Some historians are destined to be read while others are destined to become omnipresent through throughout the literature of others as footnotes and references. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War considered the ultimate source for that period of ancient history and has been read throughout history almost as often as it has been consulted for the purpose of research. Polybius stands in stark contrast to Thucydides. Although often regarded as third only to Herodotus and Thucydides as an ancient chronicler of the Classical Era, his Histories is far more often consulted as a source than it is read.
Polybius is thought to have lived sometime between 203 B.C.E and 120 B.C.E. Today, his work is often published under the title the Rise of the Roman Empire as a way of distinguishing his work from so many other ancient volumes titled simple Histories. For most of history, however, the 40 volumes (of which only five survive intact, though some fragments exist of the other entries) were known simply as the Histories of Polybius.
Among the historical highlights covered in the Rise of the Roman Empire are the Third Macedonian War (171-168 B.C.E.), the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.E.), the conquest of Greece in 146 B.C.E. following victory against Carthage. What is perhaps most distressing about the fact that the five intact volumes represent the first five books of the Histories of Polybius are that the first two volumes present something akin to a TV recap which brings the viewer up to date on what has already happened in episodes previously aired before actually starting a brand new episode. As such, the actual history covering the Rise of the Roman Empire to which Polybius has devoted his life’s work does not actually commence until well into Book III.
Although well informed and qualified to write on his chosen subject, Polybius falls far behind Herodotus and Thucydides as an actual writer, which may account for why his name is not as well-known as the other two great Greek historians who managed to eclipsed him only on the level of readability.