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Fragments of Xenophon's Hellenica, Papyrus PSI 1197, Laurentian Library, Florence.

Hellenica (Ancient Greek: Ἑλληνικά) simply means writings on Greek (Hellenic) subjects. Several histories of fourth-century Greece, written in the mould of Thucydides or straying from it, have borne the conventional Latin title Hellenica. The surviving Hellenica is an important work of the Greek writer Xenophon and one of the principal sources for the final seven years of the Peloponnesian War not covered by Thucydides, and the war's aftermath.[1]

Xenophon's HellenicaEdit

Xenophon's Hellenica

Many consider this a very personal work, written by Xenophon in retirement on his Spartan estate, intended primarily for circulation among his friends, for people who knew the main protagonists and events, often because they had participated in them.[citation needed] Xenophon's account starts in 411 BCE, the year where Thucydides breaks off, and ends in 362 BCE, the year of the Battle of Mantineia.[2] There is virtually no transition between the two works, to the extent that the opening words of Hellenica, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα, are translated as After this, or sometimes Following these events.[3]


Xenophon's Hellenica is a Classical Greek historical narrative divided into seven books that describe Greco-Persian history in the years BCE 411-362. The first two books narrate the final years of the Peloponnesian War from the exact moment in time at which Thucydides’ history ends. The remaining books three to seven focus primarily on the Spartans military and political machinations as the dominant city-state in Greece after the Pelopessenian wars end. The Hellenica to also covers the rise of Thebes as a major military power, and the brief period known as the Theban hegemony. When Thebes became the top city-state following Spartas defeat at the battle of Leuctra. Scholars believe the first two books were written at a much earlier time period when Xenophon was still living in Athens; while the later books 3-7 were written after Xenophon was banished from Athens and living in Sparta. The work ends with a summation by Xenophon that his history has ended, but another historian may continue it. However, there is no known direct continuation of the narrative. although several continuations did exist in antiquity, they are now lost. The Hellenica is the only primary source for the period from the end of the Peloponnesian War until the time of Alexander. Xenophon was personally familiar with the leading political figures in Sparta and witnessed many battles and expeditions found in the Hellenica. This period of time in Hellenistic history is poorly attested between Athens golden age and the rise of Macedon. Besides the Hellenica, this period is only written about by much later classical historians in the works of Diodorus Siculus, the Epitome of Trogus by Justin, and in the biographies of Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos.

The Hellenica starts with what happens next after the historic narrative abruptly ends in Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War. It is alleged Xenophon was the editor of Thucydides manuscript after his supposed sudden death. This allowed Xenophon to directly continue the narration started by Thucydides and arguably Herodotus. Book one covers the ”Decelian war” period of the Peloponnesian War in the years BCE 411-406. These years of the war saw the rival navies of Sparta and Athens fight campaigns in the Hellespont region. Initially, the Athenian navy saw several major sea victories. Book one also narrates restoration of Alcibiade to the Athenian military and his return to Athens in 407 BCE.

Book 2 narrates the years BCE 406-402 and the end of the Peloponnesian War with the surrender of Athens in BCE 404. The Spartan commander Lysander ordered the long walls of Athens torn down, and Athens became formally allied with the Spartan hegemony. The Spartans also installed a new government. Book 2 focuses primarily on the internal politics of Athens following the war. The Sparta instituted oligarch regime, known as the thirty tyrants regime was overthrown and there was a resumption of democracy in Athens.

Book 3 shifts viewpoint from Athenian to Spartan politics, covering the years BCE 401-395. Book 3 starts with a brief account of the expedition of the Ten-Thousand against Persian king Artaxerxes II. For further description see Xenophons Anabasis. Book 3 narrates the Spartan expedition led by King Agesilaus in Asia Minor against the Persians. The satraps of Ionia, Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes, are prominent characters with shifting allegiances throughout the Hellenica.

Book 4 narrates BCE 395-388, and is primarily concerned with the Corinthian War. Book 4 recalls King Agesilaus’s Ionian campaign against Persian BCE 396-395. During this time, Satrap Pharnabazus bribed Greek states into revolting against Sparta. This eventually led to the Corinthian war, with the states of Athens, Corinth, Argos, and Thebes united against Sparta. This led to the recall of Spartan king Agesilaus and his army in 394 BCE from his campaign against Persia. This time saw the beginning of the Corinthian War, with the Persian Empire siding with Athens against Sparta. The Persian satrap Pharnabazus let the exiled Athenian general Conon lead the Persian navy in a number of battles, including the Battle of Cnidus in BCE 394. Conon then convinced Pharnabazus to allow Athens to keep the Persian fleet and to fund the rebuilding of the long walls at Athens.

Book 5 covers the years BCE 388-374. There is a peace conference at the end of the Corinthian War in BCE 387 that results in a treaty called the “Kings Peace”. The acropolis in Thebes is seized by the supposed renegade Spartan Phoebidas, enabling Sparta to control the city until BCE 398 when a group of Theban successfully expelled the Spartans and reclaimed mastery of the city. This later led to the Boeotian War from BCE 378-372.

Book 6 describes the years BCE 374-370. The Athenian general Iphicrates stealthily travels around the Peloponnesus. The Battle of Leuctra results in a major loss for Sparta against Thebes, ending the Boeotian War and Spartan hegemony in Greece, although Sparta would remain influential over the next decade. Theban hegemony begins under the leadership of Theban general Epaminondas.

Book 7 narrates the years BCE 370-362. During this period Thebes was the ascendant power in Greece. The old power structures fluctuated as new ones came into being. There was briefly an alliance between Athens and Sparta against Thebes. Sparta faced increasing harassment from both internal rebellions and outside resistance. The Spartan homeland saw the first invasion in centuries. The Theban hegemony ended in BCE 362 with the second battle of Mantinea.

Other works titled HellenicaEdit

Among competing works under this title, now lost, two stand out,[4] that written by Ephorus of Cyme and that by Theopompus of Chios. Ephorus attempted a universal history, and though he attempted to set apart history from myth, he began his work with the legendary "Return of the sons of Heracles", which modern readers understand as wholly mythic aitia.[5] As a pupil of the rhetorician Isocrates he was not above embroidering his narrative with believable circumstantial detail. Oswyn Murray remarked, "His style and completeness, unfortunately, made him rather popular, but at least he stands out as one who had thought about the purposes that history should serve, and got them wrong."[6] The Hellenica of Theopompus, another pupil of Isocrates, was a continuation of Thucydides.

Yet another, fragmentary Hellenica found in papyrus at Oxyrhynchus, is known as Hellenica Oxyrhynchia; it covered events from 411 to the year of the Battle of Cnidus, 395/4 BCE. It has been tentatively attributed to several historians.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Rex Warner translated its title for the Penguin Classics edition as A History of My Times.
  2. ^ Xenophon, Hellenica 7.5.27; Xenophon. Xenophontis opera omnia, vol. 1. Oxford, Clarendon Press. 1900, repr. 1968
  3. ^ Hellenica - A History of My Times by Xenophon - Books I-VII Complete, EPN Press, 2009, ISBN 1-934255-14-9
  4. ^ According to Oswyn Murray, "Greek Historians", in John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray, Greece and the Hellenistic World (Oxford History of the Classical World I, 1986; 1988) p. 192.
  5. ^ See Heracleidae.
  6. ^ Murray1988:193.
  7. ^ s.v. "Oxyrhynchus, the historian from", in Hornblower and Spawforth, eds., Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition, pp.1088–1089

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