The Rise of Rome


In the Roman Empire

Livy's History of Rome was in demand from the publication of the first packet. Livy became so famous that a man from Cadiz travelled to Rome just to see him, and once he had met with him, returned home.[12] The popularity of the work continued through the entire Republic and early imperial period. A number of Roman authors used Livy, including Aurelius Victor, Cassiodorus, Eutropius, Festus, Florus, Granius Licinianus and Orosius. Julius Obsequens used Livy, or a source with access to Livy, to compose his De Prodigiis, an account of supernatural events in Rome, from the consulship of Scipio and Laelius to that of Paulus Fabius and Quintus Aelius.

Livy wrote during the reign of Augustus, who came to power after a civil war with generals and consuls claiming to be defending the Roman Republic, such as Pompey. Patavium had been pro-Pompey. To clarify his status, the victor of the civil war, Octavian Caesar, had wanted to take the title Romulus (the first king of Rome) but in the end accepted the senate proposal of Augustus. He did not abolish the republic de facto but adapted its institutions into the empire.

Livy's enthusiasm for the Republic is evident from the first pentade of his work, and yet the Julio-Claudian family (the imperial family) were as much fans of Livy as anyone. He could not have been an advocate of any sort of sedition in favor of restoring the Republic; he would have been put on trial for treason and executed, as many had been and would be. He must have been viewed as a harmless and relevant advocate of the ancient morality, which was a known public stance of the citizens of Patavium. His relationship to Augustus is defined primarily by a passage from Tacitus[13] in which Cremutius Cordus is put on trial for his life for offenses no worse than Livy's and defends himself face-to-face with the frowning Tiberius as follows:

I am said to have praised Brutus and Cassius, whose careers many have described and no one mentioned without eulogy. Titus Livius, pre-eminently famous for eloquence and truthfulness, extolled Cnaeus Pompeius in such a panegyric that Augustus called him Pompeianus, and yet this was no obstacle to their friendship.

To avoid conviction, while waiting for a verdict, Cordus committed suicide by self-starvation. His worst fears were realized in absentia: his books were sentenced to be burned by the aediles, but the task was performed without zeal and many books escaped. Livy's reasons for returning to Padua after the death of Augustus (if he did) are unclear, but the circumstances of Tiberius' reign certainly allow for speculation.


During the Middle Ages, interest in Livy declined.[14] Due to the length of the work, the literate class was already reading summaries rather than the work itself, which was tedious to copy, expensive, and required a lot of storage space. It must have been during this period, if not before, that manuscripts began to be lost without replacement.

The Renaissance was a time of intense revival; the population discovered that Livy's work was being lost and large amounts of money changed hands in the rush to collect Livian manuscripts. The poet Beccadelli sold a country home for funding to purchase one manuscript copied by Poggio.[14] Petrarch and Pope Nicholas V launched a search for the now missing books. Laurentius Valla published an amended text initiating the field of Livy scholarship. Dante speaks highly of him in his poetry, and Francis I of France commissioned extensive artwork treating Livian themes; Niccolò Machiavelli's work on republics, the Discourses on Livy is presented as a commentary on the History of Rome. Respect for Livy rose to lofty heights.

After a few hundred years of Livy being studied by the youth of every Western population, moderns have developed their own views of Livy and his place in the ancient world, which were not current in ancient times. For example, one text on western civilization pronounces: "Livy was the prose counterpart of Vergil," as both have been standard in the study of Golden Age Latin literature.[15] Golden Age Latin was not known as such in classical times and the ancient reader could choose from a vastly larger bibliography; but, in fact, private reading was a privilege of the literate few, who had the wealth to buy manuscripts or have them copied and had the time for library research. Public readings of works, however, were common and the usual method in which an author became known.

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