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Google Scholar. Lythe and J. Corfield, op. Wrigley and R. Wrigley and Schofield, op. Corfield and N. Hatcher, op. CrossRef Google Scholar. Introduction by T. I London: Dent, edn pp. Cited ibid. Earle, op. Marshall ed.

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In: Dialogues d'histoire ancienne. Relations culturelles et diplomatie. Comprendre les Romains : Polybe et le point de vue grec. The Greek historian Polybius was a contemporary observer of Roman expansion in the eastern Mediterranean. University of Edinburgh andrew. One of the problems with the study of empires is that so often we know more about the viewpoint of the ruler than we do about what the subject people thought.

The Roman empire is no exception. We can read at great length what Julius Caesar wrote about his conquest of Gaul, why he went, what he thought of the Gauls, how he put down rebellions, but we have little idea what the Gauls at the time thought of him or of Rome, apart from what he himself tells us. This is frequently the case with empires, the perspective of the conquered is overwhelmed by the ruling power. In the case of Gaul it is Rome that shapes how things are viewed, so much so that even on the famous 19th C.

These are uplifting words but it is Caesar who speaks for Vercingetorix and for France. What interests me here is Rome as it moves into an area rather than the experience of living under Roman rule — in other words at the point when Rome is first encountered. There are indeed opportunities for studying this but to take advantage of them it is necessary to look to the East.

With its long tradition of writing, the East gives us valuable first impressions of Rome and the Romans. These are not exclusively Greek first impressions; the Jews too provide a record of their developing relationship with Rome, but the focus in this paper will be on Greeks and on one man in particular. Polybius and Rome.

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This is the Greek historian Polybius. He came from Megalopolis in the Peloponnese, an important city in the federation known as the Achaean League, its regional aspirations perhaps clear from its name, Big City or even Great City. Only about a quarter of his forty-book history survives, but there is enough remaining to get a reasonably good idea of how he viewed Rome and the Romans, even if scholars are not agreed on what that idea is. Polybius wrote in the second century BC and witnessed a world turned upside down during his own lifetime. There was one further kingdom, something of an upstart among these older monarchies, the Attalids of Pergamum in Asia Minor, which emerged in the latter part of the third century.

So it was a world of Macedonian kings and Greek cities and this had been the norm for more than a century — for aristocrats like Polybius and his family this was the world they were trained to deal with. The kingdoms of Macedon and Pergamum had gone, while the power of Syria and Egypt was sharply diminished. A traveller in former Attalid or Seleucid territories of Asia Minor would find himself faced with Roman milestones that asserted Roman power over the landscape: Latin inscribed above Greek on the stone.

Polybius set himself the task of explaining this transformation. This was the big issue of the day. Their campaigns were fought against the Hellenistic kings, kings of Macedon and Syria. The result was that Greek cities only gradually came under Roman control. Indeed the Romans arrived as victors so often do, now as well as then advertising themselves as bringers of freedom. At the Isthmian Games of that followed their victory over Philip V of Macedon they famously announced that all those places previously occupied by Philip were to be free.

The Macedonian king was to withdraw all his garrisons from Greece. The announcement had all the more force as it was made a few miles from the key Macedonian stronghold in southern Greece, the Acrocorinth. Polybius himself records. Plutarch adds a further touch. So great was the noise that birds flying overhead dropped out of the sky. But it was a transformation not only of the eastern Mediterranean, one that was public and on a grand scale.

As a member of a leading Achaean family Polybius was on course for great things in a political career which would in all likelihood have taken him to the leadership of the Achaean League, a position previously held several times by his father Lykortas. Roman success changed all that. When the Romans defeated the Macedonians for a second time in the early s, they put an end to the kingdom of Macedon, thus overturning the political balance of mainland Greece. Polybius found himself branded as unreliable and with around a thousand other Achaeans was shipped off to Rome as detainee, where he was to spend the next 15 or so years of his life.

His detention appears not to have been overly restrictive. Nonetheless, for a member of the Greek elite exile meant not only loss of a political career but also the loss of the very civic context that gave him his identity. Polybius thought that by BC and the end of the Macedonian kingdom Rome ruled the world — there may still have been independent kingdoms but in practice they all obeyed Roman orders.

He may also have found when he got to Rome that this was the view held there too, that Romans considered the whole world subject to them. But the gradual. Only when they tried to resist Roman orders did they realize they were subjects — as was to happen so starkly in Achaea in the s when Achaean resistance led to the Roman destruction of the great city of Corinth. Romans: Different from Greeks? It is the earliest surviving account of Rome, earlier by a century even than anything written by Romans. In what follows I want to consider what sort of people Polybius thought the Romans were, how it was they were able to enforce their will in this way.

What is clear is that he and others thought they were very different from Greeks — and living amongst them for so long did not seem to change his view. When Rome entered the East, it was quite unlike anything Greeks were familiar with. It was not a king, it was not even Greek. And as a city it did not behave as cities normally did. Cities in Hellenistic Greece trod carefully in their relations with kings and their strength, when they had it, came about largely through being part of a group as Megalopolis was part of the Achaean League.

Greeks and Macedonians together had long dominated the eastern Mediterranean and now their role was being taken over by a Latin-speaking people from central Italy or, to put it another way, a barbarian people, as the Romans would have been seen from a Greek perspective. Where previously Greeks would have been able to look down on everyone else as inferior, as the Other, now they found themselves in that uncomfortable position of inferiority, at least in relation to Rome.

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The barbarianness of the Romans was an issue for Greeks early on. Polybius reports a series of speeches by leading Greek politicians of the late third century who are concerned that Rome is a danger to Greece and are urging action. Clearly Polybius felt that some people were saying and thinking things like this. Furthermore it would appear that they carried on doing so if Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing well over a century later, is to be believed. He laments the way some Greeks accuse fortune of bestowing the blessings of the Greeks on the worst of the barbarians.

Polybius himself never calls the Romans barbarians, at least not in his own voice. It was perhaps not the most neutral language to use. But Polybius is not shy of highlighting the differences between Greeks and Romans and these differences often see the Romans looking rather more like barbarians than Greeks. This is evident in a little noticed passage right at the beginning of his history. After some introductory pages outlining the subject matter of the history, almost the first act of the Romans that he describes is the punishment of more than three hundred Roman soldiers who had disobeyed orders and seized a city they were supposed to have been protecting, the city of Rhegium in southern Italy.

This is what he writes:. But Romans and Greeks reading this are likely to have. The forum was the central square or meeting area in Rome. Death in the forum may not have been common but it happened — not only was it was one of the places in Rome where executions could occur, it was also a regular location for gladiatorial games. Greeks, however, would have read this very differently.


Firstly, the form of execution was not one common among Greeks. Decapitation was something that tended to be thought of as a non-Greek practice, that is to say something done by barbarians. It is likely that similar practices could be found elsewhere in the Greek world. But there is more to the passage than this.

The event certainly happened in the Forum as indicated in the English translation above and in most translations of this passage but of course a Greek would have read it in the Greek that Polybius originally. The agora was a place resonant with meanings and symbolism; it was the civic and political centre of the city but it also had a special religious significance. On the other hand, it may have confirmed their expectations — this was exactly the sort of thing they expected Romans to be doing.

Sometimes explanation of a custom is necessary for satisfactory understanding of the narrative, but at other times a remark that something is in accordance with Roman custom adds little to the understanding of what is happening. Instead the reader is confronted with a custom which is emphatically not Greek. We have seen the beheading of the three hundred in the forum but there are other examples that could also be adduced: the savagery of the Romans when they capture a city, the shouting and banging of shields as Roman soldiers go into battle and the rather bizarre practice of Roman women sweeping the floors of temples with their hair at times of crisis.

But these are also all things that Greeks would readily associate with the negative stereotype of the barbarian; just like other barbarians, the Romans are excessively violent or show themselves to be overly fearful of the gods, what the Greeks would call deisidaimonia, often translated as superstition.

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By saying that something is a Roman custom Polybius shows how alien the Romans are — this is not an isolated incident, Polybius seems to be saying, they often did this. I suggested earlier in this section that even though Polybius himself never directly calls the Romans barbarians he does, sometimes at least, represent them in this way, but there is an interesting twist. Scipio, when he thought that enough troops had entered the town, sent most of them, as is the Roman custom, against the inhabitants of the city ordering them to kill whoever they met and to spare no one, and not to begin plundering until the signal had been given.

Consequently, when cities are captured by the Romans, one can often see not only humans slaughtered, but even dogs cut in two and the severed limbs of other animals. Polybius draws attention to the non-Greek nature of this behaviour by specifying that this is a Roman custom. The Thracians burst into Mycalessus, sacked the houses and temples and butchered the inhabitants, sparing neither the young nor the old, but killing in turn everyone they met, women and children alike, and even farm animals and every living thing they saw.

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So now there was confusion on all sides and death in every shape and form. Outwardly the behaviour of both the Romans and Thracians is very similar in these two passages — both of them enter the city and indiscriminately slaughter the inhabitants. But the motivation is presented differently in each case. The Thracians behave as they do simply because they are barbarians. It is their innate murderousness or bloodthirstiness that drives them to kill, an impulse which increases as success boosts their confidence further; the less they are opposed, the more they want to kill.

The behaviour of the Romans, on the other hand, is very different. They conduct themselves in an orderly fashion, guided not by impulse but by signals: kill until the signal is given and only then start to plunder the city. Polybios gives us barbarian behaviour, but as he is doing so he also attempts to provide a rationale for the savagery that he is describing. It is not mindless violence of the type perpetrated by the Thracians, instead it has a very deliberate purpose; its aim is to inspire terror. The immediate context suggests that he has in mind the terrified inhabitants who would have been terrified regardless of whether it was a deliberate policy but it is possible too that he sees the Romans as using the example of one city to inspire terror more widely.

Whichever audience the Romans have in mind the message of Polybius is clear: Roman slaughter may be indiscriminate, but it is rational. And if we return to that early passage about the decapitation of the three hundred prisoners in the forum, Polybius can again be found providing a reason for outwardly barbarian behaviour. The conclusion of the sentence was omitted above, but it is now time to print it:.

When these prisoners were sent to Rome, the consuls had them all marched into the agora and there, according to the Roman custom, they were first scourged and then beheaded,. They want to demonstrate to their allies that keeping their good faith is of paramount importance to them, something done by a punishment that is both public and dramatic. Examples such as these suggest that Polybius was grappling with the problem of explaining how Greeks come to be ruled by barbarians. In his history the Romans appear both as different from Greeks and as different from the typical barbarian.

They may behave like barbarians but their behaviour is not arbitrary; instead they have good reasons for doing the things they do and this helps to explain their success. Yet far from their rationality being reassuring, it seems to make them more alien and scarier. A rational Greek might feel he has some hope of defeating an enemy who is running round hacking heads off in a demented way but how does he cope with an enemy who is cool and calculating about it?

Explaining Success. The Greeks had failed — they were ruled by Rome. As part of his explanation for this he places considerable emphasis on the nature of Roman society, a subject to which he devotes the whole of the sixth book of his history. In this book he makes much of the Roman constitution and scholars have written extensively on what he has written about it, so I have no wish to add to that now.

The first is the extraordinary order and efficiency of the Romans. The second is the way that for Romans the interests of the state are the most important thing, more important than anything else.