Livy

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Livy (59 BCE - 17 CE) - his full name in Latin was Titus Livius - was one of the greatest of the Roman historians. The name Livy is pronounced with two short 'i' syllables and with the stress on the first (IPA: /ˈlɪvɪ/). The adjective from Livy is Livian (IPA: /ˈlɪvɪən/).

Livy was born in Patavium (modern Padua, in north east Italy). He became a member of the literary group which flourished at the court of the emperor Augustus, who looked favourably on his work as an historian. Apart from this little is known about his life: it is assumed that most of it must have been spent either in Rome or in Padua.

Livy began his history of Rome when he was 30 years old, and its composition probably occupied him for the rest of his life. The work deals with the history of Rome from the foundation of the city (ab urbe condita) - hence its Latin title Ab urbe condita libri (Books from the Foundation of the City) - and by the time of his death Livy had composed 142 books, which covered the history of Rome down to the year 9 BCE. (A book in this context is rather shorter than a modern book - typically about 70 pages in length - but even so it is clear that the History was a work of vast proportions.) Of its 142 books only 35 (i.e., about a quarter) have survived, though the contents of the missing books are known to us through abstracts (or epitomes) written by other authors.

As an historian, Livy is not beyond criticism. He wrote within the annalistic tradition, i.e., he constructed the History on a year-by-year basis, dealing with all the events of one year before proceeding to the events of the next year. This is clearly not the best way to handle certain kinds of historical material, and is responsible for some of the unsatisfactory features of the History (e.g., the repetitions and inconsistencies). Livy is, moreover, insufficiently critical of his sources; and his account of Rome's history is shaped - and distorted - by the idealistic attitudes of his age, which saw Augustus, the first Roman emperor, as having re-established in Roman life the austere morality which had characterised the city's early years but had been lost in the Republic's final, turbulent century. Livy is, nonetheless, a great historian. His greatness lies in the epic proportions of his History and the sheer volume of material he was able to master; in his command of the Latin language as a medium of narration; and in his ability to bring the past to life by vivid description.

Livy's History has often been compared to Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid: both attempted, in different ways, to provide an account of Rome's past which would validate and glorify the new political order of the emperor Augustus.

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