The Rise of Rome


Livy was born as Titus Livius in Patavium in northern Italy, now modern Padua. There is a debate about the year of Titus Livius' birth, 64 BC or more likely 59 BC. At the time of his birth, his home city of Patavium was the second wealthiest on the Italian peninsula. Patavium was a part of the province of Cisalpine Gaul at the time. In his works, Livy often expressed his deep affection and pride for Patavium, and the city was well known for its conservative values in morality and politics.[2] "He was by nature a recluse, mild in temperament and averse to violence; the restorative peace of his time gave him the opportunity to turn all his imaginative passion to the legendary and historical past of the country he loved."[3]

Livy’s teen years were during the 40s BC, a time that coincided with the civil wars that were occurring throughout the Roman world. The governor of Cisalpine Gaul at the time, a man called Asinius Pollio, had tried to bring Patavium into the camp of Marcus Antonius, who was one of the three men in the fight for control over Rome. The wealthier citizens of Patavium refused to contribute money and arms to Asinius Pollio and went into hiding. Pollio then attempted to bribe the slaves of the wealthy citizens of Patavium to expose the whereabouts of their masters; his bribery did not work, and the citizens pledged their allegiance to conservatism and the Senate instead. Therefore, Livy and the other residents of Patavium did not end up supporting Marcus Antonius in his campaign for control over Rome. It is likely, then, that the Roman civil wars prevented Livy from pursuing a higher education in Rome or going on a Grand Tour of Greece, which was common for adolescent males of the nobility at the time. Later on, Asinius Pollio made a jibe at Livy's "patavinity," saying that Livy's Latin showed certain "provincialisms" frowned on at Rome. His jibe at Livy and his "patavinity," however, may have been said because of the fact that the city of Patavium had rejected Asinius Pollio, and he still harboured harsh feelings toward the city as a whole.[4]

Titus Livius probably went to Rome in the 30s BC, and it is likely that he spent a large amount of time in the city after this, although it may not have been his primary home. During his time in Rome, he was never a senator nor held any other governmental position. His elementary mistakes in military matters show that he was never a soldier. However, he was educated in philosophy and rhetoric. It seems that Livy had the financial resources and means to live an independent life. He devoted a large part of his life to his writings, which he was able to do because of his financial freedom.[5]

Livy was known to give recitations to small audiences, but he was not heard of to engage in declamation, which was a common pastime. He was familiar with the emperor Augustus, formerly Octavian, and the imperial family. Octavian was one of the three men fighting for the control of Rome during the Civil Wars in the 40s BC. Octavian gained power after defeating Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra, and was later given the honorary name of Augustus. Considering that Augustus came to be known as the greatest Roman Emperor in the eyes of the Romans, being a historian under Augustus was very beneficial to Livy’s career even after his death. It is said that Livy was the one who encouraged the future emperor Claudius, who was born in 10 BC, to explore the writing of history during his childhood. Livy himself was married and had at least one daughter and one son.[5]

Perhaps Livy’s most famous work was his history of Rome. In it he explains the complete history of the city of Rome, from its foundation to the death of Augustus. Because he was writing under the emperor Augustus, Livy’s history emphasizes the great triumphs of Rome.[6] He wrote his history with embellished accounts of Roman heroism in order to promote the new type of government implemented by Augustus when he became emperor.[7] In Livy’s preface to his history, he said that he did not care whether his personal fame remained in darkness, as long as his work helped to “preserve the memory of the deeds of the world’s preeminent nation.”[8] Because Livy was writing about events that had occurred hundreds of years earlier, the value of his history was questionable, although many Romans came to believe what he wrote to be the true history of Rome’s foundation.[9] He had also written other works, including an essay in the form of a letter to his son, and numerous dialogues, most likely using Cicero as a model.[10]

Titus Livius is said to have died in the year AD 17 (three years after the death of the emperor Augustus) in his home city of Patavium.[2]

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