Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC, Greek Polytonic|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 the government, which was later used in Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws and the drafting of the United States Constitution.

Personal experiences

As the former tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, the famous adopted grandson of the general Scipio Africanus, 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.

Polybius was born and raised in the Achaean city of Megalopolis. Polybius was a member of the Greek governing class, with firsthand opportunities to gain deep insight into military and political affairs. His political career was devoted largely towards maintaining the independence of the Achaean League. His 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, his son 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 the younger Scipio. 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 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 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.

As historian

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 mostly intact but with some missing books and fragmentary material.

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, brutality, etc.; along with loyalty, valor, 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.

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 ("Alexander to Actium"), 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 agrees that Polybius is partisan who, out of loyalty to Scipio, vilified Scipio's opponents (the historians of Ancient Rome). 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; for example, his treatment of Crete has been noted to be biased in a negative sense. [Mogens Herman Hansen1995, "Sources for the Ancient Greek City-State: Symposium", August, 24-27 1994, Kgl. Danske, Videnskabernes Selskab, 376 pagesISBN:8773042676] 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) [Robert Pashley, "Travels in Crete", 1837, J. Murray] allowed deciphering of the location of the lost ancient city of Kydonia on Crete. [C. Michael Hogan, "Cydonia", Jan. 23, 2008, The Modern Antiquarian [http://letmespeaktothedriver.com/site/10881/cydonia.html#fieldnotes] ]

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.

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.

=Influence= 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. Machiavelli appears to have been familiar with Polybius when he wrote his "Discourses". Vernacular translations, in French, German, Italian and English, first appeared in the sixteenth century. [cite book | last = Polybius | coauthors = Frank W. Walbank, Ian Scott-Kilvert | title = The Rise of the Roman Empire | publisher = Penguin Classics | date = 1979| id = ISBN 0-14-044362-2 ] 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. [cite journal
last = Burke
first = Peter
title = A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450-1700
year = 1966
journal = History and Theory
volume = 5
issue = 2
pages = 141
url = http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0018-2656%281966%295%3A2%3C135%3AASOTPO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O
doi = 10.2307/2504511
] Printings of his work in the vernacular remained few in number—7 in French, 5 in English, and 5 in Italian. [cite journal
last = Burke
first = Peter
title = A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450-1700
year = 1966
journal = History and Theory
volume = 5
issue = 2
pages = 139
url = http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0018-2656%281966%295%3A2%3C135%3AASOTPO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O
doi = 10.2307/2504511
] 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 [http://www.sms.org/mdl-indx/polybius/intro.htm] . 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. [ [http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/minard-hannibal Minard's figurative map of Hannibal's war ] ]


ee also

* "The Histories"
* Polybius square
* Polybius (game)
* Mixed government

References and external links

* "The Histories" or "The Rise of the Roman Empire" by Polybius:
** At Perseus Project: [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plb.+toc English & Greek version]
** At "LacusCurtius": [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/home.html Translation by W. R. Paton (Loeb edition)]
* At "LacusCurtius": [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/Introduction*.html Short introduction to the life and work of Polybius]
* [http://www.archive.org/stream/polybioutoulykor01poly 1670 edition of Polybius' works vol.1 at the Internet archive]
* [http://www.archive.org/stream/polybioutoulykor02poly 1670 edition of Polybius' works vol.2 at the Internet archive]
* Oscar Wilde, The Rise of Historical Criticism: [http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E800003-001/ (in CELT)]
* [http://mlloyd.org/mdl-indx/polybius/intro.htm "Polybius and the Founding Fathers: the separation of powers"]

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  • polybius — ● polybius nom masculin Crabe nageur à carapace ronde, très vorace, rencontré jusqu à 100 m de fond. (Nom usuel crabe à sardines.) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Polybius — [pō lib′ē əs] 200? 118? B.C.; Gr. historian …   English World dictionary

  • Polybius — /peuh lib ee euhs/, n. c205 c123 B.C., Greek historian. * * * born с 200, Megalopolis, Arcadia, Greece died с 118 BC Greek statesman and historian. Son of an Achaean statesman, Polybius was one of 1,000 eminent Achaeans deported to Rome in 168 BC …   Universalium

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