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See studies by K. Von Fritz (1954) and F. W. Walbank (1973); F. W. Walbank, A Historical Commentary on Polybius (Vol. I, 1957; Vol. II, 1967; Vol. III, 1974).
Born circa 201 B.C. in Megalopolis, Arcadia; died there circa 120 B.C. Greek historian.
The son of a strategos (chief magistrate) in the Achaean League, Polybius was himself a hipparch (cavalry commander) in the league. After the victory of the Romans at Pydna in 168 B.C. over the army of the Macedonian ruler Perseus, Polybius was among 1,000 eminent Achaeans sent as hostages to Rome; he stayed there about 16 years and became allied with the outstanding Roman military commanders and politicians Aemilius Paulus and Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (Scipio the Younger).
Polybius is the author of the Histories, originally in 40 books, of which only the first five are extant; the others have been lost or remain only in fragments. The work was the first attempt to recount a “world” history of Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Carthage, and Rome. Events from 220 B.C. to 146 B.C. were set forth synchronously in successive olympiads, with digressions going back to 272 B.C., the date with which the ancient Greek historian Timaeus’ History ends.
In his Histories, Polybius sought to establish why Rome had so rapidly subjugated almost the entire Mediterranean world. He attributed this to the superiority of the Roman republican system, which, in his opinion, like the Spartan system in the age of the legendary Lycurgus, combined three forms of government: rule by a basileus, aristocracy, and democracy. He considered these forms the best ones; under certain historical conditions they degenerated into the perverted, undesirable forms of monarchy, oligarchy, and mob rule. Polybius’ views on government were influenced by Aristotle and the Stoics.
Polybius called his Histories pragmatic, meaning by this that the historian should deal primarily with political and military matters. Viewing history as the preceptor of life, he defined the historian’s task as the elucidation rather than the description of events: their causes and interdependency should be revealed. For example, he attributed change in forms of government to a decline in the morals of the authorities. In addition, Polybius believed that fortune played a role in the history of society. His attitude toward fortune was inconsistent: at times he considered it powerful and inevitable and at other times he denied its role. Like other ancient historians, he attributed great importance to individual personages, including Scipio the Elder, Hannibal, and Perseus.
EDITIONSHistoriae editionem a Ludovico Dindorfio curatam, retractavit Th. Büttner-Wobst, vols. 1–4. Leipzig, 1889–1905.
Stereot. ed., vols. 1–3. Stuttgart, 1962.
In Russian translation:
Vseobshchaia istoriia v soroka knigakh, vols. 1–3. Translated by F. G. Mishchenko. Moscow, 1890–99.
REFERENCESMishchenko, F. G. “Federativnaia Ellada i Polibii.” In Polibii, Vseobshchaia istoriia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1890.
Buzeskul, V. Vvedenie v istoriiu Gretsii. Kharkov, 1904.
Von Fritz, K. The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius’ Political Ideas. New York, 1954.
Walbank, F. W. Historical Commentary on Polybius, vol. 1. Oxford, 1957.
Pedech, P. La Méthode historique de Polybe. Paris, 1964.
L. N. KAZAMANOVA