Polybios von Megalopolis. Staatsdenken zwischen griechischer Poliswelt und römischer Res Publica

Scherr, Jonas; Gronau, Martin; Saracino, Stefano
Staatsverständnisse (159)
Baden-Baden 2022: Nomos Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
319 S.
€ 64,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Christa Steinby, University of Helsinki

Many things are exceptional in Polybios (200–218 B.C.). The victory of Rome in the western and eastern Mediterranean caused great changes in world politics and made Polybios’ promising career in his home state to come to an end. He was deported to Rome, after the Third Macedonian War (171–168 B.C.), where he spent seventeen years in exile. He was a political prisoner, but he was in close contact with the Roman elite acting as a philosophical and military adviser to the younger Scipio Africanus. He witnessed the sack of Carthage in 146 B.C. These experiences had a strong impact on him and how he saw the world. He wanted to understand what this state was like, Rome, that in just 53 years took over most of the known world. By what kind of constitution and military power did they do it? Polybios had to understand this for his own sake, but also for the sake of being able to explain it to his fellow Greeks. Polybios became the messenger between two worlds.

A lengthy introduction opens this collection of articles. The editors explain how Polybios understood the state and the model of state theory that he developed. The epilogues, again written by the editors discuss the reception of Polybios’ work from the time of his death to the present time.

Some of the articles concentrate on just some clearly formulated research questions, while some discuss Polybios and his work in a wide well-read manner. We also get to know plenty of research history of these topics and how views have been developed. Together, they form a rich amalgam of ideas and approaches.

I do not intend to discuss the individual contributions here, but rather to mention some of the topics that constitute recurrent elements in the volume: To what extent was Polybios familiar with the Greek culture and history and what was his style of writing like? Polybios wrote the now lost biograph of the Greek strategos Philopoimen; to what extent can it be reconstructed based on Histories, where Polybios also discusses the topic? Generally, how does Polybios discuss important individuals in Histories? Evidently, Polybios had been raised in the spirit of the best Greek standards in historiography started by Herodotus, where the use of working chronology, having the understanding of reasons and consequences and applying a strict source criticism were crucial. Polybios gives many examples of his thinking as a historian and his quest for objectivity becomes clear. He had a difficult relationship to past and also contemporary historians, many of whom he castigates for instance for lack of practical experience, for not having visited the places they write about. Our problem of course is that so little if anything has survived from other historians’ texts in the Hellenistic period. We only have Polybios’ word that they were faulty.

Moreover, what was the meaning and credibility of speeches in Polybios’ work? A question that is relevant with all ancient historians. What is the framework in which Polybios discusses the Roman constitution, is it Greek or Roman? How are we to interpretate the difficult book 6 in Histories (of which a part is missing) and can we take Polybios as a great state theorist the way we see Plato and Aristotle? In terms of administration, Polybios does not say much about how a Hellenistic kingdom works, but he anyway knew the Ptolemaic state quite well through contacts and visits. The question is of course, do we want to expect that Polybios would be well acquainted with all the major Hellenistic states and that even more, he would have written of all of them?

Likewise, Polybios being placed in the Greek philosophical context makes interesting reading, as this approach has perhaps not been discussed so much. The Hellenistic schools of philosophy generally did not show an interest in ideal constitutions, but were concerned about the moral conduct for rulers. The Philosophers’ delegation was the group sent by Athens to Rome in 156/155 B.C., and in this embassy were included Carneades from Cyrene, representing the sceptical Academy, the Peripatetic Critolaus, and the Stoic Diogenes. Was the Roman rule over other nations justified? Did the philosophers’ thoughts have an impact on Polybios as he was developing his view of the Romans and their Imperium? What role did Polybios play in the development of the so-called Ciceronian theory of the Roman imperialism?

The Lelantine War in the Greek archaic age can be considered as the first general war and was fought between Chalcis and Eretria over the control of the plain between them. In the now fragmentary book 13, Polybios discusses Philip’s treacherous policy and contrasts this with the ancient convention of not using long-distance weapons, as hand-to-hand battle at close quarters was preferred. How do we interpret this passage and why does Polybios give this referral to the Greek law, as he does not otherwise say a word of this war and its participants?

Finally, we get a case study of Polybios’ second arrival in Italy in the 15th century Florens, when the first six books of Historiai had been translated into Latin, and how the text was received in the city so troubled with the constant changes in government and constitution.

This book makes a fine contribution to Polybios-research. Every chapter comes with its own substantial list of literature, so this publication also serves as a starting point for anyone looking for old and new literature on Polybios, the ancient historians and society. Some of the articles come with illustrations. A thorough index would have been useful due to the countless topics discussed.

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