A fundamental difficulty of studying ancient history is that recorded histories cannot document the entirety of human events, and only a fraction of those documents have survived into the present day. Furthermore, the reliability of the information obtained from these surviving records must be considered. Few people were capable of writing histories, as literacy was not widespread in almost any culture until long after the end of ancient history.
The Roman Empire was one of the ancient world's most literate cultures, but many works by its most widely read historians are lost. For example, Livy, a Roman historian who lived in the 1st century BC, wrote a history of Rome called Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) in 144 volumes; only 35 volumes still exist, although short summaries of most of the rest do exist. Indeed, only a minority of the work of any major Roman historian has survived.
Historians have two major avenues which they take to better understand the ancient world: archaeology and the study of source texts. Primary sources are those sources closest to the origin of the information or idea under study. Primary sources have been distinguished from secondary sources, which often cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources.
Reasons that an area undergoes an archaeological field survey.
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“All good biography, as all good fiction, comes down to the study of original sin, of our inherent disposition to choose death when we ought to choose life.”
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—Belva Lockwood (18301917)