Summarizing Polybius' contribution to the study of Roman history, Mommsen paid him the following compliment: ‘His books are like the sun in the field of Roman history; where they begin, the misty veils which still cloak the Samnite and Pyrrhic wars are lifted, where they finish, a new and if possible still more vexatious twilight begins.’ Since Mommsen our understanding of Polybius' methods, his bias and omissions, his ideology and concerns, has progressed immeasurably, thanks largely to the work of Pédech and Walbank. Nevertheless, the idea that the Histories represent, at least in their conception, the illumination of an intrinsic reality persists. Polybius' supposed ‘poor style’ is often treated as in some way an absence of historiographical mediation. In this case, ‘transparency’ in a text, the sensation that it provides unmediated access to what it describes, is achieved not by a smooth and inconspicuous style, but by coarseness. Tarn compared Polybius' work to rescripts and despatches, as if he were only interested in an unobtrusive recording role, and this attitude to the historian, far from being in decline, has received some radical and authoritative support in recent years. One reappraisal of Roman imperialism has argued that Polybius was much closer to the reality of the process than many twentieth-century historians. Another study claims to ‘want to say no more than what Polybius said’. Ultimately, I have no argument with those who stress Polybius' honesty and reliability. More problematic, however, is an attitude to our use of Polybius' history which is often assumed in eulogies of his truthfulness: that when we read Polybius, we are enabled to gaze directly on the landscape of Roman history, a single substantial unitary reality, structured out of objective facts.