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The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World


of Chios, Greek historian of the 4th cent. bc, an exponent of rhetorical historiography, c.378/7, and still young when he and his father were exiled from Chios for sympathizing with Sparta. At the instigation of Alexander (2) the Great he was allowed to return in 333/2, aged c.45. After Alexander's death he was again exiled; ‘driven out from everywhere’ he eventually reached the court of Ptolemy I, who wished to have the ‘trouble‐maker’ done away with. Theopompus was saved by the intervention of friends and died probably soon after 320. Acc. to ancient tradition, he was a pupil of Isocrates and worked for a long time as an orator; in addition he wrote political pamphlets.

Historical works

(1) Epitome of Herodotus (see Herodotus) the first known epitome of an earlier work in antiquity; (2) Hellenica in twelve books: a continuation of Thucydides (2) from 411 to 394, namely the sea battle of Cnidus, which marked the end of Sparta's short‐lived hegemony. With this work Th. entered into competition with Xenophon's Hellenica, but he wrote in far greater detail than Xenophon. Only nineteen fragments are extant. (3) ‘The History of Philip’ in 58 books, Theopompus' main work, from which extensive quotations survive. It was not merely a history of Philip of Macedon, but a universal history including ‘the deeds of Greeks and barbarians’ centring on Philip II.


(1) Theopompus had a universal conception of history; he focused not only on political and military events but showed an interest in ethnography, geography, cultural history, history of religion, day‐to‐day life, memorabilia, marvels, even myth. (2) He was fond of extensive digressions of all kinds: esp. noteworthy are: the digressions on marvels; ‘On the Athenian demagogues’; and the three books on Sicilian history, covering the tyranny of Dionysius 1 I and 2 II, 406/5–344/3. (3) Theopompus' historical writing was markedly rhetorical. He goes in for meticulous and skilful stylization, including numerous Gorgianic (see gorgias) figures of speech. (4) There is much moralizing in Theopompus. He incessantly denounced the depravity of leading politicians. (5) Political tendencies: Theopompus' attitude was that of a conservative aristocrat with Spartan sympathies.

Philip II's patriarchal monarchy came closest to a realization of his ideal political and social system. Theopompus venerated him: ‘Europe had never before produced such a man as Philip son of Amyntas.’ (Th. had outlived his son Alexander.)


The accounts of contemporary history are often based on autopsy, personal research and experiences: Theopompus spent much time at Philip's court and travelled throughout Greece; for the earlier periods he used historical and literary material such as speeches, comedies, and pamphlets. He was one of the most widely read and influential Greek historians in Graeco‐Roman times. Dionysius 3 of Halicarnassus praises him for veracity, erudition, meticulous research, versatility, and his personal enthusiasm as well as for the purity, magnificence, and grandeur of his style. He does, however, find fault with Theopompus' invectives and excessive digressions.