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Roman Historians

Livy (59BC-AD17)

Titus Livius, known to us today as Livy, wrote a long work called Ab Urbe Condita (From The Founding Of The City). In it he describes the very earliest stories about how Rome was founded, many of which are myths and legends rather than fact. Unlike many other Roman writers, Livy did not say whether he thought these things were true or not but he offers other explanations or says that a story is what is said by other people on the whole. This was very brave of him in many ways, as Livy was writing during the time of the Emperor Augustus, who claimed he was related to many of the people Livy wrote about, such as Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. If Livy had written something that didn't make them sound as good, he was likely to be in big trouble!

Livy's work is also important to us today in understanding the lives of Roman women. Although he does not tell us much about the lives of real women, stories about women like Lucretia, who killed herself rather than live with the shame of having been dishonoured, and the Sabine women who stopped a war between their Sabine fathers and Roman husbands, show us what the ideal Roman woman was supposed be to like.

Suetonius (79AD-135AD)

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus' most famous work is called The Twelve Caesars. It is a biography of the rulers of Rome from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Compared to other Roman historians, Suetonius is less concerned with the political achievements of the Emperors. He likes to describe their physical appearance, the prophecies that were made at their births and deaths, what they liked to do in their spare time: Suetonius loved a bit of gossip! He made sure that he pointed out the good and bad points about each of the Caesars, and what the general public thought of them. However, he really got his claws into some Emperors, such as Tiberius, who was famous for all kinds of bad behaviour.

Suetonius' work also has a more serious theme of the use of power by people in chargeand how strong and weak characters respond to power when they are given it. The Spartapuss series is influenced by Suetonius, especially by his gossipy stories.

Tacitus (56AD-113AD)

Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator of Rome as well as being an important writer. We have works by him on several topics, such as Germania, public speaking, a biography of his father-in-law, Agricola, as well as his two major works: The Histories and The Annals. Similarly to Livy and Suetonius, The Annals covers from the time of Augustus to Nero (although some chapters are missing, so we can only make a good guess at what was in them) and The Histories covers a period in Tacitus' own time, from The Year of The Four Emperors (69AD where Galba, Otho and Vitellius were all nastily killed one after the other and then Vespasian became Emperor) to the end of the rule of Domitian.

Tactius is famous for his writing style; he writes very clearly and straight to the point, unlike Livy who likes to play with the sound of words a lot more. His writings often focus on what the people he writes about were thinking, describing what motivated them to act in the way that they did. He says that he will try to be as neutral as possible when discussing the actions of the Emperors, although many modern historians have suggested that because Tacitus lived under the reign of such a cruel Emperor (Domitian) that it might have affected how he saw the Emperors who came before him.