Website Review

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook

Paul Halsall, University of North Florida and Fordham University

Last revised in 2002, this site was designed to provide classroom teachers with an extensive, well-organized collection of ancient Mediterranean literary texts and, to a lesser extent, art and archaeological sources. This extensive site includes numerous categories, such as “Legal Texts,” as well as 10 chronological and regional areas from “Human Origins” to “Christian Origins.” Within each geographical heading, subsections denote periods, regions, people, topics, and modern perspectives, the latter focusing on current historical debates. Primary sources include literary texts and links to related websites containing images, maps, charts, and secondary essays. More than half of the 1,000 files represent Greek and Roman authors, with Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts comprising another 25 percent. Persian and Hebrew sources are also available. [Reviser's Note- As of March 2020, there are numerous broken links, however the site still reaches a wide variety of sources and the descriptions of broken links could be used as search terms to find more resources.]

The 104 entries for Egypt are typical of the wide range of files available within each section. These include guides to resources, maps, chronologies, the historical kingdoms, important figures such as Akhnaton, cultural material on religion, art, and architecture, literature, music, everyday life, mathematics, gender and sexuality, and the Black Athena debate. Examples of other useful resources are the Chauvet cave paintings (”Human Origins”), the epic of Gilgamesh (”Mesopotamia”), mythological foundations (”Israel”), Athenian democracy (”Greece”), science and medicine (”The Hellenistic World”), slavery (”Rome”), the end of the Roman Empire in the West (”Late Antiquity”), and the early Church (”Christian Origins”). Legal Texts covers all of the ancient Mediterranean cultures, as well as India, China, and Japan.

The complete texts for Greco-Roman authors are divided into historians, poets, dramatists, philosophers, orators, novels, science, and thinkers. Some of the works are searchable by specific book or section, but other texts are entirely in one file (making access to specific sections more difficult). Often it is better to look at partial texts in a subject file, such as “The Origins of Athens,” which contains relevant primary passages from Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle. The sections on Jesus of Nazareth (4 BCE-30 CE)—context, teaching, death and historical evidence—are arranged to provide a good basis for a classroom presentation or project.

Most of the primary translations on this site are dated since they are at least 75 years old. In order to gather as many texts as possible, Halsall has drawn heavily from the public domain. Thus, you will not find Robert Fagels’s excellent translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or the newly revised edition of the Richard Crawley translation of Thucydides, edited by Robert B. Strasser.1 These newer editions have introductions, appendices, and notes that provide more updated scholarship. However, most of the translations on this site are serviceable for student use in the classroom, and comparing and contrasting older traditional translations with more recent editions of ancient authors could be a very useful classroom exercise. The material from this site can be copied for use by individuals and for the classroom, but not for commercial distribution.

The “New Additions” section offers a wealth of resources, such as Chinese Accounts of Rome, Byzantium, and the Middle East, images of the Linear B script, and “The Need for Source Criticism: A Letter from Alexander to Aristotle?” but these materials are not organized by chronological, regional, or topical headings. You have to take more time to go “fishing,” but you will find good material among the 247 files listed.

In addition to primary resources, the section on “Studying Ancient History” is valuable, offering material on using primary sources, the nature of historiography, other sources of information on ancient history, and other ancient world resource projects and historical e-text sites, as well as help searching the Internet.

The sources and links on this site provide a valuable educational resource. They offer educators and students a breadth and depth of ancient primary sources, along with secondary scholarship and helpful study guides worth consulting and incorporating into lesson plans and academic assignments.

1 Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles (New York: Viking, 1996).
Homer, The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles (New York: Viking, 1990).
Robert B. Strassler (ed.), The Landmark Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley (New York: Free Press, 1996).

Reviewed by Randolph H. Lytton, George Mason University

How to Cite This Source

"Internet Ancient History Sourcebook ," in in World History Commons, [accessed October 2, 2023]
Stone tablet from Gilgamesh's Epic.  The specific tablet is number 11 discussing the Flood Narrative.
“This site was designed to provide classroom teachers with an extensive, well-organized collection of ancient Mediterranean literary texts and, to a lesser extent, art and archaeological sources.”