Polybius (pōlĬ´bēəs), 203? BC–c.120 BC, 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 BC) 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 BC to 146 BC 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).
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).