Greek Sources on the Succession of Ages/Kingdoms

Bonus Material for Daniel Lesson 2, “The Coming Kingdom


Hesiod, Works and Days, on the succession of ages (summary): The Olympian gods first made a golden race (lines 109–26); then a silver one (127–42); then a third race, of bronze (143–55)—“terrible and strong they were, and they cared only for the painful works of Ares and for acts of violence” (lines 145–55)—followed by a fourth race, more just and superior (156–73), the generation of the Trojan War; and now a fifth race, in the time of Hesiod himself, a race of iron (174–201). 


Herodotus (fifth century BC) talks about Media revolting from Assyria (1.95), and Persia defeating Media (1.130). He does also mention Babylon (1.184).


Polybius, an eyewitness, describes the scene when the Roman general Scipio Africanus the Younger destroyed the North African city of Carthage in 146 BC. 

Scipio, when he looked upon the city as it was utterly perishing and in the last throes of its complete destruction, is said to have shed tears and wept openly for his enemies. After being wrapped in thought for long, and realizing that all cities, nations, and authorities must, like men, meet their doom; that this happened to Ilium, once a prosperous city, to the empires of Assyria, Media, and Persia, the greatest of their time, and to Macedonia itself, the brilliance of which was so recent, either deliberately or the verses escaping him, he said: 

A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish, 

And Priam and his people shall be slain. 

[Iliad 6.448–49]

And when Polybius speaking with freedom to him, for he was his teacher, asked him what he meant by the words, they say that without any attempt at concealment he named his own country, for which he feared when he reflected on the fate of all things human. Polybius actually heard him and recalls it in his history. 

Polybius, Histories 38.22; quoted from Polybius, The Histories, trans. W. R. Paton, vol. 6, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927), 439.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a first-century BC historian, writing in praise of Rome: 

For if anyone turns his attention to the successive supremacies both of cities and of nations, as accounts of them have been handed down from times past, and then, surveying them severally and comparing them together, wishes to determine which of them obtained the widest dominion and both in peace and war performed the most brilliant achievements, he will find that the supremacy of the Romans has far surpassed all those that are recorded from earlier times, not only in the extent of it dominion and in the splendour of its achievements—which no account has as yet worthily celebrated—but also in the length of time during which  it has endured down to our day. (2) For the empire of the Assyrians, ancient as it was and running back to legendary times, held sway over only a small part of Asia. That of the Medes, after overthrowing the Assyrian empire and obtaining a still wider dominion, did not hold it long, but was overthrown in the fourth generation. The Persians, who conquered the Medes, did, indeed, finally become masters of almost all Asia; but when they attacked the nations of Europe also, they did not reduce many of them to submission, and they continued in power not much above two hundred years. (3) The Macedonian dominion, which overthrew the might of the Persians, did, in the extent of its sway, exceed all its predecessors, yet even it did not flourish long, but after Alexander’s death began to decline; for it was immediately partitioned among many commanders from the time of the Diadochi, and although after their time it was able to go on to the second or third generation, yet it was weakened by its own dissensions and at the last destroyed by the Romans. (4) But even the Macedonian power did not subjugate every country and every sea; for it neither conquered Libya, with the exception of the small portion bordering on Egypt, nor subdued all Europe, but in the North advanced only as far as Thrace and in the West down to the Adriatic Sea. 

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 1.2.2–4; quoted from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book I–II, trans. Earnest Cary, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1937), 7–9.


In a similar passage, the second-century AD Greek historian Appian compares Rome to its imperial predecessors. 

Again, the duration of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians taken together (the three greatest empires before Alexander), does not amount to nine hundred years, a period which that of Rome has already reached, and the size of their empire, I think, was not half that of the Romans, whose boundaries extend from the setting of the sun and the Western ocean to Mount Caucasus and the river Euphrates, and through Egypt up country to Ethiopia and through Arabia as far as the Eastern ocean, so that their boundary is the ocean both where the sun-god rises and where he sinks, while they control the entire Mediterranean, and all its islands as well as Britain in the ocean. But the greatest sea-power of the Medes and Persians included only the gulf of Pamphylia and the single island of Cyprus or perhaps some other small islets belonging to Ionia in the Mediterranean. 

Appian, Roman History, preface §9; quoted from Appian, Roman History, vol. 1, trans. Horace White, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1912), 15.

In the next paragraph, Appian praises Alexander’s achievements but notes that they were short-lived. 


Tacitus, Histories 5.8–9, knows the succession of empires as Assyria, Media, Persia, Macedonia, Rome.

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