Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Genos Politeion
Book 6, Rome, and Hellenism

Compare the national character of each community with the laws and customs by which they are respectively governed, and, without an exception, the one will be found the archetype of the other.

ROBERT OWEN, A New View of Society

In the politico-cultural language of Hellenism, Polybius had a rich and adaptable ideological heritage at his disposal. Earlier Greek thinkers had worked out the causal factors determining where a particular people should fall in the continuum between the polarities of Hellene and barbarian. Polybius uses all of these criteria of causation in his work, but his focus on the nature and structure of politeiai allowed him the greatest degree of ffexibility in placing the Romans on his Greek-barbarian grid. Polybius considers his account of the Roman constitution to be not only necessary for the plan of his work, but also essential reading for constitutional reformers (3.118.11–12). This account comes in book 6, which most clearly articulates the causal determinants in Polybius's thinking for collective societal characteristics, and, by implication, for the designations of Hellene and barbarian. The sixth book, therefore, is the place to begin a study of Polybius's cultural constructions of the Romans and other ethnic-cultural groups.

Polybius's treatment of the Roman state in book 6 is an exercise in analogy and polarity. These aspects of his representation of Rome in book 6 are most obvious in his description of the Roman political and military systems.1 The Roman politeia, analogous to the best rationally organized Greek states, was a political and military organization of awesome exactitude, symmetry, and efficiency.2 On the other hand, its unparalleled degree of organizational

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1
6.19–42; see also the comparison of Roman and (implied) Greek methods of dividing up war booty at 10.16.2–17.5; cf. Philip V's high regard for the Roman political and military systems: Syll.3 543 (IV), lines 26–39; Liv. 31.34.8.
2
Cf. 5.90.8 on Hellenic logismos: Greeks surpass all others in recognizing the true value of things (); see further appendix C.

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