Question 1: The death of Socrates is usually said to have happened in 399 BC, but I've sometimes seen a question mark after the date. Is there actually a possible uncertainty about the exact year? What sources is the date based on? Xenophon? Plato? What is the chain that connects this to the modern calendar?

Question 2: It sounds like his death happened early in the month of Skirophorion, so maybe June or July. Is this about as accurate as we can be, June/July? As far as I can tell, the Attic calendar had vaguely defined months, and there may be no way of matching a particular month in a particular year to the Gregorian calendar.

The clearest discussion I've found is in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

In the month of Thargelion [May-June 399 Apology] a month or two after Meletus's initial summons, Socrates's trial occurred. On the day before, the Athenians had launched a ship to Delos, dedicated to Apollo and commemorating Theseus's legendary victory over the Minotaur (Phaedo 58a-b). [...] Although the duration of the annual voyage varied with conditions, Xenophon says it took thirty-one days in 399 (Memorabilia 4.8.2); if so, Socrates lived thirty days beyond his trial, into the month of Skirophorion.

Would the ship have been launched on the 6th or 7th of Thargelion, which were the days of the Thargelia purification ritual?


According to this page, it was Friday, February 15 399BC.

You are right. If we want to know the exact date of some event we can use astronomical events for sure. They probably know that Socrates died X days before the Vernal Equinox, for example.

This is when Wolfram Alpha can help us.

First, I want to know how many days we have until the Vernal Equinox in Greece:


Right: 34 days (and few minutes)

Now I want to know when the same day was in 399BC


Perfect: it was Friday, February* 15, 399 BC (extrapolated Gregorian calendar)

  • If you see August, it's because you are in the South Hemisphere. I don't know why WA is using your location instead of Greece.

It even give us the exact time difference from now: 2414 years*****


*EDIT: just in case, the above was from 1 year ago, the time difference would be 2415 years 9 months 27.58 days at the time of writing this answer


All the sources I have found have said 399 BC, when he was killed by a hemlock drink, which he preferred for his death after he was trialed for what he was teaching.

  • 10
    It would be beneficial to the answer if you included some of the sources you've found.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 12 '17 at 11:07

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