Titus Livius, known to the English-speaking world as Livy, was born in Patavium (mod. Padua) in 59 BCE. Very little of his early life is known, though some things can be inferred. From his own writings, it is clear that he lacked political power and never saw battle, yet he must have been wealthy to spend decades writing such a long work. From passages in Tacitus and Suetonius, it was commonly held that Livy tutored Claudius, but taken at face value, they only show that he was well-respected and that young Claudius consulted him about the writing of history.

Livy died in 17 CE.


Livy’s sole work was the massive Ab Urbe Condita (Eng. “From the Founding of the City”), a history of Rome from its mythical origins down until 9 BCE in an unprecedented 142 books. Only books 1–10 and 24–45 survive intact.

The books are divided into sets of ten called “decades.”

Books 1–10 cover Rome until the Third Samnite War (189 BCE), and 24–45 cover the Second Punic War (218 BCE) until the Macedonian War (167 BCE). For the rest of the books except 146 and 147, only either epitomes or periochae  (“Synopses”) survive.

The work begins with a rather bleak outlook on Rome, castigating the current state of Roman society compared to years past. On account of this outlook, some scholars see Livy as actively disparaging the Augustan regime, with certain fundamental characters, such as Aeneas or Romulus, portrayed in such ways that they form a critique of his contemporary governance. Romulus, for example, to whom Augustus is compared as a “founder of Rome,” is portrayed negatively, and his deification is doubtful, which potentially could be read against the deification of Augustus’ adopted father, Julius Caesar.

To this can be added the fact that Augustus named him a “Pompeian” (as opposed to a “Caesarian” with respect to the Civil War, in which Caesar defeated Pompey). Perhaps due to a menacing influence, a revision of Ab Urbe Condita contains additional sentiments beneficial to Augustus’ rule.

Livy Online

Latin: PHI Latin Texts
English: Bruce Butterfield’s online website

Further Article

  1. Petersen. H. 1961. “Livy and Augustus,” TAPhA 92: 440–452.
  2. Walsh, P. G. 1963. Livy: His Historical Aims and Methods. Cambridge.
  3. Hayne, L. 1990. “Livy and Pompey.” Latomus 49: 435-442.
  4. Badian, E. 1993. “Livy and Augustus,” in Livius: Aspekte seines Werkes, W. Schuller ed. Universitätsverlag Konstanz.
  5. Forsythe, Gary. 1999. Livy and Early Rome: A Study in Historical Method and Judgement. Stuttgart.
  6. Chaplin, Jane D. 2000. Livy’s Exemplary History. Oxford.

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