The Rise of the Roman Empire


The content of PolybiusHistories runs the gamut from historical information, to a discourse on tuche (τύχη) or fortune, to a discourse on mixed constitution and with the overarching theme of his role as the “pragmatic” historian. Polybius’ begins in the year 264 BC and ends in 146 BC (Polybius was born around 200 and died around 117 BC). His primary concern, aside from the presentation of pragmatic history, is the 53 years in which Ancient Rome became a dominant world power. This period, from 220–167 BC, saw Rome subjugate Carthage to become the dominant Mediterranean power. Books I through V are the introduction and background for the years in which he was concerned and they generally cover the affairs in each nation of import at the time; Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain and deals extensively with the first and second Punic Wars. Then in Book VI he begins on a tangent and describes the constitution of the Romans, outlining the powers of the consuls, senate and people. He comes to the conclusion, by virtue of his Hellenistic attitude, that the Romans are so successful because their constitution is mixed. The remainder of the book is a treatment of the affairs during the critical 53-year period mentioned above and considering the remains of the text that survive the particularly interesting episodes are the treatment of Hannibal and Scipio and as a notable digression from his theme, Timaeus (historian). In Book XII he discusses the merits of Timaeus’ particular brand of history and concludes in a snide manner that Timaeus is not worth very much. So, Polybius is notable for his treatment of Rome’s rise to power, in a historical sense but he is also useful in assessing the Hellenistic manner of writing and as a window into this Hellenistic period.

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