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Historical Significance of Ancient Primary Sources Essay

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Updated: Nov 13th, 2020


Herodotus was a Greek historian. He is often referred to as the Father of History – the name that was given to him by Cicero. It is not a coincidence, as he is the author of the work titled The Histories – a piece of writing that stands out due to its peculiar style. In fact, it was the first writer to be developed in a concise, systematic, and critical manner to arrange all studied events in a historiographical and detailed way instead of simply narrating them. Therefore, the historical significance of the text is that it became the beginning of the historical manner of writing characterized by a thorough analysis of described events and strive for establishing cause-and-effect relationships.

The Histories is a collection of books. The main focus of the piece of writing is made on studying the Greco-Persian Wars. In fact, it is a detailed record of the wars’ origins and main events, such as battles of Thermopylae, Marathon, Mycale, Artemisium, etc., as well as the lives of people, including Xerxes, Cyrus, Croesus, Darius, and others. The specificity of this work is that it goes beyond laying stress on the war.

Instead, it as well pays special attention to geographical, cultural, ethnographic, and other aspects of life during the Greco-Persian Wars. The collection of books was written while Herodotus traveled across Persian territories and collected oral histories, myths, and legends. He systematized and analyzed the notes to make a comprehensive and modern source that is often perceived as the fundamental historical work. Incorporating both fictional stories and factual observations, The Histories is the work that was later used by historians as an example to follow when writing their own works, while Herodotus was the person to begin the new era of history – systematic, critical, and multi-dimensional.

Al-Bakri, Fulcher, Comnena, Ibn al-Athir, and Munqidh

Al-Bakri was an Andalusian historian best known for combining both history and geography in his works. One of the books written by the author is The Book of Routes and Realms. Being a Muslim historian, Al-Bakri documented his observations of the way Muslim people led their lives with the main focus on customs and traditions. The historical significance of the work is that it introduces the development of Muslim statehood.

Another reading is that by Fulcher of Charters – a priest and historian who is known for being involved in the First Crusade. His piece of writing, The First Crusade and the Siege of Jerusalem, were written during his expedition to Jerusalem as a detailed investigation of the Siege of Jerusalem. The significance of the source is that it studies the motivation of the siege from a religious perspective as well as the process itself. It is a valuable source because it was written right after the Siege and following it.

One more text is written by Comnena – The Alexiad. The author was a Byzantian princess and historian. The piece of writing, The Alexiad, is a detailed record of the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I – the author’s father. The book is interesting because it describes not only the way the emperor governed the state but also his everyday habits and vital developments in building the Byzantine statehood.

Ibn al-Athir is another outstanding historian. He as well focused on the history of the Crusades. One of his works, The Franks Conquer Jerusalem, describes another Muslim Siege of Jerusalem. It is a detailed historical record with the focus on motivation, the process, and consequences. Finally, there is a reading by Munqidh – a Muslin historian who describes Frankish customs and lives from the Muslim perspective. Together with the source mentioned above, they are beneficial for obtaining a better understanding of the history of the Franks.

Mongol Primary Sources

The first author is da Piano Carpine – one of the first European historians to investigate the history of Mongols. It is the title of one of his works, making the main focus on the lives of the Tartars and the way their state – the Mongol Empire – was organized and governed by Chinghiz Khan with stress on arranging battles. The value of the piece of writing is that it was written as observations during the author’s traveling.

One more traveling European historian is William of Rubruck – a Franciscan missionary. In his writing, he describes his experience of traveling to Asia with the main focus on solving cases in the court and achieving social justice in the Mongol Empire during the reign of the Great Khan Möngke. Also, the source studies the everyday life of the ordinary Mongols by describing their clothes, customs, religion, and organization of society. It is historically significant because it reviews the arrangement of socially vital affairs through the prism of the impact of religion.

Another historian known for writing about the Mongol history is Güyük Khann – one of the Emperors of the Mongol Empire. The letter to Pope Innocent IV pays special attention to the Emperor’s perception of God and religion.

It was written by the Emperor himself during the time of his reign, which means that it perfectly describes the religious customs of the Mongols. The source is interesting because it explains religious motivations for becoming involved in armed conflicts as well as the ways to resolve them by means of religion. The historical significance of the text is not only because it helps to understand the apprehension of the Christian God and religion but also sheds light on the diplomacy of the approach to developing diplomatic relations that were common for the Mongol Empire.


Christopher Columbus was an Italian colonizer and explorer. Due to his detailed records of his voyages to the New World, he became as well known as a prominent historian. What is interesting about his writings is that all of them are different in their nature. That being said, there are some outstanding notes from his journals (for instance, Introduction to the Western Civilizations) as well as unpublished manuscripts (for example, Book of Prophecies).

Still, all of the works are common in style, as they are written as observations and opinions regarding the specificities of the Western civilization with the special focus on different aspects of living in the New World: prayer habits of indigenous inhabitants and missions of Catholic Christians, the increasing influence of Catholic Christianity in the New World, manners and everyday habits of indigenous inhabitants, their natural character traits and physical appearances, the restoration of the Holy House and the creation of the Holy Church.

Regardless of being written about different themes and events, all of the works of Christopher Columbus are based on his observations during voyages and living among indigenous people. They are historically valuable because they were written as journals, letters, and records right from the new World, so no vital details are omitted. For this reason, it is believed that the author’s motivation was to note all of his discoveries so that they are not lost or forgotten during the course of the following decades. In this way, all of the sources, regardless of their nature and style, are beneficial for obtaining a better understanding of the origins of Western Civilization as well as the common habits of ordinary people.

Ottomans and Luther

Selim, I was one of the Turkish Empire Ottomans. His letter to Amir Isma’il is written in order to develop and maintain diplomatic relations – it is an obvious intention of the Sultan. The style of writing is commanding that hints at his governing position. The significance of the text is that it is written from the perspective of the role of religion in everyday life of Ottomans and proves that all affairs were viewed through the prism of connections between supported religions.

Another work under consideration is addressing Christian nobility by Martin Luther – German priest and professor. The motivation behind his work is to question the nobility of the German nation as a whole and popes and priests in particular. In general, the perception of religious leaders and their role in benefitting the Christian community was dual – therefore, it is historically significant. Just like Luther, Johannes Brenz – a German theologian – focuses on the religious motivations behind armed conflicts and attacks, questioning whether it is possible to justify cruelty by the so-called sacred mission to eliminate blasphemy (Islam). These three texts are valuable because they contribute to understanding the lifelong conflict between religion and politics.

On the other hand, the remaining two readings – by Sidi Ali Reis (Ottoman admiral) and Ogier de Busbecq (a Flemish diplomat and writer) – describe one of the sea battles and arranging wars in a reporting manner. The historical significance of these texts is that they help preserve vital events and understand how the Turks prepared themselves for wars and led them as well as wrote made them driven to become involved in the bloodshed. All in all, each of the texts is helpful for drawing lines in the history of relations between Germans and Turks.

Sima Qian

Sima Qian was a Chinese historian. Nowadays, he is perceived as the founder of Chinese historiography because of the great influence he had on the development of historical writing in China in particular and Asia as a whole. He is interesting for his writing style that is detailed, but still concise, and critical. In this way, he is very similar to Herodotus. One of his writings, “How Others Live,” investigates the lives of the so-called fierce slaves – Xiongnu – tribes that initiated violent raids into Mainland China.

The work focuses on their roots, everyday habits, arrangement of battles and raids, and organizing meetings with the chief as wells as main diplomatic, social, and economic affairs. What is interesting about this piece of writing is that regardless of criticizing Xiongnu and their violence, as well as making an attempt to launch a military campaign against them, the author still describes their lives in an objective and comprehensive manner. In this way, the significance of the text is that it teaches how to be a true historian – open-minded, but still truthful, and letting no personal opinion distort reality.

Speaking of the source, it is a documentation in nature. The main focus is made on different customs and traditions. The style is scientific and detailed. Keeping in mind the stance of Sima Qian, it is assumed that his intention was to increase awareness about Xiongnu, thus launching campaign about them due to their cruelty and violence. Nevertheless, it is written in a diplomatic manner, so there are no direct signs of criticism in the piece of writing. Still, regardless of the intent, the work is a valuable source because it introduces one of the Chinese peoples.


Virgil was a poet who lived and worked in the Ancient Rome. He is most known for writing the most famous poems of the epoch, including the Aeneid. One of the assigned readings, “Safe Haven after Storm,” is the first book of this outstanding poem. Therefore, poem is the nature of the source. Later, it turned into the national epic due to depicting the journey of Aeneas – the mythological hero of the Ancient Greece and Rome introduced in Illiad by Homer.

The poem describes the Trojan War, so it can be perceived as a historical piece of writing. Keeping in mind the background of the main hero, it is assumed that the motivation of the author was to elaborate the image of Aeneas in the national mythology as well as develop national epos.

What is interesting about the book is that main developments in people’s lives are told about from the perspective of the relationships between gods and humans. In particular, a storm is seen as a representation of gods being mad at people for their deeds or decisions, while being lucky to remain safe and alive is perceived as a consequence of reaching harmony with godly creatures.

All in all, regardless of being a myth-based poem in nature, the historical significance of the text cannot be underestimated, as it contributes to obtaining a better understanding of the role religion played in the everyday life of people settling Ancient Greece. The overall context of the poem as a whole is Trojan War. In other words, the poem may be valuable for apprehending the impact of religion (gods) on the development of events during the Trojan War.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Historical Significance of Ancient Primary Sources." November 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/historical-significance-of-ancient-primary-sources/.


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