The Rise of the Roman Empire

How Livy Saved Rome from the Polybian Cycle

Polybius concludes that “all existing things are subject to decay is a proposition which scarcely requires proof, since the inexorable course of nature is sufficient to impose it on us” (The Rise of the Roman Empire, VI. 57). He believes that a gradual succession of constitutions promotes political stability in the Roman state. Contrary to Polybius’ theory, Livy’s account of the origins of monarchy and republic demonstrates that a nation’s political changes are truly unpredictable. In The Rise of Rome, Livy shows that political revolutions alter the social and moral behaviors of the res publica. His exemplary stories do not support Polybius’ belief that political changes are destined. Rather than focusing on the natural and gradual succession of government, Livy immortalizes specific historical events to underscore the importance of moral values.

Before we examine the differences between Livy and Polybius, we should recognize their common grounds in writing the history of Rome. Their ultimate goal is to explain how Rome achieved its current status, and view Rome’s emergence as a dominant world power as an unprecedented event in the course of history. Polybius shows how Rome “possesses an irresistible power to achieve any goal...

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