Historians from Thucydides to Lucian loudly insisted that historians were to only share and relay information which was vetted by witnesses or those close enough..
This is relevant because these are the historians we are concerned about. And moreover, earlier historians saying this (especially Thucydides) set the standard for what the later historians largely felt obligated to mirror.
Various historians noted that using 2nd-3rd hand reports (and beyond) were only acceptable if witnesses closer to the event were not available. (And in these circumstances, historians generally preferred not to write on the topic at all.)
Consider two examples:
The idea of laboring to obtain 1st hand testimony as far as possible is wrapped up in the very definition of “historia” (ἱστορία), which is the word applied to the subject and profession of Polybius, Plutarch etc.1 This is relevant because, to the degree that one is not laboring to witness things first hand nor critically interrogate witnesses and sources close to them, one is ostensibly just not doing history as they contemporaries defined it.
In surveying what historical events Greco-Roman historians wrote on, one is immediately struck with the overwhelming tendency to only write on issues in the recent past, particularly while witnesses were still alive or those who would have heard their accounts. Reports about the distant past are quite rare.
Consider 4 arguments:
This is relevant because it fits very well under the hypothesis that historians generally felt that testimony rapidly lost value after it exceeded 1st and 2nd hand, so much so that it was considered unacceptable for the historian qua historian to depend on it.
Ideal Greco-Roman historiographers worked hard to relay honest witness testimony, and in their eyes: the more direct/1st hand the testimony was, the better it was.
This page analyzes examples and 5 arguments…
This is relevant because it fits perfectly on the hypothesis that historians felt works must be as 1st hand as possible. It is more surprising on competing hypotheses that it was permissible to depend wholly on 2nd or 3rd hand sources.
But so what? Plausibly…