THE CHRONOLOGY OF ERATOSTHENES
By Darrell Wolcott
The 3rd-century BC Greek geographer
and mathematician, Eratosthenes, used a diastematic system of dating events which proceeds by intervals between important
events. The following chart shows his estimated dates of ancient events:
fall of Troy
interval of 80 years
return of the Heraclidae 1104
interval of 60 years
settlement of Ionia 1044
interval of 159 years
regency of Lycurgus 885
interval of 108 years
year before the 1st Olympiad 777
Other sources, including the
list of Olympic game winners, tend to confirm this dating of the 1st Olympiad. We accept this date as well as all later
dates proposed by Eratosthenes. It is with those dates earlier than 776BC with which we have considerable doubts.
Our question, then, has to do with the time intervals by which he separated the more ancient events in his chart.
When we seek his reason for
the 80 year interval between the fall of Troy and the return of the Heraclidae, it appears he was following Ephorus who
earlier said the interval was "two generations". Then he followed Hecataeus in deciding that meant 80 years.
We examined the pedigrees of the Heraclidae family, as well as those of the men they ousted from their traditional lands,
and conclude that two generations was much nearer 63 years. For those not familiar with "The Return of the Heraclidae",
we pause to summarize that event.
RETURN OF THE HERACLIDAE:
The Heraclidae were the direct
descendants of Heracles, the king of Argos. A junior branch of that family led by Eurystheus son of Sthenelus had seized
control of the kingdom after the death of Heracles. To avoid being killed, Heracles' son Hyllus and his men fled
to Athens where he was received by King Theseus or his son, Demophon. Eurystheus followed the refugees to attack
Athens for giving them shelter, leaving his younger first-cousins, Atreus and Thyestes, in charge of his kingdom.
The father of those men was Pelops, King of Lydia, whose sister was the mother of Eurystheus. When Eurystheus and his
sons were killed in the Athens expedition, Atreus ousted his own brother Thyestes and assumed the Mycenae kingship, which
then encompassed most of the Pelopennese peninsula. His sons were Agememnon and Menelaus of Trojan War fame. Orestes,
son of Agememnon, married Hermoine daughter of Menelaus and consolidated the kingdom. It was Tisamenus, son of
Orestes, who held that kingship when the Heraclidae finally took it back.
Leading the Heraclidae in battle were
Aristodemus, Temenus and Cresphontes, sons of Aristomachus. The latter was the son of Cleodaeus, son of Hyllus, son
of Heracles. A chart of the family will show the relationships:
Perseus, King of Argos Tantalus,
King of Lydia
3 sons who retook the
Since it was Tisamenus,
son of Orestes, whom the Heraclidae ousted from their lands, he occurs two generations after Agamemnon, the leader of the
armies which sacked Troy. It was his brother, Menelaus, who had been married to Helen when Paris of Troy ran off with
her. So while we agree with a 2-generation interval between the fall of Troy and the return of the Heraclidae, we think
80 years is an excessive interval and would reduce that to 63 years.
SETTLEMENT OF IONIA:
The families driven out of Peloponnese
by the return of the Heraclidae sought refuge in Athens. The King of Athens, Thymoetes, accepted the refugees,
but he died without a son. His daughter married Melanthus, a man from Messenia who had fled to Athens to escape the
Heraclidae, and Melanthus became king of Athens. His son, Codrus decided his kingdom had become overpopulated with all
the Pelopennese refugees, many of whom had earlier been dispossessed from Ionia. A large contingent from Athens was
sent to reclaim those lands which lay across the Aegean Sea, under the leadership of two younger sons of Codrus.
That this occurred sometime after the return of the Heraclidae is evident, but the exact interval is not known. Eratosthenes
said 60 years, but that appears to have been no more than a folklore guess that was current when Eratosthenes lived. Based
on the pedigree of the Athens kings, we suspect it was closer to 70 years.
Theseus, king when Heraclidae expelled
daughter==========Melanthus, fled to Athens
when Heraclidae returned
we asume Melanthus was 20 years old when he fled to Athens and that Codrus was born 10 years after that, then his two younger
sons would perhaps be born 35 years later and maybe age 25 when they relocated to Ionia. This would place the settlement
of Ionia about 70 years after Melanthus fled the Heraclidae.
We believe, however, this event is
unimportant in fixing the interval between the return of the Heraclidae and the regency of Lycurgus since the latter can be
reckoned directly from the former.
THE REGENCY OF LYCURGUS:
Lycurgus was the noted law-giver of
ancient Sparta, a younger son of it's royal family. After the Heraclidae retook Peloponnese, it had been Aristodemus
son of Aristomachus who had received Laconia as his portion. He had twin sons, Procles and Eurysthenes, between whom
the kingdom was divided. The son of Eurysthenes, Agis, had an elder son, Echestratus, and a younger son Lycurgus.
King Echestratus died when his son Labotas was but an infant, so Lycurgus was named regent to rule for the child during his
Believing himself to be a benevolent
and selfless statesman (the manner in which history came to record him), he was deeply offended when his contemporaries
suggested he was using the power of his regency for his own purposes. He handed over the regency to the mother of Labotas
and exiled himself from Sparta, determined not to return until the child had reached adulthood and fathered an heir which
would succeed him. It was much later when Lycurgus came back home and introduced the laws which became his legacy.
The following chart shows the relative
places in time for the members of this family:
This chart is based on the accounts
of Herodotus, the earliest known source. However, both Eratosthenes and most later sources claim Lycurgus was a member
of the other family, a brother of Polydectes, and that the child king for whom he served as regent was Charilaus. Such
an identification adds two full generations to the interval between the settlement of Ionia and the regency of Lycurgus, a
number fixed at 159 years by Eratosthenes. But an interval can be calculated without reference to Ionia; Aristodemus
was one of the Heraclidae who regained Peloponnese. If we assume his twin sons were born near the date of that event,
Labotas would have been born about 90 years later. And Lycurgus' regency would have begun when Labotas was under 10
years old. Thus, it seems to us that the maximum interval between the return of the Heraclidae and the regency
of Lycurgus was about 100 years, and certainly not the 219 years calculated by Eratosthenes. Even adding the two generations
occasioned by identifying the child king as Charilaus would not yield 219 years. We think only about 95 years elapsed
between the return of the Heraclidae and the regency of Lycurgus, thus only about 25 years separated his regency from the
settlement of Ionia.
THE YEAR PRECEEDING THE FIRST OLYMPIAD:
We acknowledge the correctness
of 777BC as the year before the First Olympiad. The problem which faced Eratosthenes is the claim that Lycurgus and
Iphitus together founded the first olympic games. Since the era of Lycurgus was believed (incorrectly we think)
to be much more ancient than 776BC, it was suggested that both men had originated a form of the games, but winners were
not recorded until the games of 776. Thus, a concept of "uncounted Olympiads" was introduced. Two men offered
differing numbers of such "uncounted" 4-year periods; Eusebius thought there had been 27 such periods (108) years, while Callimachus
reckoned only 13 or 52 years. As in all prior calculations, Eratosthenes chose the longest option. One might suggest
that the more anciently he dated earlier events (such as the fall of Troy), the more readily his chronology would be accepted
by the Greeks.
We suggest that Lycurgus was
perhaps 30 years old when his brother died, leaving him as regent for the child Labotas. And further, that he was about
63/64 years old when he jointly founded the Olympics with Iphitus. There is only one reason why the early men conjured
up the "uncounted" Olympiads: to date the earlier events much further back in time than they actually occurred.
Adding up the net interval differences
between our estimates and those of Eratosthenes, we find a total of 216 years. Accordingly, we suggest the fall of Troy
actually should be dated as 968BC, a date much nearer to the estimate of 940BC which was current prior to Eratosthenes. Thereafter,
we would date the events as:
The Fall of Troy
The Return of the Heraclidae 905
Settlement of Ionia 835
The Regency of Lycurgus 810
The First Olympiad
In the Appendix hereto, we shall
present the pedigrees of all the major families involved in the "dating" events chosen by Eratosthenes, together with estimated
birthdates derived from our analysis.
 See "Epoch-making Eratosthenes" by Astrid Moller in Greek, Roman and
Byzantine Studies, vol 45, pp 245/260. Also "Ancient Chronography: Eratosthenes Dating of the Fall of Troy" by
Nikos Kokkinos in Ancient West and East, vol 8, pp 37/56
 His History was written c. 340BC and while now lost, was cited by
several other ancient historians who mention his "two generation" interval
 His History was written c. 500BC and while now lost, was cited by
later historians as positing a 40 year generational gap for early Spartan kings
 The story of the Heraclidae is told by many early historians, including Didoros
Siculus and Apollodorus, and by Euripides in his play "Heracleidae"
 Most sources say the Athens king who received the fleeing Heraclidae
was Demophon, son of Theseus. See Appendix II for the timeline which suggests it was Theseus who was still king of Athens and
his son not yet born.
 Strabo's Geography book XIV lists the cities founded by each of
the men who led the settlement on the coast of Ionia
 Later historians give Lycurgus a different pedigree which dates him
two generations younger, but we have followed the earliest source: Herodotus i, 65
APPENDIX I - Family Pedigrees:
It should be understood that the estimated
birthdates in our charts is primarily relational and intended to show each of the families on a common timeline. One
could arbitrarily alter every listed date by the same number of years, either earlier or later, and not change the family relationships
with each other. It is only by establishing an independent connection to some person or event whose place in time is
undisputed that one can determine if our entire body of dates is either reasonable or far off the mark. We have selected
the date of the First Olympiad (776BC) and accepted the evidence of the "discus of Iphitus" that he and Lycurgus both were
alive on that date. But we readily acknowledge that if the extant pedigrees of the Spartan King List contain missing
generations, that would affect all earlier estimated dates. This risk is mitigated, however, by having to assume all
the related family pedigrees also have the same number of missing generations.
In our view, it is more reasonable
to assume Lycurgus was alive in 776BC than it is to assume there were some number of "uncounted" Olympiads before 776BC so
that one can posit a more ancient floruit for him.
CHART I - THE HERACLIDAE
Heracles(a) CHART II
845 Echestratus 840 Lycurgus(e)
Apollodorus tells of the time Heracles assisted Laomedon of Troy by rescuing his daughter, Hesione. Thus, the two men
were contemporary and should be dated 3 generations before the Fall of Troy
Euripides tells of Hyllus being forced from his lands and seeking refuge in Athens with Theseus or his son Demophon.
These men were contemporary and should be dated 2 generations before the Fall of Troy
Apollodorus names Aristodemus as one of 3 brothers who reclaimed their Pelopennesian lands by defeating Tisamenus, a grandson
of Agamemnon. Thus those men were contemporary and should be dated 1 generation after the Fall of Troy
(d) Twin sons of
Aristodemus who divided the relclaimed Heraclidae kingdom between them
says Lycurgus became regent for his young nephew, Labotas; we would date that regency as beginning about 810 BC, and make
Lycurgus a man in his 60's at the First Olympiad
(f) Historians later
than Herodotus, including Plutarch, make Lycurgus a brother of Polydectes and say he was regent for a young Charilaus. Our
charts reject that later view
CHART II - ARGOS KINGS
1180 Proetus 1180 Ascrisius==Eurdice
l CHART IV
1145 Megapenthes 1150
1085 Anaxagoras 1105 Electryon
l CHART III
1050 Alector 1075
Alcmene(c) 1060 Eurystheus(d)
(a) An unproven
claim suggests this young lady was seduced by her uncle, Proetus; that Perseus and Megapenthes were thus half-brothers
not charted for lack of space include (1) Mestor son of Perseus who married Lysidice, a sister of the Nicippe in our chart;
(2) Anexo, the spouse of Electryon son of Perseus, who was another sister of Lysidice and Nicippe; (3) Alcaeus son of Perseus
who married Astydameia, a 3rd sister of Nicippe; and (4) Gorgophone daughter of Perseus who married Oebalus son of Cynortes
(c) She married
her first-cousin, Amphitryon son of Alcaeus. Alcaeus was a brother of her father whose marriage was recited in note
(d) The king who
seized the kingdom following the death of Heracles and drove that cousin line out of Peloponnesia. He then made war on Athens
for sheltering Hyllus son of Heracles, turning the care of his kingdom over to his first-cousins, Atreus and Thyestes, sons
of his mother's brother Pelops of Lydia
(e) His one-third
of Argos was seized by Orestes son of Agamemnon c. 925, about 1 generation after the Fall of Troy
CHART III - LYDIA
l l l l
1085 Nicippe 1086 Anexo 1075 Pelops
1084 Lysidice Astydameia
CHART II CHART
II l CHART
II CHART II
CHART IV l l CHART
980 Orestes(d)=========================Hermoine 975
(a) The four ladies in our chart who
married four sons of Perseus of Argos are all called daughters of Pelops in the ancient literature. Not only is that
inconsistent with the relative timeline, but the son of Nicippe (Eurystheus) is called a first-cousin of Atreus and not a
(b) The king who assembled the
armies which attacked and finally sacked Troy
(c) The husband of Helen who, when abducted
by Paris of Troy, was the ostensible reason why Agememnon assembled an army which waged a 10 year war to avenge his brother's
dishonor. We suspect the war had other objectives; many doubt it was even historical
(d) It was Orestes who seized the part of Argos
held by Cylarabes, so those two men were contemporary. His marriage to a 1st-cousin consolidated his rule over most
(e) Tisamenus was ruling in Pelopennesia when
the Heraclidae finally ousted his line to reclaim the lands from which they had been expelled 3 generations earlier.
That war was led by Aristodemus 2 generations after the Fall of Troy, so those two men were contemporary
CHART IV - SPARTA
1185 Sparta(a)===Lacedaemon(b) 1200
1180 Acrisius 1140
1110 Oebalus===Gorgophone 1100
l CHART II
CHART III CHART
of Sparta, principal city in the territory of Laconia in Pelopennesia
(b) Of unknown ancestry, his
name later became synonymous with Sparta and its people
(c) All sources make him a younger
brother of Hippocoon and son of Oebalus and Gorgophone. But the timeline of her family and that of Tyndareus are separated
by two generations, so we suggest he was her grandson
(d) Later called Helen
of Troy, she had first been abducted by Theseus of Athens when she was perhaps 10 years old and Theseus was in his 50's.
She was later freed and married Menelaus, but abducted by Paris of Troy
(e) Leader of the armies
which attacked Troy, he was the brother of Menelaus and his wife was a sister of Helen.
(f) The cuckolded husband
of Helen for whose honor, it is claimed, the Trojan War was fought
CHART V - ATHENS
1170 Pandion I
1105 Pandion II
Demophon(b) 1005 Acamas(c)
915 Daughter====Melanthus(e) 925
(a) Abducted Helen of
Sparta c. 985 when in his 50's and when she was about 10 years old. She was later freed.
(b) Said to have been
the king when the Heraclidae were forced from their lands after the death of Heracles, but we suggest his father was still
king at that time. He is mentioned in the Iliad as fighting at Troy
(c) Homer mentions him
in the Iliad as a warrior at Troy
(d) He was king of Athens
who took in refugees that fled from Peloponnese when the Heraclidae retook their lands
(e) He fled from Messinia when
the Hereclidae retook Pelopennese and later became king of Athens. We posit that became possible by his marriage to
the king's daughter, but no such lady or marriage are mentioned by historians
(f) Younger sons of Cordus who
led the resettlement of Ionia
CHART VI - TROY
1105 Ilus 1100
995 Creusa(d)==============Aeneas(e) 1005
l FALL OF TROY, 968BC
945 Silvius Julus(g)
(a) Contemporary with Heracles
who assisted him when his children were teens, thus c. 1030/1025BC
(b) He was king of Troy during
the Trojan War. His eldest son, Hector, had a son by that date so Priam was elderly
(c) Yet living at the fall of
Troy, but elderly and had to be carried to safety
(d) A younger daughter of Priam
and sister of Hector and of Paris, the man who had abducted Helen of Sparta
(e) The hero of Virgil's Aenead
who escaped Troy as it fell, carrying his aged father and leading his young son.
(f) Probably under 10 years
old at the fall of Troy, he later succeeded his father as king of Alba Longa in Italy
(g) Denied succession to the
kingship of Alba Longa, the younger half-brother of Ascanius was chosen...a man also called Silvius. Supposedly called
Julus, the later family of Julius Caesar claimed descent from him
(h) The Nennius pedigree calls her
"Rhea Silva, daughter of Numa Pompilius", but both of those persons lived much later and weren't even related. The
pedigree is correct in that she was the grandaughter of Ascanius, but likely the daughter of Silvius
(i) This man is called the founder
of Britain, the ancient ancestor of Beli Mawr
CHART VII - AENEAS' SECOND FAMILY
955 Silvius Postumus(b)
925 Aeneas Silvius
892 Capys(c) 890 Tiberinus(c)
786 Rhea Silva(h)
(a) After wandering several years
after fleeing Troy, Aeneas settled in Italy. His father was then dead and his son Ascanius was an adult. He married
the daughter of an Italian chieftan when he was in his 50's, succeeded his new father-in-law as king and died 3 years
later when that wife was pregnant. Fearing her grown stepson who became king, she hid in the woods with her new child.
Thus he was called "Silvius" and known as "Postumus" as his father died some months before his birth.
(b) As the son of Lavinia, he was
chosen as king of Alba Longa when his much older half-brother Ascanius died. The son of Ascanius was denied succession,
but he was probably too young to be king anyway.
(c) The early king lists name these
as men who became king of Alba Longa, and some add 4 more names before reaching Amulius and Aventinus. No one knows
how those men were related, but we suggest the early historians simply added enough names between Romulus and Aeneas to synchronize
the 771BC birth of Romulus with the 1184BC dating of the Fall of Troy claimed by Eratosthenes.
(d) Also called Romulus Silvius
by Livy and Alladius by Dionysius. Dio Cassius calls him Amulius.
(e) Those who mention a
relationship say Aventinus was a son of Amulius, a requirement to move the Fall of Troy back 15 generations earlier than Romulus
of 771BC. We think he was only 8 generations after Aeneas.
(f) None of the early historians cite
this marriage, but most sources agree that Procas was NOT himself descended from Aeneas.
(g) Eldest son of Procas, his brother Amulius
usurped the kingship and killed the sons of Numitor. His daughter was made a Vestal Virgin to prevent her from bearing
sons, but she came up pregnant anyway and claimed it was the god Mars who did it. She and her twin sons were hidden
from Amulius until grown, but not nursed by a she-wolf as the myth claims.
(h) The mother of Romulus and Remus whose
name incorrectly found its way into one Nennius pedigree of Brutus. It is not known who had sex with her to produce
her twin sons, but she was barely 15 when she gave birth.
(i) The legendary founder of Rome, becoming
its king at age 18. After his death, we was succeeded by a wholly unrelated man called Numa Pompilius...whose name also
found its way incorrectly into the pedigree of Nennius
APPENDIX II - The Ousting of the Heraclidae:
While not one of the events Eratosthenes
used to construct his chronology (it having occurred prior to his beginning with the Fall of Troy), the traditional accounts
found in ancient sources contain various dating problems with the likely floruit of the men involved.
First, we are told that Heracles and
Eurystheus were born within either hours or days of each other, the former being the maternal grandson of Electryon and the
latter a son of Sthenelus. Electryon and Sthenelus were sons of Perseus. This is possible if Sthenelus was a much
younger brother, but we are next told that Eurystheus made war on the sons of Heracles when that man died.
We are not told at what age Heracles
died, but if we assume he was about 50, then so was Eurystheus. Clearly the sons of Heracles were at least young men
able to flee to Athens. But if they were "old men" as some accounts claim, then (a) Eurystheus was a full generation
older and hardly able to attack Athens as a warrior, and (b) their flight did not occur until 25/30 years after Heracles died.
Should we agree that the Heraclidae
were driven from their lands almost immediately after the death of Heracles and that his sons were men 10/20 years old, our
suggested timeline for the event would be about 1010BC. Now if the king who sheltered them in Athens was Demophon, he
should be a man born c 1040BC but he later fought at the Fall of Troy, an event we place over 40 years later. For
this reason, we suggest it was the father of Demophon who was king of Athens when the sons of Heracles fled to him.
Ignoring our actual dating of events
and simply constructing a timeline where 0 is assigned to the birth of Perseus, we find:
0 Perseus 20 Tantalus
40 Sthenelus==Nicippe 55 60 Pelops
60 Alcmene l
75 Eurystheus 90 Theseus 95 Atreus
105 sons 120
125 death of Heracles ae 50 125
167 Fall of Troy
Euripides' account of the event
makes the sons of Heracles young children, while making their first-cousin Iolaus an old man. But Iolaus was the son
of Heracles' brother and near the same age as Hyllus and the other sons of Heracles. And the mother of Heracles was
still alive in the Euripides version of the story. Accordingly, we'd date the event to c. 1010 and identify the Athens
king as Theseus; if Demaphon was even born yet, he'd be an infant. We suggest he was born 3/5 years after the event
and was in his 40's at the Fall of Troy.