Polybius of Megalopolis
Polybius (//; Greek: Πολύβιος, Polýbios; c. 200 – c. 118 BC) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period. He is noted for his work The Histories, which covered the period of 264–146 BC and the Punic Wars in detail.
Polybius is important for his analysis of the mixed constitution or the
Polybius' father, Lycortas, was a prominent, land-owning politician and member of the governing class who became strategos (commanding general) of the Achaean League. Consequently, Polybius was able to observe first hand during his first 40 years the political and military affairs of Megalopolis, gaining experience as a statesman. In his early years, he accompanied his father while travelling as ambassador. He developed an interest in horse riding and hunting, diversions that later commended him to his Roman captors.
In 182 BC, he was given quite an honor when he was chosen to carry the funeral urn of
Polybius' father, Lycortas, was a prominent advocate of neutrality during the Roman war against
When Scipio defeated the
After the destruction of Corinth 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.
In the succeeding years, Polybius resided in
He later wrote about this war in a lost monograph. Polybius probably returned to Greece later in his life, as evidenced by the many existent inscriptions and statues of him there. The last event mentioned in his Histories seems to be the construction of the Via Domitia in southern France in 118 BC, which suggests the writings of Pseudo-Lucian may have some grounding in fact when they state, "[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 describes the rise of the Roman Republic as a global power in the ancient Mediterranean world. The work includes eyewitness accounts of the Sack of Carthage and Corinth, and the Roman annexation of mainland Greece after the Achaean War.
Polybius' Histories cover the period from 264 BC to 146 BC. It focuses mainly on the years 220 BC to 167 BC, detailing Ancient Rome's overcoming of their geopolitical rival, Carthage, and thereby becoming the dominant Mediterranean force. Books I through V are The Histories' introduction, set during his lifetime. They describe political affairs in the leading Mediterranean states during the time, including in Ancient Greece and Egypt, explaining their "συμπλοκή" or interconnectedness.
In Book VI, Polybius describes the political, military, and moral institutions that allowed the Romans to succeed. He also describes the First and Second Punic Wars. Polybius concludes that the Romans are the pre-eminent power because they have customs and institutions which promote a deep desire for noble acts, a love of virtue, piety towards parents and elders, and a fear of the gods (deisidaimonia). Polybius also details the battles between Hannibal and Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War; such as the Battle of Ticinus, the Battle of the Trebia, the Siege of Saguntum, the Battle of Lilybaeum, the Battle of Rhone Crossing and the Battle of Zama, among others.
In Book XII, Polybius discusses the worth of Timaeus' account of the same period of history. He asserts Timaeus' point of view is inaccurate, invalid, and biased in favor of Rome. Christian Habicht considered his criticism of Timaeus to be spiteful and biased, However, Polybius' 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.
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 factual integrity in historical writing. In the twelfth volume of his 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 to supply an accurate version of events.
Polybius himself exemplified these principles as he was well travelled and possessed political and military experience. He did not neglect written sources that provided essential material for his histories of the period from 264 BC to 220 BC. When addressing events after 220 BC, he examined the writings of Greek and Roman historians to acquire credible sources of information, but rarely did he name those sources.
Polybius wrote several works, most of which are lost. His earliest work was a biography of the Greek statesman Philopoemen; this work was later used as a source by Plutarch when composing his Parallel Lives; 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. 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. 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. Along with Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), he can be considered one of the founding fathers of Roman historiography.
Livy made reference to and uses Polybius' 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, duplicitous politics, war, brutality, loyalty, valour, intelligence, reason and resourcefulness.
Aside from the narrative of the historical events, Polybius also included three books of digressions. Book 34 was entirely devoted to questions of geography and included some trenchant criticisms of
A key theme of The Histories is the good statesman as virtuous and composed. The character of the Polybian statesman is exemplified in that of Philip II. His beliefs about Philip's character led Polybius to reject historian Theopompus' 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. In recounting the Roman Republic, Polybius stated that "the Senate stands in awe of the multitude, and cannot neglect the feelings of the people".
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
It has long been acknowledged that Polybius' writings are prone to a certain
As a hostage in Rome, then as client to the Scipios, and after 146 BC, a collaborator with Roman rule, Polybius was probably in no position to freely express any negative opinions of Rome.
Polybius was responsible for a useful tool in
In the Polybius square, letters of the alphabet were arranged left to right, top to bottom in a 5 × 5 square. When used with the 26-letter Latin alphabet two letters, usually I and J, are combined. When used with the Greek alphabet, which has exactly one less letter than there are spaces (or code points) in the square, the final "5,5" code point encodes the spaces in between words. Alternatively, it can denote the end of a sentence or paragraph when writing in continuous script.
Five numbers are 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, Polybius 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 prearranged codes only (such as, 'if we light the fire, it means that the enemy has arrived').
Other writings of
|Part of the Politics series|
Polybius was considered a poor stylist by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing of Polybius' history that "no one has the endurance to reach [its] end". Nevertheless, clearly he was widely read by Romans and Greeks alike. He is quoted extensively by Strabo writing in the 1st century BC and Athenaeus in the 3rd century AD.
His emphasis on explaining causes of events, rather than just recounting events, influenced the historian
His works reappeared in the West first in Renaissance Florence. Polybius gained a following in Italy, and although poor Latin translations hampered proper scholarship on his works, they contributed to the city's historical and political discourse. Niccolò Machiavelli in his Discourses on Livy 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' works found 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.
Printings of his work in the vernacular remained few in number—seven in French, five in English (John Dryden provided an enthusiastic preface to Sir Henry Sheers' edition of 1693) and five in Italian. Polybius' political analysis has influenced republican thinkers from
In his Meditations On Hunting, Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset 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".
The Italian version of his name, Polibio, was used as a male first name—for example, the composer Polibio Fumagalli—though it never became very common.
The University of Pennsylvania has an intellectual society, the Polybian Society, which is named in his honor and serves as a non-partisan forum for discussing societal issues and policy.
Editions and translations
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Usher, S. (ed. and trans.) Critical Essays, Volume II. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.
- Polybii Historiae, editionem a Ludovico Dindorfi curatam, retractavit Theodorus Büttner-Wobst, Lipsiae in aedibus B. G. Teubneri, vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4, vol. 5, 1882–1904.
- Polybius (1922–1927). Polybius: The Histories. The Loeb Classical Library (in Ancient Greek, English, and Latin). Translated by Paton, W.R. London; New York: William Heinemann; G.P. Putnam's Sone.
- —— (1922A). Polybius. Vol. I. ISBN 0-674-99142-7. Loeb Number L128; Books I-II.
- —— (1922B). Polybius. Vol. II. ISBN 0-674-99152-4. Loeb Number L137; Books III-IV.
- —— (1923). Polybius. Vol. III. ISBN 0-674-99153-2. Loeb Number L138; Books V-VIII.
- —— (1925). Polybius. Vol. IV. ISBN 0-674-99175-3. Loeb Number L159; Books IX-XV.
- —— (1926). Polybius. Vol. V. ISBN 0-674-99176-1. Loeb Number L160; Books XVI-XXVII.
- —— (1927). Polybius. Vol. VI. ISBN 0-674-99178-8. Loeb Number L161; Books XXVIII-XXXIX.
- —— (1922A). Polybius. Vol. I.
- Polybius (2012). Polybius: The Histories. The Loeb Classical Library (in Ancient Greek, English, and Latin). Translated by Paton, W.R. Chicago: University of Chicago (LacusCurtius).
- The Histories or The Rise of the Roman Empire by Polybius:
- At "LacusCurtius": Short introduction to the life and work of Polybius
- 1670 edition of Polybius' works vol.1 at the Internet archive
- 1670 edition of Polybius' works vol.2 at the Internet archive
- Polybius: "The Rise Of The Roman Empire", Penguin, 1979.
- "Books 1–5 of History. Ethiopian Story. Book 8: From the Departure of the Divine Marcus" featuring Book I-V of The Histories, digitized, from the World Digital Library
Notes and references
- Derow 2016.
- "Polybius and the Founding Fathers: The separation of powers".
- Gibson & Harrison: Polybius, pp. 1–5.
- "Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 39, chapter 35". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
- Polybius (~150 B.C.). The Rise of the Roman Republic. Translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert (1979). Penguin Books. London, England.
- Athens from Alexander to Antony by Christian Habicht p119
- Farrington, Scott Thomas (February 2015). "A Likely Story: Rhetoric and the Determination of Truth in Polybius’ Histories." Histos 9: 29-66. (p. 40): "Polybius begins his history proper with the 140th Olympiad because accounts of the remote past amount to hearsay and do not allow for safe judgements (διαλήψεις) and assertions (ἀποφάσεις) regarding the course of events.... he can relate events he saw himself, or he can use the testimony of eyewitnesses. ([footnote 34:] Pol. 4.2.2: ἐξ οὗ συµβαίνει τοῖς µὲν αὐτοὺς ἡµᾶς παραγεγονέναι, τὰ δὲ παρὰ τῶν ἑωρακότων ἀκηκοέναι.)" [archive URLs: 1 (full text), 2 (abstract & journal citation)]
- Hannibal at New Carthage: Polybius 3. 15 and the Power of Irrationality Author: A. M. Eckstein, Classical Philology, Vol. 84, No. 1 (January 1989), pp. 3-4
- Peter Green, Alexander to Actium
- Ronald J. Mellor, The Historians of Ancient Rome
- H. Ormerod, Piracy in the Ancient World, p.141
- Robert Pashley, Travels in Crete, 1837, J. Murray
- "C. Michael Hogan, Cydonia, Modern Antiquarian, January 23, 2008". Themodernantiquarian.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Comp. 4
- Marshall Davies Lloyd, Polybius and the Founding Fathers: the separation of powers, Sept. 22, 1998.
- "Minard's figurative map of Hannibal's war". Edwardtufte.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Titus Livius of Patavium (Livy), libri XXI — XLV
- Pseudo-Lucian Makrobioi
- Paulus Orosius libri VII of Histories against Pagans
- Davidson, James: 'Polybius' in Feldherr, Andrew ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
- ISBN 9780199381135.
- Gibson, Bruce & Harrison, Thomas (editors): Polybius and his World: Essays in Memory of F.W. Walbank, (Oxford, 2013).
- Momigliano, Arnaldo M.: Sesto Contributo alla Storia degli Studi Classici e del Mondo Antico (Rome, 1980)
- —— Vol. V (1974) "The Historian's Skin", 77–88 (Momigliano Bibliography no. 531)
- —— Vol. 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)
- 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)
- Champion, Craige B. 2004. Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
- Derow, Peter S. 1979. "Polybius, Rome, and the East." Journal of Roman Studies 69:1–15.
- Eckstein, Arthur M. 1995. Moral Vision in the Histories of Polybius. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
- Farrington, Scott Thomas. 2015. "A Likely Story: Rhetoric and the Determination of Truth in Polybius' Histories. Histos: The On-Line Journal of Ancient Historiography 9: 29–66.
- McGing, Brian C. 2010. Polybius: The Histories. Oxford Approaches to Classical Literature. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
- Moore, Daniel Walker. 2017. "Learning from Experience: Polybius and the Progress of Rome." Classical Quarterly 67.1: 132–148.
- Pausch, Dennis. 2014. "Livy Reading Polybius: Adapting Greek Narrative to Roman History." In Defining Greek Narrative. Edited by Douglas L. Cairns and Ruth Scodel, 279–297. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press.
- Sacks, Kenneth S. 1981. Polybius on the Writing of History. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
- Schepens, Guido, and Jan Bollansée, eds. 2005. The Shadow of Polybius: Intertextuality as a Research Tool in Greek Historiography. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters.
- Walbank, Frank W. 2002. Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World: Essays and Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
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