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This webpage reproduces a Book of
The Histories


published in Vol. VI
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. VI) Polybius
The Histories

 p355  Fragments of Book XXXVI

I. The Third Punic War

1 1 Perhaps some may ask themselves why I do not, now that I have to deal with a subject of such importance and so momentous an event, display my talent and report the particular speeches after the fashion of most authors who lay before us all that it is possible to say on either side. 3 That I do not disapprove of such a practice is evident from various passages of this work in which I have quoted both the speeches and writings of politicians, but it will now be made clear that it is not my principle to do this on any and every pretext. 4 For it is not easy to find a subject more renowned than the present nor ampler material for comparisons; 5 nor again is anything more facile for myself than such an exercise. 6 But on the one hand neither do I think it is the proper part of a politician to display his ingenuity and indulge in discursive talk on any and every subject of debate that may arise, but simply to say what the situation demands, 7 nor is it the proper part of a historian to practise on his readers and make a display of his ability to them, but rather to find out by the most diligent inquiry  p357 and report to them what was actually said, and even of this only what was most vital and effectual.

2 1 They had long ago made up their minds to act thus, but they were looking for a suitable opportunity and a pretext that would appeal to foreign nations. 2 For the Romans very rightly paid great attention to this matter, since, as Demetrius says, when the inception of a war seems just, it makes victory greater and ill-success less perilous, while if it is thought to be dishonourable and wrong it has the opposite effect. 4 So on this occasion their disputes with each other about the effect on foreign opinion very nearly made them desist from going to war.

3 1 The Carthaginians had been for long debating how they should answer the Roman reply, and now when the people of Utica forestalled their design by surrendering their city to Rome, they were entirely at a loss how to act. 2 The one and only hope that presented itself to them was to consent to commit themselves to the faith of the Romans; since they thought that was sure to gratify these, as not even in the season of their greatest danger when they had been utterly defeated and the enemy was at the gates had they ever thus surrendered the liberty of their country. 4 But now the fruit of this project was snatched from them by the people of Utica anticipating them, since they would no longer seem to the Romans to be acting in any remarkable or unexpected way by following the example of Utica. 6 However, now that they were  p359 left with the choice of two evils, either to accept war with brave hearts or to entrust themselves to the faith of Rome, after a long secret discussion in the senate they appointed plenipotentiaries and sent them to Rome with instructions to do whatever they thought was in the interest of their country under present circumstances. 8 The names of the envoys were Goscon, surnamed Strytanus, Hamilcar, Misdes, Gillimas, and Mago. 9 But when these envoys from Carthage arrived in Rome they found that war had already been decided on, and that the generals had left with their armies and therefore, as the situation left them no choice, they committed Carthage to the faith of Rome.

4 1 I have previously stated what this phrase (dedere se in fidem) means, but it is here necessary to remind my readers briefly of its significance. 2 Those who thus commit themselves to the faith of Rome surrender in the first place the whole of their territory and the cities in it, next all the inhabitants of the land and the towns, male and female, likewise all rivers, harbours, temples, tombs, so that the result is that the Romans enter into possession of everything and those who surrender remain in possession of absolutely nothing. 4 Shortly after this surrender had been made by the Carthaginians they were called into the senate, where the praetor conveyed to them the decision of the senate, that as they had been well advised, the senate granted freedom and their laws, besides their whole territory and all other possessions both public and private. 5 The  p361 Carthaginians on hearing this were pleased, thinking that in the choice of evils they had been well treated by the senate, as all that was most essential and important had been conceded to them. 6 But after this, when the praetor informed them that they would obtain these favours if within thirty days they sent to Lilybaeum three hundred hostages, sons of senators or of members of the Gerousia, and if they obeyed the orders of the consuls, they were somewhat at a loss to know what these orders would be. However they left at once to announce all this at Carthage, and on coming there they informed their fellow-citizens of all the particulars. 9 On hearing these they all thought that the envoys had obtained a satisfactory result in general, but the fact that there was no mention of the city caused serious anxiety and surprise.

5 1 At this time Mago the Bruttian was said to have spoken in a manly and practical fashion. 2 For, as it seems, he said there were two opportunities of deciding about themselves and their country of which the one had been let slip. 3 For the proper time, surely, to question what the orders of the consuls would be and why the senate made no reference to their city was not the present but the time when they put themselves at the mercy of Rome. 4 Once they had done this they should be clearly aware that they must accept any order unless it were flagrantly oppressive and beyond expectation. 5 In the latter case they must again consider if  p363 they should expose their country to war and its terrors, or not daring to face the attack of the enemy, yield unresistingly to every demand. 6 But as they all, owing to the war being close upon them and owing to the uncertainty of the future, were inclined to obey the orders, it was decided to send the hostages to Lilybaeum, and choosing at once three hundred of their young men they dispatched them with great lamentations and tears, as each was escorted by his near friends and relatives, the women being especially violent in their grief. 8 On arriving at Lilybaeum the hostages were at once handed over through the consuls to Quintus Fabius Maximus, who was then in command in Sicily, and by him they were safely conveyed to Rome and the whole body confined in the dock of the large warship with sixteen banks of oars.

6 1 After the hostages had been brought to Rome the Roman commander landed at the Cape of Utica. 2 Upon this news reaching Carthage the whole city was in great excitement and terror, owing to the uncertainty that prevailed as to what they were to expect. 3 They decided, however, to send envoys to the consuls to ask them what they must do and inform them that all were disposed to obey any command. 4 Upon their arrival at the Roman camp a council was called and the envoys spoke according to their instructions. 5 The elder of the two consuls, after commending their decision and their compliant temper, ordered them to surrender all their arms and missiles without fraud or deceit. 6 The envoys  p365 said they would comply with the order, but begged the Romans to consider what would happen to them if they gave up all their arms and the Romans took them and sailed away with them. Nevertheless they gave them up.


7 It was evident that power of the city was very great, for they gave up to the Romans more than two hundred thousand suits of mail and two thousand catapults.


7 1 They had absolutely no notion of any kind of what was in store for them, 2 but auguring the worst from the manner alone of the envoys, they gave vent to every kind of lament and plaint.


3 After one loud cry they remained, as it were, without power of utterance. 4 But when the news quickly spread among the people there was no more speechlessness, but some threw themselves upon the envoys, as if it were all their fault, 5 others attacked such Italians as were detained in the city and vented their wrath on them, and others rushed to the gates.


8 1 Hamilcar, also known as Phameas, the Carthaginian general, was in the prime of life, of great personal vigour, and what is most important in a soldier, a good and bold rider.


2 Others from extreme jealousy of Scipio tried to belittle his achievements.


3 Seeing the strength of the outposts, Phameas, who was by no means timid, used to avoid any engagement with Scipio, and once when he approached the Roman reserve force he got under shelter of a steep ridge and halted there for a considerable time.


4 The Roman maniples fled to the top of a hill, and when every one had given his advice, Scipio said, 5 "When men are consulting about a fresh emergency they must rather take care to avoid disaster than scheme how to damage the enemy."


6 It should not be a matter of surprise to anyone if I display particular interest in Scipio and report all his utterances at length.

II. Affairs of Greece

9 1 Both about the Carthaginians when they were crushed by the Romans and about the affair of the pseudo-Philip many divergent accounts were current in Greece, at first on the subject of the conduct of Rome to Carthage and next concerning their treatment of the pseudo-Philip. 2 As regards the former the judgements formed and the opinions held in Greece were far from unanimous. 3 There were some who approved the action of the Romans, saying that they had taken wise and statesmanlike measures in defence of their empire. 4 For to destroy this source of perpetual menace, this city which had constantly  p369 disputed the supremacy with them and was still able to dispute it if it had the opportunity and thus to secure the dominion of their own country, was the act of intelligent and far-seeing men.

5 Others took the opposite view, saying that far from maintaining the principles by which they had won their supremacy, they were little by little deserting it for a lust of domination like that of Athens and Sparta, starting indeed later than those states, but sure, as everything indicated, to arrive at the same end. 6 For at first they had made war with every nation until they were victorious and until their adversaries had confessed that they must obey them and execute their orders. 7 But now they had struck the first note of their new policy by their conduct to Perseus, in utterly exterminating the kingdom of Macedonia, and they had now completely revealed it by their decision concerning Carthage. 8 For the Carthaginians had been guilty of no immediate offence to Rome, but the Romans had treated them with irremediable severity, although they had accepted all their conditions and consented to obey all their orders.

9 Others said that the Romans were, generally speaking, a civilized people, and that their peculiar merit on which they prided themselves was that they conducted their wars in a simple and noble manner, employing neither night attacks nor ambushes, disapproving of every kind of deceit and fraud, and considering that nothing but direct and open attacks were legitimate for them. 10 But in the present case, throughout the whole of their proceedings in regard to Carthage, they had used deceit and fraud, offering certain things one at a time and keeping  p371 others secret, until they cut off every hope the city had of help from her allies. 11 This, they said, savoured more of a despot's intrigue than of the principles of a civilized state such as Rome, and could only be justly described as something very like impiety and treachery. 12 And there were others who differed likewise from these latter critics. For, they said, if before the Carthaginians had committed themselves to the faith of Rome the Romans had proceeded in this manner, offering certain things one at a time and gradually disclosing others, they would of course have appeared to be guilty of the charge brought against them. 13 But if, in fact, after the Carthaginians had of their own accord committed themselves to the faith of the Romans and given them liberty to treat them in any way they chose, the Romans, being thus authorized to act as it seemed good to them, gave the orders and imposed the terms on which they had decided, what took place did not bear any resemblance to an act of impiety and scarcely any to an act of treachery; in fact some said it was not even of the nature of an injustice. 14 For every crime must naturally fall under one of these three classes, and what the Romans did belongs to neither of the three. 15 For impiety is sin against the gods, against parents, or against the dead; treachery is the violation of sworn or written agreements; and injustice is what is done contrary to law and custom. 16 Of none of these three were the Romans guilty on the present occasion. Neither did they sin against the gods, against their parents, or against the dead, nor did they violate any sworn agreement or treaty; on the contrary they accused the Carthaginians of doing this. 17 Nor, again, did  p373 they break any laws or customs or their personal faith. For having received from a people who consented willingly full authority to act as they wished, when this people refused to obey their orders they finally resorted to force.

10 1 This, then, is what was said concerning the Romans and Carthaginians. As for the false Philip, at first the story seemed utterly inadmissible. 2 Here is a Philip fallen from the skies who appears in Macedonia, making light not only of the Macedonians but of the Romans too, with no plausible reason to show for his enterprise, 3 as it was well known that the real Philip died at the age of about eighteen at Alba in Italy, two years after the death of Perseus himself. 4 But when three or four months later the report came that he had defeated the Macedonians in a battle beyond the Strymon in the country of the Odomanti, some accepted the news as true, but most people still remained incredulous. 5 But when again, a short time after, it was reported that he had defeated the Macedonians on this side of the Strymon and was master of the whole of Macedonia, and when the Thessalians sent a letter and envoys to the Achaeans begging for their help, as they themselves were now in peril, the whole thing seemed most wonderful and extraordinary, for such an event had not previously seemed remotely probable or at all to be reckoned with. 7 Such was the state of opinion about these matters.

11 1 When a letter reached the Peloponnesus addressed to the Achaeans from Manilius, saying that they would do well to send Polybius of Megalopolis  p375 at once to Lilybaeum as he was required for the public service, the Achaeans voted to send him in response to this written request of the consul. 2 I, myself, thinking that for many reasons I ought to obey the Romans, put every other consideration aside and set sail early in summer. 3 On arriving at Corcyra and finding there a letter addressed by the consuls to the Corcyraeans, in which they informed them that the Carthaginians had already delivered the hostages to them and were ready to comply with all their orders, 4 I thought that the war was over, and that there was no further need for my services, and therefore I at once sailed back to the Peloponnesus.

12 1 It should cause no surprise if at times I use my proper name in speaking of myself, and elsewhere use general expressions such as "after I had said this" or again, "and when I agreed to this." 2 For as I was personally much involved in the events I am now about to chronicle, I am compelled to change the phrases when alluding to myself, so that I may neither offend by the frequent repetition of my name, nor again by constantly saying "when I" or "for me" fall unintentionally into an ill-mannered habit of speech. 3 What I wish is by using these modes of expression alternately and in their proper place to avoid as far as possible the offence that lies in speaking constantly about oneself, as such personal references are naturally unwelcome, but are often necessary when the matter cannot be stated clearly without them. 5 Luckily I have been assisted in  p377 this matter by the fortuitous fact that no one as far as I know, up to the time in which I live at least, has received from his parents the same proper name as my own.

13 1 It chanced that on one and the same day the portraits of Callicrates were carried in in darkness, while those of Lycortas on the same day were brought out into the light to occupy their original position, and this made every one remark that no one should misuse his success to persecute his neighbours, since he should know that it is the peculiar function of Fortune to bring to bear in turn on the legislators themselves the very laws they themselves originated and passed.

3 The love of innovation natural to man is in itself sufficient to produce any kind of revolution.

III. Affairs of Bithynia

(Livy, epit. l)

14 1 The Romans sent legates to check the aggressive spirit of Nicomedes and to prevent Attalus from going to war with Prusias. 2 Those appointed were Marcus Licinius, a gouty man quite weak upon his legs, Aulus Mancinus, who in consequence of a tile falling on his head had received so many serious wounds on the head, that it is a wonder he escaped with his life, and Lucius Malleolus, who was thought to be the most stupid man in Rome. 3 As the matter called for rapid and bold action, the legates selected were considered to be the most incompetent that could be found for this task. 4 Owing  p379 to this they say that Marcus Porcius Cato remarked in the senate that before it was finished not only would Prusias be dead but Nicomedes, too, would have died of old age in his royal state; 5 for how could the commission act expeditiously, or if it did, achieve any result, as it had not feet nor a head nor a heart.

15 1 King Prusias was an ill-favoured man, and though possessed of fair reasoning power, was but half a man as regards his appearance, and had no more military capacity than a woman; for not only was he a coward, but he was incapable of putting up with hardship, and, to put it shortly, he was effeminate in body and mind through his whole life, a defect that no one, and least of all Bithynians, like to see in a king. 3 In addition to this he was most incontinent in satisfying his sensual appetites; he was entirely a stranger to literature, philosophy, and all such studies, and generally speaking had no notion whatever of what goodness and beauty are, but lived by day and night the barbarous life of a Sardanapallus. 6 So that all his subjects, the moment they saw the least chance of success, became irrevocably resolved not only to throw off allegiance to the king, but to exact punishment from him.

IV. The Third Punic War

16 1 Massanissa, the king of the Numidians in Africa, one of the best and most fortunate men of our time, reigned for over sixty years, enjoying excellent  p381 health and attaining a great age, for he lived till ninety. 3 He also excelled all his contemporaries in bodily strength, for when it was necessary to stand, he could stand in the same place for a whole day without shifting, and again, if he were seated, he never used to get up. 4 And he could also continue to ride hard by night and day without feeling any the worse. 5 The following is a proof of his bodily strength. At the age of ninety, the age at which he died, he left a son of four years old called Sthembanus, subsequently adopted by Micipses, besides nine other sons. 6 Owing to the affectionate terms they were all on he kept his kingdom during his whole life free from all plots and from any taint of domestic discord. 7 But his greatest and most godlike achievement was this. While Numidia had previously been a barren country thought to be naturally incapable of producing crops, he first and alone proved that it was as capable as any other country of bearing all kinds of crops, by making for each of his sons a separate property of 10,000 plethra which produced all kinds of crops. 9 It is only proper and just to pay this tribute to his memory on his death. 10 Scipio arrived in Cirta two days after the king's death and set everything in order.

(From Plutarch, An seni sit gerenda respublica, 791F)

11 Polybius tells us that Massanissa died at the age of ninety, leaving a four-year‑old child of which he was the father. 12 A little before his death, he defeated the Carthaginians in a great battle, and next day he was seen in front of his tent eating  p383 a dirty piece of bread, and to those who expressed their surprise said he did it. . . .

V. The Macedonian War

17 1 For my part, says Polybius, in finding fault with those who ascribe public events and incidents to Fate and Chance, I now wish to state my opinion on this subject as far as it is admissible to do so in a strictly historical work. 2 Now indeed as regards things the causes of which it is impossible or difficult for a mere man to understand, we may perhaps be justified in getting out of the difficulty by setting them down to the action of a god or of chance, I mean such things as exceptionally heavy and continuous rain or snow, or on the other hand the destruction of crops by severe drought or frost, or a persistent outbreak of plague or other similar things of which it is not easy to detect the cause. 3 So in regard to such matters we naturally bow to public opinion, as we cannot make out why they happen, and attempting by prayer and sacrifice to appease the heavenly powers, we send to ask the gods what we must do and say, to set things right and cause the evil that afflicts us to cease. 4 But as for matters the efficient and final cause of which it is possible to discover we should not, I think, put them down to divine action. 5 For instance, take the following case. In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth-rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics. 6 If, then, any  p385 one had advised us to send and ask the gods about this, and find out what we ought to say or do, to increase in number and make our cities more populous, would it not seem absurd, the cause of the evil being evident and the remedy being in our own hands?º 7 For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew. 8 For in cases where of one or two children the one was carried off by war and the other by sickness, it is evident that the houses must have been left unoccupied, and as in the case of swarms of bees, so by small degrees cities became resourceless and feeble. 9 About this it was of no use at all to ask the gods to suggest a means of deliverance from such an evil. 10 For any ordinary man will tell you that the most effectual cure had to be men's own action, in either striving after other objects, or if not, in passing laws making it compulsory to rear children. Neither prophets nor magic were here of any service, 11 and the same holds good for all particulars. 12 But in cases where it is either impossible or difficult to detect the cause the question is open to doubt. One such case is that of Macedonia. 13 For the Macedonians had met with many signal favours from Rome; the country as a whole had been delivered from the arbitrary rule and taxation of autocrats, and, as all confessed, now enjoyed freedom in place of servitude, and the several cities had, owing to the beneficent action  p387 of Rome, been freed from serious civil discord and internecine massacres. . . . But now they witnessed in quite a short time more of their citizens exiled, tortured and murdered by this false Philip than by any of their previous real kings. . . . 14 But while they were defeated by the Romans in fighting for Demetrius and Perseus, yet now fighting for a hateful man and displaying great valour in defence of his throne, they worsted the Romans. 15 How can anyone fail to be nonplused by such an event? for here it is most difficult to detect the cause. So that in pronouncing on this and similar phenomena we may well say that the thing was a heaven-sent infatuation, and that all the Macedonians were visited by the wrath of God, as will be evident from what follows.

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