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Cultural Politics in Polybius'sHistories

Craige B. Champion
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 343
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Politics in Polybius'sHistories
    Book Description:

    Polybius was a Greek statesman and political prisoner of Rome in the second century b.c.e. HisHistoriesprovide the earliest continuous narrative of the rise of the Roman Empire. In this original study informed by recent work in cultural studies and on ethnicity, Craige Champion demonstrates that Polybius's work performs a literary and political balancing act of heretofore unappreciated subtlety and interest. Champion shows how Polybius contrived to tailor his historiography for multiple audiences, comprising his fellow Greeks, whose freedom Rome had usurped in his own generation, and the Roman conquerors. Champion focuses primarily on the ideological presuppositions and predispositions of Polybius's different audiences in order to interpret the apparent contradictions and incongruities in his text. In this way he develops a "politics of cultural indeterminacy" in which Polybius's collective representations of political and ethnic groups have different meanings for different audiences in different contexts. Situating these representations in the ideological, political, and historical contexts from which they arose, his book affords new and penetrating insights into a work whose subtlety and complexity have gone largely unrecognized.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92989-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The act of reading in classical antiquity strikes the modern reader as a daunting cognitive task. Ancient readers had to contend with cumbersome papyrus scrolls, with none of the conveniences the modern reader may take for granted, such as chapter and section headings, paragraph divisions, cross-referencing, and indices. Reading in antiquity meant grappling with the awkward scroll and sifting meaning through line after line of continuous letters(scriptio continua),with no spaces between words and the most rudimentary forms of punctuation. It is small wonder, then, that ancient Greek and Roman prose authors placed the highest importance on their prooemia,...


    • Chapter 1 Political Subordination and Indirect Historiography
      (pp. 15-29)

      Polybius of Megalopolis was an important force in Mediterranean international politics, and he ranks as one of the great figures in the ancient Greek historiographical tradition.¹ In this chapter I consider Polybius from these perspectives in order to provide a foundation for studying his cultural politics in theHistories.First, I shall briefly present the biographical tradition on Polybius, especially necessary since his history is unfamiliar even to many classicists. Second, the reader will find a discussion of Polybius’s views on the nature and function of history writing and his place in the ancient Greek historiographical tradition. Finally, I shall...

    • Chapter 2 Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians: The Cultural Politics of Hellenism
      (pp. 30-64)

      In this chapter I survey the cultural politics of the Greek/barbarian bipolarity, with special focus on second-century Greek and Roman politico-cultural interactions. My aim here is to provide a complement to chapter 1 in establishing an interpretative framework for reading Polybius’s collective representations. In the chapters that follow, I discuss the politico-cultural system of Hellenism from an instrumentalist or functionalist perspective, and here I have found Fredrik Barth’s discussion of ethnicity to be most helpful. For Barth, culture is an agglomeration of social boundary markers including religion, lifestyle, occupational status, and language. The important point for Barth is that culture,...


    • Chapter 3 Genos Politeiōn: Book 6, Rome, and Hellenism
      (pp. 67-99)

      In the politico-cultural language of Hellenism, Polybius had a rich and adaptable ideological heritage at his disposal. Earlier Greek thinkers had worked out the causal factors determining where a particular people should fall the continuum between the polarities of Hellene and barbarian. Polybius uses all of these criteria of causation in his work, but his focus on the nature and structure ofpoliteiaiallowed him the greatest degree of flexibility in placing the Romans on his Greek-barbarian grid. Polybius considers his account of the Roman constitution to be not only necessary for the plan of his work, but also essential...

    • Chapter 4 Akmē Politeiōn: Roman and Achaean Virtues
      (pp. 100-143)

      In terms of indirect historiography, Polybius’s historical narrative provides the best means for studying his Hellenic-barbarian continuum vis-à-vis Rome. I argue that in recounting historical events, Polybius indirectly promotes a consistent image of Rome and Achaea informed by the organizing principles of his Hellenic-barbarian construct. As we have seen, book 6 demonstrates that in Polybius’s conception formal institutional structures and ingrained societal practices are the most important determinants of collective societal characteristics. But according to the quasi-biological process of theanacyclosisof the simple constitutional forms, communal priorities and commitment to collective well-being do not long abide in any given...

    • Chapter 5 Metabolē Politeiōn: Roman and Achaean Degeneration in the Fragmentary Books
      (pp. 144-170)

      This chapter studies Polybius’s collective representations in the fragmentary text following book 6. Enough remains of these books to give a fair idea of the contours of Polybius’s narrative with regard to the historian’s representations of Roman and Achaean collective group characters.¹ Fortunately, the predilections of Polybius’s excerptors are an aid to this enterprise. Among the fifty-three titles into which the excerpts were divided, only six survive. Yet these include fragments on virtues and vices, on gnomic reflections, and on treachery.² Consequently, the fragmentary books are rich in material relevant to questions of the historian’s moral outlook in general and...


    • Chapter 6 Collective Representations and Ideological Contexts
      (pp. 173-203)

      This chapter examines Polybius’s narrative as indirect historiography. I argue that as indirect historian Polybius represents Roman collective character in ways that conform to the ideological predilections of his target audiences, both the Roman senatorial aristocracy and the political elite in Greece, many of whom harbored anti-Roman sentiments. First, I situate the narration of progressive Roman degeneration studied in part 2 within some available Roman aristocratic ideologies, arguing that here Polybius’s representations conform to contemporary Roman aristocratic political ideas. Then, I argue that Polybius, indirectly but also on occasion in his own narrative voice, calls the Hellenism of the Romans...

    • Chapter 7 Practical Contexts and Political Realities
      (pp. 204-234)

      The objective of this chapter is to situate Polybius’s collective representations, especially those of Romans, in the political circumstances from which they arose. We have seen two strongly divergent Polybian images of Romans—now quasi Hellenes, now barbarians. Romans participate in Polybius’s Hellenism insofar as they participate in Helleniclogismos(see appendix C). But they have been subjected to the degenerative historical forces to which all states are susceptible; and the ultimate danger to the Roman state, as for all Polybian states, is the rise of the demagogic leader and the reign of theochlos,or mob. We have also...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-240)

    This study has attempted to understand Polybius as individual statesman and historian through his uses of one of the dominant themes of his cultural heritage, the Greek politico-cultural grammar of Hellenism. The methodology has been to track Polybius’s narrative representations of Roman, Achaean, and other collective group characters and to situate these in the ideological and political contexts in which he worked. The framework within which Polybius worked out his collective representations was the Greek cultural construction of the Hellenic-barbarian bipolarity, and throughout I have tried to locate the Romans on a Polybian Greek-barbarian grid. I have argued that Polybius...

  10. APPENDIX A. Metabolē Politeiōn: Polybian Ochlocracy and Polybian Barbarology
    (pp. 241-244)
  11. APPENDIX B. BAPBAPOΣ in Polybius’s Histories
    (pp. 245-254)
  12. APPENDIX C. ΛOΓIΣMOΣ in Polybius’s Histories
    (pp. 255-260)
    (pp. 261-282)
    (pp. 283-304)
    (pp. 305-326)
    (pp. 327-328)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-332)