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Intro Edit


The Roman annalistic [year-by-year] historian Titus Livius (Livy), from Patavium (Padua, as it's called in English), the area of Italy in which Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew took place, lived about 76 years, from c. 59 B.C. to c. A.D. 17. That hardly seems long enough to have finished his magnum opusAb Urbe Condita 'From the Founding of the City', a feat that has been compared with publishing one 300-page book each year for 40 years.

Most of Livy's 142 books on the 770-year history of Rome have been lost, but 35 survive: i-x, xxi-xlv.

Livy's Morality Edit

Although we're missing the contemporary portion of his history, there seems little reason to believe that Livy's Ab Urbe Condita was written as an official Augustan history, aside from the fact that he was a friend of Augustus, and that morality was important to both men.

  • Although Livy's status as the official Augustan historian is debated, Paul J. Burton (following T.J. Luce, "The Dating of Livy's First Decade," TAPA96 (1965)) dates the start of Livy's historical writing to 33 B.C. -- before the Battle of Actium and the year (27 B.C.) Octavian conventionally qualifies as emperor.
  • Livy's role in the history of literature and the theater -- for which see Heroes and Heroines of Fiction, by William Shepard Walsh -- and the visual arts, especially Botticelli, comes at least in part from Livy's moral stories of The Abduction of Virginia and The Rape of Lucretia.

In his preface, Livy directs the reader to read his history as a storehouse of examples for imitation and avoidance:

Livy directs his readers to examine the morals and policies of others so that they can see how important it is to maintain standards of morality:

From this moral perspective, Livy depicts all non-Roman races as embodying character flaws that correspond with central Roman virtues:

Numidians are also immoderate emotionally since they are too lustful:

Historical Evaluation of Livy Edit

With history as his vehicle, Livy displays his rhetorical flair and literary style. He engages the attention of the listening audience through speeches or emotive description. Occasionally Livy sacrifices chronology to variety. He rarely explores contradictory versions of an event but selects with an eye to championing Rome's national virtues.

Livy acknowledged a lack of contemporary written records from which to verify facts from Rome's beginnings. Sometimes he mistranslated Greek literary sources. Without a background in practical military affairs or politics, his reliability in these areas is limited. However, Livy supplies myriad mundane details that are unavailable elsewhere, and, therefore, he is the most important source for Roman general history for the period to the end of the Republic.

Sources Include:

Stephen Usher, The Historians of Greece and Rome

"The Last Republican Historian: A New Date for the Composition of Livy's First Pentad" Paul J. Burton Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 49, H. 4 (4th Qtr., 2000), pp. 429-446.

"Livy, Passion, and Cultural Stereotypes" S. P. Haley Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 39, H. 3 (1990), pp. 375-381

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