Polybius on the Roman Constitution, Checks and Balances, and Causes of Decline
Glimpse into our Basic Program by joining our First Friday Lecture with Zoë Eisenman
About the Event
In his work The Histories, Polybius told the story of the Roman Republic’s rapid rise to power in the Mediterranean world over the first half of the 2nd Century BCE. Polybius attributed much of Rome’s success to her customs and constitution, particularly to the system of separation of powers with checks and balances, which he believed kept the Republic strong and uncorrupted. However, he also believed that it is a fact of nature that all nations eventually decline. His predictions concerning the decline and fall of the Republic were largely fulfilled within 100 years of his death. In this lecture, I will examine Polybius’ ideas about the cycles of political systems, the strengths of the Roman constitution, and his speculations on the probable causes for the Republic’s future decline and fall. Given Polybius’ influence on Montesquieu and the framers of the United States Constitution, his theories and predictions have particular resonance for modern Americans contemplating the future of our own republic.
Basic Program Instructor
Zoe Eisenman started teaching in the Basic Program in 1992, and served as the Cyril O. Houle Chair from 2015–2020. She has a BA in Greek from Vassar College and an MA in Classics from the University of Chicago, where she has also done advanced graduate work. Her main academic focus is on Greek and Roman history and philosophy, classical cultural history, and gender studies. She taught in the College at the University of Chicago and in the philosophy department at St. Xavier University. She is the 2014 recipient of the Graham School's Excellence in Teaching Award for the Basic Program and is currently Director of Academics at the Graham School.