The rise of the early bards that recounted the tales of fabled Troy while extolling heroic virtues to the rise of the polis and their resulting concepts of history as a continuous accounting of the past, would lead to an evolution of Greek historiography over the centuries. The emergence of the Roman historian Polybius in the second century BC would see the introduction of the concept of cause and effect in the study of history that would forever change Greek historiography.
Polybius (c.200-118 BC) was born in the Greek city of Megale Polis or Megalopolis as the Romans referred to it, in Arcadia. The son of a prominent politician in the Achaean League and himself a Cavalry Commander in the League, Polybius would effectively become a political prisoner of the Roman Republic in 168 BC for the Leagues’ support of the now conquered Macedonians. Polybius would become beholden to Lucius Aemillius Paullus and his son Scipio Aemilianus during his Italian captivity while being exposed to the growing power of the Roman Republic. During this time, the Greek historian would become enamoured with all things Roman (at least initially, though his views of Rome would sour with time) and turn his inquisitive, systematic mind to the history of Rome and its rise to power.
The Greek historian segmented historiography into three categories. The first was genealogical in nature; the second was associated with colonies and personal relationships; and the third was concerned with places, cities, and people of prominence. Genealogical historiography was the study and effort to create a consistent and cohesive narrative of the many Greek heroes and myths. According to many Greeks, these were one and the same, though the historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 BC) viewed them as distinctly different.
The second historiography category, that of colonies and personal relationships, featured prominently in the works of the Greek historian Ephorus (c. 400-330 BC). Polybius credits Ephorus specifically for this category of historiography, which is intriguing as Ephorus’ writing is somewhat flat and uninspiring and would not seem to be an appropriate fit for the study of personal relationships. Additionally, Ephorus would be one of a very few fellow historians that Polybius would view with a degree of professional admiration.
The third category, that of places, cities, and people of prominence, is from where Polybius dwelled in his approach to Roman historiography. Believing strongly in the system of cause and effect as first laid out by Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC), Polybius would expand the process further. The Greek historian firmly believed that only by getting to the root or first cause of an event, could the historian properly identify and narrate the effects of its consequences. The details in doing so were everything to Polybius in getting to the heart of a particular cause and effect. Its subsequent narrative was ‘not so much to entertain readers as to benefit those who pay careful attention.’
For Polybius to get to the heart of an event or an accurate recounting of an individual, he utilised three methods of historical research. They included political experience, written documentation, and the ‘inspection of various cities and places, rivers, lakes, and generally the particular features and distances on land and sea.’