Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

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The History of Rome by Livy is one of the most famous and important primary-source texts we have about the ancient Romans. We know that Livy was friends with the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and that the connections and influence of the emperor allowed his work to be published and popularized throughout the ancient empire.

The History of Rome analyzes the 800-year history (at the time) of Rome, from its days as an early kingdom to the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. It begins with the foundation myth of Romulus and Remus, continuing on to explore the overthrow of Tarquin (the last king of Rome), the development of the Republic, and the Republic's great fight against Carthage, and finally ending with Julius Caesar's ascension to emperor and his handing off power to his grand-nephew, Augustus.

Historically speaking, there are many concerns with Livy's work. By far the most important is that there are so few surviving pre-Livy documents in Roman history that we cannot confirm or deny much of the history he presents to us—especially the history of the earliest days of the Roman kingdom. Imagine if we wrote a book of American history using nothing but our own foundation myths (like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree)—how accurate would it be? Should it be used by students to study the history of our nation?

Additionally, Livy's connection to Augustus is historically problematic. We cannot know for certain whether what he says about the emperor's authority, ancestry, and policies is meant to flatter or is meant as serious criticism. Other historians have commented on Livy by saying that he has only a casual acquaintance with the truth. Unlike other ancient historians, like Herodotus, it is clear that Livy is not using evidence and data to back up his claims; instead, he is simply presenting them to the audience as if they are fact.

Ultimately, however, Livy's History of Rome is an incredibly useful analysis of the ancient Romans—if not as an accurate history, then as an understanding of life during Augustus's reign and the ideas being promoted by the elite Romans. It is also impressive that Livy's words have survived the ages, since he had many enemies in his lifetime and afterward. Students should read his works for a better understanding of ancient history, but they should also use critical analysis to determine what may be exaggerations or falsehoods.

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