Fictitious histories

I like reading histories and a number of them I present in my blog because they were written before the time of the exact scientific historic research as we know it for the past few centuries. Before that time historians had much more limited resources. Often they used older histories which they then combined or updated and they didn’t have many ways to check what was true or not. To avoid this problem many histories thus wrote about their own times and as far as in the past as they had reliable sources or persons who could give them fairly accurate accounts.

As those historians wrote from their own perspective this meant that the histories were not very objective, at least not to the extent as we know today, although this can very per country. Nevertheless because they also wrote about their own times they write in a style that reflects their time and age. So besides reading the history one also can discover the nature of the society of the time. What does the historian consider important and in some cases he even expresses his opinion in an indirect way. One could consider this to be fiction, just as an author who writes contemporary fiction tries to tell a story based on true events. It is not just listing the facts, but also adding more dynamic and anecdotes which make it all come alive.

In some cases the histories can become fictitious, where the historian adds dialogues between important persons or speeches. Even so most historians tried to be true to the facts which allows us a good insight into those times. However there are some cases where a history was more fictitious than true. An example of this is the Augustan History (ca. 370). Supposedly it is a collection of lives of Roman emperors during the period 117-284, written by some five different historians. Extensive research lead to the conclusion that it was written by a single unknown author who didn’t want his own name attached to it. That contemporary historians also noted inconsistencies and that half of the work was made up is perhaps a reason for the author to do so. As it is the only complete history of that period it was only through matching the incomplete sources that the non-fictitious content could be extracted. Even so, this does not mean that the rest is all fake, just that some parts which seemed reliable could not be cross-checked. As I am reading this book (albeit only the more trustworthy first half of it under the name Lives Of The Later Caesars) at the moment I will discuss the details more extensively in the forthcoming review.

A large contrast to that work is a new one that I received today. This is The Chronicon (1018) by Thietmar of Merseburg, retitled as Ottonian Germany in this translation. This history covers the period 908 to 1018 of the early Holy Roman Empire. As the author lived in the latter part of the period he wrote about this is an example of a fairly accurate contemporary history. As Thietmar of Merseburg was a member of a noble family and a bishop he was also an insider of the politics of those times. Especially of the later history he himself who play a role, which means that it is not just a history, but also a partial autobiography, giving the book also a personal element.

So how do I find these peculiar histories? This particular one I found after reading the Crown Of Stars fantasy series by Kate Elliot, which takes place in an alternative Europe set in tenth century Germany. From the novels I noted the author must have researched the period well as it was described quite convincing. Next I started searching the web for interesting histories about this period that went into more detail. This I already have general histories, so I wanted something that went deeply into those times. Next it just finding the right key words when searching the web or online bookstores. I am happy with this addition to my collection, although I don’t plan to read it very soon.

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