Polibius and Livy

This is mainly an adaptation of a powerpoint done by my teacher.

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Who was Polibus?

•(c.200-118 BC): various dates are given for his birth e.g. 203BC and 208BC.

•Polybius was Greek, from the city of Megalopolis.  

•He was among 1000 Achaean nobles taken to Rome for possible trial in a purge of political opponents to Rome in 168BC during a period when Rome was in conflict with Greece.  

•He became a close associate of Scipio Aemilianus.  

•He travelled widely, to many of the places he writes about including Spain, Africa and the Alps.    

•He also saw the destruction of Carthage

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Polybius’ aims as a historian:

•He wrote a history of the period 264-146 BC, of Rome’s rise to power in the Mediterranean.  

•This was to be a political and military history – what he called pragmatikehistoria, but it was also meant to provide a lesson.  

•He writes his History with the intention to explain to his Greek readers why it is that they should accept Roman rule.  He intends to instruct them by showing them the inevitability of Roman success.

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Polybius’ Sources:

•Due to his contacts in Rome and elsewhere, he was able to interview persons who were present at events.

•He was himself an eyewitness to some events, so much of his information is first hand and the result of his own personal investigation. Such as the destruction of Carthage

•He says that he expects to gain information from those who witnessed events themselves, if he himself was not an eye-witness of the events he records.Two whom he mentions were Laelius (Scipio’s second in command) and Masinissa.

•He also used documents and inscriptions such as treaties, as well as personal memoirs and letters which we no longer have.

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Who was Livy?

He lived (c.59 BC – AD17).

Livy wrote his History under the patronage of Augustus; he was not, as Polybius was, experienced in war or politics he never visited the places he wrote about.

His works begin at the foundation of Rome and he wrote a year by year account.

It starts in 753BC and ended in 9BC.  There were 142 books, and only 35 still exist.

In his preface he makes it quite clear that he aimed to record the story of the greatest nation on earth.  He also wanted to offer models of behaviour in the lives and achievements of the heroes of the Republic.

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Problems with Livy:

•He does include mistakes which he fails to correct from his sources and fails to check the truth of what they say.

•He does expand upon his material imaginatively, especially where it gives him the chance to praise Romans or condemn their enemies, such as the Carthaginians.  In describing the places and the topography of events he is inclined to be inconsistent or vague.

•He has limited understanding of military and political matters and this leads him to biased accounts.

•He does however, provide considerable detail, facts and figures of senatorial meetings, assemblies, administrative organization and individual contributions to events.

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Polybius’ Source continued:

•Writers he used were: Philinus of Agrigentum who was a supporter of Carthage and Quintus Fabius Pictor, the first Roman Historian, who was alive during the hannibalic War.

•He also used the memoirs of Aratus and the Histories of Phylarchus.

•He criticizes both Philinus and Fabius for their bias and at times argues that their sources are not reliable.

•He says that it is the task of the historian to record the truth of what happened and not to sensationalise events with vivid recreations and speeches that did not occur.  The Historians task was to provide information which may instruct and guide future generations.

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