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Review of The History of Rome by Livy


How much better it is to read of a rise rather than a fall!

After reading Gibbon’s monumental and fantastic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I decided that the book I last read about Rome for a while couldn’t be one so depressing, as reading about the destruction of a society so great is quite depressing. So, returning to the interest that was sparked when I read The Rise of Rome, I decided to read Livy’s The History of Rome, which is about Rome from its beginning to the ascension of Augustus to the purple.

However, because it was written so long ago, around the time of Augustus’ reign, only some portions of The History of Rome survive; a few chapters in the middle (books 11-20), about the Third Samnite War and First Punic War, have disappeared, as have books 46-142, which are about Rome from the time it triumphed over Perseus to the reign of Imperator Caesar Augustus.

Despite those missing sections, The History of Rome is a monumental history that has stood the test of time for a reason. Reaching far back into the time of myth, Livy transports the reader into a different age and guides that reader through the history of events that made Rome the dominant power in the Mediterranean. The virtues and weaknesses, triumphs and failures, of that great, departed civilization are recorded in a way that make the reader feel as if he is there, watching Horatius guard the bridge over the Tiber, marching with the legions across Macedonia, or sailing with Scipio to Carthage.

Because many chapters have been lost, thanks largely to their neglect in favor of religious text during the Middle Ages (what I’d give for a few more books of Livy rather than a monk’s rambling about some supposed saint), The History of Rome is not a complete history of the society that still holds many in thrall. But it’s still a book well worth reading.

It’s inspiring, full of tales of heroism and triumph.

It’s a warning, full of tales about the sufferings inflicted upon societies throughout history by power-mad tyrants, vengeful leaders, and greedy despots, not to mention the evils wrought by treason, cowardice, and perfidy.

And. most of all, it’s a tale of strength and survival. Rome, as I’ll discuss in this review, faced many challenges that would have ended other societies. Both domestic and quarrels and foreign invasions hammered the republic throughout its history. Yet, each time, rather than give in and ignominiously surrender, the Romans pulled themselves together and triumphed over their difficulties. In these dark times, such a story as that is well worth reading. I hope, after finishing this review, you agree and order a copy.

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Summary of The History of Rome by Livy

The History of Rome, as could be expected of so monumental a work, spanning hundreds upon hundreds of years, covers many events, men, and time periods.

In fact, because Livy reaches so far back into history in the first five chapters (commonly referred to as The Early History of Rome), the book is a mixture of both myth and fact, although what is pure myth and what is factual is hard to tell.

Livy begins with Aeneas fleeing Troy after the Trojan defeat in that famous war. Aeneas, a Trojan prince, escaped the burning city and fled with refugees from the war across the Mediterranean, eventually landing in Italy and creating the Latin race.

His descendants, the Latins, eventually produced two young boys — Romulus and Remus — that were nursed by a she-wolf, taken in by an adopted mother and father, and who, after certain events (you’ll have to read to find out!) left to found their own city, a city that Romulus named Rome.

That city, by opening its doors to the dispossessed and industrious citizens of other Italian states, rapidly grew in size. Romulus’ decision to abduct the Sabine women led to its continued survival. It grew, war by war, preserved by the warlike spirit of its people and their unconquerable valor, eventually kicking out the last of its seven kings and forming the republic, which lasted until Augustus finally ended it.

Its history, much like the history of the United States, was one of war. Rome, as told by Livy in The History of Rome, defeated enemy after enemy as it rapidly expanded. While suffering many battlefield defeats, it always managed to persevere and triumph in the end, a quality for which it became famous.

After many battles with the tribes around it, Rome became the dominant power; especially after it finally crushed the Samnites in the Third Samnite War.

Then, after two long wars with Carthage, the First and Second Punic Wars, Rome was the Dominant power in the Mediterranean, occupying Italy, Sicily, Spain, parts of Gaul, and having client states in North Africa. Then, after wars with the descendants of Alexander’s successors, especially the kings of Macedonia, Rome had conquered and controlled much of the Hellenistic world. Further wars solidified its control over North Africa, Asia Minor, and parts of the Levant.

No less impressive was the ability of the Romans to triumph over domestic quarrels. Up until the end of the republic, that period being dominated by internecine conflict and resulting in Augustus taking the purple, the Romans were always able to settle their differences. Although the plebes hated the equestrians and patricians for using moneylending to keep them impoverished, despite the equestrians being jealous of the patricians and the patricians doggedly holding onto their hereditary power, a compromise could always be struck before it was too late. The commoners would join the legions before the enemy arrived at the gates and debt or land reform bills would be pushed through before the commons grew too enraged. Because the whole of Rome was united with a vision of their city’s glory and belief in their republican system, its various constituent parts could work together even if they despised each other.

Livy recounts all that and more in The History of Rome. For the sake of brevity, I’ll end my description of what tales Livy recounts at that, but know that there’s so much more; I could never hope to faithfully summarize his work, not just because it is so vast in scope but because it is so full of important information. Every chapter, in fact every page, tells the story of some brave Roman consul, some event of great magnitude, or a brilliant speech made in the halls of the Roman Capitol or columns of the Forum. If you read it, you’ll learn as much as you could want to about the main events in the Roman Republic’s history, or at least about the parts of that history that have survived thousands of years.

My Take on The History of Rome by Livy

I recount those events from Rome’s history not in an attempt to inform you of the complete history of Rome, as that would be an absurd task to attempt in a paltry few hundred words, but to show the magnitude of what Livy was able to accomplish. Like his city, the sheer scope of it, not to mention the high quality, is astounding.

Imagine, if you will, being hunched over what writing materials existed in the Classical Era, consulting the stories of others and scrolls so old they relate events that, even to you, are old enough to be myth, and then compiling all of that information in a way that is interesting to read, factually accurate, and full of important lessons. No backspace button, no internet to look up citations, not even the printing press would be available to you! Now, imagine not doing that about one period of history, one battle, or one man, but rather about the men, battles, treaties, speeches, and events of 700 years! That is what Livy accomplished.

For that reason alone, simply to appreciate Livy’s work, you should take the thirty hours or so of reading necessary to finish The History of Rome. But there are two other, more important reasons.

One is that it’s inspiring and full of tales of glory in an age that lacks glory. We are far more prosperous than even the Romans, live lives more comfortable than the Caesars, and have an infrastructure system even better than theirs. But, since World War II, ours has been a society without glory. There are no ticker-tape parades, no glorious monuments, no great tales of victory. Instead, we have drab, sobering monuments, wars without victory or celebration, and “leaders” that lack the gravitas of Cato or the brilliance of Cicero. Life is comfortable but lacking in that glory that is so essential to a fulfilling life.

Reading works like The History of Rome is an antidote to that. By reading about the triumphs of the consuls, the victories of the tribunes, and the rise of the Romans one can understand, and even be imbued with, the feelings of majesty and glory that all humans seek.

Furthermore, it should be read as a warning. The Romans were only free so long as they could get along. But, crucially, that getting along wasn’t only the result of compromise; it was mainly the result of their having a shared vision. Each Roman, from the basest plebe to the wealthiest patrician, wanted Rome to be great. They wanted her armies to be victorious, her cities clothed in marble, and her enemies vanquished. And, not only that, they jealously guarded their liberty, taking dramatic action against anyone who conspired or aspired to wear the diadem. For as long as that was the case, Rome was great and free.

Americans must remember that. “Compromise” won’t save us if it is with enemies of our civilization; Rome would not have survived had it “compromised” with the Gauls, Carthaginians, or domestic allies of those enemies. Similarly, Americans must work to create a shared vision that we can all get behind, much as was the case in the halcyon days of our past. Without that vision, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences as the Romans.

So, Should You Read The History of Rome? Yes!

If you’re going to read any serious works of history, The History of Rome must be on your list. While it’s sad that much of it has been lost to the sands of time, what remains is truly magnificent and certainly worth the time it’ll take you to read it.

Get The History of Rome here:

By: Gen Z Conservative