Diodorus Siculus (Greek: Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης), was a Greek historian who lived in the 1st century BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily (now called Agira). With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca historica. Only Jerome, in his Chronicon under the year of Abraham 1968 (49 BC), writes, "Diodorus of Sicily, a writer of Greek history, became illustrious". His English translator, Charles Henry Oldfather, remarks on the "striking coincidence" that one of only two known Greek inscriptions from Agyrium (I.G. XIV, 588) is the tombstone of one "Diodorus, the son of Apollonius".
Diodorus' universal history, which he named Bibliotheca historica ("Historical Library"), consisted of 40 books, of which 1–5 and 11–20 survive, and were divided into three sections. The first six books treat the mythic history of the non-Hellenic and Hellenic tribes to the destruction of Troy and are geographical in theme, and describe the history and culture of Ancient Egypt (book I), of Mesopotamia, India, Scythia, and Arabia (II), of North Africa (III), and of Greece and Europe (IV–VI). His account of gold mining in Egypt is one of the earliest extant texts on the topic, and describes in vivid detail the use of slave labour in terrible conditions.
In the next section (books VII–XVII), he recounts the history of the world from the Trojan War down to the death of Alexander the Great. The last section (books XVII to the end) concerns the historical events from the successors of Alexander down to either 60 BC or the beginning of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. (The end has been lost, so it is unclear whether Diodorus reached the beginning of the Gallic War as he promised at the beginning of his work or, as evidence suggests, old and tired from his labors he stopped short at 60 BC.) He selected the name "Bibliotheca" in acknowledgment that he was assembling a composite work from many sources. Identified authors on whose works he drew include Hecataeus of Abdera, Ctesias of Cnidus, Ephorus, Theopompus, Hieronymus of Cardia, Duris of Samos, Diyllus, Philistus, Timaeus, Polybius, and Posidonius.
An historian, surnamed Sicŭlus, because born at Agyrium in Sicily, and the contemporary of Iulius Caesar and Augustus. Our principal data for the events of his life are derived from his own work. In early life he travelled into Asia, Africa, and Europe, and on his return established himself at Rome, where he published a general history, in forty books, under the title of Βιβλιοθήκη Ἱστορική, or Historical Library. To this labour he devoted thirty years of his life. The history comprehended a period of 1138 years, besides the time preceding the Trojan War, and was carried down to the end of Caesar's Gallic war. His work was written after the death of Caesar. The first six books were devoted to the fabulous history anterior to the war of Troy, and of these the three former to the antiquities of barbarian States, the three latter to the archæology of the Greeks. But the historian, though treating of the fabulous history of the barbarians in the first three books, enters into an account of their manners and usages, and carries down the history of these nations to a point of time posterior to the Trojan War. Thus, in the first book he gives a sketch of Egyptian history from the reign of Menes to Amasis. In the eleven following books he details the different events which happened between the Trojan War and the death of Alexander the Great; while the remaining twenty-three books contain the history of the world down to the Gallic War and the conquest of Britain. We have only a small part remaining of this vast compilation-namely, the first five books; then from the eleventh to the twentieth, both inclusive; and, finally, fragments of the other books from the sixth to the tenth inclusive, and also of the last twenty. These rescued portions we owe to Eusebius ; to John Malalas, Georgius Syncellus, and other writers of the Lower Empire, who have cited them in the course of their own works; but, above all, to the authors of the "Extracts respecting Embassies" and of the "Extracts respecting Virtues and Vices." We are indebted also for a part of them to the patriarch Photius, who has inserted in his Myriobiblon extracts from several of the books, from the thirtyfirst to the thirty-third, and from the thirty-sixth to the thirty-eighth and fortieth. Important additions have also been made from MSS. in the Vatican Library.
A great advantage possessed by Diodorus over most of the ancient historians is his indicating the order of time, though it must be acknowledged at the same time that his chronology offers occasional difficulties and often needs educing. Diodorus, who wrote at Rome, and at a period when the dominion of that city extended over the greater part of the civilized world, arranges his narrative in accordance with the Roman calendar and consular fasti; but he frequently adds the names of the Athenian archons who were contemporaneous.
With regard to the historical value of the work itself and the merits of the author, the most varying opinions have been entertained by modern writers. The principal fault of Diodorus seems to have been the too great extent of his work. It was not possible for any man living in the time of Augustus to write an unexceptionable universal history. It is not, then, a matter of surprise that Diodorus, who does not appear to have been a man of superior abilities, should have fallen into a number of particular errors and should have placed too much reliance on authorities sometimes far from trustworthy. Wherever he speaks from his own observation he may, perhaps, generally be relied upon; but when he is compiling from the writings of others he has shown little judgment in the selection. The literary style of Diodorus, though not very pure or elegant, is sufficiently perspicuous and presents but few difficulties, except where the MSS. are defective, as is frequently the case. The best editions of Diodorus are those of Wesseling (1746), L. Dindorf (1867-68), and Bekker (1853-54).