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Livy Book Chat: On Ancient Sources

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  • Irene Hahn
    T.J. Cornell, in his The Beginnings of Rome discusses the Sources of Our Sources and the use of them by Livy and other extant writers (Livy seems to have
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 20, 2004
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      T.J. Cornell, in his "The Beginnings of Rome" discusses the Sources of Our Sources and the use of them by Livy and other extant writers (Livy seems to have widely ignored the antiquarians--see definition below). This of course includes Lost Historical Accounts.

      He says that there were four types of material that would have been available to the earliest Roman historians, the ones Livy and Dionysus of Halicarnassus had available, directly or indirectly.

      1.. Greek Accounts, "extremely important to Fabius Pictor and his successors."
      2.. Family Tradition, oral tradition which may have been established as early as the fourth century.
      3.. Oral Tradition, early legends. Possible through drama and oral poetry.
      4.. Documents and Archives. Cornell devotes a lengthy chapter and subchapters to this, about Annales, how documents were kept, and who kept them.
      1.. Reliability of the Annalistic Tradition. Even though there may have been misunderstanding and unconscious distortion, there is nonetheless a hard core of readily identifiable authentic data.
      2.. The Antiquarians, "men who devoted themselves to learned research into many different aspects of the Roman past." Antiquarians date back to the 2nd century BC, and were partially inspired by Greek models. Cornell considers Marcus Terrentius Varro, Pompey's friend, the greatest one, and "perhaps the greatest antiquarian of all times." One of the examples of the importance of the antiquarian evidence he gives, is that there were 25 different versions of the foundation story, many of them with no mention of Aeneas or Romulus. He then discusses
      3.. The Sources and Methods of the Antiquarians. This sheds light on how information such as religious rituals, important buildings, etc., can reveal historical evidence.
      Archaeological Evidence

      The only source which can provide new information. However, Cornell warns not to rely too much on it: "Archaeological evidence and textual evidence provide the answers to different types of questions, and combining them effectively is extremely hard.most archaeological 'facts' turn out to be a complex mixture of primary data and secondary interpretation." He gives some examples and cites Jaques Poucet: ".One should be under no illusion: often the archaeological picture will be neutral, and will permit no conclusion one way or the other."

      Having conveyed that, I have to say that in the actual book, Cornell cites many instances where recent archaeological evidence has shed new light on the validity of stories by the ancient historians, or, conversly, allowed to discount same.


      Roman History Reading Group
      Member of Literature Reading Circle
      Cohost, Ancient Classical History Forum

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