The History of Rome, Books 1-5

The History of Rome, Books 1-5

The History of Rome, Books 1-5

The History of Rome, Books 1-5


"Beginning with the mythical origins of the city, the first five books of Livy's magisterial History of Rome recount the battles, betrayals, and triumphs of the men and women who turned a small town into a formidable republic. This literary masterpiece remains essential reading for anyone interested in ancient history or the birth - and death - of great nations."


Titus Livius, a Roman citizen, was born in 64 or 59 BCE in Patavium (modern Padua, Padova), the wealthiest city in the province of Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy). Despite the fame of his History of Rome, few details are known of Livy's life apart from his birth and death in Patavium. An epitaph from that city commemorating a Titus Livius, his two sons, and a wife is probably the historian's. Nonetheless, he must have spent considerable time in Rome, given his familiarity with Roman topography, legends, and monuments, which is evident throughout the surviving books of his history.

Although Livy's narrative reveals a keen awareness of politics, there is no evidence that he held political office. Nor is there any known connection with the other major literary figures of his time, such as Virgil (70–19 BCE), Horace (65–8 BCE), or Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE). Asinius Pollio (see more later in Introduction), a contemporary historian whose work has not survived beyond a few quotations, made a derogatory remark about Livy's patavinitas, possibly alluding to his use of provincial rather than urbane figures of speech or to the moral rectitude for which Patavium was famous. With the exception of this snobbish (and probably self-serving) remark by Pollio, there is no reference to Livy until the last few years of the emperor Augustus' reign (27 BCE–14 CE), when Livy is said to have encouraged the emperor's young great-nephew, the later emperor Claudius (10 BCE–54 CE), in the writing of history. About the same time, Augustus (63 BCE–14 CE) called Livy “the Pompeian,” apparently a witticism alluding to Livy's partisanship for Pompey (106–48 BCE) in his account of the civil war (49–48 BCE) between

1. Badian 1993: 10–1 makes the case for Livy's birth in 59 BCE rather than in 64 BCE.

2. The Latin title of the work, Ab urbe condita, literally means “From the Foundation of
the City,” but the work is generally referred to as “History of Rome.”

3. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 5.2975, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 2919.

4. Quintilian, Training in Oratory 1.5.56, 8.1.3; Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.14.

5. Suetonius, Claudius 41. Claudius was born in 10 BCE, so the incident probably dates
between 6 and 14 CE, the date of Augustus' death. For discussion, see Appendix 2, pp. 421–2.

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