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One of the greatest Roman histories from one of the greatest historians of all time!
Polybius puts you in the middle of Roman society during the wars with Hannibal
Polybius was a Greek military commander who spent most of his life in Italy. In his History he describes many battles of the First and Second Punic Wars that he was an observer at along with many others that he was able to reconstruct from first-hand accounts. He starts his History with a clear thesis, how the rise of Rome from a small parochial, inward-looking alliance of a few cities in southern Italy came to dominate the whole of the known world. The timeline is roughly confined to the 140th Olympiad (220 BCE - 167 BCE). Polybius clearly sees himself as a sort of Roman Thucydides as opposed to someone akin Herodotus. He's a hardnosed, fact-based historian who has clear ideas about how good history should be done and there's a lot of academic sniping at the best-selling Timaeus (the Herodotus of the day) who extensively employs supernatural explanations of many developments and parades his personal biases in making his judgments on his subject historical figures. In stark contrast to such armchair historians, Polybius contends that a good historian should attempt to strictly state the facts as best he can reconstruct them and to consult primary sources wherever possible. At first I was a bit annoyed about Polybius dilating on his historiography but when you consider what it would have been like (hypothetically) to pull down any typical history scroll from a good collection in the ancient world, you’ll realize that it would have been more likely than not to have to wade through many Timaeus-like works before you came across gems like Polybius. There are all sorts of interesting aspects of Polybius' history that could be cited: There's an extensive well-informed discussion of battle formations and logistics (setting up and dismantling military camp, patrols, discipline, Roman military practice and laws, strategy, etc.); a critical, updated Aristotelian look at the relative merits of the various forms of governments vis-a-vie the Roman republic; a personal biography of the early life of the younger Scipio; and an admiring bio of Hannibal and other Carthaginians. Though Polybius may profess himself as a detached, completely objective historian offering an account of just the facts, he’s a moralist in the tradition of Plutarch which makes his writing much more engagingly readable (or listenable). If you aren't familiar with the history from other sources then I think there would be genuine moments of tension in the story-telling.
As many other reviewers have noted, it's sad that out of the 39 books of the History only the first 15 seem to be mostly intact so many of the discussions of the later chapters can seem sketchy, incoherent, and confusing. Charlton Griffin's reading is excellent as always. But I followed along with the Penguin edition (also translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert) and noticed that there's a page or two missing in Book 5 that is available in the Penguin edition. This concerns Cleomenes' scheme to escape from Ptolemy Philopator's Egypt. But otherwise a great production!