Review: The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation

The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation
The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation by Titus Livy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Livy was a prolific ancient Roman historian, writing around the time of the birth of Christ. He chronicles the political and military history of Rome from its founding by Aeneas to its sacking by the Gauls around 386 BC.

He is keen to uphold certain values.

"When we followed God's guidance all was well; when we scorned it, all was ill" (pg. 397). Following omens and divinations was more convincing even than reasoned oratory. It is more important to obey the gods than to follow the persuasions of men.

"The only true patriotism... is founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil" (105). Love of nation requires a sense of place and people. Romans were Romans because of their location, not so much the buildings or the ideas they had, though that grew in importance later on.

Typically, Livy takes pride in Rome's undefeated military record. Most of the book is taken up with military campaigns against one neighboring city or another. It is striking that the book ends with their being beseiged and rescued by a strong but exiled former military commander.

Political unity.
Much of the substance of the book is also taken up with the partisan politics that threatened to tear the city apart. Patricians sought to keep their privileges, while plebians demanded bread and rights. Livy doesn't disguise his preference - he saw the representatives of the people as the cause of much of the trouble. Their demagoguery created unnecessary strife, even to refusing to serve in the military when the city was under attack!

As a Christian the inadequacies of this worldview became obvious to me as I read. Whenever things got really tight, a dictator was appointed to force resolution. Strength of the sword was the only way to quash the chaos and quiet the city (or defeat the invaders). The only way to get internal unity was to focus on an external enemy. The very things Rome prided herself in, she could not achieve, though Livy does his best to convince his reader through anecdotes and speeches that Rome did achieve them.

Overall, this was a tedious read, the high points being the speeches and some of the military exploits related.

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