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Livy, Roman historian (64/59 BC - 17 AD)


Although little is known about its origins, the work of Livy, born in Padua between 64 and 59 BC. His Roman history will be taken up by many of his successors. He died in 17 AD. J-C, three years after the emperor.


A little known and modest life

Livy's origins are uncertain, as is his date of birth (between 64 and 59). However, we do know that he was born in Padua, probably into a wealthy family judging by his art of rhetoric, which requires a solid training. He studied in Rome, and perhaps in Athens (which is more disputed).

Married to a certain Cassia Prima, Livy has two sons and lives between Rome and Padua. If he has military knowledge, he probably did not have a career in the military. Likewise, he has never served as a magistrate or entered the equestrian order. His outlook on institutions is therefore external, even if he becomes a hagiographer of Augustan Rome. Livy died in Padua in 17, after having apparently given historian advice to the young Claudius, the future emperor.

Livy, Augustus hagiographer?

His work is intended to be a story to the glory of Rome, in line with the Augustan ideology. His style, his art of storytelling, the finesse of his portraits, ensured him a certain success which influenced later historians. He got closer to Augustus in the years 27-25, as Cremutius Cordus indirectly recalls: "Livy, whom his eloquence and veracity place at the forefront of glory, praised Cn. Pompey so much that Augustus called him 'the Pompeiian', and that did not hinder their friendship."

Pompeiian perhaps, close to Augustus certainly, but also critical of the dictator Caesar; he would in fact have said of the latter: "We do not know if the Republic had to congratulate itself or not on its birth".

It is nevertheless difficult to get a precise idea of ​​his ideas, in particular on the subject of the principate, because his work has reached us in a incomplete way.

TheRoman history by Tite-Live

The rhetorician begins his work around the age of thirty, and we know that the writing of the first five books of his Roman history predates the triple triumph of Augustus in 29 BC. J-C.

Influenced by Polybius, he uses second-hand sources, checking them little, and annalists like Fabius Pictor. His work would have counted 142 books, of which only about thirty have come down to us. This is what serves us for knowing his point of view on civil wars and the principate.

His Roman history dates back to the origins of Rome, and at least as far back as 127 BC. J-C, according to the fragments that remain to us. We know in part what is missing in an indirect way, Livy having service as a source to some of his most illustrious successors, such Plutarch, Appian, Florus, and especially Orosius. Indeed, and this is what makes him an essential source for Roman history, Livy is considered by his posterity as a monument of reference. Dante (1265-1321) himself will quote it, following their meeting in Hell, and Machiavelli (1469-1527) will study it.

To read

- Livy, Roman history, trad. Annette Flobert, Flammarion, 1995-1997, 7 volumes.

- N. Machiavelli, Speech on the first decade of Livy, Gallimard, 2004.

- B. Mineo, Livy and the History of Rome, Klincksieck, 2006.


Video: Your Daily Penguin: Livy! (September 2021).