Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
For the video game of urban legend, see Polybius (Game)
As the former tutor of the Scipio Africanus the Younger, the famous adopted grandson of the famous general Scipio Africanus, Polybius remained on terms of the most cordial friendship and remained a counsellor to the man who defeated the Carthaginans in the Second Punic War by routing them from Spain and then defeating Hannibal himself in Africa at the Battle of Zama. The younger Scipio eventually invaded Carthage and forced them to surrender unconditionally. In a classic story of human behavior, Polybius captures it all: Nationalism, Racism, duplicitous politics, horrible battles, brutality, etc.; along with, loyalty, valor, bravery, intelligence, reason and resourcefulness. With his eye for detail and characteristic critically reasoned style, Polybius provided a unified view of history rather than a chronology.
Polybius was a member of the governing class, with firsthand opportunities to gain deep insight into military and political affairs. His political career was devoted largely 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 BC 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. Through Scipio's intercession in 150 BC, Polybius obtained leave to return home, but in the very next year he went with his friend to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage that he described.
After the destruction of Corinth in the same year, he returned to Greece and made use of his Roman connections to lighten the conditions as Greece was converted into a Roman province; Polybius was intrusted with the difficult task of organizing the new form of government in the Greek cities, and in this office gained for himself the highest recognition.
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 firsthand knowledge of historical sites. It also appears that he sought out and interviewed war veterans in order to clarify details of the events he was writing about, and was given access to archival material for the same purpose. After the death of Scipio he returned once again to Greece, where he died at the age of eighty-two, from a fall from his horse.
Livy used him as a reference and Polybius had excellent sources. Polybius narrates events which came within his own experience. He is one of the first historians to attempt to present history as a sequence of causes and effects, based 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. Considered the successor of Thucydides as far as objectivity and critical reasoning, he is the forefather of scholarly, painstaking historical research in the modern scientific sense. His work 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.
Polybius was responsible for a useful tool in cryptography which allowed letters to be easily signalled using a numerical system. This idea lends itself to cryptographic manipulation.
References and external links
- The Histories or The Rise of the Roman Empire by Polybius:
- Polybius' scheme as discussed in Guide to Cryptography
- At Bill Thaeyer's "Lacus Curtius" website: Short introduction to the life and work of Polybius
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