Monday, July 23, 2012

To what extent is Polybius our best guide to Hellenistic history?

To call Polybius our best guide to Hellenistic History might be misleading for a few reasons. Firstly, Polybius' Histories are by no means perfect; for a start, as they have come down to us they are incomplete. To term it 'the best' implies all sorts of qualities, which his Histories might not necessarily possess, such as being the most accurate, objective, detailed and broadest source of the period. In certain, perhaps more specific areas, material evidence might provide the best guide to certain aspects of Hellenic history: Numismatics and sculpture, whilst other literature, such as poetry and other histories might complement Polybius.

Furthermore there is the stupendous amount of detail which can be gleaned from the copious amounts of epigraphic and fragmentary accounts of the period, which can cover all aspects of Hellenistic culture. Secondly, what do we term Hellenistic history? The Hellenistic Period ranged from Alexander the Great to Augustus (336 BC- 14 AD), a period of some 350 years. The history of this period is therefore Hellenistic, and history is a very broad term which can refer to the politics, wars, geography, ethnography, culture and countless other aspects of 'past events'.

However, since Polybius' Histories covers just 118 years out of those 350 (from 264- 146 BC) there is a slight problem in calling him our best guide because he doesn't so much as cover even half of the Hellenistic period; a happy medium would be to call him the best guide that we have to the period which he covers.