November 12, 2008

Explanations

Every historian faces a problem. History in part is about buildiing a narrative of causation- but so muhc of history is contingent, about surprise and unexpected disaster or triumph. Livy no less than other historians faced this problem. In his story of Rome, he had to explain setbacks as well as advances. Focussed on Rome, the story that Livy wanted to tell was that advance and setback were both motivated through internal factors to Rome. His view of Rome was that internal factors either undermined or promoted Rome's chances of survival: character determined history and in particular Rome, under special protection by its Gods and with a special martial character, could determine its own history. This point is central to Livy's narrative. But it leaves him with a problem- what had happened when as in 395 when the Gauls invaded and seized the city, Rome had almost failed.

Livy's answer to this is to argue that Rome's failures were owed to its temporary impiety. Like the historians of the Old Testament, he attributed failures of the state to its internal failures rather than to external factors. As the Gauls invade, a debate wages within Rome about whether Romans should move to Veii- a move that Livy, through the mouth of Camillus argues is impious. (V 30) Livy adds to that though by demonstrating that Romans at this point did something unprecedented- when the censor Gaius Julius died, they appointed a new censor to join his colleague- rather than as in the future electing two new censors. (V 32) Furthermore they neglected a prophesy about the Gallic invasion from the plebeian Caedicus (V 32). These small indicators become for Livy indicators of something greater- he gives other causes including further impiety- but it is important that he introduces the episode of the Gallic invasion with these moments, it is a demonstration for Livy that the cause is still internal to Rome. Rome's failure and fall are caused by its own failure religiously to either respect its own Gods, its own divine offices or prophesies sent to warn it.

Livy would move to describe then why he deemed the Gauls had moved, and why Rome's response to them was particularly bad- but these indications set the tone of his commentary. The Gallic invasions were due not so much to Gallic activity- as to failures in Roman character.

4 comments:

Georg said...

Hallo Graccy,

I don't really understand these lines about the Romans being impious, according to Livius.

Finally, they did not move to Veii (wasn't the city destroyed?), so what?

What did this prophesy say about the Gallic invasion? Was it convincing or Nostradamus-like?

Was the Censor business an act of impiety?

Please, have another dive into this portion of Roman history and present the findings.

Georg

James Higham said...

...he attributed failures of the state to its internal failures rather than to external factors...

Combination of both?

Gracchi said...

Georg- ah indeed- sorry writing posts at seven in the morning isn't my style! I'll take your questions in order

Moving to Veii was seen as impious because it was neglecting the ancient site of Rome in favour of Veii. This was seen as impious as it seemed to abandon Rome's gods in favour of Veii's.

The prophesy was that the Gauls were coming- pretty clear not Nostradamus like according to Livy.

The censor business was seen as an act of impiety in the future- as the censor was a partly religious office- furthermore it was never done again.

James I'm sure an accurate analysis would be a combination of both- it pretty much always is.

goodbanker said...

To add to Gracchi's reply regarding Georg's first point: another way of understanding Rome's flirtation with (but eventual non-move to) Veii as "impious" might be to think of it in a similar vein to that of a married partner's attraction to someone outside of the union (but who doesn't actually physically consummate the attraction) - many aggrieved partners would still regard this as a "betrayal" of one's vows.