Polybius

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Polybius (in Greek Πολύβιος, Polubios) (c203-c120 BCE) was a Greek politician and historian. He is best known for his Histories, a history of the Roman Republic covering the period 264-146 BCE.

Polybius came from a well-to-do family in Megalopolis in the Peloponnese (i.e., southern Greece). His father, Lycortas, was a prominent politician in the Achaean League (a confederation of city states in the Peloponnese), and Polybius entered politics at an early age. The decisive event in his life came in 167 after the Romans defeated Philip V of Macedon at the battle of Pydna (in northern Greece) and the Achaean League was punished for its ambivalent attitude to the Roman victory by having 1000 of its citizens, Polybius among them, deported to Rome as hostages. In Rome, despite his nominal status as a hostage, he was permitted to mix in aristocratic circles and established a close friendship with Scipio Aemilianus, who became the most distinguished military commander of his generation, defeating and destroying Rome’s great enemy Carthage (in North Africa) in the Third Punic War (149-146) and in 133 blockading into submission the city of Numantia in northern Spain. Polybius accompanied him on many of his campaigns, and it was at Scipio Aemilianus’ suggestion that he began work on his Histories.

Polybius lived through the period during which Rome greatly extended its power outside Italy so that by the time of his death in c120 southern France, Greece and Macedonia, Asia Minor, large parts of Spain, and part of Africa (northern Tunisia and western Libya) had become Roman provinces. Polybius will also have been aware of the social problems – the increasing gap between rich and poor and the pitiable condition of many small farmers in Italy - which towards the end of his life led to the radical political activity of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (c167-133 and 154-121), whose violent deaths are often regarded as the prelude to the bitter political conflicts of the next century and the final destruction of the Roman Republic.

The 40 books of PolybiusHistories cover Roman history from 264 to 146 BCE but deal in greatest detail with the period 220-167. Unfortunately only the first five books have survived in their entirety: of the remainder there are excerpts and quotations in later authors. Polybius was present at some of the events he describes, was able to speak to eye-witnesses of other events, had access to official records, and having travelled widely in the Mediterranean was often familiar with the locations of the events he describes. He is a primary authority for the history of the period covered by his work.