How Far Should Historical Analysis Go? Polybius on Rome

Polybius, Histories 3.4

“If it were possible to develop a sufficient analysis of whether or not men and states should be praised or criticized from only their victories and defeats, then I think I could stop here and end my investigation, and end the work at these most immediately narrated events, according to my original plan. For the fifty-three years end here which brought about the expansion and advance of Roman power. In later years, it seems it was agreed that it was necessary for everyone to heed the Romans and obey what they commanded.

But since evaluations of rulers and the conquered, if based merely on the contests themselves, are not at all complete—this is because what seems to many to be the greatest successes, if they are not used correctly, may bring the greatest disasters; and, in turn, the most shocking disasters at times can turn into the advantage of those who suffer them if they handle them well—we must add to the events that have been described the policy of the conquerors, what it was like after this and how they ruled in general, the various beliefs and evaluations of those who were ruled by them, and in addition to these things, I must investigate the actions and passions which overpowered and dominated men in their private lives and in their shared governments. It is obvious that it will be clear from these things whether the Roman rule should be avoided or instead should be sought and for future generations whether the Roman rule should be praised and envied or criticized. And this indeed will be the most useful contribution of my work both for the present day and years to come.”

Εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν κατορθωμάτων ἢ καὶ τῶν ἐλαττωμάτων ἱκανὴν ἐνεδέχετο ποιήσασθαι τὴν διάληψιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψεκτῶν ἢ τοὐναντίον ἐπαινετῶν
ἀνδρῶν καὶ πολιτευμάτων, ἐνθάδε που λήγειν ἂν ἡμᾶς ἔδει καὶ καταστρέφειν ἅμα τὴν διήγησιν καὶ τὴν πραγματείαν ἐπὶ τὰς τελευταίας ῥηθείσας πράξεις κατὰ τὴν ἐξ ἀρχῆς πρόθεσιν. ὅ τε γὰρ χρόνος ὁ πεντηκοντακαιτριετὴς εἰς ταῦτ’ ἔληγεν, ἥ τ’ αὔξησις καὶ προκοπὴ τῆς ῾Ρωμαίων δυναστείας ἐτετελείωτο· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ὁμολογούμενον ἐδόκει τοῦτ’ εἶναι καὶ κατηναγκασμένον ἅπασιν ὅτι λοιπόν ἐστι ῾Ρωμαίων ἀκούειν καὶ τούτοις πειθαρχεῖν ὑπὲρ τῶν παραγγελλομένων.

ἐπεὶ δ’ οὐκ αὐτοτελεῖς εἰσιν οὔτε περὶ τῶν κρατησάντων (οὔτε περὶ τῶν) ἐλαττωθέντων αἱ ψιλῶς ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν ἀγωνισμάτων διαλήψεις, διὰ τὸ πολλοῖς μὲν τὰ μέγιστα δοκοῦντ’ εἶναι τῶν κατορθωμάτων, ὅταν μὴ δεόντως αὐτοῖς χρήσωνται, τὰς μεγίστας ἐπενηνοχέναι συμφοράς, οὐκ ὀλίγοις δὲ τὰς ἐκπληκτικωτάτας περιπετείας, ὅταν εὐγενῶς αὐτὰς ἀναδέξωνται, πολλάκις εἰς τὴν τοῦ συμφέροντος περιπεπτωκέναι μερίδα, προσθετέον ἂν εἴη ταῖς προειρημέναις πράξεσι τήν τε τῶν κρατούντων αἵρεσιν, ποία τις ἦν μετὰ ταῦτα καὶ πῶς προεστάτει τῶν ὅλων, τάς τε τῶν ἄλλων ἀποδοχὰς καὶ διαλήψεις, πόσαι καὶ τίνες ὑπῆρχον περὶ τῶν ἡγουμένων, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τὰς ὁρμὰς καὶ τοὺς ζήλους ἐξηγητέον, τίνες παρ’ ἑκάστοις ἐπεκράτουν καὶ κατίσχυον περί τε τοὺς κατ’ ἰδίαν βίους καὶ τὰς κοινὰς πολιτείας. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς ἐκ τούτων φανερὸν ἔσται τοῖς μὲν νῦν οὖσιν πότερα φευκτὴν ἢ τοὐναντίον αἱρετὴν εἶναι συμβαίνει τὴν ῾Ρωμαίων δυναστείαν, τοῖς δ’ ἐπιγενομένοις πότερον ἐπαινετὴν καὶ ζηλωτὴν ἢ ψεκτὴν γεγονέναι νομιστέον τὴν ἀρχὴν αὐτῶν. ἀρχὴν αὐτῶν. τὸ γὰρ ὠφέλιμον τῆς ἡμετέρας ἱστορίας πρός τε τὸ παρὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸ μέλλον ἐν τούτῳ πλεῖστον κείσεται τῷ μέρει.