Ab urbe condita libri — often shortened to Ab urbe condita — is a monumental history of ancient Rome written in Latin sometime between 27 and 25 BC by the historianTitus Livius, known in English as Livy. The work covers the time from the stories of Aeneas, the earliest legendary period from before the city's founding in c. 753 BC, to Livy's own times in the reign of the emperor Augustus. The Latin title can be literally translated as "Books since the city's founding". Less literally it is referred to in English as History of Rome. The last year covered by Livy is 745 AUC, or 9 BC, the death of Drusus. About 25% of the work survives.
Ab urbe condita libri originally comprised 142 "books" (libri) which in modern terminology would be considered "chapters". Thirty-five of these – Books 1–10 with the Preface and Books 21–45 – still exist in reasonably complete form. 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.
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.
Livy was abridged, in antiquity, to an epitome, which survives for Book 1, but was itself abridged into the so-called Periochae, which is simply a list of contents, but which survives. An epitome of Books 37–40 and 48–55 was also uncovered at Oxyrhynchus. So some idea of the topics Livy covered in the lost books exists, if often not what he said about them. The remaining books are preserved by a 4th-century summary entitled Periochae, except for book 136 and 137. However, these were not compiled from Livy's original text but from an abridged edition that is now lost. 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. However the Oxyrhynchus Epitome is damaged and incomplete.
The first book starts with Aeneas landing in Italy and the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus and ends with Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus being elected as consuls in 502 BCE according to Livy's own chronology (509 BCE according to the Varronian chronology). There are a number of chronologies; these two dates represent an approximate range. Books 2–10 deal with the history of the Roman Republic to the Samnite Wars, while books 21–45 tell of the Second Punic War and end with the war against Perseus of Macedon.
Books 46–70 deal with the time up to the Social War in 91 BC. Book 89 includes the dictatorship of Sulla in 81 BC and book 103 contains a description of Gaius Julius Caesar's first consulship. Book 142 ends with the death of Nero Claudius Drusus in 9 BC. While the first ten books concern a period of over 600 years, once Livy started writing about the 1st century BCE, he devoted almost a whole book to each year.
Livy wrote in a mixture of annual chronology and narrative—often having to interrupt 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."It is an expansion of the fasti, the official public chronicle kept by the magistrates, which was a primary source for Roman historians. Those who seem to have been more influenced by the method have been termedannalists.
The first and third decades 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 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.
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.
The first five books were published between 27 and 25 BCE. The first date mentioned is the year Augustus received that title: twice in the first five books Livy uses it. For the second date, Livy lists the closings of the temple of Janus but omits the closing of 25 BCE (it had not happened yet).
Livy continued to work on the History for much of the rest of his life, publishing new material by popular demand. This necessity explains why the work falls naturally into 12 packets, mainly groups of 10 books, or decades, sometimes of 5 books (pentads) and the rest without any packet order. The scheme of dividing it entirely into decades is a later innovation of copyists.
The second pentade did not come out until 9 BCE or after, some 16 years after the first pentade. In Book IX Livy states that the Cimminian Forest was more impassible than the German had been recently, referring to the Hercynian Forest (Black Forest) first opened by Drusus and Ahenobarbus.[One can only presume that in the interval Livy's first pentade had been such a success that he had to yield to the demand for more.