How to use this site

A game of knucklebones

This site contains detailed information about the written sources for Greek and Roman history in the period between the conquests of Alexander the Great and the start of the Roman Empire. Its geographical scope is Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East - essentially, the countries which were later part of the Roman Empire (see map). Its scope in time is currently from 323 to 30 B.C.

Depending on what you want to find out, there are various ways to use the site. Here are four suggestions:

1. To find all the events which are known to have happened in a particular year.

This is straightforward to do. From the home page, select the century which you want, and then from the box choose the specific year. This will take you to the page for that year, which will contain a list of events; for each event, there is a line which describes the event followed by a list of the written sources for it; in between there may be a link to an online translation of the longest or most detailed source. If you are not sure which year to choose, try looking at the summary of events that is available for each century.

Because this period comes before the introduction of the Julian calendar, and the old Greek and Roman calendars tended to be imprecise and unpredictable, it is sometimes difficult, even if an ancient writer bothers to give some kind of date, to date an event to an exact Julian year. So it is likely that some of the events which are listed under a year actually happened in the preceding or the following year - various symbols are used to indicate where the year is not certain. If the date for an event is particularly uncertain, the date proposed by the Cambridge Ancient History or the Oxford Classical Dictionary is followed wherever possible. It should also be noted that, though the lists are intended to include all the important events that are known to have happened during a year, they do not pretend to include everything. Some types of event are deliberately excluded.

2. To find other references to an event which is described by an ancient writer.

Some fairly standard abbreviations are used to refer to ancient sources. These can all be found in the alphabetical list of sources and abbreviations. In the Index of References, click on the abbreviation for the book you want to go to a list of references from that book.

The list of references will in turn contain links to the lists of events, in the format "123/45", where 123 is the year 123 B.C., and 45 is the event number. So when you have found the section of the book which you are interested in, make a note of the event number, and then click on the link to the right of the reference to go to the page for that year. There you will find any similar passages from other authors listed against the event number.

The lines of references begin with the symbol @. At the top of the page, there is a link to the list of abbreviations so that you can go back and check what they stand for. At the end of the references, there may be some references to modern books, enclosed in {curly brackets}; these are provided simply as confirmation of the date of the event. Alternatively, there may be a brief justification of the date.

3. To find online descriptions of a particular event, and references to it by ancient writers.

If you do not know the exact year in which the event occurred, first look in the Index of Names. Type in a name (of a person or place), and click on Go, to see a complete list of the events where that name occurs. At the start of each line, there is a link in the format "123/45", where 123 is the year 123 B.C., and 45 is the event number. When you have found the event which you want, make a note of the event number and click on the link, which will take you to the details of the event. There you will find the sources for the event in a line which starts with the symbol @. If necessary, you can consult the list of sources to find out the meaning of any abbreviations.

Note that the links will rarely take you to the exact line where the description of an event starts, but usually to the nearest chapter or section. This is no bad thing, because it gives the context in which the description occurs, but it does mean that it is sensible to make a note of the exact reference before clicking on the link.

4. To read some of the ancient sources for the history of this period.

The list of translations contains links to all the translations that are stored on this site. The translations on the site are intended to fill in gaps in what is already available online - or in some cases, to provide translations of books that have never previously been translated. Therefore the list contains only a small selection of the available ancient sources; but links to all the most important sources can be found in the Overview of the sources. For Greek and Latin literature in general, Related Sites contains links to some large online collections of translations of Greek and Latin authors, and there is a list of all authors for the period 350 B.C.-100 A.D. in Ancient Authors, by Date.

The new translations on the site have been carefully checked to ensure accuracy, but because there is usually no previous English translation to consult, and because they have not been through any kind of scholarly review, they almost certainly contain some mistakes. Please report any obvious mistakes - they will be corrected promptly. The translations are in a standard format, which is explained in the Key to notation.

Online translations have some obvious advantages and disadvantages, compared with books. The advantages are that they are easily available - and free. Some of the material on this site could not otherwise be found, without a visit to a specialist library. Translations in HTML format are fully searchable and, if they are formatted correctly, navigation is easy and it is possible to add links to explanations or related pages. However, the quality of online translations is very variable. The most recent, accurate translations are usually still in copyright, and old translations, as well as containing unfamiliar words and syntax, are often based on inferior copies of the original Greek or Latin text. Another drawback is that online translations do not usually show "variant readings" - that is when the original text is uncertain, perhaps because of inconsistencies in the manuscripts, or when there is more than one way to translate a phrase. Online translations are a valuable resource, but they should be used with care.

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