Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Peter Derow, Rome, Polybius, and the East. Edited by Andrew Erskine and Josephine Crawley Quinn. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 311. ISBN 9780199640904. $125.00.

Reviewed by Nicholas Sekunda, Gdańsk University (

Version at BMCR home site


Peter Derow (1944-2006) will be principally known to readers of this review as the joint author, with R.S. Bagnall, of Greek Historical Documents: The Hellenistic Period, 1981 (reprinted 2004). This book is a labour of love from former students, bringing together all of Derow's principal articles. A 'Bibliography of Peter Derow' (293-6) compiled by Graham Shipley details his other writings, which consist mostly of reviews and entries for the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

After an Introduction, which details his career and teaching philosophy, the book is divided into four parts entitled I. Narratives, II. Polybius and Roman Power, III. The Roman Calendar and IV. Epigraphy.

Part I consists of two chapters '1. The Arrival of Rome. From the Illyrian Wars to the Fall of Macedon' (21-45), reprinted from A Companion to the Hellenistic World (2003) and '2. Rome, the Fall of Macedon and the Sack of Corinth' (47-82), reprinted from the Cambridge Ancient History (1989). These two chapters detail the fate of individual Greek states, caught between the increasing power of Rome and the Hellenistic monarchs. Chapter 2 largely confines itself to mainland Greece: the impact of Roman power upon the remaining Hellenistic monarchies is largely left untouched. For a work that has been compiled in this way there is remarkably little repetition: an exception is pp. 39-49. The editors have stated that their editorial intervention has been of a very limited character (xv), and indeed this is inevitable, but in no part of the book is it as evident as here. In Chapter 1 book numbers are rendered in Arabic numerals, but in Chapter 2 in Latin ones: Kallikrates in Chapter 1, Callicrates in Chapter 2 etc.

In Part II 'Polybius and Roman Power' Polybius takes centre stage as a historian. In '3. Polybius (205?-125? B.C.)' (85-106), Derow first of all undertakes a description of the structure of the Histories. Originally conceived to run from the 140th Olympiad (220/19) down to the Roman settlement after the fall of Macedon (167), it finally ran to 40 books taking the narrative down until 145. The contents of individual books are described (87). Apart from digressions, such as his famous description of the Roman constitution in Book 6, each book generally covers two years, each year beginning and ending in the late autumn with the end of the campaigning season. Eight books cover a single year, and eight more 4 years. Within each year events are described from west to east (89). There follows an account of the methods of historical enquiry employed by Polybius, and a discussion of the difference between 'reasons' (aitiai) and 'beginnings' (archai), in other words the 'starting point', and the role of Fortune (Tyche) in history (91-3). Polybius attributes to the Romans a desire for 'universal rule'. There follows an extended discussion of anacyclosis, 'the cycle according to which constitutional change takes place' (97-101), which is apparently to be attributed to Polybius. This chapter was originally written in 1982, and in the next chapter '4. Historical Explanation: Polybius and his Predecessors' (107-124), originally written in 1994, Derow returns to some of the same concepts, but in more detail. First the role of predetermination is discussed among Polybius' predecessors. Derow then stresses that 'Polybius started writing history some two and a half centuries after Thucydides breaks off' and by then the world had become used to the historical genre and to the concept (118). Polybius stresses the importance of truthful reporting (119). Derow finally returns to 'beginnings' and 'reasons', Rome's desire for universal domination and the role of Fortune (120-4).

According to the editors (3) '5. Polybius, Rome, and the East' (125-149) first published in JRS 1979, 'is perhaps the most influential article on Polybius to appear in the last fifty years'. Maurice Holleaux proposed in 1921 that the Romans had no policy towards the Greek world before the Second Macedonian War. They left Greece after the Peace of Phoenike in 205 without any intension of returning. He saw a contradiction between what Polybius held to be Rome's 'universal aim' and what he actually says. This construct was first attacked by Walbank who supported Polybius' view that Roman expansion came about due to a consciously adopted plan, despite internal contradictions in the narrative. Derow demonstrates that, in fact, the alleged inconsistencies in Polybius between the 'beginnings' and 'reasons' (again) all disappear under closer examination..

In '6. Kleemporos' (151-67) Derow contrasts the contradictory accounts of the start of the first Illyrian War in Appian and Polybius. Appian's account is to be preferred as the more detailed and the only one giving the name of the murdered Issian ambassador Kleemporos.

In '7. Polybios and the Embassy of Kallikrates' (169-79) Derow examines whether the embassy of Kallikrates in 180, urging the Senate to insist on slavish obedience to its will, did a service to the Greeks, or, as Polybius alleges, was the origin of great misfortunes for them. Derow contrasts the situation before, when, for example, Lycortas was able to triumph over Messene and Sparta in 191 and bring them back into the Achaean League,1 and after, when the regimes of Kallikrates in Achaea, Charops in Epirus, Lykiskos in Aitolia, and Chremas in Akarnania used Roman support to eliminate all opposition to their rule, and concludes that Polybius was, in fact, right.

The eighth chapter, 'Polybius III, Rome and Carthage' (181-93), deals with Polybius' treatment of the outbreak of the Hannibalic War. The Lutatius Treaty of 241 concluded the first Punic War. Polybius offers two versions, the first based on sound sources, but the second has acquired additional clauses to justify the Roman declaration of war in 218. Likewise in Polybius' account of the events of 218 Hannibal at one point has not yet crossed the Ebro, but at another had already crossed. Derow demonstrates that the second versions, more morally defensible for the Romans, but factually incorrect, were in circulation in Rome during Polybius' stay there, on the eve of the third Punic War.

Chapter '9. Imperium, Imperial Space and Empire' (195-206) examines the "fundamental tension between Hellenistic Greek notions of 'imperial space' and what for the Romans was imperium" (196). The Greeks thought they were being allowed to conduct their affairs independently, but the Romans thought otherwise.

Part III 'The Roman Calendar' is divided into two chapters '10. The Roman Calendar, 190-168 B.C.' and '11. The Roman Calendar, 218-191 B.C.', with an intervening Appendix on the Roman calendar after 168. In this part of the book, the space occupied by the footnotes on the page is occasionally greater than the space occupied by the text. The argument of the first chapter is rendered comparatively easily by the fact that the period both began and ended with eclipses. We know that 169 BC was an intercalary year, and it follows that intercalations were carried out between 190 to 169 regularly on alternate years. 'Whatever it was' (212), the Lex Acilia of 191 had something to do with intercalation. In this way a table of calendric equations between the pre-Julian Roman and reformed calendars is presented (214-5) against which the chronology of events taking place during the period, such the Lycian embassy to Rome in late summer 177, can be tested.

The argument of the second chapter is complicated by the lack of intercalation at the beginning of the period. First the chronology of the year 203 is established (222-5). According to Ovid's Fasti Syphax was defeated at Cirta on 22 Iunius, which Derow calculates to have taken place on 23 May. Therefore there were two intercalations between 203 and 190, one belonging to Lex Acilia of 190 itself. Marchetti suggested 194, but Derow (225-8) proves that this cannot have been the case by an examination of the chronology of the Conference at Nikaia in Locris, and the various embassies consequent upon it. The conclusion is that the Ides of Martius 197 fell on 7 January 197, and that there were no intercalations between 197 and 190. Derow suggests (229) the last intercalation before 190 was performed in 202. Derow advances the hypothesis that during the second Punic War the even years were intercalary. Thus a table of calendar equations for the years 218-191 is drawn up. Derow demonstrates the validity of this table by reconstructing the chronology of the battles at Trasimene (231-5) Ovid 21 Iunius = 9 May 217, Cannae (234-5) Macrobius 2 Sextilis = 1 July 216, and the edict of Fabius Maximus in 215 (235) Livy Kal. Iunias = 20 April 215. During the first part of the war the Roman calendar was running about a month ahead of the seasons. This part of the book concludes with an editors' note, compiled with the help of Robert Hannah, giving the bibliography for work on the Roman calendar written after Derow wrote these two articles in the 1970s. His contribution, however, remains fundamental.

Part IV Epigraphy consists of three articles. The first, '12. An Inscription from Chios', is a joint discussion (with W.G. Forrest) of an honorific inscription concerning the Chian festival in honour of the goddess Roma. The name of the honorand is missing. Derow opts for restoring Hermocles the Chian hieromnemon at Delphi, first proposed by Kontoleon, and a date of 189/8. He thus goes against the letter-forms, which argue for a third-century date, although a third-centry date is briefly considered. In Chapter '13. Pharos and Rome', Derow discusses an inscription of the Greek city of Pharos in Illyria, mentioning a previous 'ϲυμμαχία with Rome'. Derow dates it to 219 following the Roman capture of the city, despite the reservations of Louis Robert, who dated it to the second century on the basis of the letter-forms. Noting that Corcyra, Apollonia and Issos are later attested as allies of Rome, Derow concluded (275), 'Of all this there is one straightforward reading: a sequel of the Roman campaign in the Adriatic in 229/8 was the conclusion of alliances between Rome and Pharos, Issa, Epidamnos, Corcyra, and Apollonia'. In '14. RC 38 (Amyzon) Reconsidered' (written with J.T. Ma and A.R. Meadows) a letter dating to 15 Daisos, Year 109 SE (c. 24 May 203 BC) written to Amyzon is considered. According to the previously generally accepted restoration of Wilhelm this letter was written by Antiochus III. It is demonstrated that the author of the letter is rather Zeuxis, the chief minister for the trans-Taurus, thus invalidating the rest of the restored text of Wilhelm, although not its general sense.

A few concluding remarks would seem be in order. One is forced to ask, was the book worth the effort that the editors have put into it? After all, only Chapter 8 is previously unpublished. There has been no attempt to 'update' Derow: the editors state their decision not to provide an expanded bibliography to the book (xv). Indeed, one cannot question their decision, otherwise the task would be enormous and never-ending.2 Certainly they have produced a remarkably homogenous book, with very few repetitions. It is highly rewarding to have the thoughts of Peter Derow on Polybius and his period gathered in one place.

These thoughts put Polybius on such a high pedestal 'his achievement as a historian is unparalleled'(105), that it is only very occasionally that we get something approaching criticism. Polybius does not envisage any form of society but one directed by one or another faction of the social elite to which he belonged. He does not understand that the Macedonians needed to exist in a united, powerful state, and this entailed monarchy. The support that Andriscus received in 149-148 is dismissed as inspired by 'a kind of heaven-sent madness'(95). Nearer to home, Polybius refuses to understand the support that Critolaus and Diaeus received from the Achaeans populace at large. After his release as a hostage in 150 he did not chose to return to Achaea to witness this 'folly', but chose to travel and free-load off his Roman aristocratic buddies. There is another side to Polybius yet to be told.


1.   New light is shed upon the revolt of Messene from the Achaean League in late 183 by a new inscription published in Chiron 42 (2012) pp. 509-548.
2.   E.g. the recent appearance of C. Smith and L.M. Yarrow (ed.), Imperialism, Cultural Politics and Polybius (Oxford 2012).

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