Archive for January 2nd, 2011

Titus Livius – Rome And Italy

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Once again I return to ancient Roman history with Rome And Italy (c. 25 BC) by Titus Livius (or Livy in the English version), covering the books VI to X and the period 386 until 293 BC. Previously I have reviewed books I to V in The Early History Of Rome, providing the setting and circumstances of the Roman Republic until the Sack of Rome by the Gauls in 386 BC. As the sack destroyed most of the historical records, a lot of the early history originated from oral tradition. Hence, as was normal in those times, historians filled in those gaps as they saw fit to make sure the story was whole and made sense. An effect of this was that Books I-V felt more like a story than a history.

Why this lengthy reference to the review of the previous volume? It is because I will use it as a comparison to the next volume. After 386 BC records were far more available and the historian has to follow the facts and not make up things to fill the gap. This difference clearly shows in this volume. Livius regularly adds comments about his sources or expresses his doubts on the truth of the matter. Also conflicts arise. Apparently earlier historians have not been in agreement on which persons were involved in certain events and when events exactly took place. This problem was hardly around in the previous volume but arises frequently in the real history. As the rulers of Rome changed every year this makes it more troublesome because of a larger list of names that appear shortly and afterwards often quickly disappear again.

Two elements dominated the first volume: the political development of Rome and the continuous battles it fought with its neighboring cities which never lead to serious development or expansion. Outside its own region Rome did not play much of a role.

In Rome and Italy the political development is mostly done except for some finetuning. In the first volume the discussions and returing important persons hold the story together. In the second volume there are only speeches and the dialogues are gone. The historical characters become less pronounced, also because they play a less prominent role.

With the political development gone, most of the history is about warfare. After the sack Rome’s power declines which leads to instability. However, Rome achieves victories and manages to recover quickly. Even such that, unlike the first volume, it quickly starts expanding and dominating neighboring peoples. There is a greater dynamic and variation of Rome’s position in Italy. Now victories do last. Beaten peoples don’t rise up again within a few years or have doubts in supporting other peoples. Things that were not there in the first volume, where Rome’s enemies were aggressive and recovered quickly after defeats. The quick expansion goes together with internal stability and peace in it’s own region. The wars are fought far away from home.

Rome And Italy proves to be a more real history than the previous volume. While that one could be seen as a somewhat entertaining read, there is less story here and more history. The history also makes more sense but does not provide much insight with the focus on war and the greater stability. Still there are some heroic events that liven up the tale.

As a history Rome And Italy provides insight in how Rome became the dominant power in Italy and how expansion triggers new conflicts with either further expansion or loss of power. As Rome became the dominant power in Rome it would soon find a greater adversary, the city state of Carthage.

I enjoy reading Livius. His prose (or at least the translation) is easy to read although the material was somewhat drier than the previous volume. Obviously a must-read for anyone into classic history.