Polybius: Witness to the Rise of the Roman Empire

  At the end of the 3rd century BC, a series of large and small wars broke out in the Mediterranean world. “Father of Strategy” Hannibal led the army over the Alps to attack Italy, and the second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, which lasted for 16 years, broke out suddenly; The Greeks fought for hegemony between them, while Seleucus and Egypt fought in the Asiatic peninsula. For a time, wars in the Mediterranean world were raging, and beacons were everywhere. The outcome of the war astonished the Hellenistic world at the time: after the victory of the Romans, which ended the Second Punic War, the army was directed to the east. After the dust settled, Rome, a country on the Italian peninsula prospering by the Tiber River, created an unprecedented empire that spanned Europe, Asia, and Africa, including the Mediterranean Sea.
  This unprecedented miracle in ancient history has aroused the curiosity and inquiry of countless scholars of ancient and modern times, and the great historian Polybius pioneered it as a party and witness. His historical masterpiece “General History”, which is scattered in 40 volumes, records in detail the wars that took place in the Mediterranean world from 220 BC to 168 BC, and analyzes these almost at the same time and seemingly unrelated wars from a strategic perspective. The expedition revealed to the people the mystery of Rome’s victory.
  Polybius lived in a time of turbulence. He was born into a wealthy squire’s family in the city of Megalopolis in Arcadia, Greece, in 208 BC. At that time, the main political forces in the Hellenistic world were the three kingdoms of Macedonia, Seleucus and Ptolemaic Egypt, as well as the two major city-state alliances on the Greek peninsula, the Achaean League and the Aetolian League. Polybius was actively involved in Greek political life from an early age. At this time, the influence of Rome in the Hellenistic world became stronger and stronger, and it developed enough to compete with powerful countries such as Macedonia. Many anti-Macedonian Greek city-states saw Rome as their savior, but only Rome. Polybius and his father strongly advocated freedom and independent action, rather than blindly obeying the Romans. But they also saw the unstoppable Roman dominance of the Mediterranean world and had to go along with that trend. In 168 BC, after Rome defeated the Macedonian kingdom at the Battle of Pydna, it took 1,000 Greek nobles hostages to Rome for trial, including Polybius. These Greek nobles were never tried, but they were never allowed to leave Italy. Many spent the rest of their miserable lives in foreign lands, with fewer than 300 eventually returning to Greece.
  Compared to the other Greek hostages, Polybius was lucky. In Rome he met Amilius Scipio, the Roman general who would later destroy the city of Carthage in the Third Punic War. The two borrowed books from each other, and this was the beginning of their long-term friendship. Polybius was so talented that he was appreciated by Scipio’s father, Paulus. While his compatriots were imprisoned in Italian cities, he was hired as a tutor by General Borus and became a mentor and friend to Amilius. Polybius established a deep personal friendship with the young Roman aristocrat, “feeling with each other as father and son”, and through him entered the Roman upper class, and had frequent contacts with prominent figures in Roman politics. Polybius took full advantage of this opportunity to fully contact and explore the history, constitutional government, military system and customs of Rome, which laid the foundation for his future masterpiece “General History”.
  During his stay in Rome, he carefully observed the personal and public life of the Romans and their national identity, and actively participated in their social activities. In 151 BC, he accompanied Scipio to Spain and then to Africa, where he met Masinissa, king of Numidia. Afterwards, he worked tirelessly to follow Hannibal’s marching route across the Alps back to Italy, measuring and calculating Hannibal’s marching route along the way, all of which are recorded in his own works. In 149 BC, the Third Punic War broke out. He went to Carthage with Scipio, took a boat on the coast of Africa to explore and explore, and made suggestions for specific siege plans. In 146 BC, when the fallen city of Carthage was reduced to ashes in the raging fire, Polybius stood by Scipio’s side and recorded the destruction of Carthage by Scipio. sigh.
  That same year, an armed uprising against Rome broke out in Greece, and Rome, in a fit of rage, destroyed Corinth. After hearing the news of Polybius in Carthage, he quickly returned to Greece, sought solutions in the best interests of his compatriots, and saved some Greek art treasures from being destroyed or transported out of the country, and won the Greeks’ favor. gratitude. The Greeks regarded him as a benefactor. Greek cities such as Meccaropolis, Mantinia, Tegia, Olympia, etc. have his statues. Since then, he has continued to travel around the Mediterranean world, visiting places such as Alexandria in Egypt, Sardis in Asia Minor and Rhodes in the Aegean Sea, until he died unexpectedly at the age of 82.
  The sudden rise of Rome in half a century was an earth-shattering event, which caused a huge shock in the Greek world at that time. Until the late 3rd century BC, many Greeks also called the Romans “barbarians”, and Rome was full of admiration for those ancient Greek city-states and worshipped the ancient Greek civilization. The superior, arrogant Greeks, after they were completely conquered, did not understand why fate favored the humble Romans so much, while they themselves had to finally submit to Roman rule. It is against this historical background that Polybius wrote this voluminous history book, whose purpose is to explain to the world the mystery of Rome’s domination of the Mediterranean in a short period of time, and to reveal the fate of Rome’s victory. mega trend. In the introduction to the opening of the “General History”, he explained his motivation for writing:
  ”I’m sure no one could be so narrow and indifferent as to not want to understand by what means and under what system of government the Romans managed to bring the world to life in less than 53 years. Almost all the places inhabited by human beings are under their own rule. This is unprecedented in the history of mankind.”
  How did Rome dominate the world in half a century and become the hegemon of the Mediterranean world, Polybius explained this as The arrangement of fate. He asserted: “Just as Destiny controls almost everything in the world, causing it to develop in the same direction and with the same goal, so the historian’s mission is to allow readers to observe her process of accomplishing this master plan from the same perspective.” Many historiography He believed that he had a fatalistic view of revealing the causal relationship of things. However, although Polybius attributes the cause and effect of many things to fate, does he really believe in fate? In the sixth volume of the “General History”, he devoted himself to a detailed description and commentary on the political system, military system and traditional customs of Rome, and compared the Romans with other peoples-mainly with Carthage and Greece- comparison. Polybius was well acquainted with the various political systems of Greece, and in his view Rome was a hybrid system different from any Greek system: the Roman consuls resembled elements of the monarchy, and the Roman senate constituted the center of the system. The aristocratic factor, the people represent the democratic factor. He believes that this type of government, which integrates monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, not only reflects the advantages of these three systems, but also overcomes the disadvantages of these three systems when they go to extremes. Therefore, it can resist external threats. Take advantage of huge advantages. Of course, this view of his mixed regime is too mechanized, and has been questioned and criticized by modern scholars. He believed that by the time of the Second Punic War, the Roman system had become perfect and was in its heyday after several struggles between nobles and commoners. A nation with such a system and tradition is bound to be favored by fate and complete the great cause of unification. From this we can see that Polybius actually regarded the hegemony of Rome as the result of human factors such as the superior political system, military system and traditional customs, rather than the arrangement of fate. His so-called fate is just a rhetorical device, and it has no strict meaning. Perhaps, we can understand it as an inevitable trend of historical development.
  Polybius seems to be called by fate to complete this historical mission. In his life, he experienced major historical events from the Second Punic War to the end of the Roman Republic for about 80 years: his childhood in the Second Punic War (218 BC-201 BC) and the Second Punic War During the Macedonian War (200 BC-197 BC); he witnessed the war between Rome and the Seleucid Kingdom (192 BC-189 BC), the Third Macedonian War (171 BC-168 BC) ) and the Third Punic War (149-146 BC); witnessed the Numantian War (143-133 BC), which saw the Roman conquest of Spain, and the Roman interior caused by the reforms of the Gracchus Controversy (133-123 BC). As Thompson put it: “Never has a historian in his own life encountered more major events, and Polybius took this opportunity to become famous.
  ” In his political, diplomatic and military career, he spent the first 40 years of his life reading the ups and downs of states and individuals. This valuable life experience is an indispensable qualification for a true historian. In his writings, he criticized those den-style historians who study at home and behind closed doors. It is not difficult to see his profound insights into various strategies and tactics from the work “General History”. He is familiar with various military techniques such as battle, siege, signal transmission, etc. In addition, he is also proficient in some astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics, and has unique insights into the political system. All this provided him with experience and capital to write such a historical masterpiece. The “General History” has been highly regarded in ancient times and has become an important source of historical materials for later historians such as Livy, Theodorus, Dio Cassius, and Plutarch.
  The rise and expansion of the Roman Empire has always been the most interesting research topic for historians of ancient and modern times, and it is also a major issue that countless people of insight are constantly thinking about. Polybius, the great Greek historian more than two thousand years ago, is the originator of this miracle.