BMCR 2001.04.10

Livy: The Dawn of the Roman Empire. Books 31-40

, , , The dawn of the Roman empire. Oxford world classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xxxvi, 612 pages : maps ; 20 cm.. ISBN 019283293X $12.95.

J. C. Yardley’s translation of Books 31-40 of Livy’s history of Rome is a welcome addition to the growing library of Oxford World’s Classics and to the resources providing access to Livy’s writings for those without Latin.1 Although Harold Bettenson’s Penguin translation of Books 31-45 has provided a serviceable translation since its appearance in 1976, Bettenson’s choice to do selections and not the whole of the ten books has always marred what was otherwise an important work for a vital period in Roman expansion and in Rome’s development at home. Bettenson does, however, offer selections from Books 41-45, whereas Yardley’s translation stops with Book 40.

Following the standard Oxford World’s Classics format, the volume includes an Introduction (pp. vii-xxix), Select Bibliography (pp. xxxi-xxxii), Chronology (pp. xxxv-xxxvi), Maps (pp.xxxviii-xlii), Explanatory Notes (pp. 543-586), and two indices, one of Personal Names and the other a General Index (pp.587-612). In addition, there are two Appendices: Appendix 1 provides a list of instances where Yardley’s translation differs from Briscoe’s edition of the text (Teubner 1991); Appendix 2 gives the names of consuls and praetors for each year covered by the decade (200-179BCE) and includes the censors, when applicable. Within the pages of the translation, asterisks mark words or names which receive special attention in the explanatory notes in the back.


The Introduction, written by Waldemar Heckel, offers basic background information on Livy and provides a historical background for the period covered by the translation. The information on Livy is well-written and covers the usual details of his life and work, including a brief chronological outline of the whole of the Ab Urbe Condita (pp. vi-xi). The arrangement of the material on the historical background is, however, a little confusing. The section begins with two paragraphs which provide a brief set-up for the period covered by Books 31-40 (pp. xi-xii). The next section provides an overview of the First and Second Macedonian Wars, roughly the period covered by Books 31-35 (pp. xii-xv). The third section, however, addresses the Hellenistic World, beginning with 404 BCE and traces the period down to the Second Macedonian War again (xv-xxi). The fourth section picks up where the second left off, providing an overview of Books 36-40 (xxi-xxvi). The rest of the introduction discusses the sources for the decade. The chronological jumping around causes some confusion and does not offer the clearest picture of the intricacies of political situation in Greece. A more straightforward account of the background material or some explanation for the chronological leaps would be more helpful, especially for an undergraduate.

Select Bibliography

The bibliography provides a list of the relevant texts, commentaries, and translations, as well as works on Livy and on topics relevant to the time period covered by the decade. Although most of the items listed are the old standards, it includes newer works such as Jaeger’s Livy’s Written Rome (1997), Stewart’s Public Office in Early Rome: Ritual Procedure and Political Practice (1998), and Levene’s Religion in Livy (1993).2


There are four maps: 1. Galatia at the time of Gnaeus Manlius Vulso’s campaign; 2. Asia Minor; 3. Greece and Macedonia; 4. Spain. The maps themselves are simple line drawings. Some shading of the water areas, as in maps for Carter’s Oxford World’s Classics translation of Caesar. The Civil War (1997) or in Bettenson’s Penguin translation, would make the maps easier to use for the untrained eye.3 On map 1 of Galatia, a hollow triangle marks something that is “uncertain.” Some additional information about what these sites might be would be helpful.


Books 31-40 cover some 22 years (200-179BCE) during which Rome fought battles with Philip V of Macedon, with Spanish forces, and with Antiochus abroad, while dealing with the trial of the Scipios and the Bacchic conspiracy at home. The translation is readable and accurate and the notes provide useful information. The work is also remarkably error-free. In fact, I found no typos at all. Yardley is, however, inconsistent in his spelling of one city name: Smyrna and Zmyrna both appear in the text. (The name on the map is Smyrna.) In addition, he has in most but not all instances chosen to present the yearly assignments of praetors to their duties/provinces in a list format. Although this makes the designations clear, the appearance on the page violates the flow of the narrative, and it is not clear why in some years he chooses to leave the distribution of the praetors in the narrative format.

A few verbal infelicities occur: on page 89, (32.34.10) Yardley has Philip state that he will take care of the “replantation” ( sationis) of the groves which his army has destroyed. Maybe “replanting” would have been better. On page 142, (34.2.2) Yardley translates impotentia muliebri as “female emotionality.” The idea that Cato focuses on throughout the speech is power, not emotion. On page 237 (35.39.7), altercatio becomes “slanging-match.” Why not just “fight” or “shouting-match”? On page 267 (36.17.11), ad timorem ostendendum is translated as “showing funk”. Why not just “showing fear” or “showing cowardice”? On page 432 (39.11.2), he has Duronia call Hipsala Faecenia a “bitch.” The Latin, excetrae, more accurately means “snake” and Livy’s further references to venom/poison (39.11.2: venenis) suggest that “snake” was more what he had in mind. Finally, on page 433 (39.12) when the consul is questioning Hispala Faecenia about the practices of the Bacchae, Yardley has him urge her “to make a clean breast of it” ( per se fatenti) or she will not be treated so well. In the context of a man addressing a prostitute, even one so noble as Hispala, “confess of her own free will” or “confess of her own accord” would have been more appropriate. These are, however, very minor difficulties when one considers the 535 pages of translation.

Explanatory Notes

Two problems occur in the notes (which are also by Heckel); one comes from the standard mind-set concerning Livy’s historiography and one is just odd.

On page 190 (34.54.3) Livy states that “The curule aediles for that year, Aulus Atilius Serranus and Lucius Scribonius Libo, were the first to stage dramatic performances at the Megalesia.” In the note to page 190 about the Megalesia, Heckel writes: “at 36.36.3 Livy (following Valerius Antias) appears to have forgotten what he records here. At least, he does not bother to refute Antias’ claim.” At the passage in question, Livy writes, in reference to the games established for the dedication of the temple for the Magna Mater, “According to Valerius Antias these were the first games with dramatic performances, and were called the Megalesia.” Heckel misses the important distinction between what Livy actually says in the two passages: in the first Livy simply states his view that Serranus and Libo were the first to add the dramatic performances to the already-existing festival of the Megalesia (first recorded at 29.14 with the bringing of the Magna Mater to Rome). At 36.36 he records what Valerius Antias wrote. There is no need to refute Antias at that point, because Livy has already made his view clear. Although Livy demonstrates throughout his narrative that he is quite willing to criticize his sources openly, he can also make his own view quite clear without such pointed statements. Consider the debate about the spoilia opima, in which Livy calls Aulus Cornelius Cossus a military tribune, then reports Augustus’ statement that Cossus was in fact a consul and not a military tribune (4.19-20), but later refers to Cossus as a military tribune again at 4.32. Forgetfulness or a subtle way of making it clear that he disagrees with Augustus’ reading without calling the princeps to task?

The second instance occurs in reference to Livy’s introduction of Publius Aebutius, the young man whose mother and stepfather try to destroy him via the cult of Bacchus. At 39.9 Livy writes: “Publius Aebutius, whose late father had served in the cavalry with a horse supplied by the state, had been left a ward. Then, when the guardians died, he had been brought up in the care of his mother Duronia and his stepfather Titus Sempronius Rutilius.” The note to this page (430) on Publius Aebutius’ name says “consanguinity with Titus Aebutius Carrus (pr. 178) is possible, but any mature paternal relative ought to have assumed the guardianship of young Publius; Aebutia, the father’s sister (see chap 11), would not have had rights of guardianship under Roman law.”4 Livy says that the guardians, whom he does not identify but who may have been male paternal relatives, died. Aebutia is not mentioned nor does Livy suggest that Aebutia had any role as a guardian, so Heckel’s reason for raising the issue is unclear. More interesting is the idea that Aebutius was subject to the tutela of his mother and stepfather. There must have been no male paternal relatives for Duronia and Rutilius to have been the next choice. In addition, until about 193 BCE, tutela for males ended at the age of fourteen. Then the lex Plaetoria (or lex Laetoria) extended the supervision, or cura minorum to the age of twenty-five, at which point the caretaker had to give an accounting of his management of the estate and could face penalties for mismanagement.5 Livy specifically mentions that Rutilius’ knowledge about the impending exposure of his mismanagement was the impetus for coercing Aebutius to become initiated in the cult (39.9).

Again, these are two minor difficulties in the context of all of the details covered in the notes and the valuable resource that a full translation of Books 31-40 provides for students and teachers alike.


1. Also in the Oxford World’s Classics series is T. J. Luce’s translation Livy: The Rise of Rome. Books 1-5. (1998). Other recent translations of part of this decade appear in P. G. Walsh’s text, translations, and commentaries of Books 36-40 for Aris and Phillips (1990-1996).

2. Also relevant but not included is Valerie M. Warrior’s The Initiation of the Second Macedonian War: An Explication of Livy Book 31. Historia Einzelscriften 97. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996.

3. The Penguin also includes maps of North Africa and Cisalpine Gaul-Liguria.

4. The editors of the major editions (Weissenborn/Mueller for Teubner, Bayet for Budé, and Walsh for OCT) all prefer the reading of Parrus for the cognomen at 39.55.8 (as a triumvir) and at 42.4.4 (as a praetor; Weissenborn/Mueller for Teubner and Bayet for Budé). Carus appears in half the tradition, but Carrus is not attested. On page 480 of the translation, Yardley too takes the reading of Parrus (39.55.8). Heckel does not offer a note at that point.

5. Crook calls this law the lex Laetoria ( Law and Life of Rome, p. 117), but the OCD lists it as the lex Plaetoria in the catalogue of leges and mentions both names in the section on “guardianship.”