Polybius: Experience and the Lessons of History


Author: Daniel Moore
The Greek historian Polybius (2nd century B.C.E.) produced an authoritative history of Rome’s rise to dominance in the Mediterranean that was explicitly designed to convey valuable lessons to future generations. But throughout this history, Polybius repeatedly emphasizes the incomparable value of first-hand, practical experience. In Polybius: Experience and the Lessons of History, Daniel Walker Moore shows how Polybius integrates these two apparently competing concepts in a way that affects not just his educational philosophy but the construction of his historical narrative. The manner in which figures such as Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, or even the Romans as a whole learn and develop over the course of Polybius’ narrative becomes a critical factor in Rome’s ultimate success.

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Daniel Walker Moore, Ph.D. (2013), University of Virginia, has taught Classical language and literature at multiple universities and currently teaches at the Covenant School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has published articles on Polybius and other topics in Greek historiography.
"Overall, M. conducts his research with great reliability and a constant attention to Polybius’ text. He deals with hotly debated topics (such as the portraits of the Scipios; the analysis of the Roman constitution; the praise of Hannibal, Rome’s mortal enemy); guided as he is by his particular reading, he is always able to offer new and challenging views. In particular, by keeping himself focused on the text, he has avoided the danger that many scholars have encountered, namely to approach the Histories through a distorted lens given by preconceived ideas on Polybius’ political and ideological position on the rise of Rome. A critical and closer analysis of his work, on the other hand, shows how Polybius’ efforts were much more concerned with other questions, such as the importance of history and the lessons that his (as others’) experiences could teach to future generations. By revealing once more this crucial aspect, M. has provided us with a stimulating reading that certainly will be of practical use for anyone interested in the study of this great historian." Michele Bellomo, The Classical Review 71.2 343–345.


1 History and Experience in Polybius
 1 Introduction
 2 Empeiria and Learning from History
 3 Polybius and the Purpose of “Pragmatic” History
 4 The Value of Experience in Polybius
 5 The Value of History in Polybius
 6 Three Approaches to Knowledge: Experience, History, and Scientific Study
 7 Methodikē empeiria
 8 Experience and the Historian
 9 Conclusion

2 Hannibal, Practical Experience, and the Model Historian
 1 Introduction
 2 Hannibal as a New, Young Commander
 3 Hannibal’s Monument
 4 Hannibal’s Research for the Invasion of Italy
 5 Crossing the Alps and the Historian
 6 Hannibal vs. Rome
 7 Interpreting the Past at Cannae
 8 Hannibal’s Advice to Tarentum
 9 Hannibal and the Mutability of Fortune
 10 Hannibal and Scipio Africanus
 11 Conclusion

3 Learning from History
 1 Introduction
 2 Mankind’s Failure to Learn from History
 3 Philip V and the Failure to Learn from History
 4 Philip V and the Failure to Teach through History
 5 Scipio Africanus and Learning from the Past
 6 History vs. Experience
 7 Conclusion

4 Experience and History in the Roman Constitution
 1 Introduction
 2 Reason and Practical Experience in the Anakyklosis
 3 Practical Experience and the Mixed Constitution
 4 The Aristocratic Funeral
 5 The Aristocratic Funeral and History
 6 The Example of Horatius Cocles
 7 Conclusion

5 Roman Innovation in Polybius’ Narrative
 1 Introduction
 2 Roman Innovations in the First Punic War
 3 Roman Innovations in Contrast to their Adversaries
 4 Learning from Experience in the Second Punic War
 5 The Value of One Exceptional Individual
 6 Conclusion

6 Exemplary Roman History
 1 Introduction
 2 Aemilius Paullus and the Lessons of Pydna
 3 Scipio Aemilianus and the Exemplary Past
 4 Scipio Aemilianus as Example for Contemporaries
 5 Scipio Aemilianus as Historical Example
 6 Conclusion

Academic libraries, scholars, and students interested in Polybius, Roman history especially of the Punic Wars, Greek historiography, or ideas about learning or the acquisition of knowledge.