Oaths: Theory and Practice in the <i>Histories</i> of Herodotus and Thucydides<sup>*</sup>

Donald Lateiner

in Thucydides and Herodotus

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593262
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191752261 | DOI:
Oaths: Theory and Practice in the Histories of Herodotus and Thucydides*

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Weighing Thucydides' implicit (therefore, at best, only alleged) criticisms of — and homage to — his predecessor Herodotus demands comparison and examination of ‘normal’ institutions. Included oaths, for example, deserve examination as well as accounts of speeches, battle-challenges, and diplomatic threats. Oath furnishes one noteworthy index of sophisticated social and legal analysis embedded in ancient historical narrations. The historians' use of this specific index shows that they treat oaths in some significantly different ways. While Herodotus mentions only the gist of an earlier generation's inter-state oaths, Thucydides can transcribe every clause of certain contemporaneous treaties. This chapter examines when, where, and how Herodotus and Thucydides include oaths. After situating oath in Hellenic thought, it maps fifth-century test cases onto that pattern.

Keywords: Thucydides; Herodotus; oaths; legal analysis; Greek historians

Chapter.  12254 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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