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Polybius (pōlĭˈbēəs), 203? B.C.–c.120 B.C., Greek historian, b. Megalopolis. As one of the leaders of the Achaean League and a friend of Philopoemen, he was influential in Greek politics. Having advocated the neutral stand of the League in the war between Rome and Macedon, he was deported (167 B.C.) with a large number of Achaeans to Rome after the Roman victory over Macedon. He obtained the protection of Aemilius Paullus and of the Scipio family, and under their patronage he undertook several voyages, notably one to Achaea, where he sought to win favor for the Roman government. It was also under the Scipios' patronage that Polybius undertook his universal history, one of the great historical works of all time (see tr. by W. R. Paton in the Loeb Classical Library, 6 vol., 1954). Of the 40 books only the first five survive intact; of the rest there are generous fragments. It was Polybius' chief aim to trace for his contemporaries the causes of the sudden rise of Rome; his history covered the Mediterranean world from before 220 B.C. to 146 B.C. A historian of the school of Thucydides, Polybius spared no efforts in his research for detail, accuracy, and unbiased truth, but as a great admirer of Rome, he could not, however, avoid a measure of partiality. His presentation is nevertheless soberly analytical and devoid of rhetoric. Not content with setting forth the facts, Polybius stopped his narrative to insert general discussions on the purpose of history writing (which he considered, like Thucydides, a guide to political conduct), on the principles of the Roman state, and on other broad subjects.


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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


Historiae 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.


Mishchenko, 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?205--?123 bc, Greek historian. Under the patronage of Scipio the Younger, he wrote in 40 books a history of Rome from 264 bc to 146 bc
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
The enormous accomplishment of Champion's contribution to Greek historiography is to bring the profound complexity of Polybius's discourse as a Greek captive writing the first history of Rome into the foreground of our study of the Histories.
As Bruni himself freely admitted, the Commentarii are heavily based on the first two books (in fact 1.7 - II.34) of Polybius's Histories.
Polybius, we note, complained of Theopompus' neglect of 'the period of Leuctra' ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]): the Hellenika left off in 394, the Philippika picked up in c.
Polybius, who does attempt to classify in group terms, calls it (as mentioned above) a mixed constitution with elements of democracy, oligarchy and monarchy; but it is a fair guess that, if Aristotle had classified it himself, he would have thought it tended very much towards an oligarchic model, with mechanisms for retaining power very strongly amongst the wealthy and well-educated classes.
Roman sources, including the reliable Polybius agree that the Celts had slashing swords, whereas the Roman legionary thrust with a short sword, but Celtic swords have been found both with cutting edges and points.
The politeia 'restored to theAchaeans by the Romans' (also lines 19-20) is evidently identical to [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] mentioned by Polybius (39.5.3; also [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], [section]2) as a product of Mummius's settlement in 146/145.
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Classicists present new studies of Greek historian Polybius (200-120 BC) in sections on key themes and ideas, narrative and structure, intertextual relationships, and reception.
After all, as observers from Polybius to Madison have remarked, well-constituted republics that attempt to a strike a balance between reflection of the popular will, with all its vicissitudes, and maintenance of a state capable of perpetuating itself and many of its flaws, have been shown to be the most durable and successful vehicles of human governance.
Polybius (200-118 B.C.), like Plutarch a Greek, is the historian who gets the highest marks.