EMINENT FIGURES | Timaeus from Taormina, the historian who aroused the envy of Polibius

A Sicilian Greek historian, Timaeus was probably born in 356 BC from Andromacus, tyrant founder of Tauromenio, ancient name of Taormina. In 316 BC, when the city was conquered by Agatocles, tyrant of Syracuse, Timaeus was exiled and lived first in Agrigento and then in Athens, where he stayed for about fifty years and where he followed the rhetoric lessons of a student of Isocrates. Despite the scarce biographical information, most likely Timaeus returned to Syracuse after the death of Agatocles (269 BC) and spent the last years of his long life (about 96 years) under the tyrant Hiero II: he died in Syracuse around 260 BC.

He was the first to develop and use a universal chronology based on the comparison between Olympic chronology, lists of eponymous magistrates and other local lists.

Timaeus, despite the distance from his native land, never forgot it and always tried to be kept up to date with events, so much so that he was the author of a historiographical work that had Sicilian and Italian protagonists. The work, entitled Sicilian Histories or Sikelikà, of which there remain about 160 fragments, was divided into 38 books and dealt with the Greek West, outlining a story from the mythical origins to the death of his enemy Agatocle, which occurred in 289 BC.

From the study of the remaining fragments we can deduce that the work was composed of a general introduction of 5 books, in which Timaeus offers a geographical description of the island and introduces the complex mythological history of the foundations of the city at the hands of famous heroes, such as the Argonauts, Heracles or the warriors of the Trojan enterprise. These were followed by books narrating Sicilian history until 406 BC, the year of the ascent to power of Dionysus I of Syracuse, and then continued until the death of Agatocles. Only later, Timaeus added an appendix of 5 other books, in which he narrates the historical events from the wars of Pyrrhus against Rome until 264 BC, date of the beginning of the first Punic war.

The accuracy of the news earned the Sicilian historian a great popularity, which lasted until the 3rd century AD; in fact, although the work dealt with the Greeks who had colonized Italy, it gained more interest among the Romans than among the Greeks, thanks to the news it offered about Rome and all the other cities of Italy, as well as about the Carthaginians and the barbarian West.

The Sicilian historian was considered the continuer of the political-rhetorical historiography begun by Isocrates and his work was widely used by other writers, including the famous Diodorus Siculus and Polibius. The latter, who also claimed wanting to continue the work of Timaeus, did not miss the opportunity to criticize the ethnographic interest of his predecessor; in his controversy, however, one must also recognize reasons of jealousy towards another historian, whose echo resounded in Rome even long after his death.


Timeo di Tauromenio, Testimonianze e Frammenti, a cura di Ignazio Concordia, Storiografia Siceliota Frammentaria IV, Youcanprint, Tricase (Lecce) 2017.
Bertini, G. 1829, “Giudizi degli Antichi intorno alle opere di Timeo da Taormina, storico del III secolo innanzi l’Era Volgare colle Notizie biografiche e i frammenti della Storia del medesimo“, in Giornale di Scienze, Lettere e Arti per la Sicilia, VII/t. 27.
Pearson, L. 1987,The Greek Historians of the West. Timaeus and His Predecessors, Atlanta.