Introduction

Why should we read Polybius’ Histories? What does a secondcentury BC Greek historian have to offer the modern reader? If I had difficulty in answering these questions enthusiastically and positively, I would not (I hope) be writing this book. Polybius’ account of the rise of Rome’s empire and the nature of its government has impressed commentators through the ages, both for the excellence of its information and analysis, and for the sophistication of its historical method. His treatment of the Roman constitution in book 6 has retained its reputation as a classic work of political science. Furthermore, his vision of the world as an organic whole is almost prophetic in its anticipation of the modern concept of “globalization”. We are dealing, then, with a historian generally and, in my opinion, correctly regarded as one of the best of the ancient world; and one who continues to challenge our interpretation of Roman history and of the roots of Mediterranean identities. In the course of this book I hope to justify these claims, but I think it only fair to start by saying that the Histories is often seen as a “difficult” work. A number of factors conspire to create this impression.

First, even what survives of the text is long: whether for expert or amateur readers, it is not easy to engage with such a scale of

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Polybius' Histories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editors’ Foreword v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Maps xi
  • Contents xv
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Contents and Organization of the Work 17
  • 2- The Historian’s Task 51
  • 3- Art and History- The Narrative of Books 4 and 5 95
  • 4- The Historian as Homeric Hero 129
  • 5- The Political Theorizing of Book 6 169
  • Epilogue- into the Future 203
  • Appendix- Outline of the Work 223
  • Bibliography 241
  • Prominent Persons 247
  • Index 257
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