Ancient Field Research

Have been grinding my way through Polybius. While rather a familiar story so far –the Punic wars– one thing I’ve encountered in him that I’ve not seen before in ancient historians is his assertion of having done field research. (Perhaps you could even think of him as being a proto-archeologist?) Thucydides I don’t think lays claim to this, Tacitus, Livy, Xenophon, Strabo, Plutarch … haven’t read Sallust, Suetonius, Dionysius … Herodotus maybe travelled around to gather stories and have a look but not to gather evidence per se…

This first comes up after Polybius has given a detailed accounting of Hanibal’s army (3.33) and by way of explaining how his account could be so detailed, claims to have discovered a tablet with these figures on it (why archeology comes to mind). In another place (3.48), he explains that he knows Hannibal’s route through the alps so well because he’d examined all this area for himself and interviewed soldiers who’d made the crossing.

All the same, you can’t really think of him as having been the first to have undertaken such research, if only because he lays no claim to having been innovative in this regard. He presents these things as things he has done, not as things that have been done for the first time.


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