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Assessment of Roman republican system by Polybius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman columns
Roman columns | Photo: Sławomir Piątek

Polybius went down in history as a Greek historian who, after his stay in Roman captivity, came under the protection of the consul Lucius Emilius Paulus, and then took part in more important military operations of the Romans in the middle of the 2nd century BCE, including the defeat of Carthage and the destruction of the city. Polybius in his “Histories” describes the history of Rome in the years 264-146 BCE, showing the Roman system as an example of the Greek ideal of a “mixed constitution”.

Polybius argued that the Roman republican system combines the best aspects of three types of power: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The consuls represented the monarchy because they were responsible for military issues, convened people’s assemblies and led other officials. The Senate identified the aristocratic aspect and was responsible for finances, internal and external politics, law and diplomatic missions. Democracy, in turn, was represented by a people who spoke their opinion and voted during popular assemblies.

Polybius emphasized the balance that existed between all centres in the Roman political system and the mutual dependence that guaranteed the stability and success of Rome in the international arena. For example, a consul had a lot of political and military power, but was first elected to office by the people during the assembly; additionally, he received funding for his military operations after the Senate deliberations, which also decided after the end of the war whether he deserved a triumph.

Polybius in his work describes Rome in a very good light, comparing it to the quarrelling cities of Greece.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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