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Polybius on the Greatness of Rome

Types of states and their internal structures depending on the political regime. Special interaction between the monarch, his entourage and peoples. Three types of government, monarchical, aristocratic and democratic, each of which has its own hypertrophied dual alternative – tyranny, oligarchy and mob rule, respectively. Polybius describes the formation of the state as something that naturally grows out of a sense of human duty – the desire for justice evokes the support of the monarch’s associates, due to which he becomes a king. Subsequently, the king grows decrepit and the aristocracy begins to look for a more profitable replacement for him. As a result, high society is degrading, testing the people with the deprivations of the oligarchy. This cycle is restarted in the following way – the runaway crowd gets rid of the oppression of the oligarchs, but they need a new leader and guide. Thus, the full cycle of the political revolution takes place.

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Polybius points out that Roman history is based on the change and combination of these governments, as any unbiased and sufficiently perceptive historian can notice. Each of the types of government has its own specific disease of excess, which characterizes the history of states, and most clearly the Roman one. In an extraordinary way, the Roman state system manages to combine all the above features inherent in seemingly different political regimes. Depending on the chosen legislative perspective, it becomes noticeable that the state is governed by one or another force with a large amount of influence concentrated. The presence of a consulate speaks of the strength of the monarchical system, but the aristocratic senate restrains its power. Finally, the strength of the mass protest in Rome gives rise to talk about the dominant democracy in the state as the rule of the truth of the majority opinion.

Consuls have great power and sometimes unlimited powers, for example, military and punitive – all this characterizes the consulate as a sign of royal power. The Senate, in turn, does not have such power, but it has another means of influencing the status quo. The Senate has the right to dispose of the state treasury, and all financial regulations and administrations take place exclusively at the behest of the Senate. Any costs go through the control oversight of the Senate, which gives him an enormous power of influence in civil life and everyday government practices.

Finally, Polybius attempts to describe what kind of influence the people of Rome themselves, its people, have. The unification of the human mass into a structure called the state occurs precisely due to human activities – in particular, their ability to exercise power and strength. The Senate must fear the uprising of the masses and therefore strive to act in the name of the interests of the people. At the same time, people must be obedient to the decisions of the Senate, since the Senate permeates the entire political, legal and civil structure of the state. It is people who have the ability to decide what is good or bad for them, to adopt and enforce laws, or to reject them as unjust. People, on the other hand, decide in what state life is in a state, military or peaceful.

All three of these foundations of state structure are mutually supportive with sufficient coherence and swiftness to truly meet the needs of the times. In the Roman kingdom, all elements of the general power structure act voluntarily without seeking to pull all power into their own hands. On the contrary, the fairness of this type of government consists in the voluntary separation of powers, since, first of all, will and reason, and not force and fear, dominate in such a state. That is why, according to Polybius, the Roman state provided itself with such rapid development and long-term prosperity. In comparison with other state systems, and even the state of Plato, this triple form of government turns out to be the most natural and therefore so effective.


Polybius. The Histories: Fragments of Book VI. Web.

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