Hecataeus of Abdera

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Hecataeus of Abdera or of Teos (Greek: Ἑκαταῖος ὁ Ἀβδηρίτης; c. 360 BC – c. 290 BC[1]), was a Greek historian who flourished in the 4th century BC. Though none of his works survive, his writings are attested by later authors in various fragments, in particular his Aegyptica, a work on the society and culture of the Egyptians, and his On the Hyperboreans. He is one of the authors (= FGrHist 264) whose fragments were collected in Felix Jacoby's Fragmente der griechischen Historiker.[2]


Diodorus Siculus tells us that Hecataeus visited Thebes in the times of Ptolemy I Soter and composed a history of Egypt. Diodorus supplies the comment that many additional Greeks went to and wrote about Egypt in the same period.[3] The Suda gives him the nickname 'critic grammarian' and says that he lived in the time of the successors to Alexander.[4] According to Diogenes Laertius, he was a student of Pyrrho.[5]


No complete works of Hecataeus have survived, and knowledge of his writing exists only in fragments located in various ancient Greek and Latin authors' works, most of which concern religion. Eighth fragments are from his book about the Hyperboreans, the mythical people of the far north who reflect the Indian traditions about Uttarakuru. Six fragments survive from his Aegyptiaca and regard Egyptian philosophy, priests, gods, sanctuaries, Moses, wine, and which makes mention of Clearchus and the gymnosophists.[6] Hecataeus wrote the work Aegyptiaca[7] (c. 320 – 305 BC)[8] or On the Egyptians (the same title of Manetho's later work),[9] both suggestions are based on known titles of other ethnographic works, an account of Egypt's customs, beliefs and geography, and the single largest fragment from this lost work is held to be Diodorus' account of the Ramesseum, tomb of Osymandyas (i.47-50).[citation needed] According to Montanari, in his work, Egypt is "strongly idealised", depicted as a country "exemplary in its customs and political institutions".[10] His digression on the Jews in Aegyptiaca was the first mention of them in Greek literature. It was subsequently paraphrased in Diodorus Siculus 40.3.8.

Diodorus Siculus' ethnography of Egypt (Bibliotheca historica, Book I) represents by far the largest number of fragments. Diodorus mostly paraphrases Hecataeus, thus it is difficult to extract Hecataeus' actual writings (as in Karl Wilhelm Ludwig Müller's Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum). Diodorus (ii.47.1-2) and Apollonius of Rhodes tell of another work by Hecataeus, On the Hyperboreans.[11] Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 5.113) cites a work titled "On Abraham and the Egyptians". According to Clement, Hecataeus was the source for verses of Sophocles that praise monotheism and condemn idolatry.[12] The major fragment explicitly attributed to Hecataeus in Jewish and Christian literature is found in Josephus (Apion 1.183-205) in which Josephus argues that learned Greeks (Apion 1.175) and Aristotle (Apion 1.176-82) admired the Jews.[12] The work is considered spurious by some;[13] However Pucci Ben Zeev, in surveying scholarship on this matter, finds reasons to grant core elements of authenticity in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary.[14]

According to the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia the Suda, Hecataeus wrote a treatise on Homer and Hesiod, entitled On the Poetry of Homer and Hesiod (Περὶ τῆς ποιήσεως Ὁμήρου καὶ Ἡσιόδου);[15] nothing of this work survives, however, and it is mentioned by no other ancient source.[16]



  1. ^ Hornblower & Spawforth (2003, p. 671)
  2. ^ Jacoby's work has been updated by Brill's New Jacoby; see Lang (2012).
  3. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 1.46.8.
  4. ^ Klaus Meister "Hecataeus" (2) of Abdera in Oxford Classical Dictionary 3rd. ed. Oxford; Oxford University Press 1999 p.671
  5. ^ Diogenes Laertius (1925, 9.69 (pp. 482, 482)).
  6. ^ Stoneman, Richard. The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks, Princeton University Press, 2019, p 142
  7. ^ Wachsmuth (1895), Trüdinger (1918), Burton (1972)
  8. ^ Lang (2012, Biographical Essay).
  9. ^ Jacoby (1943), Murray (1970), Fraser (1972)
  10. ^ Montanari (2022, p. 900).
  11. ^ Bar-Kochva, Bezalel (1997). "The Structure of an Ethnographical Work". Pseudo-Hecataeus: "On the Jews". University of California Press. ISBN 9780520268845.
  12. ^ a b R. Doran, Pseudo-Hecataeus (Second Century B.C.-First Century A.D.). A New Translation and Introduction, in James H. Charlesworth (1985), The Old Testament Pseudoepigrapha, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Inc., Volume 2, ISBN 0-385-09630-5 (Vol. 1), ISBN 0-385-18813-7 (Vol. 2), p. 906
  13. ^ OCD3 p.671
  14. ^ Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev "The Reliability of Josephus Flavius: The Case of Hecateus' and Manentho's Accounts of Jews and Judaism: Fifteen years of contemporary research (1974-1990) Journal for the Studies of Judaism 24 no2. December 1993
  15. ^ Suda ε 359 = BNJ, F 264 T1; Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Hecataeus (4).
  16. ^ Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Hecataeus (4).


Further reading[edit]

  • Murray, Oswyn (August 1970), "Hecataeus of Abdera and Pharaonic Kingship", The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 56: 141–171, doi:10.2307/3856050, JSTOR 3856050.
  • Dillery, John (1998), "Hecataeus of Abdera: Hyperboreans, Egypt, and the "Interpretatio Graeca"", Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 47 (3): 255–275, JSTOR 4436508

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