Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Diodorus Siculus and ANE history

THE ASOR BLOG: Diodorus of Sicily’s Library and the Ancient Near East (Jan P. Stronk).
Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek, was born as a member of an obviously well-to-do family in Agyrium on Sicily c. 90 BCE. He spent some years in Egypt (from about 60 BCE) and then travelled to Rome, where he more or less settled and started to write his Bibliotheca Historica (Historical Library), a work in forty books (= chapters), which took him some thirty years. Regrettably, part of this work was lost: only books one to five and eleven to twenty survive (nearly) completely, the rest does so in a fragmentary state. The last complete copy of the work is said to have been destroyed in 1453 CE, when the Ottoman army took Constantinople, but before that time, parts of Diodorus’ work already had found their way into many other ancient and Byzantine sources.

So much for the backgrounds of the work. But what makes this work so valuable, not merely for me but for many ancient historians? The answer is hidden in the work’s title: in the end, it effectively is a library. To compose his work, Diodorus based himself upon the work of previous writers, some mentioned by name, more by indication (altogether at least some 144 authors can be traced). Following this method, Diodorus preserved fragments of many works now partially or even completely lost while he described the history of the East, of Greece, Sicily, Carthage, Rome, the vicissitudes of Alexander the Great and the Diadochs’ Empires. Equally important is that Diodorus’ work is our sole written witness for certain periods and/or occurrences, a reason why we should not underestimate the meaning of the Bibliotheca.
I fully agree with this assessment and am delighted to hear of Dr. Stronk's work on Diodorus's Bibliotheca. Some recent PaleoJudaica posts on Diodorus and the importance of his work for the history of Second Temple Judaism are here, here, and here.