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Polybius (ca. 200–118 BCE), Greek Πολύβιος) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his book called The Histories covering in detail the period of 220–146 BCE. He is also renowned for his ideas of political balance in government, which were later used in Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws and in the drafting of the United States Constitution.



Polybius was born around 200 BCE in Megalopolis, Arcadia, which at that time was an active member of the Achaean League. His father Lycortas was a prominent landowning politician and member of the governing class. This gave Polybius firsthand opportunities to gain an insight into military and political affairs. Polybius developed an interest in horse riding and hunting, diversions which helped later to commend him to his Roman captors. In 182 BCE Polybius was chosen to carry the funeral urn of Philopoemen which was quite an honor as Philopoemen was the most eminent Achaean politician of his generation. In 170 or 169 BCE Polybius was elected hipparch -or cavalry leader -, an office which usually presaged election to the annual strategia or post of chief general. His early political career was devoted largely towards maintaining the independence of the Achaean League.

Personal experiences

Polybius’ father Lycortas was a 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 as a result, Polybius was one of the 1000 noble Achaeans who in 168 BCE were transported to Rome as hostages, and detained there for 17 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 Third Macedonian War, who entrusted him with the education of his sons, Fabius and Scipio Aemilianus (who had been adopted by the eldest son of Scipio Africanus). As the former tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius remained on terms of the most cordial friendship and remained a counselor to the man who defeated the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War. The younger Scipio eventually captured and destroyed Carthage, in 146 BCE. When the Achaean hostages were released in 150 BCE, 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. It is likely that following the destruction of Carthage, he journeyed down the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as Spain.

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