Historian, Statesman (c.200 BC – c.118 BC)
Polybius the Megalopolite is one of the most influential historians and historiographers to date, together with Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Pausanias. His work The Histories marks humanity’s first successful attempt in writing down world history.
Polybius’s main influence was his father Lycortas, who was in the epicenter of political events during the 3rd century BC in the Roman Empire as statesman of the Achaean Confederation. He was also a very capable strategist. Another figure who acted as a role model on young Polybius was Philopoemen, another powerful military personality and friend of his father. Polybius later wrote a book entitled Life of Philopoemen which unfortunately does not survive. His life had many misadventures, as he was he was held hostage in Rome for 17 years until he was freed and allowed to return to Peloponnesus.
Like his father, Polybius was a very skilled diplomat and statesman who relieved the tensions between Achaea and Rome. It is worth mentioning that during hostilities that were evoked between the two republics Polybius exerted all his influence in achieving a peaceful settlement which would be positive for both. As Pausanias states, the gratitude of his homeland was such as statues of him were erected with the following two inscriptions: “Greece would never have come to grief, had she obeyed Polybius in all things, and having come to grief, she found succour through him alone” and “…he had roamed over all the earth and sea, had been the ally of the Romans, and had quenched their wrath against Greece”.
The Histories is by far Polybius’ most recognized work. It consists of 40 books spanning an extensive part of the Roman history from 264 BC to 146 BC. The main topic of his books concerns the Carchidonian war and the Achaean Confederation. His work’s purpose was to demonstrate how the Romans succeeded in conquering a large part of the world in just 53 years and to show that they were in fact a nation of empires. The 40th book was a recap of all the previous books and included a timetable of all major events chronicled in the previous tomes.
Polybius’ work is one of the greatest written works in history to have survived from antiquity. His excellent knowledge on politics and war as well as his high ranking positions in the Roman Empire rendered him a remarkable analyzer of all the major events, which he himself knew from first hand experience. He is the only one of the Ancient Greek historians whose work has didactic purposes. It is commonly noted that his most influential book is the 4th, which provides an extensive analysis on the Roman Constitution and its political system which, according to Polybius, was Rome’s key to success.
Polybius exerted a massive and direct influence on the founding fathers of the United States, who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America based on the principles of the Roman Republic as highlighted by Polybius in his book. After studying all the political systems, they found out that the republic of the Roman Empire was the strongest and the longest lasting.
- Ferguson, Matthew. Polybius, Political Science and the United States Constitution. Adversusapologetica.wordpress.com. Web. November 25, 2013. Retrieved on October 14, 2016.
- Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Athens: Georgiades, 1995. Print.
- “Polybius”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. ”Polybius” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 14 October. 2016.