(Latin form of Greek Polybios)

Greek historian. Born c. 200 BCE in Megalopolis, died c. 118 BCE.

Born into a prominent Megalopolitan family (his father Lycortas was a general of the Achaean League), Polybius received an early training in politics and military affairs. By virtue of his family connections and his training, he was given several important positions, including a post as cavalry commander. He was thus a significant participant in the activities of the Achaean League.

In 167 BCE, during the war between Rome and Macedonia, Polybius was one of the 1000 Achaean hostages who were taken to Rome to guarantee the neutrality of the League. He was to remain there for 17 years. Since he was a man of culture and distinction, he was treated as an honoured guest in Rome, and welcomed into the finest homes. Among these was the household of Aemilius Paulus, whose two sons (Fabius and the younger Scipio) Polybius became the teacher of.

In particular, Polybius established a close friendship with Scipio. Though he was allowed to return to Greece in 150BCE, he went back to Rome the very next year, and joined Scipio in Africa, in time to witness the fall of Carthage (146 BCE). With the fall of Corinth later that year, Polybius returned to Greece once more. Eventually, when Greece became a Roman province, Polybius helped arrange the political transition, in recognition of which the Romans raised many monuments to him (the remnant, a pedestal, of one such monument was discovered at Olympia).

For most of the latter part of his life he seems to have lived at Rome, writing history. His particular subject was, unsurprisingly, Rome, and it is in Polybius' historical and political studies that we find the best contemporary description of Roman politics and history. It was Polybius' view that the Roman constitution, being a combination of the political forms of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, was the best of its time - and that its strength was the prime cause of Roman dominance. His histories (Pragmateia, 40 vols.) deal with the period of Roman history from 219 BCE to 146 BCE. Of the forty volumes of the original, only books 1-5, part of book 6, and extracts from the remaining books, are preserved for posterity. Although the style of his writing is sometimes ponderous and stiff, his overall knowledge and insight is unparallelled among ancient historians.

After many years in Rome, he finally returned to Greece, and died sometime around 118 BCE, of a fall from a horse.

From the Renaissance to the Romantic age, Polybius was the most widely-read of the Greek historians. His analysis of the Roman constitution formed the basis of Niccoló Machiavelli's political philosophy, and his description of the Achaean League inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, when they composed the U.S. Constitution in 1787.