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date: 29 September 2023

Polybius (1), Greek historian, c. 200–c. 118 BCElocked

Polybius (1), Greek historian, c. 200–c. 118 BCElocked

  • Emma Nicholson


Polybius was a Greek historian who documented Rome’s rise to power in the Mediterranean in the 3rd and 2nd centuries bce. Originally a leading figure of the Achaean League, he was deported to Rome after the defeat of Perseus of Macedon in 168 bce and became closely attached to Scipio Aemilianus, forming part of the so-called Scipionic Circle. While in Rome he began to write his Histories, a vast forty-book historical account of the middle-Hellenistic world and Rome’s establishment of dominion over the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, only the first five books remain complete; the rest are preserved in varying degrees of fragmentation. The Histories are the earliest surviving “universal” history and interweave events in the different geographical areas of the Mediterranean to demonstrate the increasing interconnectedness of world affairs.

The Histories are described by Polybius as pragmatikos, concerned with political and military affairs, and have a strong didactic and moral tendency aimed at current and future leaders. The work intends not only to explain what happened in the Mediterranean and why, but also to train its readers to navigate a political and military career as successfully as possible and to bear the reversals of fortune with courage. As a historian, Polybius was characterized by his deep concern for the truthfulness of his narrative, his careful consultation of documents and witnesses, his efforts to apply reason and correct judgement, his focus on human character and action, and his elucidation of cause and effect. While not immune from political bias, Polybius adheres rigorously to his principles throughout the Histories and often criticizes other historians for their lack of accuracy, judgment, or objectivity. He has long been regarded as one of the more reliable ancient historians.


  • Greek History and Historiography
  • Greek Literature

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