Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern Livy vs Welby

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern Livy vs Welby

Article excerpt

The new Archbishop of Canterbury has argued against 'pinning hopes on individuals'. The Roman historian Livy (59 BCAD 17) would have found that most bizarre.

Livy's 142-book Ab Urbe Condita traced the history of Rome from the city's foundation in 753 BC to the first Roman emperor Augustus (died AD 14). For Livy, it was individuals above all that counted. The seven early kings of Rome shaped by their own decisions much of Rome's later history.

In the early republic (from 509 BC), the elite patricians, the land-rich, wealthy families who had advised the kings and now held all the top posts, were in constant conflict with the non-elite plebs, who wanted a share in power and a fairer distribution of the land. While Livy saw the plebs and their inviolate 'tribunes' as the main cause of the problems, he acknowledged that both sides threw up individuals who were able to bring them together in a crisis.

It was strong, sensitive leadership that made all the difference.

For example, the tribunes often refused to allow war levies against local tribes unless the patricians agreed to political and land reform. …

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