Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Livy)

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For the reckoning of time from the traditional founding of Rome (AUC), see Ab urbe condita.
Stories from Livy I.4, on an altar panel from Ostia. Father Tiber looks on at the lower right while the national lupa (wolf) nourishes Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. The herders are about to find them. One of their goats can be seen. Small animals denote the wildness of the place. The national aquila (eagle) is portrayed.

Livy's History of Rome, sometimes referred to as Ab Urbe Condita,[i] is a monumental history of ancient Rome, written in Latin, between 27 and 9 BC.[ii] by the historian Titus Livius, or "Livy", as he is usually known in English. The work covers the period from the legends concerning the arrival of Aeneas and the refugees from the fall of Troy, to the city's founding in 753 BC, the expulsion of the Kings in 509 BC, and down to Livy's own time, during the reign of the emperor Augustus.[iii][iv] The last event covered by Livy is the death of Drusus in 9 BC.[2] About 25% of the work survives.[4]



The History of Rome originally comprised 142 "books", thirty-five of which — Books 1–10 with the Preface and Books 21–45 — still exist in reasonably complete form.[2] Damage to a manuscript of the 5th century resulted in large gaps (lacunae) in Books 41 and 43–45 (small lacunae exist elsewhere); that is, the material is not covered in any source of Livy's text.[5]

A fragmentary palimpsest of the 91st book was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1772, containing about a thousand words, and several papyrus fragments of previously unknown material, much smaller, have been found in Egypt since 1900, most recently about 40 words from Book 11, unearthed in the 1980s.


Fragment of P. Oxy. 668, with Epitome of Livy XLVII–XLVIII.

Livy was abridged, in antiquity, to an epitome, which survives for Book 1, but was itself abridged in the fourth century into the so-called Periochae, which is simply a list of contents. The Periochae survive for the entire work, except for books 136 and 137.[6] In Oxyrhynchus, a similar summary of books 37–40 and 48–55 was found on a roll of papyrus that is now in the British Museum classified as P.Oxy.IV 0668.[7] There is another fragment, named P.Oxy.XI 1379, which represents a passage from the first book (I, 6) and that shows a high level of correctness.[8] However the Oxyrhynchus Epitome is damaged and incomplete.


The entire work covers the following periods:[2][9]

Books 1–5 – The legendary founding of Rome (including the landing of Aeneas in Italy and the founding of the city by Romulus), the period of the kings, and the early republic down to its conquest by the Gauls in 390 BC.[v]

Books 6–10 – Wars with the Aequi, Volsci, Etruscans, and Samnites, down to 292 BC.

Books 11–20 – The period from 292 to 264 BC (lost).

Books 21–25 – The period from 264 to 218 BC, including the First Punic War (lost).

Books 26–30 – The Second Punic War, from 218 to 202 BC.

Books 31–45 – The Macedonian and other eastern wars from 201 to 167 BC.

Books 46 to 142 are all lost:

Books 46–70 – The period from 167 to the outbreak of the Social War in 91 BC.

Books 71–90 – The civil wars between Marius and Sulla, to the death of Sulla in 78 BC.

Books 91–108 – From 78 BC through the end of the Gallic War, in 50 BC.

Books 109–116 – From the Civil War to the death of Caesar (49–44 BC).

Books 117-133 – The wars of the triumvirs down to the death of Antonius (44–30 BC).

Books 134-142 – The rule of Augustus down to the death of Drusus (9 BC).


Livy wrote in a mixture of annual chronology and narrative, often interrupting a story to announce the elections of new consuls. Collins defines the "annalistic method" as "naming the public officers and recording the events of each succeeding year".[11] It is an expansion of the fasti, the official public chronicles kept by the magistrates, which were a primary source for Roman historians. Those who seem to have been more influenced by the method have been termed annalists.

The first and third decades (see below) of Livy's work are written so well that Livy has become a sine qua non of curricula in Golden Age Latin. Subsequently the quality of his writing began to decline. He contradicts himself and becomes repetitious and wordy. Of the 91st book Barthold Georg Niebuhr says "repetitions are here so frequent in the small compass of four pages and the prolixity so great, that we should hardly believe it to belong to Livy...." Niebuhr accounts for the decline by supposing "the writer has grown old and become loquacious...", going so far as to conjecture that the later books were lost because copyists refused to copy such low-quality work.[12]

A digression in Book 9, Sections 17–19, suggests that the Romans would have beaten Alexander the Great if he had lived longer and had turned west to attack the Romans, making this digression the oldest known alternate history.[13]

Livy's publication[edit]

The first five books were published between 25 and 27 BC. The first date mentioned is the year Augustus received that title: twice in the first five books Livy uses it.[14] For the second date, Livy lists the closings of the temple of Janus but omits that of 25 BC (it had not happened yet).[15]

Livy continued to work on the History for much of the rest of his life, publishing new material by popular demand. This explains why the work falls naturally into 12 packets, mainly groups of 10 books, or decades, sometimes of 5 books (pentads or pentades) and the rest without any packet order. The scheme of dividing it entirely into decades is a later innovation of copyists.[16]

The second pentad did not come out until 9 BC or after, some 16 years after the first pentad. In Book IX Livy states that the Cimminian Forest was more impassable than the German had been recently, referring to the Hercynian Forest (Black Forest) first opened by Drusus and Ahenobarbus.[17] One can only presume that in the interval Livy's first pentad had been such a success that he had to yield to the demand for more.


There is no uniform system of classifying and naming manuscripts. Often the relationship of one manuscript (MS) to another remains unknown or changes as perceptions of the handwriting change. Livy's release of chapters by packet diachronically encouraged copyists to copy by decade. Each decade has its own conventions, which do not necessarily respect the conventions of any other decade. A family of MSS descend through copying from the same MSS (typically lost). MSS vary widely; to produce an emendation or a printed edition was and is a major task. Usually variant readings are given in footnotes.

First decade[edit]

All of the manuscripts (except one) of the first ten books (first decade) of Ab Urbe Condita Libri, which were copied through the Middle Ages and were used in the first printed editions, are derived from a single recension commissioned by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, consul, AD 391.[18] A recension is made by comparing extant manuscripts and producing a new version, an emendation, based on the text that seems best to the editor. The latter then "subscribed" to the new MS by noting on it that he had emended it.

Symmachus, probably using the authority of his office, commissioned Tascius Victorianus to emend the first decade. Books I-IX bear the subscription Victorianus emendabam dominis Symmachis, "I Victorianus emended (this) by the authority of Symmachus." Books VI-VIII include another subscription preceding it, that of Symmachus' son-in-law, Nicomachus Flavianus, and Books III-V were also emended by Flavianus' son, Appius Nicomachus Dexter, who says he used his relative Clementianus' copy.[19] This recension and family of descendant MSS is called the Nicomachean, after two of the subscribers. From it several MSS descend (incomplete list):[20][21]

Nicomachean Family of MSS
Location & Number Name Date
V Veronensis rescriptus 10th century
H Harleianus 10th century
E Einsiedlensis 10th century
F Paris 5724 Floriacensis 10th century
P Paris 5725 Parisiensis 9th/10th century
M Mediceus-Laurentianus 10th/11th century
U Upsaliensis 10th/11th century
R Vaticanus 3329 Romanus 11th century
O Bodleianus 20631 Oxoniensis 11th century
D Florentinus-Marcianus Dominicanus 12th century
A Agennensis
Petrarch's copy
12th–14th century
Ab urbe condita, 1493

Epigraphists go on to identify several hands and lines of descent. A second family of the first decade consists of the Verona Palimpsest, reconstructed and published by Theodore Mommsen, 1868; hence the Veronensis MSS. It includes 60 leaves of Livy fragments covering Books III-VI. The handwriting style is dated to the 4th century, only a few centuries after Livy.[22]


The details of Livy's History of Rome vary from mythical or legendary stories at the beginning to detailed and authentic accounts of apparently real events toward the end. He himself noted the difficulty of finding information about events some 700 years or more removed from the author. Of his material on early Rome he said "The traditions of what happened prior to the foundation of the City or whilst it was being built, are more fitted to adorn the creations of the poet than the authentic records of the historian."[23]

Nevertheless, according to the tradition of writing history at the time, he felt obliged to relate what he read (or heard) without passing judgement as to its truth or untruth. One of the problems of modern scholarship is to ascertain where in the work the line is to be drawn between legendary and historical. The general modern view has been that buildings, inscriptions, monuments and libraries prior to the sack of Rome in 387 BC by the Gauls under Brennus were destroyed by that sack and were unavailable to Livy and his sources. His credible history therefore must begin at that date.[24] A layer of ash over the lowest pavement of the comitium believed to date from that time seemed to confirm a city-wide destruction.

A new view by Tim Cornell, however, deemphasizes the damage caused by the Gauls under Brennus. Among other reasons, he asserts that the Gauls' interest in movable plunder, rather than destruction, kept damage to a minimum.[25] The burnt layer under the comitium is now dated to the 6th century BC.[26] There apparently is no archaeological evidence of a widespread destruction of Rome by the Gauls. Cornell uses this information to affirm the historicity of Livy's account of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

Livy's sources[edit]

For the first decade, Livy studied the works of a group of historians in or near his own time, who have been called "the annalists". Some twelve historians in this category are named by Livy in Book I as sources on the period of the monarchy.[27] In date order backward from Livy they are: Gaius Licinius Macer, Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius, Valerius Antias, Gnaeus Gellius, Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus (consul 129 BC), Lucius Cassius Hemina, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi (consul 133 BC), Aulus Postumius Albinus (consul 151 BC), Gaius Acilius Glabrio, Marcus Porcius Cato, Lucius Cincius Alimentus, Quintus Fabius Pictor. Elsewhere he mentions Sempronius Asellio. Macer, the latest of these, died in 66 BC. Fabius, the earliest, fought in the Gallic War of 225 BC.

Livy's sources were by no means confined to the annalists. Other historians of his time mention documents then extant dating as far back as the Roman monarchy: treaties between: Servius Tullius and the Latins; Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and Gabii; three between Rome and Carthage; Cassius and the Latins, 493 BC, which was engraved in bronze. In addition the Pontifex Maximus kept the Annales Maximi (yearly events) on display in his house, the censors kept the Commentarii Censorum, the praetors kept their own records, the Commentarii Pontificum and Libri Augurales were available as well as all the laws on stone or brass; the fasti (list of magistrates) and the Libri Lintei, historical records kept in the temple of Juno Moneta.[28]

Nevertheless, the accounts of Rome's early history are for the most part contradictory and therefore suspect (in this view). Seeley says, "It is when Livy's account is compared with the accounts of other writers that we become aware of the utter uncertainty which prevailed among the Romans themselves.... The traditional history, as a whole, must be rejected...."[29] As Livy stated that he used what he found without passing judgement on his sources (which is not quite true, as he does on occasion pass judgement), attacks on the credibility of Livy typically begin with the annalists. Opinions vary. T.J. Cornell presumes that Livy relied on "unscrupulous annalists" who "did not hesitate to invent a series of face-saving victories."[30] Furthermore, "The annalists of the first century BC are thus seen principally as entertainers...." Cornell does not follow this view consistently, as he is willing to accept Livy as history for the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. A more positive view of the same limitations was given by Howard:[31]

The annalists were not modern historians, and not one of them is absolutely free from the faults attributed to Antias. That any of them, even Antias, deliberately falsified history is extremely improbable, but they were nearly all strong partisans, and of two conflicting stories it was most natural for them to choose the one which was most flattering to the Romans, or even to their own political party, and, as the principle of historical writing even in the time of Quintilian was stated to be that history was closely akin to poetry and was written to tell a story, not to prove it, we may safely assume that all writers were prone to choose the account which was most interesting and which required the least work in verification.

For the third decade, Livy followed the account of the Greek historian Polybius, as did the historical accounts of Marcus Tullius Cicero.[32] Polybius had access to Greek sources in the eastern Mediterranean, outside the local Roman traditions.

Machiavelli and Livy[edit]

Niccolò Machiavelli's work on republics, the Discourses on Livy, is presented as a commentary on the History of Rome.


The first complete rendering of Ab Urbe Condita into English was Philemon Holland's translation published in 1600. According to Considine, '[I]t was a work of great importance, presented in a grand folio volume of 1458 pages, and dedicated to the Queen'.[33]

The authoritative translation of The History of Early Rome, was made by B.O. Foster in 1919 for Harvard University Press. A 1960 edition, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, was printed by Penguin Books Ltd.[34]

An online English translation is available.[35]


  1. ^ Livy himself called his history the Annales, but this title has not been used by modern scholars, who usually refer to it simply as the History of Rome, or History of Rome from the Founding of the City, or in Latin, Ab Urbe Condita ("From the Founding of the City"). As with other Latin works, the number of books is frequently appended to the title, hence the occasional rendering Ab Urbe Condita Libri CXLII, ("From the Founding of the City in 142 Books").[1][2]
  2. ^ Various indications point to the period from 27 to 20 BC as that during which the first decade was written. In the first book (xix. 3) the emperor is called Augustus, a title which he was granted by the Roman Senate early in 27 BC, and in ix. 18 the omission of all reference to the restoration, in 20 BC, 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 BC.[3]
  3. ^ Livy uses the chronology of Varro, one of his predecessors, whose chronology was the most widely accepted in antiquity, and remains in general use today, although scholars continue to debate the dating of specific events, including the founding of Rome itself.
  4. ^ In Roman times, it was customary to date events according to the consuls of each year, rather than assigning each year a numerical name; so while it was possible to date events by reference to the founding of Rome, this was rarely done. For instance, the consuls of 439 BC were Agrippa Menenius Lanatus and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus, so that year would typically be referred to as "the consulship of Agrippa Menenius and Titus Quinctius", rather than "the year three hundred and fifteen". From this custom, the consuls who began each year are sometimes referred to as the eponymous magistrates of that year; that is, the magistrates after whom the year was named.
  5. ^ This is the traditional date, but some uncertainty exists with regard to four years during the Samnite Wars for which no consuls are named in any source, and for which no elections were supposedly held; this has led some scholars to conclude that the Gallic sack of Rome occurred in or about 386 BC, although this also creates an unexplained (and undated) gap before the event.[10]


  1. ^ Livy, xliii. 13.
  2. ^ a b c d Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. II, p. 790 ("Livius").
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 Edition: "Livy".
  4. ^ Foster (1874), p. xvi.
  5. ^ Hardwick, Lorna (2003). Reception Studies. Greece & Rome: New Surveys in the Classics No. 33. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Classical Association. p. 23. 
  6. ^ "Livy: the Periochae". www.livius.org. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  7. ^ "T. LIVI PERIOCHARUM FRAGMENTA OXYRHYNCHI REPERTA". www.attalus.org. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  8. ^ The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part XI, London, 1915, pagg. 188-89.
  9. ^ The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. By M.C. Howatson. Oxford, 1989, p. 326.
  10. ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. xi, 94–96, 141, 148, 149, 163, 164, 171.
  11. ^ Collins, William Lucas (1876). Livy. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co. pp. 13–14. 
  12. ^ Niebuhr (1844), p. 38.
  13. ^ Dozois, Gardner; Schmidt, Stanley, eds. (1998). Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History. New York: Del Rey. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-345-42194-4. 
  14. ^ Foster (1874), p. xi, citing Livy I.19 and IV.20.
  15. ^ Foster (1874), p. xi, citing Livy I.19.
  16. ^ Foster (1874), pp xv–xvi.
  17. ^ Niebuhr (1844), p. 39, citing Livy IX.36.
  18. ^ Hedrick, Charles W. (2000). History and Silence: Purge and Rehabilitation of Memory in Late Antiquity. University of Texas Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 0-292-73121-3. 
  19. ^ Foster (1874), pp. xxxii–xxxvi
  20. ^ Hall, Frederick William (1913). A companion to classical texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 246–247. 
  21. ^ Kraus (1994), p. 30
  22. ^ Foster (1874), p. xxxii.
  23. ^ Preface.
  24. ^ Platner, S.B.; Ashby, T. (1929). Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 506–8. 
  25. ^ Cornell, Tim (1995). The Beginnings of Rome. London: Routledge. pp. 318–319. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7. 
  26. ^ Coarelli, Filippo (1983). Il Foro romano (3 ed.). Quasar. ISBN 978-88-85020-44-3. 
  27. ^ Seeley (1881), p. 11.
  28. ^ Seeley (1881), pp. 12–14 citing various historians.
  29. ^ Seeley (1881), p. 17.
  30. ^ Cornell, T.J. (1986). Moxon, I.S.; Smart, J.D.; Woodman, Anthony John, eds. The Formation of the Historical Tradition of Early Rome. Past Perspectives: Studies in Greek and Roman Historical Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 74. 
  31. ^ Howard, Albert A. (1906). "Valerius Antias and Livy". Harvard studies in classical philology. Cambridge: Harvard University. 18: 161–182. doi:10.2307/310316. 
  32. ^ Smith, William; Anthon, Charles, eds. (1878). "Polybius". A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology and geography. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 
  33. ^ Considine 2004.
  34. ^ Aubrey de Sélincourt, translator (1978). Livy: The History of Early Rome. The Easton Press. Norwalk Connecticut: Collector’s Edition. pp. i–iv. 
  35. ^ Livius, Titus (1905). "Titus Livius: The History of Rome". Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Briscoe, John
    • A Commentary on Livy Books XXXI-XXXIII. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1973. 
    • A Commentary on Livy Books XXXIV-XXXVII. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1981. 
    • A Commentary on Livy Books XXXVIII-XL. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. 
  • Burck, Erich (1934). Die Erzählungskunst des T. Livius. Problemata; Forschungen zur klassischen Philologie, Heft 11 (in German). Berlin: Weidmann. 
  • Chaplin, Jane (2001). Livy's Exemplary History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815274-3. 
  • Feldherr, Andrew (1998). Spectacle and Society in Livy's History. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-21027-1. 
  • Jaeger, Mary (1997). Livy's Written Rome. University of Michigan Press. ASIN B000S73SBI. 
  • Lipovsky, James (1984). A Historiographical Study of Livy: Books VI-X. New Hampshire: Ayer Company. ASIN B0006YIJN0. 
  • Luce, T. James (1977). Livy: The Composition of his History. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-03552-9. 
  • Mackail, J. W. (2008). Latin Literature. BiblioLife. ISBN 978-0-554-32199-8. 
  • Miles, Gary B. (1995). Livy: Reconstructing Early Rome. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8426-1. 
  • Oakley, S. P. (2008). A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923785-2. 
  • Ogilvie, R. M. (1965). A Commentary on Livy Books 1 to 5. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ASIN B0000CMI9B. 
  • Radice, Betty (1982). Rome and Italy: Books VI-X of the History of Rome from its Foundation. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-044388-2. 
  • Walsh, P. G. (1996) [1967]. Livy, his historical aims and methods. Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 9781853991301. 

External links[edit]

Primary sources

Secondary sources