Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

Mesoamerican Pictogram

Between 1541 and 1542 Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of New Spain, commissioned a Mesoamerican Codex containing text and Aztec pictograms. This image is one example.

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Hernan Cortés: Second Letter to Charles V, 1520

The text is an excerpt of a letter sent from Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes to the Spanish King, Charles V, in 1520. The letter presents Cortes's perceptions of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

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Horace, “Cleopatra Ode”

Given Horace’s position in Emperor Augustus’ court, it is not surprising that his description of Cleopatra is wholly negative. This text relies on “sourcing” and an understanding of the author’s bias and motivation for a proper reading. He describes Cleopatra as a “deadly monster” although he does, at least, admit to her bravery in submitting to the venom of the serpent.

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Antony’s Meeting with Cleopatra from “Life of Antony”

Cleopatra’s claim to the Egyptian throne very much resided in her relationship and alliance with Caesar. Upon his death in the Senate, Cleopatra had lost her guarantor. Antony’s arrival in Egypt provided a second opportunity for her to secure her throne through a powerful alliance.

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Cleopatra’s Meeting with Caesar

Cassius Dio’s history of the meeting between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar uses powerful word-choice to develop a characterization of the female Egyptian ruler. After Pompey’s assassination, Cleopatra immediately develops a scheme to ally with Caesar. Dio uses words like “beauty,” “striking,” and “charming” to describe her and explains that she had the “power to subjugate” anyone.

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Advice to Bride and Groom (versus 14 and 18)

Plutarch’s Advice to a Bride and Groom reveals the author’s views that submissiveness is the proper behavior for a Roman patrician’s wife, which reflects the general gender norm of ancient Roman culture. The wife ought to mimic the husband’s mood at all times: to be happy when he is happy and serious when he is serious.

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Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Metaphysics, written around 350 BCE, is among Greek philosohper Aristotle's most notable works. The text includes an excerpt from part seven of the ten part work.

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Seneca the Younger, Moral Letters to Lucilius

Moral Letters to Lucilias was written by the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger around 65 CE. There are 124 letters in the collection. The text presented is an excerpt from letter 41 titled "On the God within Us."

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Sophocles, Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King, also known as Oedipus Rex, is an ancient greek play written by the Athenian philosopher, Sophocles, around 420 BCE. The text presented is an excerpted portion from the second half of the play.

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Homer’s The Iliad

Homer's The Iliad is an ancient greek poem written around the eighth century. The poem is set during the Trojan war and highlights the conflict between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. The text provided is an excerpt from book three.

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