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Polybius and Livy: The causes of the Second Punic War

Frederick Charles Matusiak, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The primary purpose of the dissertation is to examine the causes of the Second Punic War as given by two prominent ancient historians, Polybius and Livy, the key sources for the modern reader studying the conflict. To set the scene, the First and Second Punic Wars, as well as the period between the wars, are discussed. The two historians, different in style and personality, and the sources they used, are examined. The dissertation contends that Polybius and Livy agree on three causes: the "wrath of the Barcids," revenge for the loss of Sardinia and Corsica, and the success of the Carthaginians in Spain. Livy views the seizure of Saguntum as a cause; Polybius feels this is the beginning of the war rather than an underlying cause. After discussing the facts available on each of the causes, the dissertation maintains that all four causes are sustainable. The primary objection to the ancient causes is that they are too pro-Roman. In reality, the revenge factor reflects poorly on the Romans and legality may rest with Hannibal's on the seizure of Saguntum. This last issue continues to be hotly debated. Other possibilities for the Second Punic War are briefly analyzed including the inevitability of the conflict, the miscalculation of Roman motives by the Carthaginians, economic inducements, imperialism, and the character of Hannibal. With the exception of the miscalculation of Roman motives, all of the additional possibilities could be added to the Polybian/Livian causes. Perhaps the key is Hannibal himself who pressed the issue of war. Thus, the ancients were limited in their analysis by their cultural milieu; however, the ancient causes stand the test of time. There are two appendices to the dissertation. The first discusses the one remaining portrait of Polybius, the stele at Kleitor. The second appendix examines different portraits of Livy from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. There is a surprising consistency in his portrayal, although period influences can be seen.

Subject Area

Ancient civilizations|European history|African history

Recommended Citation

Matusiak, Frederick Charles, "Polybius and Livy: The causes of the Second Punic War" (1992). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI9233411.