Episode 30 – How We Know What We Know (About the Punic Wars)

After an unexpected absence, we are back with a new episode. In this episode, we take a break from the narrative and discuss the sources for the Punic Wars. Boring, you say? Not so. The writers on the Punic Wars form a rather eclectic assortment of characters, and the reasons that certain facts have come down to us often seems more due to chance than anything else. Besides the usual grumblings about lost manuscripts, this episode chronicles the various historians to whom we owe much of our knowledge about Antiquity, especially the two greatest historians of the Punic Wars – Polybius and Livy.

Stele of Polybius
Stele of the historian Polybius circa the 2nd Century BC from the Greek city of Kleitor in the Peloponnese. Considered the “Gold Standard” of ancient historians, Polybius’s work is invaluable to us as he had access to first-hand accounts and witnesses of the Punic Wars. The stele is now held in the Museum of Roman History in Rome, Italy.
Book photo of Livy
Sketch of Livy. A quiet, bookish man, Livy had little of the practical experience so valued by Polybius, but Livy was unquestionably a great writer.
Bust of Livy
Bust of Livy by Andrea Briosco (c. 1567).
Plutarch
Bust of Plutarch, writer of the Parallel Lives who chronicled and compared the lives of many Roman and Greek statesmen. Original image by Wikipedia user Odysses.
Cato
Bust of M. Porcius Cato. An irascible, austere, and uncompromising senator, Cato also served as a soldier at 17 years old against Hannibal in Italy. He wrote a history of Rome in Latin in seven books, much of which has unfortunately been lost.

Download: Episode 30 – How We Know What We Know (About the Punic Wars)

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