Born: 59 BC
Nationality: Ancient Roman
Died At Age: 75
Also Known As: Titus Livius
Born Country: Roman Empire
Born in: Patavium, Adriatic Veneti (modern Padua, Italy)
Famous as: Historian
Ancient Roman Men
Died on: 17
place of death: Patavium, Italy, Roman Empire
Who was Livy?
Titus Livius, better known simply as Livy, was a Roman historian known for authoring the monumental work, ‘Ab Urbe Condita Libri’ (Books from the Foundation of the City), in which he documented the history of Rome and Roman people spanning from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy's own lifetime. Along with Sallust and Tacitus, he is widely considered as one of three greatest Roman historians. Originally from the city of Patavium (modern-day Padua), Livy was a teenager during the 40s BCE, when a number of civil wars took place throughout the Roman world. As a result, Livy was probably bereft of higher education in Rome. He likely came to Rome in the 30s BCE, and while he spent a significant amount of time there in the ensuing years, it did not replace Patavium as his home. Livy developed good relationships with members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and was even a close friend of Augustus. He would later encourage future emperor Claudius to become a historian.
Childhood & Early Life
Contradictory information is available on the year of Livy’s birth. Some sources claim that he was born in 64 BCE, while others state that he was born in 59 BCE. His family belonged to the nobility of Patavium, which was the second-richest city in the peninsula and the biggest in the province of Cisalpine Gaul. He witnessed the merging of Cisalpine Gaul into Italia and its inhabitants becoming Roman citizens through an order by Julius Caesar.
Livy harboured a deep love and pride for his native city and often expressed it through his writing. The city garnered a reputation for conservative values in morality and politics, which were echoed in his works.
A recluse by nature, Levy disliked violence and confrontations. When peace ultimately returned to the Roman world with the ascension of Augustus, Livy found the perfect chance to divulge “all his imaginative passion to the legendary and historical past of the country he loved."
As a teenager in the 40s BCE, he witnessed a period of numerous civil wars that ravaged the Roman world. At the time, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul was Asinius Pollio, who attempted to convince the people of Patavium to support Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), the leader of one of the factions involved in the conflicts.
The rich citizens of the city made it clear that they did not wish to send money and arms to Pollio and fled. Pollio then tried to get the information about their whereabouts from their slaves through bribery, but that did not work either. The citizens of Patavium declared themselves as allies of the senate.
These civil wars likely prevented Livy from acquiring higher education in Rome or embarking on a tour to Greece, which adolescent males of the nobility regularly did at the time.
Several years later, Pollio ridiculed his “patavinity" by saying that Livy’s Latin demonstrated certain "provincialisms" that were looked down upon in Rome. Pollio’s criticism was probably caused by his experiences with the populace of the city during the civil wars.
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Career & Later Life
Livy likely came to Rome in the 30s BCE and probably lived in the city for a considerable period after this. However, it never became his permanent home. While he was in Rome, he was never made a senator, nor was he appointed at any administrative post. His writings carry several fundamental mistakes on military matters, demonstrating that he never was part of the Roman army.
He received education in philosophy and rhetoric. It is believed that he had considerable financial resources to lead an independent life. However, how that wealth was created is not known. Due to the financial freedom he had, he was able to predominantly focus on his writings for most of his life.
According to contemporary sources, Livy would often appear before small audiences and deliver recitations. However, he was not known for giving declamations, which had become a common pastime during this period.
He and Emperor Augustus were friends, and he also had close relationships with other members of the imperial family. According to Suetonius, it was Livy’s words of encouragement that prompted the future emperor Claudius to author historical works during his childhood.
Livy’s most prominent work was his history of Rome. He wrote extensively about the long period between the foundation of the city and the death of Augustus. As he composed a significant portion of his work during Augustus’ reign, the history he gives specifically revolves around the great triumphs of Rome.
He liberally mixed a generous amount of fiction with historical facts to showcase Roman heroism, which in turn helped him promote the new style of government that Augustus was implementing.
In the preface to his history, he wrote that he would not mind if he was forgotten by history, as long as his work ensured the longevity of “the memory of the deeds of the world’s pre-eminent nation".
As many of his works were based on tradition, legends, and scarce older texts and historical evidence, scholars doubt the historical value of it. However, many Romans thought his accounts were accurate.
Livy composed his magnum opus, ‘Ab Urbe Condita Libri’ (Books from the Foundation of the City), in Latin between 27 and 9 BCE. The work begins by describing the legends regarding the arrival of Aeneas and the refugees from the fall of Troy and the eventual foundation of Rome in 753 BCE.
It goes on to narrate the expulsion of the kings in 509 BCE and the formation of the Roman Republic, before arriving at Livy's own time, during the rule of Emperor Augustus.
Livy started by writing and putting out in units of five books, and their sizes were regulated by the ancient papyrus roll. As time went on and he began to deal with more complex materials, he decided to stop using this symmetrical pattern and published 142 books.
Aside from fragments appearing in quotes from grammarians and others, and a short section concerning the death of the orator and politician Cicero from Book 120, the only source of information on Books 46 to 142 are the summaries. Later scholars began composing these in the first century AD.
A note in the Periochae of Book 121 reveals that the book was put out after Augustus’ death, which happened in 14 AD. For some scholars, this implies that the final 20 books, in which Levy described the events between the Battle of Actium and 9 BCE, were written as an afterthought. Another possibility is that due to their explosive subjects, they were not published until Augustus’ death.
The sheer extent of the enterprise must have been daunting for the historian. According to Statesman Pliny the Younger, Livy considered about giving up the project at one point.
Personal Life & Family
Livy had a wife and at least two children, a son and a daughter. He also authored several other works, including an essay which was formatted like a letter to his son. Furthermore, he produced multiple dialogues, which were likely inspired by similar works of Cicero.
Livy passed away either in 12 or 17 AD in Patavium. As with his birth year, the year of his death is a highly debated topic as well.