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Polybius on Roman War-making

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  • Jim Bloom
    Polybius is the ancient historian who paid the most attention to technology. As such, he had some interesting things to say about the Roman art of war . P.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2000
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      Polybius is the ancient historian who paid the most attention to
      technology. As such, he had some interesting things to say about the
      Roman "art of war". P. noted the Roman weapons' careful workmanship,
      how the point of the javelin was made to bend when it hit
      (preventing retracting it easily and re-using it against the Romans),
      the solidity of the iron-edged, iron-bossed Roman shield against
      heavy Celtic swords or axes and the speed with which the Romans
      adopted the Greek heavy cavalry spear when they had to fight such
      cavalry. All this was further evidence to him that "....the Romans,
      above all others are good at changing their ways and imitating better
      practice". We know that they borrowed superior barbarian ironworking
      techniques and that their farmers were working newer and less eroded,
      less malarial lands than those of their Carthaginian and Greek
      rivals. Nightly field fortifications, careful scouting and good march
      discipline enabled the Romans to march straight through enemny
      country to it's strong points. The over-confidence which led them to
      occasional ambushes caused some naval disasters after their first
      victories during the First Punic War. "The Romans use force to
      accomplish everything, and consider that they must necessarily
      achieve, at any cost, whatever they plan....[They often] succeed
      because of this determination....[but when] they clash with the sea
      and atmosphere, they meet with great disasters. This will happen to
      them until they cure themselves of that reckless belief in force that
      makes them think that, for them, every season must be a fit one for
      sailing and traveling".

      The point of this all being that "foreign", that is non-Roman,
      historians were often the best observers of the Romans mentality. In
      this case, we have Polybius astute views of them as he could observe
      the Roman war machine from the receiving end. Josephus is another
      former enemy observer who had much valuable information to impart
      about the Romans as enemies and conquerors.

      I would say that, compared to Livy, Polybius gives more attention to
      the nitty-gritty of Rome at war. Much as Thucydides did for the
      Pelopennesian war.

      Jim Bloom
      Jimmyjb@...
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