(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Roman historian{$I[g]Roman Empire;Livy} Livy preserved many of the legendary traditions and mythology dealing with the earliest phase of ancient Roman history. Because many of the authors and sources he used have long been lost, his work assumes particular importance.

Early Life

Titus Livius, or Livy (LIHV-ee), was born in 59 b.c.e. in Patavium, northern Italy, according to the theologian Saint Jerome. Livy makes only a few brief references to his homeland, but they indicate a patriotic pride. Unfortunately, nothing certain is known about his youth, but it is assumed that he was schooled in his native town. This idea is based on a comment made by Asinius Pollio that Livy’s style was provincial. This criticism, however, is largely negated by the excellent Ciceronian style of most of Livy’s historical writings.

Livy’s early education must have included philosophical studies, as his writings contain many allusions and direct references to traditional Stoic values. Also, his frequent comments about religion show that he was familiar with the traditions and rituals of the Roman cults.

Livy probably did not begin writing his history of Rome until he was about thirty years old. Presumably, he had had adequate time in the previous years to read and research in preparation. By the age of thirty, he had probably moved to Rome, but regarding this there is no sure evidence. By the year 5 b.c.e., Livy was definitely in Rome, as at this time he was criticized by Emperor Augustus for being a “Pompeian,” a person who was biased in favor of the aristocratic, senatorial views. Augustus seems not to have meant this remark too seriously, for there is ample evidence to suggest that the emperor counted Livy as a friend and took an interest in his work. Indeed, it is known that about 8 c.e. Livy helped the future emperor Claudius in his historical studies.

Life’s Work

Livy’s great history was written in Latin and is generally known as Ab urbe condita libri (c. 26 b.c.e.-15 c.e.; The History of Rome, 1600), literally meaning “from the founding of the city” (of Rome). The work was exceptionally long, containing 142 books (scrolls); this length has been estimated to be equivalent to twenty-four or twenty-five crown-octavo volumes of three hundred pages each.

Probably as a result of the extreme length of the original work, abridgments and summaries were made in antiquity. Most of these have survived, but much of the original work has been lost. Only 35 of the 142 books have survived the ravages of time, including books 1-10 and 31-45. These surviving books deal chronologically with events between the years 753 and 243 b.c.e. and between 219 and 167 b.c.e. From the surviving summaries and fragments, it is clear that the work included information about Rome from its traditional foundation date in 753 through 9 b.c.e. The last twenty-two books were probably not published until after the death of Augustus in 14 c.e. The surmised reason for this is that Livy was fearful of publishing information about contemporaneous people and events.

Most scholars who have studied Livy’s work in detail have noted certain distinctive features of his great history. These include intensely personal psychological portraits of major military and political figures, speeches of uncertain origin interwoven with the chronological narrative to reflect certain political or religious perspectives of ancient Romans, lengthy discourses on cultic religion, including references to miracles and prodigies, frequent references to the virtuous morals and ethics of the early Romans in contrast to the degeneration of morals in the more recent age, a clear sympathy with Stoic views on the providential determination of history, and a patriotic bias in favor of aristocratic, republican conservatism....

(The entire section is 1597 words.)