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Wounded Philopoemen by David d'Angers, 1837, Louvre

Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC, Greek Πολύβιος) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his book called The Histories covering in detail the period of 220–146 BC. He is also renowned for his ideas of political balance in government, which were later used in Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws and in the drafting of the United States Constitution.



Polybius was born around 203 BC in Megalopolis, Arcadia, which at that time was an active member of the Achaean League. His father Lycortas was a prominent landowning politician and member of the governing class. This gave Polybius firsthand opportunities to gain an insight into military and political affairs. Polybius developed an interest in horse riding and hunting, diversions which helped later to commend him to his Roman captors. In 182 BC Polybius was chosen to carry the funeral urn of Philopoemen which was quite an honor as Philopoemen was the most eminent Achaean politician of his generation. In 170 or 169 BC Polybius was elected hipparch or cavalry leader an office which usually presaged election to the annual strategia or post of general. His early political career was devoted largely towards maintaining the independence of the Achaean League.

Personal experiences

Polybius’ father Lycortas was a chief representative of the policy of neutrality during the war of the Romans against Perseus of Macedonia. He attracted the suspicion of the Romans, and as a result, Polybius was one of the 1000 noble Achaeans who in 168 BC were transported to Rome as hostages, and detained there for 17 years. In Rome, by virtue of his high culture, he was admitted to the most distinguished houses, in particular to that of Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror in the Third Macedonian War, who entrusted him with the education of his sons, Fabius and Scipio Aemilianus (who had been adopted by the eldest son of Scipio Africanus). As the former tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius remained on terms of the most cordial friendship and remained a counselor to the man who defeated the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War. The younger Scipio eventually captured and destroyed Carthage, in 146 BC. When the Achaean hostages were released in 150 BC, Polybius obtained leave to return home, but in the very next year he went with his friend to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage that he described. It is likely that following the destruction of Carthage, he journeyed down the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as Spain.

After the destruction of Corinth in the same year, he returned to Greece and made use of his Roman connections to lighten the conditions there; Polybius was entrusted with the difficult task of organizing the new form of government in the Greek cities, and in this office gained for himself the highest recognition.


The succeeding years he seems to have spent in Rome, engaged on the completion of his historical work, and occasionally undertaking long journeys through the Mediterranean countries in the interest of his history, more particularly with a view to obtaining firsthand knowledge of historical sites. It also appears that he sought out and interviewed war veterans in order to clarify details of the events he was writing about, and was given access to archival material for the same purpose. Little is known of Polybius' later life. He most likely journeyed with Scipio to Spain and acted as his military advisor during the Numantine War, a war he later wrote about in a lost monograph on the subject. It is also likely that Polybius returned to Greece later in life, since there are many existent inscriptions and statues of him in Greece. There is a report of his death in 118 BC after falling from a horse, although this is only recorded in one source and that source is known to be unreliable.

As historian

Polybius wrote several works, the majority of which are lost. His earliest book was a biography of the Greek statesman Philopoemen, which was used as a source by Plutarch. The Polybian text is lost. In addition, he wrote what appears to have been an extensive treatise entitled Tactics, which detailed Roman and Greek military tactics. Small parts of this work may survive in his major Histories, but the work itself is also lost. Another missing work was a historical monograph on the events of the Numantine War. The largest work was of course, his Histories, which we have only the first five books entirely intact, a large part of the sixth, and fragments of the rest.

Livy makes reference to and uses him as source material in his own narrative. Polybius is one of the first historians to attempt to present history as a sequence of causes and effects, based upon a careful examination of tradition and conducted with keen criticism. He narrated his History upon what he had himself seen and upon the communications of eye-witnesses and actors in the events. In a classic story of human behavior, Polybius captures it all: nationalism, xenophobia, duplicitous politics, horrible battles and brutality, loyalty, valour and bravery, intelligence, reason and resourcefulness. With his eye for detail and characteristic critically reasoned style, Polybius provided a unified view of history rather than a chronology.

A key theme is that the good statesmen is virtuous and controls his emotions. An archetype of his good statesman was Philip II. This leads him to reject historian Theopompus' description of Philip's wild and drunken private life. For Polybius it is inconcievable that such an able an effective statesman could have such an immoral and unrestrained private life.[1]

Polybius is considered by some to be the successor of Thucydides in terms of objectivity and critical reasoning, and the forefather of scholarly, painstaking historical research in the modern scientific sense. According to this view, his work sets forth the course of occurrences with clearness, penetration, sound judgment and, among the circumstances affecting the result, lays especial stress on the geographical conditions. It belongs, therefore, to the greatest productions of ancient historical writing. The writer of the Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (1937) praises him for his "earnest devotion to truth" and for his systematic seeking for the cause of events.

Recently, Polybius's writing has come under a more critical assessment. In Peter Green's view [2] he is often partisan and aims to justify his and his father's careers. He goes out of his way to portray the Achean politician Callicrates in a bad light; thus, leading the reader to suspect that this is because Callicrates was responsible for his being sent to Rome as a hostage. More fundamentally, he — as first a hostage in Rome, client to the Scipios and then finally as a collaborator with Roman rule after 146 BC — is not free to express his true opinions. Green suggests that we should always keep in mind that he was explaining Rome to a Greek audience to convince them of the necessity of accepting Roman rule – which he believed as inevitable. Nonetheless, for Green, Polybius's histories remain invaluable and the best source for the era he covers. Ron Mellor also sees Polybius as partisan who, out of loyalty to Scipio, vilified Scipio's opponents [3]. The British author Adrian Goldsworthy also constantly mentions Polybius connections with Scipio when using him as a source for the latter's time as a general.

Polybius has been noted to be hostile to some of his subject material; for example, his treatment of Crete has been noted to be biased in a negative sense.[4] On the other hand, Hansen notes that Polybius' coverage of Crete supplied an extremely detailed account of ancient Crete. In fact, observations made by Polybius (augmented by passages from Strabo and Scylax)[5] allowed deciphering of the location of the lost ancient city of Kydonia on Crete.[6]

Polybius introduced some theories in The Histories. In it, he also explained the theory of anacyclosis, or cycle of government, an idea that Plato had already explored.


Polybius was responsible for a useful tool in telegraphy which allowed letters to be easily signaled using a numerical system. This idea also lends itself to cryptographic manipulation and steganography.

  1 2 3 4 5
1 A B C D E
2 F G H I/J K
3 L M N O P
4 Q R S T U
5 V W X Y Z

This was known as the "Polybius square", where the letters of the alphabet were arranged left to right, top to bottom in a 5 x 5 square, (when used with the modern 26 letter alphabet, the letters "I" and "J" are combined). Five numbers were then aligned on the outside top of the square, and five numbers on the left side of the square vertically. Usually these numbers were arranged 1 through 5. By cross-referencing the two numbers along the grid of the square, a letter could be deduced.


Polybius was not especially admired by his contemporaries, to whom his lack of high Attic style was seen as a detriment. Later Roman authors writing on the same period, Livy and Diodorus especially, adapted much of his material for their own uses and followed his work extensively. As the Roman position was cemented in Europe, however, Polybius began to decline in popularity. Tacitus sneered at his description of the ideal mixed constitution, and later Imperial writers were generally ignorant of him. Polybius's work lived on in Constantinople, although in something of a mangled form, in excerpts on political theory and administration.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Nonetheless, it was not until the Renaissance that Polybius' works resurfaced in anything more than a fragmentary form. His works appeared first in Florence. Polybius gained something of a following in Italy, and although poor Latin translations hampered proper scholarship on his work, he contributed to historical and political discussion there. Niccolò Machiavelli appears to have been familiar with Polybius when he wrote his Discourses on Livy. Vernacular translations, in French, German, Italian and English, first appeared in the sixteenth century.[7] So, too, in the late sixteenth century, did Polybius find a greater reading audience among the learned public. Study of the correspondence of such men as Isaac Casaubon, Jacques Auguste de Thou, William Camden, and Paolo Sarpi reveals a growing interest in Polybius' works and thought during the period. Despite the existence of both printed editions in the vernacular and increased scholarly interest, however, Polybius remained an "historian's historian", not much read by the public at large.[8] Printings of his work in the vernacular remained few in number—7 in French, 5 in English, and 5 in Italian.[9]


Polybius' political beliefs have had a continuous appeal to republican thinkers, from Cicero, to Charles de Montesquieu, to the Founding Fathers of the United States [1]. Since the Enlightenment, Polybius has generally held most appeal to those interested in Hellenistic Greece and Early Republican Rome, and his political and military writings have lost influence in academia. More recently, thorough work on the Greek text of Polybius and his historical technique has increased academic understanding and appreciation of Polybius as a historian.

According to Edward Tufte, Polybius was also a major source for Charles Joseph Minard's figurative map of Hannibal's overland journey into Italy during the Second Punic War.[10]


  1. ^ Hannibal at New Carthage: Polybius 3. 15 and the Power of Irrationality Author: A. M. Eckstein, Classical Philology, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 3-4
  2. ^ Peter Green, Alexander to Actium
  3. ^ The Historians of Ancient Rome, Ron Mellor
  4. ^ Mogens Herman Hansen 1995, Sources for the Ancient Greek City-State: Symposium, August, 24-27 1994, Kgl. Danske, Videnskabernes Selskab, 376 pages ISBN 8773042676
  5. ^ Robert Pashley, Travels in Crete, 1837, J. Murray
  6. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Cydonia, Modern Antiquarian, January 23, 2008
  7. ^ Polybius; Frank W. Walbank, Ian Scott-Kilvert (1979). The Rise of the Roman Empire. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044362-2.  
  8. ^ Burke, Peter (1966). "A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450-1700". History and Theory 5 (2): 141. doi:10.2307/2504511.  
  9. ^ Burke, Peter (1966). "A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450-1700". History and Theory 5 (2): 139. doi:10.2307/2504511.  
  10. ^ Minard's figurative map of Hannibal's war

See also

References and external links


Editions & translations

  • GoogleBooks "The Histories"
  • Loeb Classical Library, Polybius, The Histories, six volumes: Greek text with English translation by W. R. Paton
    • I (L128) Books I-II (1922) ISBN 99142-7
    • II (L137) Books III-IV (1922) ISBN 99152-4
    • III (L138) Books V-VIII (1923) ISBN 99153-2
    • IV (L159) Books IX-XV (1925) ISBN 99175-3
    • V (L160) Books XVI-XXVII (1926) ISBN 99176-1
    • VI (L161) Books XXVIII-XXXIX (1927) ISBN 99178-8
    • At "LacusCurtius": Loeb edition translation by W. R. Paton

Other Ancient sources

  • Titus Livius of Patavium (Livy), libri XXI - XLV
  • Pseudo-Lucian Makrobioi
  • Paulus Orosius libri VII of Histories against Pagans

Modern works

  • Walbank, Frank W:

-- Philip V of Macedon, the Hare Prize Essay 1939 (Cambridge University Press, 1940)
-- A Historical Commentary on Polybius (Oxford University Press)
Vol.I (1957) Commentary on Books I-VI
Vol.II (1967) Commentary on Books VII-XVIII
Vol.III (1979) Commentary on Books XIX-XL
-- Polybius (University of California Press, 1972)
-- Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World: Essays and Reflections (Cambridge University Press, 2002) ISBN 0-521-81208-9

-- V (1974) "The Historian's Skin”, 77-88 (Momigliano Bibliography no.531)
(Review of F W Walbank, Polybius 1972; in The New York Review of Books, 21.12, 18 July 1974, 33-35)
-- VI (1973) “Polibio, Posidonio e l'imperialismo Romano”, 89 (Momigliano Bibliography no.525)
(original publication: Atti della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, 107, 1972-73, 693-707)

  • Moore, John M: The Manuscript Tradition of Polybius (Cambridge University Press, 1965)


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Polybius [Πολυβιος] (c. 203 BC - 120 BC) was a Greek historian


  • Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death.
    • As quoted in The Fine Art of Baloney Detection by Carl Sagan from The Demon-Haunted World.

The Histories

  • This is a sworn treaty made between us, Hannibal ... and Xenophanes the Athenian ... in the presence of all the gods who possess Macedonia and the rest of Greece.
    • Histories, VII, 9, 4 (Loeb, W.R. Paton)
  • How highly should we honor the Macedonians, who for the greater part of their lives never cease from fighting with the barbarians for the sake of the security of Greece? For who is not aware that Greece would have constantly stood in the greater danger, had we not been fenced by the Macedonians and the honorable ambition of their kings?
    • Histories, IX, 35, 2 (Loeb)
  • In the past you rivalled the Achaians and the Macedonians, peoples of your own race, and Philip, their commander, for the hegemony and glory, but now that the freedom of the Hellenes is at stake at a war against an alien people (Romans), ...And does it worth to ally with the barbarians, to take the field with them against the Epeirotans, the Achaians, the Akarnanians, the Boiotians, the Thessalians, in fact with almost all the Hellenes with the exception of the Aitolians who are a wicked nation... ...So Lakedaimonians it is good to remember your ancestors,... be afraid of the Romans... and do ally yourselves with the Achaians and Macedonians. But if some the most powerful citizens are opposed to this policy at least stay neutral and do not side with the unjust.
    • Histories, IX, 37.7-39.7 (Loeb)
  • Had previous chroniclers neglected to speak in praise of History in general, it might perhaps have been necessary for me to recommend everyone to choose for study and welcome such treatises as the present, since men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past. But all historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others. Evidently therefore no one, and least of all myself, would think it his duty at this day to repeat what has been so well and so often said. For the very element of unexpectedness in the events I have chosen as my theme will be sufficient to challenge and incite everyone, young and old alike, to peruse my systematic history. For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government — a thing unique in history? Or who again is there so passionately devoted to other spectacles or studies as to regard anything as of greater moment than the acquisition of this knowledge?
  • How striking and grand is the spectacle presented by the period with which I purpose to deal, will be most clearly apparent if we set beside and compare with the Roman dominion the most famous empires of the past, those which have formed the chief theme of historians. Those worthy of being thus set beside it and compared are these. The Persians for a certain period possessed a great rule and dominion, but so often as they ventured to overstep the boundaries of Asia they imperilled not only the security of this empire, but their own existence. The Lacedaemonians, after having for many years disputed the hegemony of Greece, at length attained it but to hold it uncontested for scarce twelve years. The Macedonian rule in Europe extended but from the Adriatic region to the Danube, which would appear a quite insignificant portion of the continent. Subsequently, by overthrowing the Persian empire they became supreme in Asia also. But though their empire was now regarded as the greatest geographically and politically that had ever existed, they left the larger part of the inhabited world as yet outside it. For they never even made a single attempt to dispute possession of Sicily, Sardinia, or Libya, and the most warlike nations of Western Europe were, to speak the simple truth, unknown to them. But the Romans have subjected to their rule not portions, but nearly the whole of the world and possess an empire which is not only immeasurably greater than any which preceded it, but need not fear rivalry in the future. In the course of this work it will become more clearly intelligible by what steps this power was acquired, and it will also be seen how many and how great advantages accrue to the student from the systematic treatment of history.
  • The date from which I propose to begin my history is the 140th Olympiad [220 - 216 B.C.], and the events are the following: (1) in Greece the so‑called Social War, the first waged against the Aetolians by the Achaeans in league with and under the leadership of Philip of Macedon, the son of Demetrius and father of Perseus, (2) in Asia the war for Coele-Syria between Antiochus and Ptolemy Philopator, (3) in Italy, Libya, and the adjacent regions, the war between Rome and Carthage, usually known as the Hannibalic War. These events immediately succeed those related at the end of the work of Aratus of Sicyon. Previously the doings of the world had been, so to say, dispersed, as they were held together by no unity of initiative, results, or locality; but ever since this date history has been an organic whole, and the affairs of Italy and Libya have been interlinked with those of Greece and Asia, all leading up to one end. And this is my reason for beginning their systematic history from that date.
  • For what gives my work its peculiar quality, and what is most remarkable in the present age, is this. Fortune has guided almost all the affairs of the world in one direction and has forced them to incline towards one and the same end; a historian should likewise bring before his readers under one synoptical view the operations by which she has accomplished her general purpose.
  • I observe that while several modern writers deal with particular wars and certain matters connected with them, no one, as far as I am aware, has even attempted to inquire critically when and whence the general and comprehensive scheme of events originated and how it led up to the end. I therefore thought it quite necessary not to leave unnoticed or allow to pass into oblivion this the finest and most beneficent of the performances of Fortune. For though she is ever producing something new and ever playing a part in the lives of men, she has not in a single instance ever accomplished such a work, ever achieved such a triumph, as in our own times. We can no more hope to perceive this from histories dealing with particular events than to get at once a notion of the form of the whole world, its disposition and order, by visiting, each in turn, the most famous cities, or indeed by looking at separate plans of each: a result by no means likely. He indeed who believes that by studying isolated histories he can acquire a fairly just view of history as a whole, is, as it seems to me, much in the case of one, who, after having looked at the dissevered limbs of an animal once alive and beautiful, fancies he has been as good as an eyewitness of the creature itself in all its action and grace.
  • We can get some idea of a whole from a part, but never knowledge or exact opinion. Special histories therefore contribute very little to the knowledge of the whole and conviction of its truth. It is only indeed by study of the interconnexion of all the particulars, their resemblances and differences, that we are enabled at least to make a general survey, and thus derive both benefit and pleasure from history.
  • All things are subject to decay and change...
    • The General History of Polybius as translated by James Hampton' (1762)Vol. II pp. 177-178
  • When a state after having passed with safety through many and great dangers arrives at the higher degree of power, and possesses an entire and undisputed sovereignty, it is manifest that the long continuance of prosperity must give birth to costly and luxurious manners, and that the minds of men will be heated with ambitious contests, and become too eager and aspiring in the pursuit of dignities. And as those evils are continually increased, the desire of power and rule, along with the imagined ignominy of remaining in a subject state, will first begin to work the ruin of the republic; arroagance and luxury will afterwards advance it; and in the end the change will be completed by the people; when the avarice of some is found to injure and oppress them, and the ambition of others swells their vanity, and poisons them with flattering hopes. For then, being inflamed with rage, and following only the dictates of their passions, they no longer will submit to any control, or be contented with an equal share of the administration, in conjunction with their rules; but will draw to themselves the entire sovereignty and supreme direction of all affairs. When this is done, the government will assume indeed the fairest of a ll names, that of a free and popular state; but will in truth be the greatest of all evils, the government of the multitude.
    • The General History of Polybius as translated by James Hampton' (1762)Vol. II pp. 177-178

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

POLYBIUS (c. 204-122 B.C.), Greek historian, was a native of Megalopolis in Arcadia, the youngest of Greek cities (Paus. viii. 9), which, however, played an honourable part in the last days of Greek freedom as a stanch member of the Achaean League. His father, Lycortas, was the intimate friend of Philopoemen, and on the death of the latter, in 182, succeeded him as leader of the league. The date of Polybius's birth is doubtful. He tells us himself that in 181 he had not yet reached the age (? thirty years, Polyb. xxix. 9) at which an Achaean was legally capable of holding office (xxiv. 6). We learn from Cicero (Ad Fam. v. [12) that he outlived the Numantine War, which ended [in 132, and from Lucian (Macrob. 22) that he died at the age of eighty-two. The majority of authorities therefore place his birth between 214 and 204 B.C. Little is known of his early life. As the son of Lycortas he was naturally brought into close contact with the leading men of the Achaean League. With Philopoemen he seems to have been on intimate terms. After Philopoemen's tragic death in Messenia (182) he was entrusted with the honourable duty of conveying home the urn in which his ashes had been deposited (Plut. Phil. 21). In 181, together with his father, Lycortas and the younger Aratus, he was appointed, in spite of his youth, a member of the embassy which was to visit Ptolemy Epiphanes, king of Egypt, a mission, however, which the sudden death of Ptolemy brought to a premature end (xxv. 7). The next twelve years of his life are a blank, but in 169 he reappears as a trusted adviser of the Achaeans at a difficult crisis in the history of the League. In 171 war had broken out between Rome and the Macedonian king Perseus, and the Achaean statesmen were divided as to the policy to be pursued; there were good reasons for fearing that the Roman senate would regard neutrality as indicating a secret leaning towards Macedon. Polybius therefore declared for an open alliance with Rome, and his views were adopted. It was decided to send an Achaean force to cooperate with the Roman general, and Polybius was selected to command the cavalry. The Roman consul declined the proffered assistance, but Polybius accompanied him throughout the campaign, and thus gained his first insight into the military system of Rome. In the next year (168) both Lycortas and Polybius were on the point of starting at the head of 1200 Achaeans to take service in Egypt against the Syrians, when an intimation from the Roman commander that armed interference was undesirable put a stop to the expedition (xxix. 23). The success of Rome in the war with Perseus was now assured. The final victory was rapidly followed by the arrival in Achaea of Roman commissioners charged with the duty of establishing Roman interests there. Polybius was arrested with 1000 of the principal Achaeans, but, while his companions were condemned to a tedious incarceration in the country towns of Italy, he obtained permission to reside in Rome. This privilege he owed to the influence of L. Aemilius Paullus and his two sons, Scipio and Fabius (xxxii. 9). Polybius was received into Aemilius's house, and became the instructor of his sons. Between Scipio (P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus the younger), the future conqueror of Carthage, and himself a friendship soon sprang up, which ripened into a lifelong intimacy, and was of inestimable service to him throughout his career. It protected him from interference, opened to him the highest circles of Roman society, and enabled him to acquire a personal influence with the leading men, which stood him in good stead when he afterwards came forward to mediate between his countrymen and Rome. It placed within his reach opportunities for a close study of Rome and the Romans such as had fallen to no historian before him, and secured him the requisite leisure for using them, while Scipio's liberality more than once supplied him with the means of conducting difficult and costly historical investigations (Pliny, v. 9). In 151 the few surviving exiles were allowed to return to Greece. But the stay of Polybius in Achaea was brief. The estimation in which he was held at Rome is clearly shown by the anxiety of the consul Marcus (or Manlius) Manilius (149) to take him as his adviser on his expedition against Carthage. Polybius started to join him, but broke off his journey at Corcyra on learning that the Carthaginians were inclined to yield (xxxvi. 3). But when, in 147, Scipio himself took the command in Africa, Polybius hastened to join him, and was an eye-witness of the siege and destruction of Carthage. During his absence in Africa the Achaeans had made a last desperate attempt to assert their independence of Rome. He returned in 146 to find Corinth in ruins, the fairest cities of Achaea at the mercy of the Roman soldiery, and the famous Achaean League shattered to pieces (see Achaean League). All the influence he possessed was freely spent in endeavouring to shield his countrymen from the worst consequences of their rashness. The excesses of the soldiery were checked, and at his special intercession the statues of Aratus and Philopoemen were preserved (xxxix. 14). An even more difficult task was that entrusted to him by the Roman authorities themselves, of persuading the Achaeans to acquiesce in the new regime imposed upon them by their conquerors, and of setting the new machinery in working order. With this work, which he accomplished so as to earn the heartfelt gratitude of his countrymen (xxxix. 16), his public career seems to have closed. The rest of his life was, so far as we know, devoted to the great history which is the lasting monument of his fame. He died, at the age of eighty-two, of a fall from his horse (Lucian, Macrob. 22). The base of a statue erected to him by Elis was found at Olym p ia in 1877. It bears the inscription 17 ir6Xcs 'IIXe wv IIoX63tov AUKOpra ME'yaXoiroXtrriv.

Of the forty books which made up the history of Polybius, the first five alone have come down to us in a complete form; of the rest we have only more or less copious fragments. But the general plan and scope of the work are explained by Polybius himself. His intention was to make plain how and why it was that "all the known regions of the civilized world had fallen under the sway of Rome" (iii. 1). This empire of Rome. unprecedented in its extent and still more so in the rapidity with which it had been acquired, was the standing wonder of the age, and "who," he exclaims (i. I), "is so poor-spirited or indolent as not to wish to know by what means, and thanks to what sort of constitution, the Romans subdued the world in something less than fifty-three years?" These fifty-three years are those between 220 (the point at which the work of Aratus ended) and 168 B.C., and extend therefore f om the outbreak of the Hannibalic War to the defeat of Perseus at Pydna. To this period then the main portion of his history is devoted from the third to the thirtieth book inclusive. But for clearness' sake he prefixes in bks. i. and ii. such a preliminary sketch of the earlier history of Rome, of the First Punic War, and of the contemporary events in Greece and Asia, as will enable his readers more full y to understand what follows. This seems to have been his original plan, but at the opening of bk. iii., written apparently after 146, he explains that he thought it desirable to add some account of the manner in which the Romans exercised the power they had won, of their temperament and policy and of the final catastrophe which destroyed Carthage and for ever broke np the Achaean League (iii. 4, 5). To this appendix, giving the history from 168-146, the last ten books are devoted.

Whatever fault may be found with Polybius, there can be no question that he had formed a high conception of the task before him. He lays repeated stress on two qualities as distinguishing his history from the ordinary run of historical compositions. The first of these, its synoptic character, was partly necessitated by the nature of the period. The various states fringing the basin of the Mediterranean had become so inextricably interwoven that it was no longer possible to deal with them in isolation. Polybius therefore claims for his history that it will take a comprehensive view of the whole course of events in the civilized world, within the limits of the period (i. 4). He thus aims at placing before his readers at each stage a complete survey of the field of action from Spain to Syria and Egypt. This synoptic method proceeds from a true appreciation of what is now called the unity of history, and to Polybius must be given the credit of having first firmly grasped and clearly enforced a lesson which the events of his own time were especially well calculated to teach. It is the great merit of his work that it gives such a picture of the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. as no series of special narratives could have supplied.

The second quality upon which Polybius insists as distinguishing his history from all others is its "pragmatic" character. It deals, that is, with events and with their causes, and aims at an accurate record and explanation of ascertained facts. This "pragmatic method" (ix. 2) makes history intelligible by explaining the how and the why; and, secondly, it is only when so written that history can perform its true function of instructing and guiding those who study it. For the great use of history, according to Polybius, is to contribute to the right conduct of human life (i. 35). But this it can do only if the historian bears in mind the true nature of his task. He must remember that the historian should not write as the dramatist does to charm or excite his audience for the moment (ii. 56). He will aim simply at exhibiting events in their true light, setting forth "the why and the how" in each case, not confusing causes and occasions, or dragging in old wives' fables, prodigies and marvels (ii. 16, iii. 48). He will omit nothing which can help to explain the events he is dealing with: the genius and temperament of particular peoples, their political and military systems, the characters of the leading men, the geographical features of the country, must all be taken into account. To this conception of history Polybius is on the whole consistently faithful. It is true that his anxiety to instruct leads often to a rather wearisome iteration of his favourite maxims, and that his digressions, such as that on the military art, are occasionally provokingly long and didactic. But his comments and reflections are for the most part sound and instructive (e.g. those on the lessons to be learnt from the revolt of the mercenaries in Africa, i. 65; from the Celtic raids in Italy, ii. 35; and on the Roman character), while among his digressions are included such invaluable chapters as those on the Roman constitution (bk. vi), the graphic description of Cisalpine Gaul (bk. ii.) and the account of the rise and constitution of the Achaean League (ii. 38 seq.). To his anxiety again to trace back events to their first causes we owe, not only the careful inquiry (bk. iii.) into the origin of the Second Punic War, but the sketch of early Roman history in bk. i., and of the early treaties between Rome and Carthage in iii. 22 seq. Among the many defects which he censures in previous historians, not the least serious in his eyes are their inattention to the political and geographical surroundings of the history (ii. 16, iii. 36), and their neglect duly to set forth the causes of events (iii. 6).

Polybius is equally explicit as regards the personal qualifications necessary for a good historian, and in this respect too his practice is in close agreement with his theory. Without a personal knowledge of affairs a writer will inevitably distort the true relations and importance of events (xii. 28). Such experience would have saved accomplished and fluent Greek writers like Timaeus from many of their blunders (xii. 25a), but the shortcomings of Roman soldiers and senators like Q. Fabius Pictor show that it is not enough by itself. Equally indispensable is careful painstaking research. All available evidence must be collected, thoroughly sifted, soberly weighed, and, lastly, the historian must be animated by a sincere love of truth and a calm impartiality.

It is important to consider how far Polybius himself comes up to his standard. In his personal acquaintance with affairs, in the variety of his experience, and in his opportunities for forming a correct judgment on events he is without a rival among ancient historians. A great part of the period of which he treats fell within his own lifetime (iv. 2). He may just have remembered the battle of Cynoscephalae (197), and, as we have seen, he was actively engaged in the military and political affairs of the Achaean League. During his exile in Rome he was able to study the Roman constitution, and the peculiarities of the Roman temperament; he made the acquaintance of Roman senators, and became the intimate friend of the greatest Roman of the day. Lastly, he was able to survey with his own eyes the field on which the great struggle between Rome and Hannibal was fought out. He left Rome only to witness the crowning triumph of Roman arms in Africa, and to gain a practical acquaintance with Roman methods of government by assisting in the settlement of Achaea. When, in 146, his public life closed, he completed his preparation of himself for his great work by laborious investigations of archives and monuments, and by a careful personal examination of historical sites and scenes. To all this we must add that he was deeply read in the learning of his day, above all in the writings of earlier historians.

Of Polybius's anxiety to get at the truth no better proof can be given than his conscientious investigation of original documents and monuments, and his careful study of geography and topography - both of them points in which his predecessors, as well as his successor Livy, conspicuously failed. Polybius is careful constantly to remind us that he writes for those who are CALXoµaO€is lovers of knowledge, with whom truth is the first consideration. He closely studied the bronze tablets in Rome on which were inscribed the early treaties concluded between Romans and Carthaginians. He quotes the actual language of the treaty which ended the First Punic War (i. 62), and of that between Hannibal and Philip of Macedon (vii. 9). In xvi. 15 he refers to a document which he had personally inspected in the archives at Rhodes, and in iii. 33 to the monument on the Lacinian promontory, recording the number of Hannibal's forces. According to Dionysius, i. 17, he got his date for the foundation of Rome from a tablet in the pontifical archives. As instances of his careful attention to geography and topography we have not only the fact of his widely extended travels, from the African coast and the Pillars of Hercules in the west, to the Euxine and the coasts of Asia Minor in the east, but also the geographical and topographical studies scattered throughout his history.

Next to the duty of original research, Polybius ranks that of impartiality. Some amount of bias in favour of one's own country may, he thinks, be pardoned as natural (xvi. 14); but it is unpardonable, he says, for the historian to set anything whatever above the truth. And on the whole, Polybius must be allowed here again to have practised what he preached. It is true that his affection for and pride in Arcadia appear in more than one passage (iv. 20, 21). as also does his dislike of the Aetolians (ii. 45, iv. 3, 16). His treatment of Aratus and Philopoemen, the heroes of the Achaean League, and of Cleomenes of Sparta, its most constant enemy, is perhaps open to severer criticism. Certainly Cleomenes does not receive full justice at his hands. Similarly his views of Rome and the Romans may have been influenced by his firm belief in the necessity of accepting the Roman supremacy as inevitable, and by his intimacy with Scipio. He had a deep admiration for the great republic, for her well-balanced constitution, for her military system, and for the character of her citizens. But just as his patriotism does not blind him to the faults and follies of his countrymen (xxxviii. 4, 5, 6), so he does not scruple to criticize Rome. He notices the incipient degeneracy of Rome after 146 (xviii. 35). He endeavours to hold the balance evenly between Rome and Carthage; he strongly condemns the Roman occupation of Sardinia as a breach of faith (iii. 28, 31); and he does full justice to Hannibal. Moreover, there can be no doubt that he sketched the Roman character in a masterly fashion.

His interest in the study of character and his skill in its delineation are everywhere noticeable. He believes, indeed, in an overruling fortune, which guides the course of events. It is fortune which has fashioned anew the face of the world in his own time (iv. 2), which has brought the whole civilized world into subjection to Rome (i. 4); and the Roman Empire itself is the most marvellous of her works (viii. 4). But under fortune not only political and geographical conditions but the characters and temperaments of nations and individuals play their part. The Romans had been fitted by their previous struggles for the conquest of the world (i. 63); they were chosen to punish the treachery of Philip of Macedon (xv. 4); and the greatest of them, Scipio himself, Polybius regards as the especial favourite of fortune (xxxii. 15; x. 5).

In respect of form, Polybius is far the inferior of Livy, partly, owing to his very virtues. His laudable desire to present a picture of the whole political situation at each important moment is fatal to the continuity of his narrative. Thus the thrilling story of the Second Punic War is broken in upon by digressions on the contemporary affairs in Greece and Asia. More serious, however, than this excessive love of synchronism is his almost pedantic anxiety to edify. For grace and elegance of composition, and for the artistic presentation of events, he has a hardly concealed contempt. Hence a general and almost studied carelessness of effect, which mars his whole work. On the other hand he is never weary of preaching. His favourite theories of the nature and aims of history, of the distinction between the universal and special histories, of the duties of an historian, sound as most of them are in themselves, are enforced with wearisome iteration; more than once the effect of a graphic picture is spoilt by obtrusive moralizing. Nor, lastly, is Polybius's style itself such as to compensate for these defects. It is, indeed, often impressive from the evident earnestness of the writer, and from his sense of the gravity of his subject, and is unspoilt by rhetoric or conceit. It has about it the ring of reality; the language is sometimes pithy and vigorous; and now and then we meet with apt metaphors, such as those borrowed from boxing (i. 57), from cock-fighting (i. 58), from draughts (i. 84). But, in spite of these redeeming features, the prevailing baldness of Polybius's style excludes him from the first rank among classical writers; and it is impossible to quarrel with the verdict pronounced by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who places him among those authors of later times who neglected the graces of style, and who paid for their neglect by leaving behind them works "which no one was patient enough to read through to the end." It is to the value and variety of his matter, to his critical insight, breadth of view and wide research, and not least to the surpassing importance and interest of the period with which he deals, that Polybius owes his place among the writers of history. What is known as to the fortunes of his histories, and the reputation they enjoyed, fully bears out this conclusion. The silence respecting him maintained by Quintilian and by Lucian may reasonably be taken to imply their agreement with Dionysius as to his merits as a master of style. On the other hand, Cicero (De off. iii. 32) describes him as "bonus auctor in primis"; in the De republics (ii. 14) he praises highly his accuracy in matters of chronology; and Cicero's younger contemporary, Marcus Brutus, was a devoted student of Polybius, and was engaged on the eve of the battle of Pharsalia in compiling an epitome of his histories (Suidas, s.v.; Plutarch, Brut. 4). Livy, however, notwithstanding the extent to which he used his writings (see LivY), speaks of him in such qualified terms as to suggest the idea that his strong artistic sensibilities had been wounded by Polybius's literary defects. He has nothing better to say of him than that he is "by no means contemptible" (xxx. 45), and "not an untrustworthy author" (xxxiii. io). Posidonius and Strabo, both of them Stoics like Polybius himself, are said to have written continuations of his history (Suidas, s.v.; Strabo p. 515). Arrian in the early part of the 2nd and Aelian in the 3rd century both speak of him with respect, though with reference mainly to his excellence as an authority on the art of war. In addition to his Histories Polybius was the author of the following smaller works: a life of Philopoemen (Polyb. x. 24), a history of the Numantine War (Cic. Ad Fam. v. 12), a treatise on tactics (Polyb. ix. 20; Arrian, Tactica; Aelian, Tact. i.). The geographical treatise, referred to by Geminus, is possibly identical with the thirty-fourth book of the Histories (Schweighauser, Praef. p. 184.


- The complete books (i. - v.) of the Histories were first printed in a Latin translation by Nicholas Perotti in 1 473. The date of the first Greek edition, that by Obsopaeus, is 1530. For a full account of these and of later editions, as well as of the extant MSS., see Schweighauser's Preface to his edition of Polybius. Our knowledge of the contents of the fragmentary books is derived partly from quotations in ancient writers, but mainly from two collections of excerpts; one, probably the work of a late Byzantine compiler, was first printed at Basel in 1549 and contains extracts from books vi. - xviii. (7rep1. 7rpev 1 3eiwv, 7repi aperi j s Kai KaKias); the other consists of two fragments from the "select passages" from Greek historians compiled by the directions of Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the 10th century. To these must be added the Vatican excerpts edited by Angelo Mai in the present century.

The following are the more important modern editions of Polybius Ernesti (3 vols., 1763-1764); Schweighauser (8 vols., 1793, and Oxford, 1823); Bekker (2 vols., 1844); L. Dindorf (4 vols., 1866-1868, 2nd ed., T. Buttner-Wobst, 5 vols., Leipzig, 1882-1904); Hultsch (4 vols., 1867-1871); J. L. Strachan-Davidson, Selections from Polybius (Oxford, 1888). For the literature of the subject, see Engelmann, Biblioth. script. class.: Script. graeci, pp. 646650 (8th ed. Leipzig, 1880). See also W. W. Capes, The History of the Achaean League (London, 1888); F. Susemihl, Gesch. d. griech. Litteratur in d. Alexandrinerzeit, ii. 80-128 (Leipzig, 1891-1892); O. Cuntz, Polybios and sein Werk (Leipzig, 1902); R. v. Scala, Die Studien des Polybios (Stuttgart, 1890); J. B. Bury, Ancient Greek Historians (1909), "a whole-hearted appreciation of Polybius"; J. L. Strachan-Davidson, in Hellenica, pp. 353 - '387 (London, 1898), and in Appendix II. to Selections from Polybius pp. 642-668 (Oxford, 1888). (H. F. P.; X.)

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