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Polybius and Roman Imperialism.

Polybius and Roman Imperialism, by Donald W. Baronowski. London, Bristol Classical Press, 2011. xiv, 242 pp. $80.00 US (cloth).

Along with the title of Domenico Musti's seminal work, Polibio e l'imperialismo romano (Naples 1978), Donald W. Baronowski also significantly adopts some of Musti's key concepts: the complexity of Polybius' attitude to Rome, his deep reservations about Roman imperialism, his firm loyalty to the Achaean League and the Hellenistic ideal of autonomy. So, after a quarter of a century, the Italian scholar seems to have won his bold fight against the idea that Polybius had had a gradual but full conversion to Rome. Transmitted from Fustel de Coulanges' Polybe ou la Grace conquise par les Romains (Amiens 1858) to Frank W. Walbank, the author of the impressive three-volume Historical Commentary on Polybius (Oxford 1957; 1967; 1979), this reconstruction of Polybius' ideological evolution owes part of its appeal to its correspondence with the Hegelian schema of philosophy of history adopted by Mommsen. In this line of thought, Polybius is praised as the first to recognize the superiority of Roman rule. Baronowski's book can be read as a significant step towards the liberation from this Hegelian straitjacket, and the restitution of Polybius to his true historical context.

In the first part of the book, after a short Introduction on Polybius' life, his work, and the contemporary debate on his views on Roman imperialism, Baronowski strives to put Polybius into a wider context, that of the general attitude to imperial domination of Hellenistic philosophers (Chapter One), poets and prophetic writers (Chapter Two), and historians (Chapter Three). Not differently from Polybius, they all accepted imperialism as an unavoidable reality of life. The only significant exception seems to be the radical condemnation of the conquerors' greed by the historian of Cnidus. In Polybius, this sort of moral judgement is limited only to the creation of imperialism: he condemned the greed (pleonexia) of the Spartans, because they were the first (protoi) of the Greeks to go to war with their neighbours in order to capture land and to enslave the Messenians (Polybius 6.49.1-2). But afterwards, as Baronowski rightly shows, not only does Polybius realistically accept its existence, but he even praises the successful expansion of kings and peoples.

Although many of Baronowski's points in his first three chapters would reward more attention, the second part of the book, specifically dedicated to "Polybius' Attitude to Roman Domination," is by far the more stimulating. Baronowski maintains that Polybius was not a quisling: he did not betray the Greek world, he did not identify himself with Roman interests. Rather, Baronowski rightly emphasizes Polybius' insistence on the necessity that the hegemonic power treat the subject peoples with moderation, in order to gain their acceptance and avoid the hate inspired by a tyrannical rule; he significantly observes that "Polybius therefore concentrated not on justifying but on shaping imperial rule" (p. 165), in the interest of the peoples who had to bear the Roman yoke. On the other hand, Baronowski observes that Polybius suggested that the less powerful states should try to maintain as much dignity and national autonomy as possible (p. 79), in their relations with Rome. His relations with the Roman authorities as hipparch of the Achaean League, in 170/69 BC, during the Third Macedonian War, were true to these principles. Even Polybius' later collaboration with Rome n his presence in the Roman camp during the Third Punic War, and his mediation with the Roman authorities at the end of the Achaean War--does not indicate any conversion; Baronowski's analysis of the multiple and complex reasons behind Polybius' political decisions in this difficult period is definitely one of the best parts of the book.

Baronowski shows that Polybius did not hesitate to criticize the behaviour of the senate. He denounced the Romans for their pursuit of a Roman advantage (to sympheron) instead of justice (to dikaion), examples of which regard the king Eumenes II, the Achaean politician Callicrates and his opponents, Demetrius I, Ptolemy VI and his brother and rival Ptolemy VIII. Each time he did so, however, Polybius indicated circumstances which, in Baronowski's opinion, would have tempered, or mitigated, his criticisms of Roman policies.

So, in spite of all these criticisms, and of Polybius' continual effort to induce the senate to show moderation towards subject peoples, Baronowsky still maintains that 'on balance' (this is significantly a recurrent phrase), Polybius admired Roman rule, and was convinced that even after the end of the Macedonian kingdom in 168 BC the Romans "continued to observe moderation and beneficence" (p. 160). Of course, Baronowski is fully aware of the contradiction, and tries to explain it (pp. 173-74); but, at least in my opinion, the apologetic intent of the assertion of the advantages of Roman rule for the Greek world in (Polybius 27:9-10) prevents us from interpreting this passage at its face value as the expression of a deep conviction (pp. 93-4).

Far more important, however, is a different point, on which I do completely agree with Baronowski's conclusion: Polybius was not interested in proposing any justification of Roman imperialism; rather n as Baronowski has well underlined --he hoped to influence Roman policies towards the Greeks. Polybius' ideal was not Roman rule, but Greek autonomy; so, he realistically appreciated any efforts to defend it as far as possible within the imperium Romanum. This is the reason why Polybius condemns the leaders of the desperate armed revolts against Rome, not because of any conversion to Rome, but because they were, in his opinion, doomed to failure, and so they were responsible for worsening their peoples' conditions.

John Thornton

Sapienza Universita di Roma
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Author:Thornton, John
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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