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Polybius: Historian and Politician
The histories written by Polybius are considered to be essential from historiographic perspective as it gives detailed and comprehensive picture and understanding of the Hellenistic world. His work on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire are considered to be one of the most important and significant works in the field of classical history.[footnoteRef:1] The aim of this research is to investigate and study the historical settings in which Polybius had penned down his most famous work, the Histories in the lights of broad and diverse academic resources. The analysis would be beneficial in understanding the political and social constraints responsible for influencing his work and furthermore, the opinion of his contemporaries and the reception got from critics when Polybius work was completed. [1: Bulloch, A.W., Gruen, E.S., Long, A.A. And Stewart, A. (eds.) (1993) Images and Ideologies: Self-Definition in the Hellenistic World, Berkeley-Los Angeles London]
Background of the Research
Polybius was originally a Greek but lived in the times of Roman Empire. As a historian, he has made significant contributions in the field of classical historiography. The Histories had been written in multiethnic cultural settings. His masterpiece contains several important concepts including the concept that continuous development and diversity are essential for the survival of a government. This diversity must also be embraced in order to promote progression and development. The analysis made by Polybius are unique and logical and based on rational thinking and thus, they form the foundations of modern concepts, which makes the researchers, authors and academics to revisit Polybius.
The research would incorporate thorough and critical analysis and historiography of Polybius in order to understand the atmosphere and settings in which he had written the Histories. Furthermore, what inspired him to write and what factors influenced his writings would also be explored. Histories cover the political system of Rome. According to Polybius, the balance of power can be seen in the Roman system of government. This attitude and perception would be explored and investigated[footnoteRef:2]. The qualities of the Roman system of government would be analyzed and investigated. The historical accounts and narratives would also be discussed and presented in this research. The accounts of Polybius and his contemporaries would be explored in order to get the clear picture of the classical world of that time. [2: Bulloch, A.W., Gruen, E.S., Long, A.A. And Stewart, A. (eds.) (1993) Images and Ideologies: Self-Definition in the Hellenistic World, Berkeley-Los Angeles London]
It is believed that Polybius had laid down the foundations for exploring and studying political and social movements such as the transformation and changes in the structure of the government and the tactics and strategic course of action adopted by the military. This study would concentrate on discussing the war accounts witnessed by Polybius first hand. The Battles of Cannae and Corinth will be discussed. Polybius always concentrated on analyzing factors that gave rise to a trend that gave rise to the military or political trend rather than discussing details. This makes him stand out among his contemporaries and as the pioneer of classical historiography by giving new tools and methods of conducting historiography.
Polybius work, the Histories, is of great significance and form the basis of classical historiography. This essay would mainly concentrate on discussing politics, military actions and the entire process of history itself used in the Histories. For this purpose, brief biography of Polybius would be given including his association and link with the Achaean Confederacy. Roman imperialism and its expansion in Northern parts of Africa would be discussed. Furthermore, the wars which he had witnessed firsthand would also be discussed[footnoteRef:3]. Furthermore, Polybius personal relationships with prominent figures including his companionship with Scipio would be analyzed and explored. Lastly, his contribution in the field of historiography would be analyzed. [3: Clarke, K. (1999a) Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Reconstructions of the Roman World, Oxford ]
Polybius, a great name in history, is known to be one of the most popular historian of all times. Belonging from the Hellenistic world, he had written a book, the Histories, which covers the history of the period 220 to 146 B.C. His work concentrates on explaining how the Romans came into power and how it had been successful in taking full control of Greece. Furthermore, his work contains the concept of political balance in a government. This concept has been extensively in the Spirit of Laws as well as in forming the Constitution of United States. The birth of the historian is disputed although some historians believed that he was born in 200 B.C in Arcadia[footnoteRef:4]. His father name was Lycortas, who was renowned politician and military strategist and belonged to the ruling class. Furthermore, he was active member of the Achaean League. Since Polybius father was against the Roman domination in Macedonia, his opposition and war against the Romans, resulted in imprisoning him. After his father's imprisonment, Polybius was detained in Rome, where he was appointed by Lucius Aemilius Paulus to provide education to his sons. Because of his high and cultural values, Polybius had been successful in integrating in the Roman society and culture and in 152 B.C; he had been given a chance to go back to Macedonia, which he declined. He had a strong companionship with Scipio, a Roman military commander. He went to Africa and Hispania with him[footnoteRef:5]. [4: Clarke, K. (1999a) Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Reconstructions of the Roman World, Oxford ] [5: Clarke, K. (1999a) Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Reconstructions of the Roman World, Oxford ]
Early Political and Military Influence
Polybius was from Megalopolis in Arcadia. Since his father was a prominent politician and member of Achaean League, Polybius life revolved around politics and military. This gave him the chance to gain information on military and political affairs of that time. His fondness for hunting, diversions and horse riding assisted him to get an honourable place among his Achaean contemporaries and later in Rome. He got the position of a cavalry leader in the year 170 B.C. His initial career in politics mainly concentrated on fighting for freedom.
The History is considered to be volumes of his work, which contain historical events and accounts, which Polybius had experienced firsthand. He covers the rise of the Roman Empire and how it was erected. Furthermore, war accounts including how the Romans defeated Hannibal and the plundering of Carthage and Corinth have been discussed in detail[footnoteRef:6]. According to Polybius, a historian should only write about the events in which he could interview those individuals, who had witnessed them. [6: Clarke, K. (1999b) 'Unusual perspectives in historiography', in C.S. Kraus, ed., The Limits of Historiography: Genre and Narrative in Ancient Historical Texts (Leiden-Boston-Cologne) 249 -- 79 ]
The Rise of the Roman Empire
Polybius main objective was to analyze the factors that contributed towards the rise of the Roman Empire. He has analyzed the merits of Roman constitution and has compared it to the constitutions of other civilizations. As a political theorist, his outlook and opinions can be observed through the political analysis in the History. The initial volume of the History starts with Polybius stay in Rome. Polybius was detained in Rome, where he was appointed by Lucius Aemilius Paulus to provide education to his sons. Because of his high and cultural values, Polybius had been successful in integrating in the Roman society and culture and in 152 B.C; he had been given a chance to go back to Macedonia, which he declined. The end of Macedonian monarchy in 168 BC particularly interested Polybius and from his perspective, "the rise of Rome as the work of Fortune (Tyche). According to him, this fate, raised Rome to world domination; the swift conquest of power by Rome was more like the manifestation of a providential plan"[footnoteRef:7]. However, it should be noted that the rise of Roman Empire as explained by Polybius does not indicate that history is influenced by a Deity or Supernatural Force. He has mentioned several times in his book that "historical events result from human actions and in one significant passage in Book XXXVI, he allows the historian to invoke Tyche only as an explanation of those events for which it is difficult or impossible for men to perceive any rational cause - for example, floods, drought, epidemics and what in English we call 'acts of God'"[footnoteRef:8]. [7: Clarke, K. (1999b) 'Unusual perspectives in historiography', in C.S. Kraus, ed., The Limits of Historiography: Genre and Narrative in Ancient Historical Texts (Leiden-Boston-Cologne) 249 -- 79 ] [8: Kurt Von Fritz -The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 2004]
What contributed towards the Rise of the Roman Empire in accordance to Polybius history? The History indicates that the Volume VI that Romans are like that of melting pot, which combines the ideas of all individuals and thus, each and every idea is amalgamated…[continue]
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Harris (1979) noted that the work of Polybius on Roman Imperialism can be viewed to be a much more closer/realistic account of the process that any other 20th century historians. Polybius was therefore very honest and at the same time reliable with his work on Roman history (Davidson, 1991, p.10). Polybius' contribution to the establishment of the U.S. constitution The contribution of Polybius to the establishment of the U.S. constitution is
Roman Republic, which took place over a century from the end of the Punic Wars in 146 BC to the establishment of autocracy and military dictatorship under Julius Caesar after 45 BC, and then Octavian-Augustus from 31 BC, one of the most important questions would be: what were the main causes for its failure? There are no simple answers to that, of course, although almost certainly socioeconomic factors were