Polybius' account of the rise of Rome, from city on seven hills to world power, has great vigour, reading book one which deals with the first punic war when Rome leapt out of Italy into conflict with Carthage for control over Scilly I had the sensation that the narrative was pursuing me like an elephant, bearing down on me as I fled before it. Polybius is also one of the hugely unlucky authors of antiquity, as only the first five books of his universal history survive along with fragments of the rest, in this translation we get the remaining bits of book six - discussing constitutions, part of Polybius' thesis is that it was Rome's distinctive mixed constitution that propelled the city state to dominance, and book twelve which deals with how unreasonably stupid other historians are, admittedly in his august opinion. In his view the Athenian constitution was ok but like a ship without a captain and so doomed, Plato's constitution had never been tested in practise, Sparta with its equal division of land the best at achieving stability but did not provide the basis for massive expansion, the Roman constitution through trial and error however allowed the achievement of empire and if that is what you want, then it is the model to follow, he doesn't care for the Carthaginian constitution as they practised bribery, not as in promising greatness or tax cuts, but as in literally handing out coins for votes. Polybius's vision of history is cyclical, so everything tends to decay, he came from Acadia and as he says the Arcadian tends to be dour, unless they practise dancing and music (which presumably in exile he didn't, allowing his dourness to flourish and flower like a thistle), still I think there can be no doubt what lies in the future for Rome, When a state has warded off so many serious threats, and has come to attain undisputed supremacy and sovereignty, it is easy to see that, after a long period of settled prosperity, lifestyles become more extravagant and rivalry over political positions and other such projects becomes fiercer than it should be.
I think reading this book by Polybius (c. However, before I forget, I'd like to reveal a section that needs improving for its next revised edition (again, if I don't forget I would inform those in charge at Penguin Books soon).
Oscar Wilde, The Rise of Historical Criticism __________ I read Polybius for a first-hand account of the period of the History of Rome he discusses in his work, and did not do so with an especially analytical or critical eye. What Polybius felt was that to admit the possibility of a miracle is to annihilate the possibility of history: for just as scientific and chemical experiments would be either impossible or useless if exposed to the chance of continued interference on the part of some foreign body, so the laws and principles which govern history, the causes of phenomena, the evolution of progress, the whole science, in a word, of mans dealings with his own race and with nature, will remain a sealed book to him who admits the possibility of extra-natural interference. For while Polybius regarded the revealed religion as, of course, objective reality of truth, he laid great stress on its moral subjective influence, going, in one passage on the subject, even so far as almost to excuse the introduction of the supernatural in very small quantities into history on account of the extremely good effect it would have on pious people. But perhaps there is no passage in the whole of ancient and modern history which breathes such a manly and splendid spirit of rationalism as one preserved to us in the Vaticanstrange resting-place for it!in which he treats of the terrible decay of population which had fallen on his native land in his own day, and which by the general orthodox public was regarded as a special judgment of God sending childlessness on women as a punishment for the sins of the people. He then proceeds to notice how all this arose from the general reluctance to marriage and to bearing the expense of educating a large family which resulted from the carelessness and avarice of the men of his day, and he explains on entirely rational principles the whole of this apparently supernatural judgment. . Having now examined Polybiuss attitude towards the supernatural and the general ideas which guided his research, I will proceed to examine the method he pursued in his scientific investigation of the complex phenomena of life. For, as I have said before in the course of this essay, what is important in all great writers is not so much the results they arrive at as the methods they pursue. Now first, as regards his conception of history, I have already pointed out that it was to him essentially a search for causes, a problem to be solved, not a picture to be painted, a scientific investigation into laws and tendencies, not a mere romantic account of startling incident and wondrous adventure. If, he says, we banish from history the consideration of causes, methods and motives ( , , ), and refuse to consider how far the result of anything is its rational consequent, what is left is a mere Barren exercise, not a Significant piece of thought, an oratorical essay which may give pleasure for the moment, but which is entirely without any scientific value for the explanation of the future. . He thus may be said to have anticipated one of the most important truths of the modern methods of investigation: I mean that principle which lays down that just as the study of physiology should precede the study of pathology, just as the laws of disease are best discovered by the phenomena presented in health, so the method of arriving at all great social and political truths is by the investigation of those cases where development has been normal, rational and undisturbed. The critical canon that the more a people has been interfered with, the more difficult it becomes to generalise the laws of its progress and to analyse the separate forces of its civilisation, is one the validity of which is now generally recognised by those who pretend to a scientific treatment of all history: and while we have seen that Aristotle anticipated it in a general formula, to Polybius belongs the honour of being the first to apply it explicitly in the sphere of history. I have shown how to this great scientific historian the motive of his work was essentially the search for causes; and true to his analytical spirit he is careful to examine what a cause really is and in what part of the antecedents of any consequent it is to be looked for. Thucydides, regarding society as influenced entirely by political motives, took no account of forces of a different nature, and consequently his results, like those of most modern political economists, have to be modified largely 20 before they come to correspond with what we know was the actual state of fact. Regarding truth as the most divine thing in Nature, the very eye and light of history without which it moves a blind thing, Polybius spared no pains in the acquisition of historical materials or in the study of the sciences of politics and war, which he considered were so essential to the training of the scientific historian, and the labour he took is mirrored in the many ways in which he criticises other authorities.
Les événements relatés vont des prémisses de la première guerre punique (laquelle fait défaut dans Tite-Live) jusqu'à la destruction finale de Carthage lors de la troisième guerre punique. Malheureusement, malgré ses mille cinq cent pages, l'ouvrage devient rapidement un vrai gruyère, et on est réduit à se contenter d'une myriade de morceaux éparts qui bien que ne manquant pas d'intérêt individuellement, nous privent de la vision d'ensemble à laquelle l'auteur voulait donner vie.
Then he goes onto trace the rebuilding of the Carthaginian Empire in Spain by Hamilcar and then Hasdrubal - he frequently analyses their tactics and thinking. Especially interesting was certain specific details - such as the crossing of the Alps with Hannibal's huge army containing many animals, horses, mule-trains etc. The way Polybius describes the snow-laden mountainside and the difficulties and tactics employed by the Carthaginians really makes you imagine and think about it. There are frequently very exciting events happening such as the betrayal of the Romans by certain Celtic garrisons, massacring the Romans while they sleep and defecting to the Carthaginians - and then we have the amazing Scipio and his great tactics - especially his sack and massacre of the city of New Carthage (Hannibal's main base in Spain) and the way in which he evades the tide through an amphibious assault is really amazing to learn about.
Having a guilty pleasure that includes reading roman adventure novels of carnage and conquest, not to mention modern historians takes on the conflicts and events of the ancient world, I feel compelled to occassionally take on the guys that tend to be the source materials.