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Livy - Ab Urbe Condita

The Structure of Livy - Ab Urbe Condita

By N.S. Gill

Titus Livius (Livy) was born c. 59 B.C. and died in A.D. 17 at Patavium, in northern Italy. In about 29 B.C., while living in Rome, Livy started his magnum opus, Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome from its foundation, written in 142 books. Little else is known about Livy, although it is reported that while he does not appear to have held public office, Augustus considered him a Republican and Suetonius thought he had encouraged the Emperor Claudius in his historical studies.

Even if we don't know much about Livy's life, we have a generous sample of his writing (35 books: I-X, XXI-XLV) and an even more generous supply of scholarship about it.

From Book XLV onward, we don't have Livy's words, but we still know the content because other ancient writers made summaries of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita. A third century Egyptian papyrus summarizes Books XXXVII-XL and XLVIII-LV, and a fourth century summary, known as the Periochae, covers the entire Ab Urbe Condita.

In Ab Urbe Condita, Livy wrote annals about the deeds of the Roman people -- at home or at war -- arranged chronologically by consular year, beginning with each Ides of March. Livy's subject matter was the entire history of Rome, from its legendary founding (c. 753 B.C.) up to his own time.

John Rich describes the formal elements of Livy's history in his "Structuring Roman History: the Consular Year and the Roman Historical Tradition" (Histos, October 1996). The basic structure Livy uses begins with the consuls' entries into office and early activity in Rome. Livy progresses to their departures to their provinces and the return of one or both consuls to Rome, followed by the election of their successors. There is a certain amount of repetition, including the "reporting and expiation of prodigies, the games and other activities of the aediles, and the death and replacement of priests." Rich says there is substantial variation within this structure and not all years are given equal treatment.

Read the text T. Livi Ab Vrbe Condita and Periochae

Book Topic
1-5 Foundation of Rome to its sack by the Gauls (386 B.C.)
6-10 Samnite Wars
11-15 Conquest of Italy
16-20 First Punic War
21-30 Second Punic War
31-45 To the end of the war with Perseus (167 B.C.)
46-70 To the Social War (91 B.C.)
71-80 Civil wars to Marius' death (86 B.C.)
81-90 Civil wars to Sulla's death (78 B.C.)
91-103 To Pompey's triumph (62 B.C.)
104-108 Last years of the Republic
109-116 Civil War to Caesar's murder (44 B.C.)
117-133 To the Battle of Actium
134-142 29 - 9 B.C.
History in this version remains useful not because it represents accurate reconstructions of past events that can serve as analogies in the present but rather because it perpetuates and interprets the collective memory on which the identity and character of the Roman people depend. This is not the only kind of history, to be sure, but one particularly well suited to a society that regulated itself less by a body of written law than by stories, examples, and wisdom transmitted through a rich array of oral traditions that had only recently begun to be reduced to writing.
[homer.reed.edu/Livy.html "Livy"]
Online Resources

Attributes of Livy's History
Roman history is therapeutic, moralistic, imperialistic, and diagnostic.

Structuring Roman History: the Consular Year and the Roman Historical Tradition
John Rich describe the structure of the history, shows how it's not as repetitious as some think, and examines the earlier historians from whom Livy borrowed and stylistically copied.

Livy A feature on the moral aspect of Livy's history.

Twelve Tables
Written about 450 and discussed in Book iii of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita.

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