1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Livy
LIVY [Titus Livius] (59 B.C.–A.D. 17), Roman historian, was born at Patavium (Padua). The ancient connexion between his native city and Rome helped to turn his attention to the study which became the work of his life. For Padua claimed, like Rome, a Trojan origin, and Livy is careful to place its founder Antenor side by side with Aeneas. A more real bond of union was found in the dangers to which both had been exposed from the assaults of the Celts (Livy x. 2), and Padua must have been drawn to Rome as the conqueror of her hereditary foes. Moreover, at the time of Livy’s birth, Padua had long been in possession of the full Roman franchise, and the historian’s family name may have been taken by one of his ancestors out of compliment to the great Livian gens at Rome, whose connexion with Cisalpine Gaul is well-established (Suet. Tib. 3), and by one of whom his family may have been enfranchized.
Livy’s easy independent life at Rome, and his aristocratic leanings in politics seem to show that he was the son of well-born and opulent parents; he was certainly well educated, being widely read in Greek literature, and a student both of rhetoric and philosophy. We have also evidence in his writings that he had prepared himself for his great work by researches into the history of his native town. His youth and early manhood, spent perhaps chiefly at Padua, were cast in stormy times, and the impression which they left upon his mind was ineffaceable. In the Civil War his personal sympathies were with Pompey and the republican party (Tac. Ann. iv. 34); but far more lasting in its effects was his experience of the licence, anarchy and confusion of these dark days. The rule of Augustus he seems to have accepted as a necessity, but he could not, like Horace and Virgil, welcome it as inaugurating a new and glorious era. He writes of it with despondency as a degenerate and declining age; and, instead of triumphant prophecies of world-wide rule, such as we find in Horace, Livy contents himself with pointing out the dangers which already threatened Rome, and exhorting his contemporaries to learn, in good time, the lessons which the past history of the state had to teach.
It was probably about the time of the battle of Actium that Livy established himself in Rome, and there he seems chiefly to have resided until his retirement to Padua shortly before his death. We have no evidence that he travelled much, though he must have paid at least one visit to Campania (xxxviii. 56), and he never, so far as we know, took any part in political life. Nor, though he enjoyed the personal friendship and patronage of Augustus (Tac. Ann. iv. 34) and stimulated the historical zeal of the future emperor Claudius (Suet. Claud. xli.), can we detect in him anything of the courtier. There is not in his history a trace of that rather gross adulation in which even Virgil does not disdain to indulge. His republican sympathies were freely expressed, and as freely pardoned by Augustus. We must imagine him devoted to the great task which he had set himself to perform, with a mind free from all disturbing cares, and in the enjoyment of all the facilities for study afforded by the Rome of Augustus, with its liberal encouragement of letters, its newly-founded libraries and its brilliant literary circles. As his work went on, the fame which he had never coveted came to him in ample measure. He is said to have declared in one volume of his history that he had already won glory enough, and the younger Pliny (Epist. ii. 3) relates that a Spaniard came all the way from Gades merely to see him, and, this accomplished, at once returned home satisfied. The accession of Tiberius (A.D. 14) materially altered for the worse the prospects of literature in Rome, and Livy retired to Padua, where he died. He had at least one son (Quintil. x. 1. 39), who also was possibly an author (Pliny, Nat. Hist. i. 5. 6), and a daughter married to a certain L. Magius, a rhetorician of no great merit (Seneca, Controv. x. 29. 2). Nothing further is known of his personal history.
Analysis of the History.—For us the interest of Livy’s life centres in the work to which the greater part of it was devoted, the history of Rome from its foundation down to the death of Drusus (9 B.C.). Its proper title was Ab urbe condita libri (also called historiae and annales). Various indications point to the period from 27 to 20 B.C., as that during which the first decade was written. In the first book (19. 3) the emperor is called Augustus, a title which he assumed early in 27 B.C., and in ix. 18 the omission of all reference to the restoration, in 20 B.C., of the standards taken at Carrhae seems to justify the inference that the passage was written before that date. In the epitome of book lix. there is a reference to a law of Augustus which was passed in 18 B.C. The books dealing with the civil wars must have been written during Augustus’s lifetime, as they were read by him (Tac. Ann. iv. 34), while there is some evidence that the last part, from book cxxi. onwards, was published after his death A.D. 14.
The work begins with the landing of Aeneas in Italy, and closes with the death of Drusus, 9 B.C., though it is possible that the author intended to continue it as far as the death of Augustus. The division into decades is certainly not due to the author himself, and is first heard of at the end of the 5th century; on the other hand, the division into libri or volumina seems to be original. That the books were grouped and possibly published in sets is rendered probable both by the prefaces which introduce new divisions of the work (vi. 1, xxi. 1, xxxi. 1) and by the description in one MS. of books cix.-cxvi. as “bellorum civilium libri octo.” Such arrangement and publication in parts were, moreover, common with ancient authors, and in the case of a lengthy work almost a necessity.
Of the 142 libri composing the history, the first 15 carry us down to the eve of the great struggle with Carthage, a period, as Livy reckons it, of 488 years (xxxi. 1); 15 more (xvi–xxx.) cover the 63 years of the two great Punic wars. With the close of book xlv. we reach the conquest of Macedonia in 167 B.C. Book lviii. described the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus, 133 B.C. In book lxxxix. we have the dictatorship of Sulla (81 B.C.), in ciii. Caesar’s first consulship (59 B.C.), in cix.-cxvi. the civil wars to the death of Caesar (44 B.C.), in cxxiv. the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, in cxxxiii. and cxxxiv. the battle of Actium and the accession of Augustus. The remaining eight books give the history of the first twenty years of Augustus’s reign.
Of this vast work only a small portion has come down to modern times; only thirty-five books are now extant (i.-x., xxi.-xlv.), and of these xli. and xliii. are incomplete. The lost books seem to have disappeared between the 7th century and the revival of letters in the 15th—a fact sufficiently accounted for by the difficulty of transmitting so voluminous a work in times when printing was unknown, for the story that Pope Gregory I. burnt all the copies of Livy he could lay his hands on rests on no good evidence. Only one important fragment has since been recovered—the portion of book xci. discovered in the Vatican in 1772, and edited by Niebuhr in 1820. Very much no doubt of the substance of the lost books has been preserved both by such writers as Plutarch and Dio Cassius, and by epitomizers like Florus and Eutropius. But our knowledge of their contents is chiefly derived from the so-called periochae or epitomes, of which we have fortunately a nearly complete series, the epitomes of books cxxxvi. and cxxxvii. being the only ones missing. These epitomes have been ascribed without sufficient reason to Florus (2nd century); but, though they are probably of even later date, and are disappointingly meagre, they may be taken as giving, so far as they go, a fairly authentic description of the original. They have been expanded with great ingenuity and learning by Freinsheim in Drakenborch’s edition of Livy. The Prodigio of Julius Obsequens and the list of consuls in the Chronica of Cassiodorus are taken directly from Livy, and to that extent reproduce the contents of the lost books. It is probable that Obsequens, Cassiodorus and the compiler of the epitomes did not use the original work but an abridgment.
Historical Standpoint.—If we are to form a correct judgment on the merits of Livy’s history, we must, above all things, bear in mind what his aim was in writing it, and this he has told us himself in the celebrated preface. He set himself the task of recording the history of the Roman people, “the first in the world,” from the beginning. The task was a great one, and the fame to be won by it uncertain, yet it would be something to have made the attempt, and the labour itself would bring a welcome relief from the contemplation of present evils; for his readers, too, this record will, he says, be full of instruction; they are invited to note especially the moral lessons taught by the story of Rome, to observe how Rome rose to greatness by the simple virtues and unselfish devotion of her citizens, and how on the decay of these qualities followed degeneracy and decline.
He does not, therefore, write, as Polybius wrote, for students of history. With Polybius the greatness of Rome is a phenomenon to be critically studied and scientifically explained; the rise of Rome forms an important chapter in universal history, and must be dealt with, not as an isolated fact, but in connexion with the general march of events in the civilized world. Still less has Livy anything in common with the naïve anxiety of Dionysius of Halicarnassus to make it clear to his fellow Greeks that the irresistible people who had mastered them was in origin, in race and in language Hellenic like themselves.
Livy writes as a Roman, to raise a monument worthy of the greatness of Rome, and to keep alive, for the guidance and the warning of Romans, the recollection alike of the virtues which had made Rome great and of the vices which had threatened her with destruction. In so writing he was in close agreement with the traditions of Roman literature, as well as with the conception of the nature and objects of history current in his time. To a large extent Roman literature grew out of pride in Rome, for, though her earliest authors took the form and often the language of their writings from Greece, it was the greatness of Rome that inspired the best of them, and it was from the annals of Rome that their themes were taken. And this is naturally true in an especial sense of the Roman historians; the long list of annalists begins at the moment when the great struggle with Carthage had for the first time brought Rome into direct connexion with the historic peoples of the ancient world, and when Romans themselves awoke to the importance of the part reserved for Rome to play in universal history. To write the annals of Rome became at once a task worthy of the best of her citizens. Though other forms of literature might be thought unbecoming to the dignity of a free-born citizen, this was never so with history. On the contrary, men of high rank and tried statesmanship were on that very account thought all the fitter to write the chronicles of the state they had served. And history in Rome never lost either its social prestige or its intimate and exclusive connexion with the fortunes of the Roman people. It was well enough for Greeks to busy themselves with the manners, institutions and deeds of the “peoples outside.” The Roman historians, from Fabius Pictor to Tacitus, cared for none of these things. This exclusive interest in Rome was doubtless encouraged by the peculiar characteristics of the history of the state. The Roman annalist had not, like the Greek, to deal with the varying fortunes and separate doings of a number of petty communities, but with the continuous life of a single city. Nor was his attention drawn from the main lines of political history by the claims of art, literature and philosophy, for just as the tie which bound Romans together was that of citizenship, not of race or culture, so the history of Rome is that of the state, of its political constitution, its wars and conquests, its military and administrative system.
Livy’s own circumstances were all such as to render these views natural to him. He began to write at a time when, after a century of disturbance, the mass of men had been contented to purchase peace at the price of liberty. The present was at least inglorious, the future doubtful, and many turned gladly to the past for consolation. This retrospective tendency was favourably regarded by the government. It was the policy of Augustus to obliterate all traces of recent revolution, and to connect the new imperial régime as closely as possible with the ancient traditions and institutions of Rome and Italy. The Aeneid of Virgil, the Fasti of Ovid, suited well with his own restoration of the ancient temples, his revival of such ancient ceremonies as the Ludi Saeculares, his efforts to check the un-Roman luxury of the day, and his jealous regard for the purity of the Roman stock. And, though we are nowhere told that Livy undertook his history at the emperor’s suggestion, it is certain that Augustus read parts of it with pleasure, and even honoured the writer with his assistance and friendship.
Livy was deeply penetrated with a sense of the greatness of Rome. From first to last its majesty and high destiny are present to his mind. Aeneas is led to Italy by the Fates that he may be the founder of Rome. Romulus after his ascension declares it to be the will of heaven that Rome should be mistress of the world; and Hannibal marches into Italy, that he may “set free the world” from Roman rule. But, if this ever-present consciousness often gives dignity and elevation to his narrative, it is also responsible for some of its defects. It leads him occasionally into exaggerated language (e.g. xxii. 33, “nullius usquam terrarum rei cura Romanos effugiebat”), or into such mis-statements as his explanation of the course taken by the Romans in renewing war with Carthage, that “it seemed more suitable to the dignity of the Roman people.” Often his jealousy for the honour of Rome makes him unfair and one-sided. In all her wars not only success but justice is with Rome. To the same general attitude is also due the omission by Livy of all that has no direct bearing on the fortunes of the Roman people. “I have resolved,” he says (xxxix. 48), “only to touch on foreign affairs so far as they are bound up with those of Rome.” As the result, we get from Livy very defective accounts even of the Italic peoples most closely connected with Rome. Of the past history and the internal condition of the more distant nations she encountered he tells us little or nothing, even when he found such details carefully given by Polybius.
Scarcely less strong than his interest in Rome is his interest in the moral lessons which her history seemed to him so well qualified to teach. This didactic view of history was a prevalent one in antiquity, and it was confirmed no doubt by those rhetorical studies which in Rome as in Greece formed the chief part of education, and which taught men to look on history as little more than a storehouse of illustrations and themes for declamation. But it suited also the practical bent of the Roman mind, with its comparative indifference to abstract speculation or purely scientific research. It is in the highest degree natural that Livy should have sought for the secret of the rise of Rome, not in any large historical causes, but in the moral qualities of the people themselves, and that he should have looked upon the contemplation of these as the best remedy for the vices of his own degenerate days. He dwells with delight on the unselfish patriotism of the old heroes of the republic. In those times children obeyed their parents, the gods were still sincerely worshipped, poverty was no disgrace, sceptical philosophies and foreign fashions in religion and in daily life were unknown. But this ethical interest is closely bound up with his Roman sympathies. His moral ideal is no abstract one, and the virtues he praises are those which in his view made up the truly Roman type of character. The prominence thus given to the moral aspects of the history tends to obscure in some degree the true relations and real importance of the events narrated, but it does so in Livy to a far less extent than in some other writers. He is much too skilful an artist either to resolve his history into a mere bundle of examples, or to overload it, as Tacitus is sometimes inclined to do, with reflections and axioms. The moral he wishes to enforce is usually either conveyed by the story itself, with the aid perhaps of a single sentence of comment, or put as a speech into the mouth of one of his characters (e.g. xxiii. 49; the devotion of Decius, viii. 10, cf. vii. 40; and the speech of Camillus, v. 54); and what little his narrative thus loses in accuracy it gains in dignity and warmth of feeling. In his portraits of the typical Romans of the old style, such as Q. Fabius Maximus, in his descriptions of the unshaken firmness and calm courage shown by the fathers of the state in the hour of trial, Livy is at his best; and he is so largely in virtue of his genuine appreciation of character as a powerful force in the affairs of men.
This enthusiasm for Rome and for Roman virtues is, moreover, saved from degenerating into gross partiality by the genuine candour of Livy’s mind and by his wide sympathies with every thing great and good. Seneca (Suasoriae vi. 22) and Quintilian (x. 1. 101) bear witness to his impartiality. Thus, Hasdrubal’s devotion and valour at the battle on the Metaurus are described in terms of eloquent praise; and even in Hannibal, the lifelong enemy of Rome, he frankly recognizes the great qualities that balanced his faults. Nor, though his sympathies are unmistakably with the aristocratic party, does he scruple to censure the pride, cruelty and selfishness which too often marked their conduct (ii. 54; the speech of Canuleius, iv. 3; of Sextius and Licinius, vi. 36); and, though he feels acutely that the times are out of joint, and has apparently little hope of the future, he still believes in justice and goodness. He is often righteously indignant, but never satirical, and such a pessimism as that of Tacitus and Juvenal is wholly foreign to his nature.
Though he studied and even wrote on philosophy (Seneca, Ep. 100. 9), Livy is by no means a philosophic historian. We learn indeed from incidental notices that he inclined to Stoicism and disliked the Epicurean system. With the scepticism that despised the gods (x. 40) and denied that they meddled with the affairs of men (xliii. 13) he has no sympathy. The immortal gods are everywhere the same; they govern the world (xxxvii. 45) and reveal the future to men by signs and wonders (xliii. 13), but only a debased superstition will look for their hand in every petty incident, or abandon itself to an indiscriminate belief in the portents and miracles in which popular credulity delights. The ancient state religion of Rome, with its temples, priests and auguries, he not only reverences as an integral part of the Roman constitution, with a sympathy which grows as he studies it, but, like Varro, and in true Stoic fashion, he regards it as a valuable instrument of government (i. 19. 21), indispensable in a well-ordered community. As distinctly Stoical is the doctrine of a fate to which even the gods must yield (ix. 4), which disposes the plans of men (i. 42) and blinds their minds (v. 37), yet leaves their wills free (xxxvii. 45).
But we find no trace in Livy of any systematic application of philosophy to the facts of history. He is as innocent of the leading ideas which shaped the work of Polybius as he is of the cheap theorizing which wearies us in the pages of Dionysius. The events are graphically, if not always accurately, described; but of the larger causes at work in producing them, of their subtle action and reaction upon each other, and of the general conditions amid which the history worked itself out, he takes no thought at all. Nor has Livy much acquaintance with either the theory or the practice of politics. He exhibits, it is true, political sympathies and antipathies. He is on the whole for the nobles and against the commons; and, though the unfavourable colours in which he paints the leaders of the latter are possibly reflected from the authorities he followed, it is evident that he despised and disliked the multitude. Of monarchy he speaks with a genuine Roman hatred, and we know that in the last days of the republic his sympathies were wholly with those who strove in vain to save it. He betrays, too, an insight into the evils which were destined finally to undermine the imposing fabric of Roman empire. The decline of the free population, the spread of slavery (vi. 12, vii. 25), the universal craving for wealth (iii. 26), the employment of foreign mercenaries (xxv. 33), the corruption of Roman race and Roman manners by mixture with aliens (xxxix. 3), are all noticed in tones of solemn warning. But his retired life had given him no wide experience of men and things. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that he fails altogether to present a clear and coherent picture of the history and working of the Roman constitution, or that his handling of intricate questions of policy is weak and inadequate.
Sources.—If from the general aim and spirit of Livy’s history we pass to consider his method of workmanship, we are struck at once by the very different measure of success attained by him in the two great departments of an historian’s labour. He is a consummate artist, but an unskilled and often careless investigator and critic. The materials which lay ready to his hand may be roughly classed under two heads: (1) the original evidence of monuments, inscriptions, &c., (2) the written tradition as found in the works of previous authors. It is on the second of these two kinds of evidence that Livy almost exclusively relies. Yet that even for the very early times a certain amount of original evidence still existed is proved by the use which was made of it by Dionysius, who mentions at least three important inscriptions, two dating from the regal period and one from the first years of the republic (iv. 26, iv. 58, x. 32). We know from Livy himself (iv. 20) that the breastplate dedicated by Aulus Cornelius Cossus (428 B.C.) was to be seen in his own day in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, nor is there any reason to suppose that the libri lintei, quoted by Licinius Macer, were not extant when Livy wrote. For more recent times the materials were plentiful, and a rich field of research lay open to the student in the long series of laws, decrees of the senate, and official registers, reaching back, as it probably did, at least to the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. Nevertheless it seems certain that Livy never realized the duty of consulting these relics of the past, even in order to verify the statements of his authorities. Many of them he never mentions; the others (e.g. the libri lintei) he evidently describes at second hand. Antiquarian studies were popular in his day, but the instances are very few in which he has turned their results to account. There is no sign that he had ever read Varro; and he never alludes to Verrius Flaccus. The haziness and inaccuracy of his topography make it clear that he did not attempt to familiarize himself with the actual scenes of events even that took place in Italy. Not only does he confuse Thermon, the capital of Aetolia, with Thermopylae (xxxiii. 35), but his accounts of the Roman campaigns against Volsci, Aequi and Samnites swarm with confusions and difficulties; nor are even his descriptions of Hannibal’s movements free from an occasional vagueness which betrays the absence of an exact knowledge of localities.
The consequence of this indifference to original research and patient verification might have been less serious had the written tradition on which Livy preferred to rely been more trustworthy. But neither the materials out of which it was composed, nor the manner in which it had been put together, were such as to make it a safe guide. It was indeed represented by a long line of respectable names. The majority of the Roman annalists were men of high birth and education, with a long experience of affairs, and their defects did not arise from seclusion of life or ignorance of letters. It is rather in the conditions under which they wrote and in the rules and traditions of their craft that the causes of their shortcomings must be sought.
It was not until the 6th century from the foundation of the city that historical writing began in Rome. The father of Roman history, Q. Fabius Pictor, a patrician and a senator, can scarcely have published his annals before the close of the Second Punic War, but these annals covered the whole The Annalists.period from the arrival of Evander in Italy down at least to the battle by Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.). Out of what materials, then, did he put together his account of the earlier history? Recent criticism has succeeded in answering this question with some degree of certainty. A careful examination of the fragments of Fabius (see H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum Relliquiae, Leipzig, 1870; and C. W. Nitzsch, Röm. Annalistik, Berlin, 1873) reveals in the first place a marked difference between the kingly period and that which followed the establishment of the republic. The history of the former stretches back into the regions of pure mythology. It is little more than a collection of fables told with scarcely any attempt at criticism, and with no more regard to chronological sequence than was necessary to make the tale run smoothly or to fill up such gaps as that between the flight of Aeneas from Troy and the supposed year of the foundation of Rome. But from its very commencement the history of the republic wears a different aspect. The mass of floating tradition, which had come down from early days, with its tales of border raids and forays, of valiant chiefs and deeds of patriotism, is now rudely fitted into a framework of a wholly different kind. This framework consists of short notices of important events, wars, prodigies, consecration of temples, &c., all recorded with extreme brevity, precisely dated, and couched in a somewhat archaic style. They were taken probably from one or more of the state registers, such as the annals of the pontiffs, or those kept by the aediles in the temple of Ceres. This bare official outline of the past history of his city was by Fabius filled in from the rich store of tradition that lay ready to his hand. The manner and spirit in which he effected this combination were no doubt wholly uncritical. Usually he seems to have transferred both annalistic notices and popular traditions to his pages much in the shape in which he found them. But he unquestionably gave undue prominence to the tales of the prowess and glory of the Fabii, and probably also allowed his own strong aristocratic sympathies to colour his version of the early political controversies. This fault of partiality was, according to Polybius, a conspicuous blot in Fabius’s account of his own times, which was, we are told, full and in the main accurate, and, like the earlier portions, consisted of official annalistic notices, supplemented, however, not from tradition, but from his own experience and from contemporary sources. But even here Polybius charges him with favouring Rome at the expense of Carthage, and with the undue exaltation of the great head of his house, Q. Fabius Cunctator.
Nevertheless the comparative fidelity with which Fabius seems to have reproduced his materials might have made his annals the starting point of a critical history. But unfortunately intelligent criticism was exactly what they never received. It is true that in some respects a decided advance upon Fabius was made by subsequent annalists. M. Porcius Cato (234–149 B.C.) widened the scope of Roman history so as to include that of the chief Italian cities, and made the first serious attempt to settle the chronology. In his history of the Punic wars Caelius Antipater (c. 130 B.C.) added fresh material, drawn probably from the works of the Sicilian Greek Silenus, while Licinius Macer (70 B.C.) distinguished himself by the use he made of the ancient “linen books.” No doubt, too, the later annalists, at any rate from Caelius Antipater onwards, improved upon Fabius in treatment and style. But in more essential points we can discern no progress. One annalist after another quietly adopted the established tradition, as it had been left by his predecessors, without any serious alterations of its main outlines. Of independent research and critical analysis we find no trace, and the general agreement upon main facts is to be attributed simply to the regularity with which each writer copied the one before him. But, had the later annalists contented themselves with simply reproducing the earlier ones, we should at least have had the old tradition before us in a simple and tolerably genuine form. As it was, while they slavishly clung to its substance, they succeeded, as a rule, in destroying all traces of its original form and colouring. L. Calpurnius Piso, tribune in 149 B.C. and consul in 133 B.C., prided himself on reducing the old legends to the level of common sense, and importing into them valuable moral lessons for his own generation. By Caelius Antipater the methods of rhetoric were first applied to history, a disastrous precedent enough. He inserted speeches, enlivened his pages with chance tales, and aimed, as Cicero tells us, at not merely narrating facts but also at beautifying them. His successors carried still farther the practice of dressing up the rather bald chronicles of earlier writers with all the ornaments of rhetoric. The old traditions were altered, almost beyond the possibility of recognition, by exaggerations, interpolations and additions. Fresh incidents were inserted, new motives suggested and speeches composed in order to infuse the required life and freshness into these dry bones of history. At the same time the political bias of the writers, and the political ideas of their day were allowed, in some cases perhaps half unconsciously, to affect their representations of past events. Annalists of the Gracchan age imported into the early struggles of patricians and plebeians the economic controversies of their own day, and painted the first tribunes in the colours of the two Gracchi or of Saturninus. In the next generation they dexterously forced the venerable records of the early republic to pronounce in favour of the ascendancy of the senate, as established by Sulla. To political bias was added family pride, for the gratification of which the archives of the great houses, the funeral panegyrics, or the imagination of the writer himself supplied an ample store of doubtful material. Pedigrees were invented, imaginary consulships and fictitious triumphs inserted, and family traditions and family honours were formally incorporated with the history of the state.
Things were not much better even where the annalists were dealing with recent or contemporary events. Here, indeed, their materials were naturally fuller and more trustworthy, and less room was left for fanciful decoration and capricious alteration of the facts. But their methods are in the main unchanged. What they found written they copied; the gaps they supplied, where personal experience failed, by imagination. No better proof of this can be given than a comparison of the annalist’s version of history with that of Polybius. In the fourth and fifth decades of Livy the two appear side by side, and the contrast between them is striking. Polybius, for instance, gives the number of the slain at Cynoscephalae as 8000; the annalists raise it as high as 40,000 (Livy xxxiii. 10). In another case (xxxii. 6) Valerius Antias, the chief of sinners in this respect, inserts a decisive Roman victory over the Macedonians, in which 12,000 of the latter were slain and 2200 taken prisoner, an achievement recorded by no other authority.
Such was the written tradition on which Livy mainly relied. We have next to examine the manner in which he used it, and here we are met at the outset by the difficulty of determining with exactness what authorities he is following at any one time; for of the importance of full and accurate references he has no idea, and often for chapters together he gives us no clue at all. More often still he contents himself with such vague phrases as “they say,” “the story goes,” “some think,” or speaks in general terms of “ancient writers” or “my authorities.” Even where he mentions a writer by name, it is frequently clear that the writer named is not the one whose lead he is following at the moment, but that he is noticed incidentally as differing from Livy’s guide for the time being on some point of detail (compare the references to Piso in the first decade, i. 55, ii. 32, &c.). It is very rarely that Livy explicitly tells us whom he has selected as his chief source (e.g. Fabius xxii. 7; Polybius xxxiii. 10). By a careful analysis, however, of those portions of his work which admit of a comparison with the text of his acknowledged authorities (e.g. fourth and fifth decades, see H. Nissen, Untersuchungen, Berlin, 1863), and elsewhere by comparing his version with the known fragments of the various annalists, and with what we are told of their style and method of treatment, we are able to form a general idea of his plan of procedure. As to the first decade, it is generally agreed that in the first and second books, at any rate, he follows such older and simpler writers as Fabius Pictor and Calpurnius Piso (the only ones whom he there refers to by name), to whom, so far as the first book is concerned, Niebuhr (Lectures, p. 33) would add the poet Ennius. With the close of the second book or the opening of the third we come upon the first traces of the use of later authors. Valerius Antias is first quoted in iii. 5, and signs of his handiwork are visible here and there throughout the rest of the decade (vii. 36, ix. 27, x. 3-5). In the fourth book the principal authority is apparently Licinius Macer, and for the period following the sack of Rome by the Gauls Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, whose annals began at this point in the history. We have besides a single reference (vii. 3) to the antiquarian Cincius, and two (iv. 23, x. 9) to Q. Aelius Tubero, one of the last in the list of annalists. Passing to the third decade, we find ourselves at once confronted by a question which has been long and fully discussed—the relation between Livy and Polybius. Did Livy use Polybius at all, and, if so, to what extent?
It is conceded on all hands that Livy in this decade makes considerable use of other authorities than Polybius (e.g. Fabius xxii. 7; Caelius Antipater xxi. 38, 46, 47, xxii. 31, &c.), that he only once mentions Polybius (xxx. 45), and that, if he used him, he did so to a much less extent than in the fourth and fifth Polybius.decades, and in a very different manner. It is also agreed that we can detect in Livy’s account of the Hannibalic war two distinct elements, derived originally, the one from a Roman, the other from a non-Roman source. But from these generally accepted premises two opposite conclusions have been drawn. On the one hand, it is maintained (e.g. by Lachmann, C. Peter, H. Peter, Hist. Rom. Relliq.) that those parts of Livy’s narrative which point to a non-Roman authority (e.g. Hannibal’s movements prior to his invasion of Italy) are taken by Livy directly from Polybius, with occasional reference of course to other writers, and with the omission (as in the later decades) of all matters uninteresting to Livy or his Roman readers, and the addition of rhetorical touches and occasional comments. It is urged that Livy, who in the fourth and fifth decades shows himself so sensible of the great merits of Polybius, is not likely to have ignored him in the third, and that his more limited use of him in the latter case is fully accounted for by the closer connexion of the history with Rome and Roman affairs, and the comparative excellence of the available Roman authorities, and, lastly, that the points of agreement with Polybius, not only in matter but in expression, can only be explained on the theory that Livy is directly following the great Greek historian. On the other hand, it is maintained (especially by Schwegler, Nitzsch, and K. Böttcher) that the extent and nature of Livy’s agreement with Polybius in this part of his work point rather to the use by both of a common original authority. It is argued that Livy’s mode of using his authorities is tolerably uniform, and that his mode of using Polybius in particular is known with certainty from the later decades. Consequently the theory that he used Polybius in the third decade requires us to assume that in this one instance he departed widely, and without sufficient reason, from his usual course of procedure. Moreover, even in the passages where the agreement with Polybius is most apparent, there are so many discrepancies and divergencies in detail, and so many unaccountable omissions and additions, as to render it inconceivable that he had the text of Polybius before him. But all these are made intelligible if we suppose Livy to have been here following directly or indirectly the same original sources that were used by Polybius. The earliest of these original sources was probably Silenus, with whom may possibly be placed, for books xxi. xxii., Fabius Pictor. The latter Livy certainly used directly for some parts of the decade. The former he almost as certainly knew only at second hand, the intermediate authority being probably Caelius Antipater. This writer, who confined himself to a history of the Second Punic War, in seven books, is expressly referred to by Livy eleven times in the third decade; and in other passages where his name is not mentioned Livy can be shown to have followed him (e.g. xxii. 5, 49, 50, 51, xxiv. 9). In the latter books of the decade his chief authority is possibly Valerius Antias.
In the fourth and fifth decades the question of Livy’s authorities presents no great difficulties, and the conclusions arrived at by Nissen in his masterly Untersuchungen have met with general acceptance. These may be shortly stated as follows. In the portions of the history which deal with Greece and the East, Livy follows Polybius, and these portions are easily distinguishable from the rest by their superior clearness, accuracy and fulness. On the other hand, for the history of Italy and western Europe he falls back on Roman annalists, especially, it seems, on Claudius Quadrigarius and Valerius Antias—a most unfortunate choice—and from them too he takes the annalistic mould into which his matter is cast.
Livy’s general method of using these authorities was certainly not such as would be deemed satisfactory in a modern historian. He is indeed free from the grosser faults of deliberate injustice and falsification, and he resists that temptation to invent, to which “the minds of authors are only too Critical method.much inclined” (xxii. 7). Nor is he unconscious of the necessity for some kind of criticism. He distinguishes between rumour and the precise statements of recognized authorities (cf. xxi. 46, v. 21, vii. 6). The latter he reproduced in the main faithfully, but with a certain exercise of discretion. Where they disagreed, he calls attention to the fact, occasionally pronouncing in favour of one version rather than another (ii. 41, xxi. 46) though often on no adequate grounds, or attempting to reconcile and explain discrepancies (vi. 12, 38). Where he detects or suspects the insertion of fabulous matter he has no scruple in saying so. Gross exaggerations, such as those in which Valerius Antias indulged, he roundly denounces, and with equal plainness of speech he condemns the family vanity which had so constantly corrupted and distorted the truth. “I suppose,” he says (viii. 40), “that the record and memorial of these matters hath been depraved and corrupted by these funeral orations of praises, . . . while every house and family draweth to it the honour and renown of noble exploits, martial feats and dignities by any untruth and lie, so it be colourable.” The legendary character of the earliest traditions he frankly admits. “Such things as are reported either before or at the foundation of the city, more beautiful and set out with poets’ fables than grounded upon pure and faithful records, I mean neither to aver nor disprove” (Praef.); and of the whole history previous to the sack of Rome by the Gauls (390 B.C.) he writes that it was obscure “both in regard of exceeding antiquity, and also for that in those days there were very few writings and monuments, the only faithful safeguard and true remembrancers of deeds past; and, besides, whatsoever was registered in the commentaries of the priests and in other public or private records, the same for the most part, when the city was burned, perished withal.” Further than this, however, Livy’s criticism does not go. Where his written authorities are not palpably inconsistent with each other or with probability he accepts and transcribes their record without any further inquiry, nor does he ever attempt to get behind this record in order to discover the original evidence on which it rested. His acceptance in any particular case of the version given by an annalist by no means implies that he has by careful inquiry satisfied himself of its truth. At the most it only presupposes a comparison with other versions, equally second-hand, but either less generally accepted or less in harmony with his own views of the situation; and in many cases the reasons he gives for his preference of one account over another are eminently unscientific. Livy’s history, then, rests on no foundation of original research or even of careful verification. It is a compilation, and even as such it leaves much to be desired. For we cannot credit Livy with having made such a preliminary survey of his authorities as would enable him to determine their relations to each other, and fuse their various narratives into a consistent whole. It is clear, on the contrary, that his circle of authorities for any one decade was a comparatively small one, that of these he selected one, and transcribed him with the necessary embellishments and other slight modifications until impelled by various reasons to drop him. He then, without warning, takes up another, whom he follows in the same way. The result is a curious mosaic, in which pieces of all colours and dates are found side by side, and in which even the great artistic skill displayed throughout fails to conceal the lack of internal unity. Thus many of Livy’s inconsistencies are due to his having pieced together two versions, each of which gave a differently coloured account of the same event. Mommsen (Rom. Forschungen, ii.) has clearly shown that this is what has happened in his relation of the legal proceedings against the elder Africanus in book xxxviii.; and in the story of the first secession, as he tells it, the older version which represented it as due to political and the later which explained it by economical grievances are found side by side. Similarly a change from one authority to another leads him not unfrequently to copy from the latter statements inconsistent with those he took from the former, to forget what he has previously said, or to treat as known a fact which has not been mentioned before (cf. ii. 1, xxxiv. 6, and Weissenborn’s Introduction, p. 37). In other cases where the same event has been placed by different annalists in different years, or where their versions of it varied, it reappears in Livy as two events. Thus the four campaigns against the Volsci (ii. 17 seq.) are, as Schwegler (R.G. i. 13) rightly says, simply variations of one single expedition. Other instances of such “doublettes” are the two single combats described in xxiii. 46 and xxv. 18, and the two battles at Baecula in Spain (xxvii. 18 and xxviii. 13). Without doubt, too, much of the chronological confusion observable throughout Livy is due to the fact that he follows now one now another authority, heedless of their differences on this head. Thus he vacillates between the Catonian and Varronian reckoning of the years of the city, and between the chronologies of Polybius and the Roman annalists.
To these defects in his method must be added the fact that he does not always succeed even in accurately reproducing the authority he is for the time following. In the case of Polybius, for instance, he allows himself great freedom in omitting what strikes him as irrelevant, or tedious, or uninteresting to his Roman readers, a process in which much valuable matter disappears. In other cases his desire to give a vividness and point to what he doubtless considered the rather bald and dry style of Polybius leads him into absurdities and inaccuracies. Thus by the treaty with Antiochus (188 B.C.) it was provided that the Greek communities of Asia Minor “shall settle their mutual differences by arbitration,” and so far Livy correctly transcribes Polybius, but he adds with a rhetorical flourish, “or, if both parties prefer it, by war” (xxxviii. 38). Elsewhere his blunders are apparently due to haste, or ignorance or sheer carelessness; thus, for instance, when Polybius speaks of the Aetolians assembling at their capital Thermon, Livy (xxxiii. 35) not only substitutes Thermopylae but gratuitously informs his readers that here the Pylaean assemblies were held. Thanks partly to carelessness, partly to mistranslation, he makes sad havoc (xxxv. 5 seq.) of Polybius’s account of the battle of Cynoscephalae. Finally, Livy cannot be altogether acquitted on the charge of having here and there modified Polybius in the interests of Rome.
Style.—Serious as these defects in Livy’s method appear if viewed in the light of modern criticism, it is probable that they were easily pardoned, if indeed they were ever discovered, by his contemporaries. For it was on the artistic rather than on the critical side of history that stress was almost universally laid in antiquity, and the thing that above all others was expected from the historian was not so much a scientific investigation and accurate exposition of the truth, as its skilful presentation in such a form as would charm and interest the reader. Tried by this standard, Livy deservedly won and held a place in the very first rank. Asinius Pollio sneered at his Patavinity, and the emperor Caligula denounced him as verbose, but with these exceptions the opinion of antiquity was unanimous in pronouncing him a consummate literary workman. The classical purity of his style, the eloquence of his speeches, the skill with which he depicted the play of emotion, and his masterly portraiture of great men, are all in turn warmly commended, and in our own day we question if any ancient historian is either more readable or more widely read. It is true that for us his artistic treatment of history is not without its drawbacks. The more trained historical sense of modern times is continually shocked by the obvious untruth of his colouring, especially in the earlier parts of his history, by the palpable unreality of many of the speeches, and by the naïveté with which he omits everything, however important, which he thinks will weary his readers. But in spite of all this we are forced to acknowledge that, as a master of what we may perhaps call “narrative history,” he has no superior in antiquity; for, inferior as he is to Thucydides, to Polybius, and even to Tacitus in philosophic power and breadth of view, he is at least their equal in the skill with which he tells his story. He is indeed the prince of chroniclers, and in this respect not unworthy to be classed even with Herodotus (Quintilian, x. 1. 101). Nor is anything more remarkable than the way in which Livy’s fine taste and sense of proportion, his true poetic feeling and genuine enthusiasm, saved him from the besetting faults of the mode of treatment which he adopted. The most superficial comparison of his account of the earliest days of Rome with that given by Dionysius shows from what depths of tediousness he was preserved by these qualities. Instead of the wearisome prolixity and the misplaced pedantry which make the latter almost unreadable, we find the old tales briefly and simply told. Their primitive beauty is not marred by any attempt to force them into an historical mould, or disguised beneath an accumulation of the insipid inventions of later times. At the same time they are not treated as mere tales for children, for Livy never forgets the dignity that belongs to them as the prelude to the great epic of Rome, and as consecrated by the faith of generations. Perhaps an even stronger proof of the skill which enabled Livy to avoid dangers which were fatal to weaker men is to be found in his speeches. We cannot indeed regard them, with the Speeches.ancients, as the best part of his history, for the majority of them are obviously unhistorical, and nearly all savour somewhat too much of the rhetorical schools to be perfectly agreeable to modern taste. To appreciate them we must take them for what they are, pieces of declamation, intended either to enliven the course of the narrative, to place vividly before the reader the feelings and aims of the chief actors, or more frequently still to enforce some lesson which the author himself has at heart. The substance, no doubt, of many of them Livy took from his authorities, but their form is his own, and, in throwing into them all his own eloquence and enthusiasm, he not only acted in conformity with the established traditions of his art, but found a welcome outlet for feelings and ideas which the fall of the republic had deprived of all other means of expression. To us, therefore, they are valuable not only for their eloquence, but still more as giving us our clearest insight into Livy’s own sentiments, his lofty sense of the greatness of Rome, his appreciation of Roman courage and firmness, and his reverence for the simple virtues of older times. But, freely as Livy uses this privilege of speechmaking, his correct taste keeps his rhetoric within reasonable limits. With a very few exceptions the speeches are dignified in tone, full of life and have at least a dramatic propriety, while of such incongruous and laboured absurdities as the speech which Dionysius puts into the mouth of Romulus, after the rape of the Sabine women, there are no instances in Livy.
But, if our estimate of the merits of his speeches is moderated by doubts as to his right to introduce them at all, no such scruples interfere with our admiration for the skill with which he has drawn the portraits of the great men who figure in his pages. We may indeed doubt whether in all cases they are drawn with perfect accuracy and impartiality, but of their life-like vigour and clearness there can be no question. With Livy this portrait-painting was a labour of love. “To all great men,” says Seneca, “he gave their due ungrudgingly,” but he is at his best in dealing with those who, like Q. Fabius Maximus, “the Delayer,” were in his eyes the most perfect types of the true Roman.
The general effect of Livy’s narrative is no doubt a little spoilt by the awkward arrangement, adopted from his authorities, which obliges him to group the events by years, and thus to disturb their natural relations and continuity. As the result his history has the appearance of being rather a series of brilliant pictures loosely strung together than a coherent narrative. But it is impossible not to admire the copious variety of thought and language, and the evenly flowing style which carried him safely through the dreariest periods of his history; and still more remarkable is the dramatic power he displays when some great crisis or thrilling episode stirs his blood, such as the sack of Rome by the Gauls, the battle by the Metaurus and the death of Hasdrubal.
In style and language Livy represents the best period of Latin prose writing. He has passed far beyond the bald and meagre diction of the early chroniclers. In his hands Latin acquired a flexibility and a richness of vocabulary unknown to it before. If he writes with less finish and a less perfect rhythm than his favourite model Cicero, he excels him in the varied structure of his periods, and their adaptation to the subject-matter. It is true that here and there the “creamy richness” of his style becomes verbosity, and that he occasionally draws too freely on his inexhaustible store of epithets, metaphors and turns of speech; but these faults, which did not escape the censure even of friendly critics like Quintilian, are comparatively rare in the extant parts of his work. From the tendency to use a poetic diction in prose, which was so conspicuous a fault in the writers of the silver age, Livy is not wholly free. In his earlier books especially there are numerous phrases and sentences which have an unmistakably poetic ring, recalling sometimes Ennius and more often his contemporary Virgil. But in Livy this poetic element is kept within bounds, and serves only to give warmth and vividness to the narrative. Similarly, though the influence of rhetoric upon his language, as well as upon his general treatment, is clearly perceptible, he has not the perverted love of antithesis, paradox and laboured word-painting which offends us in Tacitus; and, in spite of the Venetian richness of his colouring, and the copious flow of his words, he is on the whole wonderfully natural and simple.
These merits, not less than the high tone and easy grace of his narrative and the eloquence of his speeches, gave Livy a hold on Roman readers such as only Cicero and Virgil besides him ever obtained. His history formed the groundwork of nearly all that was afterwards written on the subject. Plutarch, writers on rhetoric like the elder Seneca, moralists like Valerius Maximus, went to Livy for their stock examples. Florus and Eutropius abridged him; Orosius extracted from him his proofs of the sinful blindness of the pagan world; and in every school Livy was firmly established as a text-book for the Roman youth.
Text.—The received text of the extant thirty-five books of Livy is taken from different sources, and no one of our MSS. contains them all. The MSS. of the first decade, some thirty in number, are with one exception derived, more or less directly, from a single archetype, viz., the recension made in the 4th century by the two Nicomachi, Flavianus and Dexter, and by Victorianus. This is proved in the case of the older MSS. by written subscriptions to that effect, and in the case of the rest by internal evidence. Of all these descendants of the Nicomachean recension, the oldest is the Codex Parisinus of the 10th century, and the best the Codex Mediceus or Florentinus of the 11th. An independent value attaches to the ancient palimpsest of Verona, of which the first complete account was given by Mommsen in Abhandl. der preussischen Akad. der Wissenschaften (1868). It contains the third, fourth, fifth and fragments of the sixth book, and, according to Mommsen, whose conclusions are accepted by Madvig (Emend. Livianae, 2nd ed., 1877, p. 37), it is derived, not from the Nicomachean recension, but from an older archetype common to both.
For the third decade our chief authority is the Codex Puteanus, an uncial MS. of the 5th century, now at Paris. For the fourth we have two leading MSS.—Codex Bambergensis, 11th century, and the slightly older Codex Moguntinus, now lost and only known through the Mainz edition of 1518–1519. What remains of the fifth decade depends on the 5th century Laurishamensis or Vindobonensis from the monastery of Lorsch, edited at Basel in 1531.
A bibliography of the various editions of Livy, or of all that has been written upon him, cannot be attempted here. The following may be consulted for purposes of reference; W. Engelmann, Scriptores Latini (8th ed., by E. Preuss, 1882); J. E. B. Mayor, Bibliographical Clue to Latin Literature (1875); Teuffel-Schwabe, History of Roman Literature (Eng. trans.), 256, 257; M. Schanz, Geschichte der römischen Litteratur, ii. 1 (2nd ed., 1899). The best editions of the complete text are those of W. Weissenborn (1858–1862, containing an introductory essay on Livy’s life and writings; new edition by M. Müller, 1902), and J. N. Madvig and J. L. Ussing (1863–1873). The only English translation of any merit is by Philemon Holland (1600). (H. F. P.; X.)
- For the fragments of an epitome discovered at Oxyrhynchus see J. S. Reid in Classical Review (July, 1904); E. Kornemann, Die neue Livius-Epitome aus Oxyrhynchus, with text and commentary (Leipzig, 1904); C. H. Moore, “The Oxyrhynchus Epitome of Livy in relation to Obsequens and Cassiodorus,” in American Journal of Philology (1904), 241.
- The various rumours once current of complete copies of Livy in Constantinople, Chios and elsewhere, are noticed by B. G. Niebuhr, Lectures on the History of Rome from the first Punic War (ed. L. Schmitz, 1844), i. 65.
- For Livy’s debt to Valerius Antias, see A. A. Howard in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, xvii. (1906), pp. 161 sqq.