Polybius
Overview
 
Polybius Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 noted for his work, The Histories
The Histories (Polybius)
Polybius’ Histories were originally written in 40 volumes, only the first five of which are existent in their entirety. The bulk of the work is passed down to us through collections of excerpts kept in libraries in Byzantium, for the most part....

, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and its gradual domination over Greece
Roman Greece
Roman Greece is the period of Greek history following the Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC until the reestablishment of the city of Byzantium and the naming of the city by the Emperor Constantine as the capital of the Roman Empire...

. Polybius is also renowned for his ideas concerning the separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

 in government, later used in Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws is a treatise on political theory first published anonymously by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu in 1748 with the help of Claudine Guérin de Tencin...

and in the drafting of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

.

Polybius was born in Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

 around 200 BC.
Quotations

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.

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)

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.

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.

Encyclopedia
Polybius Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 noted for his work, The Histories
The Histories (Polybius)
Polybius’ Histories were originally written in 40 volumes, only the first five of which are existent in their entirety. The bulk of the work is passed down to us through collections of excerpts kept in libraries in Byzantium, for the most part....

, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and its gradual domination over Greece
Roman Greece
Roman Greece is the period of Greek history following the Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC until the reestablishment of the city of Byzantium and the naming of the city by the Emperor Constantine as the capital of the Roman Empire...

. Polybius is also renowned for his ideas concerning the separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

 in government, later used in Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws is a treatise on political theory first published anonymously by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu in 1748 with the help of Claudine Guérin de Tencin...

and in the drafting of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

.

Polybius was born in Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

 around 200 BC. He was the son of Lycortas
Lycortas
Lycortas of Megalopolis was a politician of the Achaean League active in the first half of the 2nd century BC. He is now primarily known as the father of the historian Polybius...

, a Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 politician who became Cavalry Commander of the Achaean League
Achaean League
The Achaean League was a Hellenistic era confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese, which existed between 280 BC and 146 BC...

. His father's opposition to Roman control of Macedonia
Macedonia (Roman province)
The Roman province of Macedonia was officially established in 146 BC, after the Roman general Quintus Caecilius Metellus defeated Andriscus of Macedon, the last Ancient King of Macedon in 148 BC, and after the four client republics established by Rome in the region were dissolved...

 resulted in his imprisonment. Polybius was then deported to Rome where Lucius Aemilius Paulus employed him to as tutor to his two sons.

Polybius had the opportunity to return to Macedonia in 152 BC; he elected to stay, however, in Rome, as by that time he had placed his allegiance in the Roman Republic. He became a close friend of the Roman military commander Scipio Aemilianus, accompanying the general to Hispania
Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. Polybius's The Histories provides a detailed account of Rome's ascent to empire and included his eyewitness accounts of the Roman victory over Hannibal and the Sack of Carthage in 146 BC. Polybius held that historians should only chronicle events whose participants the historian was able to interview, and was among the first to champion the notion of having factual integrity
Journalism ethics and standards
Journalism ethics and standards comprise principles of ethics and of good practice as applicable to the specific challenges faced by journalists. Historically and currently, this subset of media ethics is widely known to journalists as their professional "code of ethics" or the "canons of journalism"...

 in historical writing while avoiding bias.

Origins

Polybius was born around 200 BC
200 BC
Year 200 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Maximus and Cotta...

 in Megalopolis
Megalopolis, Greece
Megalópoli is a town in the western part of the peripheral unit of Arcadia, southern Greece. It is located in the same site as ancient Megalopolis . "Megalopolis" is a Greek word for Great city. When it was founded, in 371 BC, it was the first urbanization in rustic and primitive Arcadia. In...

, Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

, at which time was an active member of the Achaean League
Achaean League
The Achaean League was a Hellenistic era confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese, which existed between 280 BC and 146 BC...

. His father, Lycortas
Lycortas
Lycortas of Megalopolis was a politician of the Achaean League active in the first half of the 2nd century BC. He is now primarily known as the father of the historian Polybius...

, was a prominent, landowning politician and member of the governing class. Consequently Polybius was able to observe firsthand the political and military affairs of Megalopolis. Polybius developed an interest in horse riding and hunting, diversions that later commended him to his Roman captors. In 182 BC
182 BC
Year 182 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Tamphilus and Macedonicus...

, Polybius was given quite an honor when he was chosen to carry the funeral urn of Philopoemen
Philopoemen
Philopoemen , was a skilled Greek general and statesman, who was Achaean strategos on eight occasions....

,one of the most eminent Achaean politicians of his generation. In either 169 BC or 170 BC, Polybius was elected hipparch, or cavalry leader, election to which often presaged election to the annual strategia or post of chief general. His early political career was devoted largely towards maintaining the independence of Megalopolis.

Personal experiences

Polybius’ father, Lycortas, was a prominent advocate of neutrality during the Romans war against Perseus of Macedonia. Lycortas attracted the suspicion of the Romans, and Polybius subsequently was one of the 1,000 Achaean
Achaea (ancient region)
Geographically, Achaea was the northernmost region of the Peloponnese, occupying the coastal strip north of Arcadia. Its approximate boundaries were to the south the mountain range of Erymanthus, to the south-east the range of Cyllene, to the east Sicyon, and to the west the Larissos river...

 nobles who were transported to Rome as hostages in 167 BC
167 BC
Year 167 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Paetus and Pennus...

 and was detained there for seventeen years. In Rome, by virtue of his high culture, Polybius was admitted to the most distinguished houses, in particular to that of Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror in the Third Macedonian War
Third Macedonian War
The Third Macedonian War was a war fought between Rome and King Perseus of Macedon. In 179 BC King Philip V of Macedon died and his talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took his throne. Perseus married Laodike, daughter of King Seleucus IV Keraunos of Asia, and increased the size of his army...

, who entrusted Polybius with the education of his sons, Fabius and Scipio Aemilianus
Scipio Aemilianus Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus , also known as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus the Younger, was a leading general and politician of the ancient Roman Republic...

 (who had been adopted by the eldest son of Scipio Africanus
Scipio Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus , also known as Scipio Africanus and Scipio the Elder, was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic...

). As the former tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius remained on cordial terms with his former pupil and remained a counselor to vanquisher of the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War
Third Punic War
The Third Punic War was the third and last of the Punic Wars fought between the former Phoenician colony of Carthage, and the Roman Republic...

. The younger Scipio eventually destroyed Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 in 146 BC. When the Achaean hostages were released in 150 BC, Polybius was granted leave to return home, but the next year he went on campaign with Scipio Aemilianus to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage, which he later described. It is likely that following the destruction of Carthage, Polybius journeyed along the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as Spain.

Following the destruction of Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

 in the same year, Polybius returned to Greece, making use of his Roman connections to lighten the conditions there. Polybius was charged with the difficult task of organizing the new form of government in the Greek cities, and in this office he gained great recognition.

Rome

In the succeeding years Polybius resided in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, completing his historical work while occasionally undertaking long journeys through the Mediterranean countries in the furtherance of his history, in particular with the aim of obtaining firsthand knowledge of historical sites. It also appears that Polybius interviewed veterans in order to clarify details of the events he was recording and it would appear he was similarly given access to archival material. Little is known of Polybius' later life; he most likely accompanied Scipio to Spain acting as his military advisor during the Numantine War
Numantine War
The Numantine War was the last conflict of the Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans to subdue those people along the Ebro. It was a twenty year long conflict between the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior and the Roman government. It began in 154 BC as a revolt of the Celtiberians of...

. He later wrote about this war in a lost monograph. It is probable that Polybius returned to Greece later in his life, as evidenced by the many existent inscriptions and statues of him in Greece. The last event mentioned in his Histories seems to be the construction of the Via Domitia
Via Domitia
The Via Domitia was the first Roman road built in Gaul, to link Italy and Hispania through Gallia Narbonensis, across what is now southern France. The route that the Romans regularised and paved was ancient when they set out to survey it, so old that it traces the mythic route travelled by Heracles...

 in southern France in 118 BC, which suggests the writings of Pseudo-Lucian may have some grounding in fact when he states that "[Polybius] fell from his horse while riding up from the country, fell ill as a result and died at the age of eighty-two".

The Histories

The substance of Polybius’ Histories is based on historical information and conveys his role as a historian. Polybius’ The Histories starts in 264 BC and finishes off in 146 BC. He mainly discusses the years in which Ancient Rome rose to superpower status from 220 BC to 167 BC, describing Rome's efforts in subduing its arch-enemy, Carthage, and thereby becoming the dominant Mediterranean force. Books I through V of The Histories are the introduction for the years during his lifetime, describing the politics in each powerful nation including ancient Greece and Egypt. In Book VI, Polybius describes the way of the Romans; he discuss the powers of the different parts of the republic as well as the rights of the plebeian. He describes the First
First Punic War
The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic. For 23 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy in the western Mediterranean Sea, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters but also to a lesser extent in...

 and Second Punic Wars
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

. Polybius concludes that the Romans are the preeminent power because they are a diverse society in which much of the public have a voice and contribute. Therefore the society's thinking becomes more varied, sparking more individuality and creativity, and ultimately contributing to the greater good of Rome. Also chronicled are the conflicts between Hannibal and Cornelius Publius Scipio Africanus such as the Battle of Ticinus
Battle of Ticinus
The Battle of Ticinus was a battle of the Second Punic War fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio in November 218 BC. The battle took place in the flat country of Pavia county on the right bank of the Ticino River not far north from its...

, the Battle of the Trebia
Battle of the Trebia
The Battle of the Trebia was the first major battle of the Second Punic War, fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Roman Republic in December of 218 BC, on or around the winter solstice...

, the Siege of Saguntum
Siege of Saguntum
The Siege of Saguntum was a battle which took place between 219 BC and 218 BC between the Carthaginians and the Saguntines. The battle is mainly remembered today because it triggered one of the most important wars of antiquity, the Second Punic War....

, the Battle of Lilybaeum
Battle of Lilybaeum
The Battle of Lilybaeum was the first naval clash between the navies of Carthage and Rome during the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians had sent 35 quinqueremes to raid Sicily, starting with Lilybaeum...

,and the Battle of Rhone Crossing
Battle of Rhone Crossing
The Battle of Rhone Crossing took place during the Second Punic War. The Carthaginian army under Hannibal Barca, while marching to Italy in the autumn of 218 BC, fought an army of the Gaulish tribe of Volcae on the east bank of the Rhone River possibly near Aurasio...

. In Book XII, Polybius discusses the worth of Timaeus
Timaeus (historian)
Timaeus , ancient Greek historian, was born at Tauromenium in Sicily. Driven out of Sicily by Agathocles, he migrated to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under a pupil of Isocrates and lived for fifty years...

’ account of the same period of history. He asserts that Timaeus point of view is inaccurate, invalid, and biased in favor of Rome. Therefore Polybius's The Histories is also useful in analyzing the different Hellenistic versions of history and of use as a credible illustration of actual events during the Hellenistic period.

Sources of Information

In the seventh volume of his book The Histories, Polybius defines the historian's job as the analysis of documentation, the review of relevant geographical information, and political experience. In Polybius' time, the profession of a historian required political experience (which aided in differentiating between fact and fiction) and familiarity with the geography surrounding one's subject matter in order to supply an accurate version of events. Polybius himself exemplified these principles as he was traveled and possessed political and military experience. Polybius did not neglect written sources that proved essential material for his histories from the period from 264 BC to 220 BC. When addressing events after 220 BC, he conferred with Greek and Roman historians to acquire credible sources of information, but rarely did he name those sources.

As historian

Polybius wrote several works, the majority of which are lost. His earliest work was a biography of the Greek statesman Philopoemen
Philopoemen
Philopoemen , was a skilled Greek general and statesman, who was Achaean strategos on eight occasions....

; this work was later used as a source by Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 when composing his Parallel Lives
Parallel Lives
Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century...

, however the original Polybian text is lost. In addition Polybius wrote an extensive treatise entitled Tactics, which may have detailed Roman and Greek military tactics
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

. Small parts of this work may survive in his major Histories, but the work itself is lost as well. Another missing work was a historical monograph on the events of the Numantine War
Numantine War
The Numantine War was the last conflict of the Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans to subdue those people along the Ebro. It was a twenty year long conflict between the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior and the Roman government. It began in 154 BC as a revolt of the Celtiberians of...

. The largest Polybian work was of course, his Histories, of which only the first five books survive entirely intact along with a large portion of the sixth book and fragments of the rest work. Along with Cato the Elder
Cato the Elder
Marcus Porcius Cato was a Roman statesman, commonly referred to as Censorius , Sapiens , Priscus , or Major, Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor, to distinguish him from his great-grandson, Cato the Younger.He came of an ancient Plebeian family who all were noted for some...

 (234-149 BC), he can be considered one of the founding fathers of Roman historiography.

Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 made reference to and utilizes Polybius' The Histories as source material in his own narrative. Polybius was among the first historians to attempt to present history as a sequence of causes and effects, based upon a careful examination and criticism of tradition. He narrated his history based upon first-hand knowledge. The Histories capture the varied elements of the story of human behavior: nationalism, xenophobia
Xenophobia
Xenophobia is defined as "an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange". It comes from the Greek words ξένος , meaning "stranger," "foreigner" and φόβος , meaning "fear."...

, duplicitous politics, war, brutality, loyalty, valour, intelligence, reason, and resourcefulness.

Aside from the narrative of the historical events Polybius chose to examine, he also included three books of digressions. Book 34 was entirely devoted to questions of geography and included some trenchant criticisms of Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist.He was the first person to use the word "geography" and invented the discipline of geography as we understand it...

, whom he accused of passing on popular preconceptions or laodogmatika. Book 12 was a disquisition on the writing of history, citing extensive passages of lost historians such as Callisthenes
Callisthenes
Callisthenes of Olynthus was a Greek historian. He was the son of Hero and Proxenus of Atarneus, which made him the great nephew of Aristotle by his sister Arimneste. They first met when Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great...

 and Theopompus
Theopompus
Theopompus was a Greek historian and rhetorician- Biography :Theopompus was born on Chios. In early youth he seems to have spent some time at Athens, along with his father, who had been exiled on account of his Laconian sympathies...

. Most influential was Book 6, which describes the military and political organization of Rome; it presented Rome as a state in which monarchical elements, aristocratic elements, and popular elements were in a stable equilibrium. This enabled Rome to escape the cycle of eternal revolutions (anacyclosis
Anacyclosis
The sociological doctrine of Anacyclosis is a cyclical theory of political evolution. The theory of anacyclosis is based upon the Greek typology of constitutional forms of rule by the one, the few, and the many...

). While Polybius was not the first to promote this ideal; it was his account that provided the most vivid, cogent illustration of this ideal for later political theorists.

A key theme of The Histories
The Histories (Polybius)
Polybius’ Histories were originally written in 40 volumes, only the first five of which are existent in their entirety. The bulk of the work is passed down to us through collections of excerpts kept in libraries in Byzantium, for the most part....

is that the good statesman is virtuous and composed. The character of the Polybian statesman exemplified in that of Philip II
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

. His beliefs as to the character of a good statesman led Polybius to reject historian Theopompus
Theopompus
Theopompus was a Greek historian and rhetorician- Biography :Theopompus was born on Chios. In early youth he seems to have spent some time at Athens, along with his father, who had been exiled on account of his Laconian sympathies...

' description of Philip's private, drunken debauchery. For Polybius it was inconceivable that such an able and effective statesman could have had an immoral and unrestrained private life as described by Theopompus.

Other important themes running through The Histories are the role of Fortune in the affairs of nations, his insistence that history should be demonstratory, or apodeiktike, providing lessons for statesmen and that historians should be "men of action" (pragmatikoi).

Polybius is considered by some to be the successor of Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

 in terms of objectivity
Objectivity (science)
Objectivity in science is a value that informs how science is practiced and how scientific truths are created. It is the idea that scientists, in attempting to uncover truths about the natural world, must aspire to eliminate personal biases, a priori commitments, emotional involvement, etc...

 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 history's occurrences with clearness, penetration, sound judgment, and among the circumstances affecting the outcomes, lays especial emphasis on the geographical conditions. Modern historians are especially impressed with the manner in which Polybius utilized his sources, and in particular documents, his citation and quotation of his sources. Furthermore there is some admiration of Polybius's meditation on the nature of historiography in Book 12. Polybius' work belongs, therefore, amongst 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 pursuit of causation.

It has long been acknowledged that Polybius's writings are prone to a certain hagiographic tone when writing of his friends, such as Scipio, and subject to a vindictive tone when detailing the exploits of his enemies such as Callicrates, the Achaean statesman responsible for his Roman exile.

He — first as a hostage in Rome, then as client to the Scipios, and then finally as a collaborator with Roman rule after 146 BC — was in a position to freely to express his opinions if they were negative towards Rome. Peter Green
Peter Green (historian)
Peter Green is a British classical scholar noted for his works on Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age of ancient history, generally regarded as spanning the era from the death of Alexander in 323 BC up to either the date of the Battle of Actium or the death of Augustus in 14 AD...

 suggests that it would do well to remember Polybius was chronicling Rome's history for a Greek audience with the aim of convincing them of the necessity of accepting Roman rule – which he believed was inevitable. Nonetheless, for Green, Polybius's Histories remain invaluable and the best source for the era it covers. Ron Mellor also sees Polybius as partisan who, out of loyalty to Scipio
Scipio
-Classical:* Scipio, a representation of the Cornelii Scipiones, branch of the illustrious Cornelii family from Ancient Rome.* Scipio Africanus, Roman general who defeated Hannibal at Zama, the final battle of the Second Punic War....

, vilified Scipio's opponents. The British author Adrian Goldsworthy
Adrian Goldsworthy
Adrian Keith Goldsworthy is a British historian and author who specialises in ancient Roman history.-Biography:Goldsworthy attended Westbourne School, Penarth...

 also constantly mentions Polybius connections with Scipio when calling upon Polybius as a source for the latter's time as a general.

Polybius has been noted to be hostile to some of his subject material. H Ormerod considers that Polybius cannot be regarded as an 'altogether unprejudiced witness' in relation to his betes noirs, the Aetolians, the Carthaginians, and the Cretans. Other historians agree that Polybius' treatment of Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 is biased in a negative sense. On the other hand, Hansen notes that Polybius' exposition of Crete supplied an extremely detailed account of ancient Crete
Ancient Crete
The term Ancient Crete refers to the civilization that existed on the island of Crete, just south of Greece, in the Mediterranean Sea. From around 3000–1100 B.C., inhabitants known as Minoans controlled the island of Crete and ruled the island autonomously...

. In fact observations made by Polybius, in conjunction with passages from Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 and Scylax, allowed the discovery of the location of the lost city of Kydonia on Crete.

Cryptography

Polybius was responsible for a useful tool in telegraphy
Telegraphy
Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of messages via some form of signalling technology. Telegraphy requires messages to be converted to a code which is known to both sender and receiver...

 that allowed letters to be easily signaled using a numerical system. This idea also lends itself to cryptographic
Cryptography
Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

 manipulation and steganography
Steganography
Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity...

.
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
Polybius square
In cryptography, the Polybius square, also known as the Polybius checkerboard, is a device invented by the Ancient Greek historian and scholar Polybius, described in , for fractionating plaintext characters so that they can be represented by a smaller set of symbols.-Basic form :The original 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
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, 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.

In the Histories, he specifies how this cypher could be used in fire signals, where long-range messages could be sent by means of torches raised and lowered to signify the column and row of each letter. This was a great leap forward from previous fire signaling, which could send pre-arranged codes only (such as, 'if we light the fire, it means that the enemy has arrived').

Other writings of scientific interest include detailed discussions of the machines Archimedes created for the defense of Syracuse against the Romans, where he praises the 'old man' and his engineering in the highest terms, and an analysis of the usefulness of astronomy to generals (both in the Histories).

Influence

Polybius was considered a poor stylist, even described by one author as impossible to finish. Nevertheless it is clear he was widely read by Romans and Greeks alike. He is quoted extensively by Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 writing in the 1st century BC and Athenaeus
Athenaeus
Athenaeus , of Naucratis in Egypt, Greek rhetorician and grammarian, flourished about the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century AD...

 in the 3rd century AD. His emphasis on explaining causes of events rather than just recounting events, influenced the historian Sempronius Asellio
Sempronius Asellio
Publius Sempronius Asellio was an early Roman historian and one of the first writers of historiographic work in Latin. He was a military tribune of P. Scipio Aemilianus Africanus at the siege of Numantia in Hispania in 134 B.C. Later he joined the circle of writers centred around Scipio Aemilianus...

. Polybius is mentioned by Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 and mined for information by Diodorus, Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

, Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 and Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

. Much of the text that survives today from the later books of The Histories was preserved in Byzantine anthologies.

His works reappeared in the West first in Renaissance Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

. Polybius gained a following in Italy, and although poor Latin translations hampered proper scholarship on his work, his works contributed to the city's historical and political discourse. Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

 his Discourses on Livy
Discourses on Livy
The Discourses on Livy is a work of political history and philosophy written in the early 16th century by the Italian writer and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, best known as the author of The Prince...

evinces familiarity with Polybius. Vernacular translations in French, German, Italian and English, first appeared during the 16th century. Consequently in the late 16th century, Polybius's works found a greater reading audience among the learned public. Study of the correspondence of such men as Isaac Casaubon
Isaac Casaubon
Isaac Casaubon was a classical scholar and philologist, first in France and then later in England, regarded by many of his time as the most learned in Europe.-Early life:...

, Jacques Auguste de Thou
Jacques Auguste de Thou
Jacques Auguste de Thou was a French historian, book collector and president of the Parlement de Paris.-Life:...

, William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

, and Paolo Sarpi
Paolo Sarpi
Fra Paolo Sarpi was a Venetian patriot, scholar, scientist and church reformer. His most important roles were as a canon lawyer and historian active on behalf of the Venetian Republic.- Early years :...

 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. Printings of his work in the vernacular remained few in number—7 in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, 5 in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, and 5 in Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

.
Polybius' political beliefs have had a continuous appeal to republican thinkers from Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 to Charles de Montesquieu to the Founding Fathers of the United States
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, for example, considered him one of the most important teachers of constitutional theory. Since the Enlightenment, Polybius has in general held appeal to those interested in Hellenistic Greece and Early Republican Rome while 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 the academic understanding and appreciation of Polybius as a historian.

According to Edward Tufte
Edward Tufte
Edward Rolf Tufte is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in the field of data visualization....

, Polybius was also a major source for Charles Joseph Minard
Charles Joseph Minard
Charles Joseph Minard was a French civil engineer noted for his inventions in the field of information graphics.- Biography :...

's figurative map of Hannibal's overland journey into Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 during the Second Punic War
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

.

In his Meditations On Hunting, Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset was a Spanish liberal philosopher and essayist working during the first half of the 20th century while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism and dictatorship. He was, along with Nietzsche, a proponent of the idea of perspectivism.-Biography:José Ortega y Gasset was...

 calls Polybius "one of the few great minds that the turbid human species has managed to produce", and says the damage to the Histories is "without question one of the gravest losses that we have suffered in our Greco-Roman heritage".

See also

  • Anacyclosis
    Anacyclosis
    The sociological doctrine of Anacyclosis is a cyclical theory of political evolution. The theory of anacyclosis is based upon the Greek typology of constitutional forms of rule by the one, the few, and the many...

  • The Histories
    The Histories (Polybius)
    Polybius’ Histories were originally written in 40 volumes, only the first five of which are existent in their entirety. The bulk of the work is passed down to us through collections of excerpts kept in libraries in Byzantium, for the most part....

  • Polybius square
    Polybius square
    In cryptography, the Polybius square, also known as the Polybius checkerboard, is a device invented by the Ancient Greek historian and scholar Polybius, described in , for fractionating plaintext characters so that they can be represented by a smaller set of symbols.-Basic form :The original square...

  • Polybius (game)
    Polybius (game)
    Polybius is a supposed arcade game featured in an Internet urban legend. According to the story, the Tempest-style game was released to the public in 1981, and caused its players to go insane, causing them to suffer from intense stress, horrific nightmares, and even suicidal tendencies. A short...

  • Mixed government
    Mixed government
    Mixed government, also known as a mixed constitution, is a form of government that integrates elements of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. In a mixed government, some issues are decided by the majority of the people, some other issues by few, and some other issues by a single person...


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 067499142-7
    • II (L137) Books III-IV (1922) ISBN 067499152-4
    • III (L138) Books V-VIII (1923) ISBN 067499153-2
    • IV (L159) Books IX-XV (1925) ISBN 067499175-3
    • V (L160) Books XVI-XXVII (1926) ISBN 067499176-1
    • VI (L161) Books XXVIII-XXXIX (1927) ISBN 067499178-8
    • At "LacusCurtius
      LacusCurtius
      LacusCurtius is a website specializing in ancient Rome, currently hosted on a server at the University of Chicago. It went online on August 26, 1997; in January 2008 it had "2786 pages, 690 photos, 675 drawings & engravings, 118 plans, 66 maps." The site is the...

      ": 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

  • Davidson, James: 'Polybius' in Feldherr, Andrew ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • 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
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo M.
    Arnaldo Momigliano
    Arnaldo Dante Momigliano KBE was an Italian historian known for his work in historiography, characterized by Donald Kagan as the "world’s leading student of the writing of history in the ancient world." He became Professor of Roman history at the University of Turin in 1936, but as a Jew soon lost...

    : Sesto Contributo alla Storia degli Studi Classici e del Mondo Antico (Rome, 1980)

-- 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)
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