Classics Livy
David Levene
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0136


Livy (Titus Livius) was born in (probably) 59 BC, in Patavium (the modern Padua); he died in (probably) AD 17. Little is known of his life; he is not attested as having held any political or military office. Later sources mention his acquaintance with the imperial family: he is said to have been on good terms with the emperor Augustus and to have encouraged the future emperor Claudius to study history. Although he is attested as having written on other topics, his reputation in the 21st century, as in Antiquity, rests on his vast 142-volume history of Rome from its foundation to his own time. Approximately a quarter survives virtually intact: Books 1–10 and 21–45 (though sections of Books 41, 43, 44, and 45 are lost); they are clearly structured in blocks of five books (known as “pentads”) and ten books (“decades”). The contents of the remainder are known from a variety of indirect sources, above all the so-called Periochae, a brief summary of all but two of the books of the history. Livy’s monumental work formed the standard narrative of the Roman republic for all later generations; it is written from a strongly patriotic perspective, focusing on the development of Roman institutions and the growth of Roman power. In the past most scholars saw the core of the history as a simple celebration of Rome; however, much modern scholarship has emphasized the complex and ambivalent morality that underlies the celebration, since a narrative of moral decline sits side by side with the growth of empire, and surprisingly few of Livy’s protagonists live up wholeheartedly to the virtuous traditions embodied by the city.

General Overviews

The most comprehensive general studies of Livy as a historian and literary artist are Walsh 1961 and Burck 1992, both of which are relatively conventional but provide useful reference points on many topics. Dorey 1971, rather than being organized by topic, has a chapter on each decade that offers a brief reading of its key themes. Kraus and Woodman 1997 is the best short introduction to Livy in the light of modern views of Roman historiography; Catin 1944 and Mineo 2006 provide individual and sometimes idiosyncratic readings of Livy’s approach to history. Pausch 2011 offers a more general narratological survey of Livy’s writing.

  • Burck, Erich. 1992. Das Geschichtswerk des Titus Livius. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter.

    Solid if unexciting and conventional account of the history from perhaps the leading Livian scholar of the 20th century.

  • Catin, Léon. 1944. En lisant Tite-Live. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    Quirky but insightful reading of Livy, anticipating several of the themes that would become prominent in scholarship decades later.

  • Dorey, Thomas A., ed. 1971. Livy. London: Routledge.

    Decade-by-decade reading of Livy’s work by several leading scholars, along with studies of his later influence.

  • Kraus, Christina S., and Anthony J. Woodman. 1997. Latin historians. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 51–81.

    Effective though brief introduction to Livy’s work from a modern perspective by two of the leading contemporary scholars of Roman historiography.

  • Mineo, Bernard. 2006. Tite-Live et l’histoire de Rome. Paris: Klincksieck.

    Extensive study of Livy’s conception of history, centering on a controversial claim about Livy’s representation of historical cycles in his work.

  • Pausch, Dennis. 2011. Livius und der Leser: Narrative Strukturen in ab urbe condita. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    Wide-ranging study from a broadly narratological standpoint, but also setting against the development of historiography and historical memory at Rome. Pausch looks at the effect of annalistic structure, at the multiple perspectives within the text, and the involvement of the reader via the creation of a vivid and involving narrative.

  • Walsh, Patrick G. 1961. Livy: His historical aims and methods. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Fullest general study of Livy in English, presenting a mainstream (though now somewhat old-fashioned) account of his virtues and failings as historian and writer.

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