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Summary Article: Polybius from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(pōlĭ'bēəs), 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).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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