Herodotus himself was born just prior to this time, between 490 – 480 B.C. Halicarnassus was a Dorian coastal town in the Greek colony of Caria, in south-west Asia Minor (what is now the Izmir region of Turkey). He later claimed to have traveled in his youth to Egypt as far south as Assuan, over to Mesopotamia, through Palestine, up to the southern Baltic region, and along the north coast of Africa, until retiring finally to Thurii in Italy, where he finally compiled his nine books. He explains at the outset that his object is to explain the root causes of the clash between the Persians and Greeks – but his narrative, from the first clashes on the eastern Aegean against Lydia, rarely holds to long to this intent. Instead, Herodotus wanders and digresses into the wider customs, art, folklore, manners and trade of not just Persians and Greeks, but the Slavic and Near Eastern states as well, taking careful note of both the most conservative and outlandish versions of most of the oral history he records from each region.
Make no mistake though, he is no Thucydides – he couldn’t be, in many ways during this period, having to rely almost entirely on scattered inscriptions and spoken tradition (one complication certainly being, just prior to Herodotus’ birth, a clever Xerxes had carted most of the contents of the Greeks’ archives and libraries, esp. Athens’, back to Persia as spoils of war). The result is what seemed to later, more academic historians a less ‘scientific’ approach. He frequently chalks up events to Destiny, or the corruption of ambition, or synchronicity and coincidence, and doesn’t seem to hold much stock in cause and effect. However, as a result, he is poetic in a way later Greek and Roman historians could never be – his prose styled to be read aloud to a crowd or group of friends – and you can still detect that ease and clarity. And sadly many historians (Plutarch, Livy and others) would distrust him for those very reasons - it was, in their opinion, far too accessible and lucid to be considered 'real history'.
“…well, so much for what Persians and Phoenicians say – I certainly have no intention of passing judgment on their truth or falsity. I prefer to rely on my own knowledge, and to out who it was, in actual fact, that first injured the Greeks; then I will proceed with my history, telling the story as I go along, or small cities no less than great. Most of those which are great once are small today; and those which in my own life time have grown to greatness, were small enough in the old days. It makes no odds whether the cities I shall write of are big or little – for in this world nobody remains prosperous for long…”
- from the Introduction of Herodotus’ The Histories (trans. Aubrey de Selincourt, 1959, Penguin), p. 15.