Circa 200-AFTER 118 b.c.e.
Historian and explorer
Politics and Servitude. Polybius belonged to a powerful political family in Greece that resisted the growing influence of Rome in the early second century B.C.E. He served in several political positions, including one stint as an envoy to Alexandria. After the Roman victory at the Battle of Pydna in 168, he was taken to Rome, where he soon developed a strong relationship with his captor, Scipio Aemilianus. He accompanied the Romans in their defeat of Carthage and subjugation of Greece. He was later given a ship and crew with which to explore the coast of Africa beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. He lived into his eighties and died after falling off a horse.
Historical Works. His histories, written while he was in Rome, were aimed at a Greek audience to whom he prescribed a reasoned accommodation of Roman imperial rule. His earlier works, including a history of the Numantine War (133), have been lost. The remaining portions of his major work, a history of the rise of Rome to imperial status, were based on his documentary research, eyewitness accounts, and geographic and political knowledge. He was an innovator in writing history that attempted to explain causation and processes.
Peter Sidney Derow, “Polybius,” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 1209-1211.
Kenneth Sacks, Polybius on the Writing of History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).
F. W. Walbank, Polybius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972).