Timaeus (historian)

Timaeus of Tauromenium (Ancient Greek: Τιμαῖος; c. 350/355 BC – c. 260 BC) was one of the most influential ancient Greek historian of the western Mediterranean until the time of Polybius (200 – c. 118 BC).[1][2]


Timaeus was born ca. 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.[1][2]

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.[2]

Timaeus may have returned to Sicily in ca. 265, under the reign of Hiero II. He died shortly after 264 BC, allegedly at the age of 96.[1][2]


While at Athens he completed his great historical work, the Histories, which comprised thirty-eight books.[1] This work was divided into unequal sections, containing the history of Greece from its earliest days till 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.[3] The last five books treated the time of Agathocles in detail, and the work most likely concluded before the Romans crossed over into Sicily in 264.[1] Timaeus also wrote a monograph on the Greek king Pyrrhus, which almost certainly had the wars against Rome as its centrepiece.[1]

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 afterwards generally used by the Greek historians.[3]

Timaeus can claim to be the first to recognize in his work the rising power of the Roman Republic,[4] 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.[1] 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."[1]

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

  • Some fragments of the 38th book of the Histories (the life of Agathocles);
  • A reworking of the last part of his Histories, On Pyrrhus, treating the life of this king of Epirus until 264 BC;
  • History of the cities and kings of Syria (unless the text of the Suda is corrupt);
  • The chronological sketch (The victors at Olympia) perhaps formed an appendix to the larger work.


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. Polybius was well-versed in military matters and a statesman, Timaeus a bookworm without military experience or personal knowledge of the places he described. The most serious charge against Timaeus is 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.[3]

On the other hand, as even Polybius admits, Timaeus consulted all available authorities and records. His attitude towards the myths, which he claims to have preserved in their simple form (hence probably his nickname γραοσυλλεκτρία, graosyllektria; 'Old Ragwoman', or "collector of old wives' tales", an allusion to his fondness for trivial details), is preferable to the rationalistic interpretation under which it had become the fashion to disguise them.[3]

Both Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the Pseudo-Longinus characterized him as a model of "frigidity", although the latter admits that in other respects he is a competent writer.[3]

Cicero, who was a diligent reader of Timaeus, expresses a far more favourable opinion, specially commending his copiousness of matter and variety of expression. Timaeus was one of the chief authorities used by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, Diodorus Siculus, and Plutarch (in his life of Timoleon).[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Champion 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Meister 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ F. W. Walbank. “Polemic in Polybius,” The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 52, Parts 1 and 2 (1962), p. 10


  • 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.
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Timaeus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Further readingEdit

  • Brown, Truesdell S. (1958). Timaeus of Tauromenium. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Baron, Christopher A. (2013). Timaeus of Tauromenium and Hellenistic Historiography. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-00097-1.
  • Meister, Klaus (1989). "The role of Timaeus in Greek historiography". Scripta Classica Israelica. 10: 55–65.
  • Momigliano, A. (1987) “Athens in the third century BC and the discovery of Rome in the Histories of Timaeus of Tauromenium.” In Essays in ancient and modern historiography: 37–66.
  • Pearson, Lionel I. C. (1987). The Greek Historians of the West: Timaeus and His Predecessors. American Philological Association. ISBN 978-1-55540-151-1.
  • Schepens, Guido (1994). "Politics and Belief in Timaeus of Tauromenium". Ancient Society. 25: 249–278. ISSN 0066-1619. JSTOR 44079743.
  • Walbank, F. W. (2002) “Timaeus’ views on the past.” In Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic world: essays and reflections: 165–77.