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The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization

Klaus Meister


of Chios, important Greek historian of the 4th cent. bc, the main exponent of rhetorical historiography alongside Ephorus (see historiography, Greek). According to a short vita (life) by Photius (Bibl 176 = T 2) he was born in 378/7, and was still young when he and his father Damasistratus were exiled from Chios for lakōnismos (sympathizing with Sparta). At the instigation of Alexander the Great he was allowed to return in 333/2 when he was 45 years old. After Alexander's death he was exiled a second time; ‘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 some friends and died probably shortly after 320. According to ancient tradition (cf. T 1, 5 a) he was a pupil of Isocrates and worked for a long time as an orator (fr. 25). Extant titles of epideictic speeches are (T 48): To Euagoras, Panathenaicus, Laconicus, Olympicus; in addition he wrote political pamphlets (T 48): Letters from Chios, Panegyric on Philip II, Advice for Alexander; and also an Invective against Plato and his School (T 7. 48; fr. 259).

Historical works

(1) Epitome of Herodotus in two books (T 1, fr. 1–4), the first demonstrable epitome of an earlier work in antiquity; (2) Hellenica in twelve books: a continuation of Thucydides from 411 to 394, namely the sea battle of Cnidus (394 bc), which marked the end of Sparta's short-lived hegemony (T 13 and 14). With this work Th. entered into competition with Xenophon, Hellenica (1–4. 2), but he wrote in far greater detail than Xenophon. Only nineteen partly trivial fragments are extant (frs. 5–23), hence it is impossible to draw any definite conclusions as to contents, arrangement, bias, style, and quality. The Hellenica of the Oxyrhynchus Historian, frequently ascribed to Theopompus by modern scholars, is certainly not identical with this work; (3) Philippica or rather Philippikai historiai (‘The History of Philip’) in 58 books, Theopompus' main work, published late, after 324 (fr. 330); numerous fragments (frs. 24–396) and c.500 lines of verbal quotations are extant. It was not merely a history of Philip of Macedon, but a universal history including ‘the deeds of Greeks and barbarians’ (fr. 25) centring on Philip II: when Philip V later had only the accounts of Philip II's exploits excerpted, the number of books was reduced to fifteen (T 31).


(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, thaumasia (marvels), even myth (fr. 381). (2) He was fond of extensive digressions of all kinds: especially noteworthy are the digressions on thaumasia (bk. 8 and part of 9; frs. 64–84); ‘On the Athenian demagogues’ (bk. 10; frs. 85–100); and the three books on Sicilian history, covering the tyranny of Dionysius I and Dionysius II, 406/5–344/3 (cf. frs. 184, 183–205). (3) The rhetorical character of Theopompus' historical writing was very marked. He goes in for meticulous and skilful stylization, including numerous Gorgianic (see Gorgias) figures of speech (cf. e.g. 34, frs. 225, 263). (4) There is much moralizing in Theopompus. He incessantly denounced the moral 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’ (fr. 27).


The accounts of contemporary history are frequently based on autopsy, personal research, and experiences (test. 20a): Theopompus spent some considerable time at Philip's court (T 7) and travelled throughout Greece (fr. 25); 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 of Halicarnassus (Epistula ad Pompeium 6 = T 20) 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. Pompeius Trogus, in Augustan times, called his own history Historiae Philippicae in imitation of Theopompus.

Klaus Meister