(Πολύβιος). (1) One of the most important Greek historians, born about B.C. 204 at Megalopolis; the son of Lycortas, general of the Achaean League in 185-184 and after 183. Through his father, and his father's friend Philopoemen, he early acquired a deep insight into military and political affairs, and was afterwards intrusted with high federal offices, such as the commandership of the cavalry, the highest position next to the federal generalship. In this capacity he directed his efforts towards maintaining the independence of the Achaean League. As the chief representative of the policy of neutrality during the war of the Romans against Perseus of Macedonia, he attracted the suspicion of the Romans, and was one of the 1000 noble Achaeans who in 166 were transported to Rome as hostages, and detained there for seventeen years. In Rome, by virtue of his high culture, he was admitted to the most distinguished houses, in particular to that of Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror in the Macedonian War, who intrusted him with the education of his sons, Fabius and the younger Scipio. He was on terms of the most cordial friendship with the latter, whose counsellor he became. Through Scipio's intercession in 150, Polybius obtained leave to return to his home with those of the Achaeans who still survived; but in the very next year he went with his friend to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage, B.C. 146. After the destruction of Corinth in the same year, he returned to his native land, and made use of his credit with the Romans to lighten, as far as he could, the lot of his unfortunate countrymen. When Greece was converted into a Roman province, he was intrusted with the difficult task of organizing the new form of government in the Greek towns, and in this office gained for himself the highest recognition both from the conquerors and from the conquered, the latter rewarding his services by setting up statues to him and by other marks of honour (Polyb. Epitome, xl. 10; Pausan. viii. 9, 30, 37, 44, 48). The pedestal of such a statue has been discovered at Olympia. The succeeding years he seems to have spent in Rome, engaged on the completion of his historical work, and occasionally undertaking long journeys through the Mediterranean countries in the interest of his history, more particularly with a view to obtaining actual ocular knowledge of historical sites. After the death of his patron he returned to Greece, and died in 122, at the age of eighty-two, in consequence of a fall from his horse.
During his long sojourn in Rome, his study of the history and constitution of Rome, as well as his personal experiences, inspired him with the conviction that the Roman people owed the magnificent development of their power, not to fortune, but to their own fitness, and to the excellence of their political and military institutions, as compared with those of other States, and that therefore their rapid rise to world-wide dominion had been in some measure an historical necessity. In order to enlighten his countrymen on this point, and thereby to supply them with a certain consolation for their fate, he composed his history (Πραγματειά) of the period between B.C. 220 and 146, in forty books. Of these the first two are in the form of an Introduction, and give a compendium of events in Italy, Africa, and Greece, from the destruction of Rome by the Gauls to the First Punic War, thus recording the rise of the Roman supremacy. [p. 1284] The first main division (books iii.-xxx.) contained in synchronistic arrangement the occurrences from 220 to 168that is, of the time in which Rome was founding its world-wide dominion through the Hannibalian, Macedonian, Syrian, and Spanish Wars. The second (books xxxi.-xl.) described the maintenance and consolidation of this dominion against the attempts to overthrow it in the years 168-146. Of this work only books i.-v. have been preserved in a complete form; of the rest we possess merely fragments and epitomes. This is especially to be regretted in those parts in which Polybius narrates events which came within his own experience. He is the first representative of that particular type of historical composition, which does not merely recount the several facts and phenomena in chronological order, but goes back to the causes of events, and sets forth their results. His work rests upon a knowledge of the art of war and of politics, such as few ancient historians possessed; upon a careful examination of tradition, conducted with keen criticism; partly also upon what he had himself seen, and upon the communications of eye-witnesses and actors in the events. It sets forth the course of occurrences with clearness, penetration, sound judgment, and love of truth, and, among the circumstances affecting the result, lays especial stress on the geographical conditions. It belongs, therefore, to the greatest productions of ancient historical writing, though, in respect to language and style, it does not attain the standard of Attic prose. The language is often wanting in purity, and the style is stiff and inharmonious.
There are editions of Polybius by Schweighuser, in 8 vols. (Leipzig, 1789-95); Bekker (Berlin, 1844); Dindorf (last ed. 1882); and Hultsch (2d ed. 1888); and of a part of the history, with good English notes, by Davidson (1890). There is a translation into English by Shuckburgh, 2 vols. (London, 1889). See Von Scala, Die Studien des Polybius (1891 foll.).
(2) A favourite freedman of the emperor Claudius. He was the companion of the studies of Claudius; and on the death of his brother, Seneca addressed to him a Consolatio, in which he bestows the highest praises upon his literary attainments. Polybius was put to death through the intrigues of Messalina, although he had been one of her paramours.