Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.03.53

W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (trans.), Polybius, The Histories. Vol. III, Books 5-8 (revised 2nd edition). Loeb classical library, 138.   Cambridge, MA; London:  Harvard University Press, 2011.  Pp. 607.  ISBN 9780674996588.  $24.00.  

W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (trans.), Polybius: The Histories. Vol. IV, Books 9-15 (revised edition). Loeb classical library, 159.   Cambridge, MA; London:  Harvard University Press, 2011.  Pp. 631.  ISBN 9780674996595.  $24.00.  

Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow (

Volumes III and IV of the six-volume Loeb Polybius appeared in 1923 and 1925 and remained in print until very recently. The translator, W.R. Paton, died in 1921 before ever seeing his work published and, more importantly, before getting the chance to iron out any wrinkles in his translation. Now, ninety years on, a new edition is finally appearing, revised by Christian Habicht and incorporating annotations made by the late Frank Walbank during the composition of his masterful (and still essential) Historical Commentary on Polybius (3 vols., Oxford, 1957- 1979). This explains Walbank’s name on the cover as joint reviser, although it is Habicht who deserves our gratitude for seeing this revision through to publication.1

The two volumes under review contain Books 5-15 of Polybius’ History, spanning the years 218 to 202 BC. The historical coverage is necessarily uneven: only one book has survived complete (Book 5) and only one other substantially so (Book 6), the rest having been preserved in fragments and excerpts. Like the original volumes, there is no front matter, and we launch straight into the text with facing translation. The Greek is now displayed twenty- eight lines per page, rather than the original thirty-two lines, making these volumes substantially thicker than the originals.2 Each volume has an index.

The dust jacket explains that “W.R. Paton’s excellent translation … has been thoroughly revised, the Büttner-Wobst Greek text corrected, and explanatory notes and a new introduction added, all reflecting the latest scholarship”.3 No scholar of the twentieth century has been as influential in Polybian studies as Walbank, so it is fitting that the Loeb text has been rearranged in a way that he would have approved of. In Vol. III, chapters 7.14b-14d have been inserted, and 8.38 has moved from Vol. III to Vol. IV, where it has been slipped in between 9.10.13 and 9.11.1 (although its unexplained appearance simply as “38” may confuse readers, as Book 9 already has its own chapter 38). In Vol. IV, 9.9.10a, 9.27.10, and 9.44.1-45.1 have been inserted and 11.24.10 (missing from Paton’s text) has been restored. Likewise, 9.40.4-6 and 11.7.1 have been relocated (Habicht adds explanatory text only for the former), as have 15.24a and 24b, though the resulting jumble of section numbers in 15.25 may bemuse unwary readers.

Paton’s prose is still serviceable after ninety years, although at 6.36.6, “they are suffered to depart without question” now sounds rather quaint, and it might have been better to replace the recurring reference to punishment by “bastinado” (6.37.1, 9; 38.1, 3) with the strictly literal “beaten with cudgels”.

Besides Americanizing Paton’s spelling throughout, Habicht has taken on the task of tightening up his translation, particularly in the (very few) places where Paton omitted a word (e.g. “three maniples” at 6.33.6; “lost heart and surrendered” at 9.42.3) or where he misconstrued Polybius’ meaning (e.g. at 10.27.13, the money was “paid into the treasury”, not “coined with the king’s effigy”). A fairly extensive selective check (Books 5, 6, 9 and 14) revealed mainly minor corrections, most of which were already suggested in Walbank’s Commentary.4

Several corrections are fundamental. At 6.24.6, Paton’s mistaken description of the manipular σημαιαφόροι as vexillarii has been corrected to signiferi, and at 6.35.8-9 and 6.37.5, the ἰλάρχης whom Paton had unwittingly promoted to “praefect of cavalry” has been justly downgraded to decurio (i.e. troop commander). These (and others) are, of course, to be welcomed. Less welcome, in my opinion, is Habicht’s revision of 6.37.8 (on the Roman military tribunes’ abuse of power), where Paton’s “demanding sureties” (an eminently sensible translation of Polybius’ ἐνεχυράζων) has been replaced by the obscurely legalistic “distraining on goods” (which caused me to reach for a dictionary). If there is a technicality to be observed here, it would have been wiser to add the details in a footnote (for which there is abundant space on p. 393).

At the same time, some expected changes have not materialized. At 5.1.11, Paton’s translation has been allowed to stand, although Walbank inclined towards the alternative interpretation, that, “as soon as Philip struck camp, the Achaeans would immediately give him fifty talents to serve as three months’ pay for his army, and would give him in addition ten thousand medimni of corn”. (Paton preferred to grant Philip a bonus of fifty talents, over and above his monthly pay of seventeen talents.) Also, at 5.88.7, Paton’s literal “fifty catapults three cubits long” has been allowed to stand, although (as Walbank – a contemporary of Eric Marsden’s at Liverpool – well knew) these are “catapults [designed to shoot arrows] three cubits long”.

In many passages, Paton’s translation, though acceptable, might have been improved. For example, at 6.29.1, “cavalry camp” for τῆς τῶν ἱππέων παρεμβολῆς has been allowed to stand, although it would surely be better as “the cavalry quarters” (Polybius is describing the area of the Roman camp occupied by the legionary cavalry). In 6.29.3, on the encamping of the triarii behind the cavalry troops, Paton’s quaint “a company next each troop” might be more accurately rendered as “a maniple behind each troop”. Indeed, understanding the entire section on the Roman camp really requires a plan, which might comfortably have been accommodated on one of the several blank pages at the rear of Vol. III.

Amongst other minor observations, Paton’s “cavalry officers” at 6.34.5-6 (where Polybius refers only to ἱππεῖς) could have been corrected, and at 6.35.12 and 6.36.5, it would have been nice to see “bugle” changed to the bucina (a long, straight instrument quite unlike a bugle) that Polybius intended. At 6.34.8, Paton’s “maniple” (a perfectly reasonable translation of Polybius’ σημαία) has been changed to “unit”, though the same change has not been applied elsewhere (e.g. 6.34.9), and Paton’s mention of maniples at 6.29.5 (where Polybius refers only to ἄνδρες) has been retained. Finally, at 6.37.3, in connection with the punishment of fustuarium, it might have been wiser to replace Paton’s ambiguous “dispatching him”, which may be open to misinterpretation, with the more straightforward “killing him”.

So much for the translation. The task of “correcting” Büttner-Wobst’s Teubner text is an admirable endeavour, but the places where the Loeb now diverges are not always obvious to the reader. Many of Habicht’s emendations have been flagged in the footnotes and are mostly minor, requiring minimal alteration (or none at all) to Paton’s translation (but note 5.41.2, where Büttner-Wobst’s Ἄτταλον has been changed to Schweighäuser’s Ταῦρον). However, several are unmarked: for example, at 5.1.11, Büttner-Wobst’s σίτου μυριάδας has been replaced by Schweighäuser’s σίτου μυριάδα, and at 10.39.6, Büttner-Wobst’s προσπίπτοντας by Scaliger’s προσπίπτοντες; in both cases, Paton’s translation already matched the improved readings. But note 9.9.3, where Büttner-Wobst’s συντρῖψαι has been replaced by Hultsch’s συμπέμψαι (the translation has, of course, been amended to take account). Often, brackets have been employed to indicate an interpolation, as with the major insertion at 14.7.2, which is flagged (in Vol. IV, p. 501, n. 14) simply as “B-W’s supplement”. However, at 10.27.11, the same treatment has been given to the (quite justified) emendation of Νικάνορος to Νικάτορος, leading readers to assume that the entire word is an interpolation. Ideally, all such alterations should be flagged and explained, although readers need hardly be reminded that the Loebs are not intended as critical editions; for that, the ongoing Budé text with its apparatus criticus must still be consulted.

One expected emendation has not materialized: at 5.88.5, Habicht notes that “a rebuilding of the fortifications [of Rhodes] has dropped out of the text” (Vol. III, p. 235, n. 157), but Walbank was happy to entertain a variation on Reiske’s interpolation (from Diod. Sic. 26.8, which was clearly lifted directly from Polybius). And it would have been nice to see Habicht follow Foulon’s Budé in emending ἐντός to ἐκτός at 10.7.5, in order to correctly locate the Conii people beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

The new Loebs now aim to provide essential critical and explanatory notes. It need hardly be stated that no series of footnotes could ever replace Walbank’s Commentary, but a judicious, summarized selection from that work could easily have been accommodated in the space available. Certainly, many footnotes send the reader in search of a particular passage in “WC”, which most will eventually realize indicates Walbank’s Commentary. But Habicht has high expectations of his readers’ reference shelves. Not only does he assume ready access to Pauly’s Realencyclopädie (frequently referenced, but – irritatingly – only by headword, column number and article author), but he also shows a preference for French and German specialized monographs (even citing a Hamburg dissertation of 1975 in Vol. IV, p. 26, n. 14). And for the Roman army, he recommends Kromayer and Veith’s Heerwesen und Kriegführung der Griechen und Römer (1928). All of this (I would venture to suggest) rather defeats the purpose of a generally accessible English-language Polybius. It might have been wiser to standardize on the lines of the OCD or Brill’s New Pauly, which seem more of a match with the Loeb Classical Library’s philosophy. In a similar vein, it would have been helpful to quote the modern equivalent of Polybius’ ancient measurements in all cases, rather than in a few only.

At any rate, it is to be hoped that the first reprint of each volume will include a list of abbreviations, explaining the likes of “PP” (Leuven University’s multi-volume Prosopographia Ptolemaica project), StV (evidently Schmitt’s Die Staatsverträge des Altertums, Vol. 3, 1969), and I. Syrie (Waddington’s Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, 1870), as well as the standard acronyms, since familiarity with these and others (e.g. NGG, TGrF) should not simply be assumed.

I noted only three misprints. In Vol. III, at 6.21.8, Paton’s “distinct in age and equipment” has become “district in age and equipment” (p. 353), and at 6.37.11, Paton’s “in the actual battle” has become “on the actual battle” (p. 393). And in Vol. IV, at 9.19.7, Paton’s “scalers” have become “sealers” (p. 51).5


1.   Volumes I and II appeared in 2010 and were reviewed in BMCR 2011.05.40. Volumes V and VI are scheduled to appear during 2012.
2.   This has had unwelcome consequences for many of the facing pages, where the English translation no longer requires a full page, leaving areas of unsightly white space at the foot. Also, in my opinion, the original Greek and English typefaces were noticeably more legible than the new ones.
3.   The “new introduction” appears only in Vol. I.
4.   Changes other than those recommended by Walbank’s Commentary are generally less essential, such as at 6.25.10, where Paton’s “in defence and attack” (which neatly captured the spirit of Polybius’ πρὸς τὰς ἐπιβολὰς καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἐπιθέσεις) has been changed to the more ambitious “against both missiles from a distance and from attack at close quarters” (where the second “from” is redundant). Or again, at 6.42.4, where Paton seems to have captured the essence of Polybius’ meaning with “whereabouts in the camp his own place or the place of his corps is”, Habicht has substituted “whereabouts his own position and the details of the camp are”; but Polybius’ μέρος surely refers to the area around the individual soldier’s position (i.e. Paton’s “the place of his corps”), rather than to the entire camp.
5.   I noted a few minor slips. In Vol. III, p. 365, the word extraordinarii has retained the hyphen from Paton’s edition (in which the word broke across two lines). In Vol. IV, p. 3, the redrafting of a sentence requires the deletion of Paton’s comma after “Ephorus”; on p. 19 (line 4), Paton’s missing full stop is still missing; on p. 35, at 9.12.9, Paton’s “anyone” should have been changed to “any one”; on p. 39, at 9.14.10, the word “behindhand” has retained an intersyllabic space from Paton’s edition (in which the word broke across two lines); and the running header on p. 73 is incorrect.

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