The opening essay takes a brief look at the notion of progress in historiography. "The Ancient Historian and His Sources" then attacks "the widespread sentiment that anything written in Greek or Latin is somehow privileged, exempt from the normal canons of evaluation"; archaeological evidence also needs to be placed within a conceptual framework. "Documents" considers the problems of generating statistics from classical sources: their small numbers and unrepresentative survival pose problems, even where their context is understood, and Finley urges a shift of attention from isolated documents to those that allow analysis as a group, approached "with significant questions in mind". And "How it Really Was" considers notions of historical objectivity, starting with the German historian Ranke's wie es eigentlich gewesen. Here Finley attacks crude antiquarianism, the collection of facts without hypotheses or models — with a particularly scathing dismissal of the modern trend towards narrowly specialised monographs on cities or regions.
Using Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War as a case study, Finley argues that historians writing on classical warfare have been biased by their own eras' ideas about war, and have placed too much reliance on literary sources; he argues that more attention should be paid to the profits of war and their distribution. And a final essay considers some of Max Weber's ideas about Greek history — the debate over phylai and a supposed shift from tribal to territorial organisation, the polis as a form of "charismatic domination", and the nature of Greek law — using these as a basis for broader reflections.
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