And he practiced what he preached, for he possessed good political and military experience and had traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. Nor are these their only weaknesses. Fittingly, it was a Greek writing in Greek, The most significant influence on Scipio’s character was his friendship with the Greek historian. History is essentially didactic. Anything else would be “hearsay at one remove,” a safe foundation for neither judgments nor statements.
Please select which sections you would like to print: Corrections? Shortly afterward, when his political detention had ended, Polybius joined Scipio at Carthage and was present at its siege and destruction in 146; and it is likely that he then undertook a voyage of exploration in the Atlantic, which is related in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. At least Books I–VI seem to have been published by about 150; there is no information as to when the rest of the work, including the revised plan in Book III, appeared. The role here allotted to Fortune is somewhat unusual.
Although Polybius declared for open support of Rome and was sent as an envoy to the consul Quintus Marcius Philippus, Achaean help was rejected. Pleasure is not to be wholly excluded, but the scale comes down sharply on the side of profit. Polybius probably conceived his revision after 146, having by this date completed his narrative down to the end of the Second Punic War. Omissions?
For the object of history is the very opposite of that of tragedy. He devoted himself to securing as favourable a settlement as possible for his countrymen and to reestablishing order; and, as the geographer Pausanias states, Achaean gratitude found expression in the erection of statues in his honour at Tegea, Pallantium, Mantineia, Lycosura—where the inscription declared that “Greece would never have come to grief, had she obeyed Polybius in all things, and having come to grief, she found succour through him alone”—and Megalopolis, where it was recorded that “he had roamed over all the earth and sea, had been the ally of the Romans, and had quenched their wrath against Greece.”. For clearly the value of history as a source of practical lessons is diminished if cause and effect are at the mercy of an incalculable and capricious power. Usually, although Polybius uses Fortune to cover a variety of phenomena, ranging from pure chance to something very like a purposeful providence, much of the apparent inconsistency springs from his use of purely verbal elaboration or the careless adoption of current Hellenistic terminology, which habitually made Fortune a goddess. To the scholar his style is, however, no great obstacle; and, though in his anxiety to improve his reader he moralizes and belabours the obvious, the perennial interest and importance of his theme will always ensure him a following among those who can enjoy a historian who is accurate, serious, and sensible, who understands the events of which he writes, and, above all, who asks the right questions. Encumbered by their war with Perseus of Macedonia, the Romans were watching for disloyalty in the Greek states. He had access to private sources; for example, Publius Cornelius Scipio’s letter to Philip V of Macedonia describing the capture in Spain, in 209 bce, of New Carthage (X, 9, 3), and a letter of Scipio Nasica to some Hellenistic king about the campaigns of the Third Macedonian War (XXIX, 14, 3). At some date he visited Alexandria and Sardis. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.
But he then became involved in critical events. Similar faults are castigated in other historians judged guilty of sensationalism (cf. Here, however, Fortune seems to be a real directive power, which raised Rome to world dominion—because Rome deserved it. The Histories, on which Polybius’ reputation rests, consisted of 40 books, the last being indexes.
II, 16, 13–15; III, 48, 8; VII, 7, 1–2; XV, 34, 1–36). Many historians are prone to exaggeration—and that for a special reason. The events of 168–146 were related in Books XXX–XXXIX. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Books I–II form an introduction covering Roman history from the crossing into Sicily against the Carthaginians in 264 and including events in various other parts of the world (especially Achaea) between 264 and 220. Rathbone Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, University of Liverpool.
Polybius’ original purpose was to narrate the history of the 53 years (220–168 bce)—from Hannibal’s Spanish campaign to the Battle of Pydna—during which Rome had made itself master of the world. After Perseus’ defeat at Pydna in 168, Polybius was one of 1,000 eminent Achaeans who were deported to Rome and detained in Italy without trial. The infelicity of Polybius’ Greek (which frequently reproduces the conventional phrases of the Hellenistic chancelleries familiar from contemporary inscriptions) lies in its awkward use of long and cumbersome circumlocutions, vague abstract nouns, and pedantic repetitions. Polybius defines the historian’s task as the study and collation of documents, acquaintance with relevant geographical features, and, finally, political experience (XII, 25e); of these the last two are the most essential.
The Romans inherited Greek historiography as they inherited other elements of Greek culture, aware of its prestige and emulating it in some ways but inevitably giving it the imprint of their quite different temperament. In Book III, Polybius sketches a modified plan, proposing to add an account of how the Romans exercised their supremacy and to extend coverage to the destruction of Carthage, in 146. He wrote a history of the Numantine War, evidently after 133 bce, and also a treatise on the habitability of the equatorial region; but when he composed the latter is unknown. At Rome, Polybius had the good fortune to attract the friendship of the great Roman general Scipio Aemilianus; he became Scipio’s mentor and through his family’s influence was allowed to remain in Rome. Books I–V are extant. Polybius regarded oral sources as his most important, and the questioning of witnesses as the most vital part of a historian’s task; indeed, this is one reason why he chose to begin his main history at the year 220. An important place in Polybius’ work is occupied by his study of the Roman constitution and army and the early history of the city in Book VI. Nor did he neglect written sources; indeed, for his introductory books, covering the period from 264 to 220, they were essential. This attack on Phylarchus is not isolated. For the rest there are various excerpts, including those contained in the collection of passages from Greek historians assembled in the 10th century and rediscovered and published by various editors from the 16th to the 19th century. Normally, Polybius lays great emphasis on causality, and his distinction (III, 6) between the causes of an event (aitiai) and its immediate origins (archai) is useful up to a point, though it is more mechanical than that of the great Greek historian Thucydides and allows nothing for the dialectical character of real historical situations. Writing in the 1st century bce, Dionysius of Halicarnassus reckons Polybius among those who “have left behind them compositions which no one endures to read to the end”; that his successors shared this view of Polybius’ style is confirmed by the failure of his works to survive except in an incomplete form. The tragic writer seeks by the most plausible language to thrill and charm the audience temporarily; the historian by real facts and real speeches seeks to instruct and convince serious students for all time.
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Polybius, Polybius - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up). Of Polybius’ life after 146 little is known. He wrote: Hitherto the affairs of the world had been as it were dispersed…; since this date [220 bce] history has formed an organic whole, and the affairs of Italy and Africa have been interlinked with those of Greece and Asia, all tending towards one end (I, 3, 3–4). Indeed, only universal history is capable of adequately treating Rome’s rise to world power—the historian’s synoptic view matches the organic character of history itself: What gives my work its peculiar quality, and is nowadays most remarkable, is this. For it was chiefly this consideration, coupled with the fact that none of my contemporaries has attempted a general history, which incited and encouraged me to undertake my task (I, 4, 1–2). He is known to have discussed political problems with Scipio and Panaetius of Rhodes. Polybius, (born c. 200 bce, Megalopolis, Arcadia, Greece—died c. 118), Greek statesman and historian who wrote of the rise of Rome to world prominence. He almost certainly consulted the Achaean record office and must have drawn on Roman records for such material as the treaty between Carthage and Philip V (VII, 9).
Tyche [Fortune] having guided almost all the world’s affairs in one direction and having inclined them to one and the same goal, so the historian must bring under one conspectus for his readers the operations by which she has accomplished her general purpose.
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