Sparta, and of priestesses of Argos. This system, although not adopted in everyday life, was widely used by the Greek historians afterwards. [5]

Timaeus can claim to be the first to recognize in his work the rising power of the Roman Republic, [6] although it is not clear whether he regarded Rome as a potential friend or foe, and how he understood its significance for the history of the Mediterranean world as a whole. [2] According to scholar Craige B. Champion, "Timaeus may well have been the first writer to see clearly the importance to the western Greeks of the victor of the great Sicilian War, whether it be Rome or Carthage, which he could not have divined." [2]

Very few parts of the elaborate work of this historian were preserved after Antiquity:[ citation needed ]


Timaeus was highly criticized by other historians, especially by Polybius, and indeed his unfairness towards his predecessors, which gained him the nickname of Epitimaeus (Επιτίμαιος, "fault-finder"), laid him open to retaliation. While Polybius was well-versed in military matters and a statesman, Timaeus is depicted as a bookworm without military experience or personal knowledge of the places he described. The most serious charge against him was that he willfully distorted the truth when influenced by personal considerations: thus, he was less than fair to Dionysius I of Syracuse and Agathocles, while loud in praise of his favourite Timoleon. [5]

On the other hand, as even Polybius admitted, Timaeus consulted all available authorities and records. His attitude towards the myths, which he claimed to have preserved in their simple form, can be contrasted to the rationalistic interpretation under which it had become the fashion to disguise them. This is probably the origin of his nickname graosyllektria (γραοσυλλεκτρία; "Old Ragwoman", or "collector of old wives' tales"), an allusion to his fondness for trivial details. [5]

Both Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the Pseudo-Longinus characterized him as a model of "frigidity", although the latter admitted that he was nevertheless a competent writer. Cicero, who was a diligent reader of Timaeus, expressed a far more favourable opinion, especially commending his copiousness of matter and variety of expression. Timaeus was one of the chief authorities used by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, by Diodorus Siculus, and by Plutarch (in his life of Timoleon ). [7]

See also


  1. Pearson 1987, p. 1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Champion 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Meister 2016.
  4. Pearson 1987, p. 271.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1911, p. 977.
  6. F. W. Walbank. "Polemic in Polybius," The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 52, Parts 1 and 2 (1962), p. 10
  7. Chisholm 1911, p. 978.


  • Champion, Craige B. (2012). Bagnall, Roger S; Brodersen, Kai; Champion, Craige B; Erskine, Andrew (eds.). "Timaeus of Tauromenium". The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. John Wiley & Sons. doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah08159. ISBN   978-1-4443-3838-6.
  • Meister, Klaus (2016). "Timaeus (2), of Tauromenium, western Greek historian". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.6456.
  • Pearson, Lionel I. C. (1987). The Greek Historians of the West: Timaeus and His Predecessors. American Philological Association. ISBN   978-1-55540-151-1.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Timaeus". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 977–978.

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