March 29, 2019

Polybius, Applied History, and Grand Strategy in an Interstitial Age

By Iskander Rehman

Sometime around 118 B.C., a boar-hunting octogenarian cantering through southern Greece suddenly fell off his horse. The sprightly retiree — who ended up succumbing to his injuries — was Polybius, the great historian and chronicler of the Punic Wars. Born into the highest echelons of Greek aristocracy, Polybius lived a life worthy of Odysseus, or perhaps of a toga-clad Forrest Gump. From the rise of Rome as the uncontested hegemon of the Mediterranean to the brutal destruction of Carthage and the final subjugation of the Hellenistic world, he bore direct witness to a series of system-shattering events. His discussion of these epochal shifts, and his soulful reflections on what they might mean for the future of power, order, and international justice, are freighted with insights for our own troubled era.

Polybius was raised in a politically fractured Greece — a land wreathed in the shadows of its former glory, and too consumed with its own bitter rivalries to adequately prepare for the rising Roman challenger across the Ionian Sea. Indeed, one of the most memorable passages of Polybius’ Histories is a speech made by a Greek ambassador at a peace conference in 217 B.C., during which the diplomat pleads in vain with his feuding countrymen to put aside their petty grievances and pay attention to the “clouds that loom in the west to settle on Greece.”

Read the full article in War on the Rocks.