Episode 26 (Polybius, Part I)

POLYBIUS (III and II c. BC)

  • PART ONE –

Polybius was born around the year 203 in the Achaean city of Megalopolis and died around 120 BC. He was an ancient Greek historian under Roman influence. After defeating the Macedonian empire (which contained a large numberof Greek territories), the Romans took Macedonian and Greek children with them in Rome as hostages. One of them was Polybius, who stayed in Rome for17 years. As an educated and intelligent boy, Polybius was brought to live in the home of Aemilius Paulus himself (a Roman general who defeated Macedonia), where he was raised together with his children. In 150 BC he was allowed to go back home, but he refused and together with Aemilius Paulus’s son, went to north Africa, where he witnessed the destruction of Carthage by the Romans. After that he went to Spain, and then returned to Achaia where thanks to his connections with the Romans, made better living conditions for the Greeks. He wrote several books, but many of them were lost. His partially preserved work is the book “Histories”, in which the period from 220 till 146 BC is described in great detail.

We will examine the extracts from this work that are covering the subject we are focusing on.

It is well known that in the III century BC an Achaean League was formed. It was an alliance between the cities from the present-day Greece’s territories, especially Peloponnesus. At that time, Greek territories were occupied by the Macedonians. Theleader of the Achaean League was Aratus, who at first fought against Macedonian slavery, and later, after he was about to be replaced as leader of the Achaean League by the Spartan Cleomenes (III), he called his former enemies (the Macedonians) to help him. But, after they returned to Peloponnesus and helped him, the Macedonians did not retreat and stayed there. This is why Aratus was criticized by a significant part of the Greek public.

These events are described by Polybius. For the early activities of Aratus against the Macedonians, when he was fighting to push them off Peloponnesus, Polybius writes:

          “…He continued to govern the Achaean nation,  all his schemes and action being directed to one object,  the expulsion of the Macedonians from the Peloponnesus, the suppression of the tyrants, and the re-establishment on a sure basis of the ancient freedom of every state.” (SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, II, 43).

Of course, by“every state” Polybius means the Greek cities which were mainly occupied by the Macedonians. This extract clearly puts the Achaeans and the Macedonians as two separate nations (“nations”, meaning ethnically).

About the ambitions that Cleomenes of Sparta had for leading the Achaean League to liberate the Greeks from Macedonian slavery, Polybius writes:

          “…Cleomenes’ personal ambition, and far-reaching projects, though for the present he aimed only at supremacy in the Peloponnese, would, on his attaining this, at once develop into a claim to be over-lord of all Hellas, a thing impossible without his first putting an end to the dominion of Macedon.”(SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, II, 49).

This too is so clearly written that no further explanations are needed. The Spartan Cleomenes wanted to take over the leadership of the Achaean League so that he could rule Peloponnesus, and then with “all Hellas“. But, this was impossible because those territories were under Macedonian slavery meaning, he would first have had to free the Greeks from the Macedonian slavery, and then rule “all Hellas”. It is clear that Polybius under “all Hellas” did not consider Macedonia at all. On the contrary, it is clearly stated that in order to rule “all Hellas”, he would first have to free them from Macedonia.

Further on, Polybius, in order to explain some conditions of the later period, he goes back to Macedonia’s older history, mentioning Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon. Here too he clearly separates the Macedonians from the Greeks.

“Philip perceived and reckoned on the cowardice and indolence of the Persians as compared with the military efficiency of himself and his Macedonians, and further fixing his eyes on the splendour of the great prize which the war promised, he lost no time, once he had secured the avowed good-will of the Greeks, but seizing on the pretext that it was his urgent duty to take vengeance on the Persians for their injurious treatment of the Greeks, he bestirred himself and decided to go to war, beginning to make every preparation for this purpose.”(SOURCE: Po­lybius, “Histories”, III, 6).

We can see here that Polybius mentioned the Macedonians and the Greeks as two separate nations.

Polybius also writes about the war-contract Philip V of Macedon made with Hannibal of Carthage, which allied them against the dangers of the Romans.  One article from this contract says:

          “King Philip and the Macedonians and such of the Greeks as are the allies shall be protected and guarded by the Carthaginians…(Po­lybius, “Histories”, VII, III, 9).

There is no doubt that the Macedonians are treated as a different nation from the Greeks in here as well. It is known that at that time, not all but a large number of Greeks were under Macedonian slavery. The article in this contract clearly mentions the Macedonians and their allies the Greeks which were under their reign.