(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


A provincial free of cynicism, Livy (LIHV-ee) held a fervent, patriotic belief that virtue was the foundation of Roman greatness. This sentimental admiration for the past gained him entrance into the literary circle fostered by the emperor Augustus. In keeping with imperial ambitions, Livy worked to fashion a monumental history that was worthy of Rome’s glorious achievements. The result, Ab urbe condita libre (c. 26 b.c.e.-15 c.e.; The History of Rome, 1600), contained 142 books that chronicled Roman history from 753 to 9 b.c.e. Thirty-five books survive. Books 1-10 record remembrances beginning at the legendary foundation of Rome and ending with the Third Samnite War. Books 21-45 cover the period from the Second Punic War through the wars of the early second century to 167 b.c.e. Unlike previous historians, Livy was not a man of action. He held no public position and worked largely in isolation, compiling and organizing the personalities, morals, and means through which the Roman people came to be.


Livy was the greatest of the annalistic historians, perfecting the rhetorical, year-by-year chronicles that were Roman history. His early books became the prose epic of Rome, ranking him with Vergil as the creator of Roman identity. Very popular in his own time, Livy was essential reading during the Renaissance. However, his uncritical use of sources damages his reputation today.

Further Reading:

Chaplin, Jane D. Livy’s Exemplary...

(The entire section is 636 words.)