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Assessment of Livy’s The History of Rome

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Titus Livius (commonly known as Livy) is one of the most prominent ancient historians who wrote 142 books of Roman history called the Ab Urbe Condita (Gill, 2013). This essay seeks to assess the work of Livy if it qualifies as a work of history; the assessment will be based on two points namely, unbiased telling of the story and use of myths in ancient history.

The ideal historian of ancient times was supposed to combine rigorous truthfulness and freedom from bias when writing history and Livy is successful in these aspects (Encarta, 2009). He was a Roman citizen but he did not allow his Roman citizenship to affect his authorship of Roman history; he did not write his story in favour of the Romans, the way Herodotus wrote his history in favour of the Athenians (Lendering, 2013). This can be seen by looking at Livy’s portrait of the Romans in contrast to the portrait he shows of other people. For example, when he is comparing between Hannibal and the Roman generals, he shows without remorse that Hannibal was a much better general than the Roman generals and he gives that as the reason for Hannibal’s success in the battles against the Romans. He also shows that on the Roman side caprice was one of the reasons for their moral corruption as well as imperial decline (Kirschenbaum, 1996). His honest and impartial portrayal of the people from the ordinary man to the men of statuses makes his work historic.

Some people tend to dismiss Livy’s work on the account that he incorporates myths in his writing; but the writer of this essay is of the view that on the contrary the inclusion of the myths adds to the reliability and truthfulness of the text and qualifies it as a historical work. It should be noted that almost all works of ancient history starts with or as myths and from there they develop into stories grounded in indubitable facts. Without the myths the stories could have had their genesis in a vacuum; but myths gives a starting point for ancient history. This is not to say that myths should be accepted without a critical scrutiny; but nevertheless, myths should be treated as half-baked truths which often contain bits of historical information that are passed on and transformed through repeated telling (Encarta, 2009).

Livy uses the myths in his opening books because that was how the stories were passed down to him, if he would have left them out, that would have made his work incomplete because although they are myths they contains some notions of truth which would not have been known if they were left out. And actually he says it in the preface that one should not actually zero in on the mythical part but on the undertakings of the peoples day to day life. For example the life of Remus and Romulus shows how superstitious the Roman society was from the onset.

This is seen when Remus and Romulus consulted the tutelary deities by means of augury to know who was to give his name to the city they founded (Kirschenbaum, 1996); and this is also seen in the latter stories i.e. the defeat at Lake Trasimenus is also linked to some bad omens (ibid.). From this, one will find out that the story of the lives of Romulus and Remus though highly mythical establishes the general lifestyle of the Romans which was rooted in superstition. Hence this work qualifies as a historic text despite of the fact that it is a bit mythical at the beginning; the mythical part is a springboard of the Ancient history divorcing it would be leaving out some important truths.

In conclusion, Livy’s “History of Rome” qualifies as a work of history because, firstly Livy as a historian does not show bias in telling the story. Apart from that Livy being an ancient historian adopts the use of myths which serves as a platform for the rest of the historical facts of the Roman history. These two reasons qualifies Livy’s story as history.


Microsoft Encarta, (2009). “Mythology” Microsoft Corporation.

Microsoft Encarta, 2009. “History and Historiography” Microsoft Corporation.

Gill, N.S., (2013) Livy: The historian and his moral history of Rome. Retrieved on 6/27/13 from http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/historianslivy/a/Livy.htm

Kirschenbaum, M.G., (1996), Titus Livius: The History of Rome, Vol. I. retrieved on 6/27/13 from http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/modeng/modeng0.browse.html

Lendering, J., (2013). Herodotus’ twenty-second logos: Thermopylae. Retrieved on 6/27/13 from http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodotus/logos7_22.html

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