People - Ancient Greece: Polybius
Ancient Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period.
Polybius in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
One of the most important Greek historians, born about B.C. 204 at Megalopolis; the son of Lycortas, general of the Achaean League in 185-184 and after 183. Through his father, and his father's friend Philopoemen, he early acquired a deep insight into military and political affairs, and was afterwards intrusted with high federal offices, such as the commandership of the cavalry, the highest position next to the federal generalship. In this capacity he directed his efforts towards maintaining the independence of the Achaean League. As the 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 was one of the 1000 noble Achaeans who in 166 were transported to Rome as hostages, and detained there for seventeen 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 Macedonian War, who intrusted him with the education of his sons, Fabius and the younger Scipio. He was on terms of the most cordial friendship with the latter, whose counsellor he became. Through Scipio's intercession in 150, Polybius obtained leave to return to his home with those of the Achaeans who still survived; but in the very next year he went with his friend to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage, B.C. 146. After the destruction of Corinth in the same year, he returned to his native land, and made use of his credit with the Romans to lighten, as far as he could, the lot of his unfortunate countrymen. When Greece was converted into a Roman province, he was intrusted with the difficult task of organizing the new form of government in the Greek towns, and in this office gained for himself the highest recognition both from the conquerors and from the conquered, the latter rewarding his services by setting up statues to him and by other marks of honour (Polyb. Epitome, xl. 10; Pausan. viii. 9, 30, 37, 44, 48). The pedestal of such a statue has been discovered at Olympia. 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 actual ocular knowledge of historical sites. After the death of his patron he returned to Greece, and died in 122, at the age of eighty-two, in consequence of a fall from his horse.
During his long sojourn in Rome, his study of the history and constitution of Rome, as well as his personal experiences, inspired him with the conviction that the Roman people owed the magnificent development of their power, not to fortune, but to their own fitness, and to the excellence of their political and military institutions, as compared with those of other States, and that therefore their rapid rise to world-wide dominion had been in some measure an historical necessity. In order to enlighten his countrymen on this point, and thereby to supply them with a certain consolation for their fate, he composed his history (Πραγματειά) of the period between B.C. 220 and 146, in forty books. Of these the first two are in the form of an Introduction, and give a compendium of events in Italy, Africa, and Greece, from the destruction of Rome by the Gauls to the First Punic War, thus recording the rise of the Roman supremacy. The first main division (books iii.-xxx.) contained in synchronistic arrangement the occurrences from 220 to 168—that is, of the time in which Rome was founding its world-wide dominion through the Hannibalian, Macedonian, Syrian, and Spanish Wars. The second (books xxxi.-xl.) described the maintenance and consolidation of this dominion against the attempts to overthrow it in the years 168-146. Of this work only books i.-v. have been preserved in a complete form; of the rest we possess merely fragments and epitomes. This is especially to be regretted in those parts in which Polybius narrates events which came within his own experience. He is the first representative of that particular type of historical composition, which does not merely recount the several facts and phenomena in chronological order, but goes back to the causes of events, and sets forth their results. His work rests upon a knowledge of the art of war and of politics, such as few ancient historians possessed; upon a careful examination of tradition, conducted with keen criticism; partly also upon what he had himself seen, and upon the communications of eye-witnesses and actors in the events. It sets forth the course of occurrences with clearness, penetration, sound judgment, and love of truth, 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, though, in respect to language and style, it does not attain the standard of Attic prose. The language is often wanting in purity, and the style is stiff and inharmonious.
There are editions of Polybius by Schweighäuser, in 8 vols. (Leipzig, 1789-95); Bekker (Berlin, 1844); Dindorf (last ed. 1882); and Hultsch (2d ed. 1888); and of a part of the history, with good English notes, by Davidson (1890). There is a translation into English by Shuckburgh, 2 vols. (London, 1889). See Von Scala, Die Studien des Polybius (1891 foll.).
Polybius in Wikipedia
Polybius (ca. 200–118 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 202 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.
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 in 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.
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. Along with Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), he was one of the first historians to document Roman history.
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 and effective statesman could have such an immoral and unrestrained private life.
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  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. 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. H Omerod 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 his treatment of Crete is biased in a negative sense. 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) allowed deciphering of the location of the lost ancient city of Kydonia on Crete.
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.
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).
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.
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. 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. Printings of his work in the vernacular remained few in number—7 in French, 5 in English, and 5 in Italian.
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. 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.
In his Meditations On Hunting, Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset calls Polybius "one of the few great minds which 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".
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