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Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Livy)

Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Livy)

The book History of Rome, sometimes referred to as Ab Urbe Condita,[1] is a monumental history of ancient Rome, written in Latin between 27 and 9 BC by the historian Titus Livius, or "Livy", as he is usually known in English.[2] The work covers the period from the legends concerning the arrival of Aeneas and the refugees from the fall of Troy, to the city's founding in 753, the expulsion of the Kings in 509, and down to Livy's own time, during the reign of the emperor Augustus.[3][4] The last event covered by Livy is the death of Drusus in 9 BC.[7] About 25% of the work survives.[9]



The History of Rome originally comprised 142 "books", thirty-five of which—Books 1–10 with the Preface and Books 21–45—still exist in reasonably complete form.[7] 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.[10]

A fragmentary palimpsest of the 91st book was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1772, containing about a thousand words (roughly three paragraphs), 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 1986.[11]

Some passages are nevertheless known thanks to quotes from ancient authors, the most famous being on the death of Cicero, quoted by Seneca the Elder.


Livy was abridged, in antiquity, to an epitome, which survives for Book 1, but was itself abridged in the fourth century into the so-called Periochae, which is simply a list of contents. The Periochae survive for the entire work, except for books 136 and 137.[12] 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 classified as P.Oxy.IV 0668.[13] There is another fragment, named P.Oxy.XI 1379, which represents a passage from the first book (I, 6) and that shows a high level of correctness.[14] However the Oxyrhynchus Epitome is damaged and incomplete.


The entire work covers the following periods:[7][15]

Books 1–5 – The legendary founding of Rome (including the landing of Aeneas in Italy and the founding of the city by Romulus), the period of the kings, and the early republic down to its conquest by the Gauls in 390 BC.[5]

Books 6–10 – Wars with the Aequi, Volsci, Etruscans, and Samnites, down to 292 BC.

Books 11–20 – The period from 292 to 218, including the First Punic War (lost).

Books 21–30 – The Second Punic War, from 218 to 202.

Books 31–45 – The Macedonian and other eastern wars from 201 to 167.

Books 46 to 142 are all lost:

Books 46–70 – The period from 167 to the outbreak of the Social War in 91.

Books 71–90 – The civil wars between Marius and Sulla, to the death of Sulla in 78.

Books 91–108 – From 78 BC through the end of the Gallic War, in 50.

Books 109–116 – From the Civil War to the death of Caesar (49–44).

Books 117-133 – The wars of the triumvirs down to the death of Antonius (44–30).

Books 134-142 – The rule of Augustus down to the death of Drusus (9).

Table of contents

Summary of the First Book

Founding of Rome

Romulus and Remus

The first book has been one of the most significant sources of the various accounts of the traditional legend of Romulus and Remus.[60] His version of the legend is told in chapters 3-7 of the first book.

Chapters 3–4: parentage and youth

Livy states that the twins were born to a vestal named Rea Silvia. Procas, her grandfather had willed the throne to his son Numitor but he was later deposed by her uncle, Amulius. She was forced to take the Vestal oath to prevent her from producing a rival to his rule. She became pregnant after taking her vows and claimed that she had been raped by Mars, the Roman god of war. Livy speculates that the claim may have been made to conceal an earthly affair. She was imprisoned by King Amulius and he ordered the newborn twins to be cast into the River Tiber.

They were instead left by the swollen banks of the river, and when the waters subsided, a she-wolf found them and suckled them until they were found and adopted by a shepherd named Faustulus and his wife Laurentia. He mentions, without attribution, a claim that Larentia was in fact a prostitute who serviced Faustulus and the other shepherds. The she-wolf tale arose from the slang word for her profession (lupa). They grow up strong, braving wild animals and bandits along the way.

Chapters 5–6: overthrow of Amulius

In his account of the conflict with Amulius, Livy states that Faustulus had always known that the boys had been abandoned by the order of the king and had hoped that they were of Royal blood. On their way to celebrate the Lupercalia, the twins were ambushed by some of the thieves they had formerly driven off. After a struggle, Remus was captured. The thieves brought him before King Amulius and accused him of stealing from Numitor's land. He was handed over to the former king, his grandfather—unbeknownst to either at the time—for punishment.

With Remus a captive, Faustulus told Romulus the truth of the twins’ origin. Meanwhile, Numitor, encountering his grandson for the first time since infancy—a grandson whom he had thought long dead—looked favorably upon his royal demeanor and physicality. He put two and two together and realized the truth of who Remus and his twin brother Romulus were.

Romulus and the other shepherds traveled separately to the city and converged with Remus and Numitor's supporters at the palace, where they killed Amulius.

Seizing the moment, Numitor called for an assembly to regain his crown. He made public the ordeal of the twins and announced the death of Amulius, claiming he had given the order to kill him. To help boost their grandfather's effort to regain his throne, the twins marched their men into the center of the assembly and proclaimed him king. The people followed their lead and Numitor was once again king of the Alban kingdom. Inspired, the twins set out to build their own city.

Chapters 6–7: augury and fratricide

The twins began to argue almost immediately after starting out on their undertaking. According to Livy, both wanted to be the king of their new city. He attributes this partly to their discovery of their royal heritage and partly to the fact that there was no older brother between them to whom the younger could demur, making dispute resolution difficult.

Finally, they agreed to allow the gods to settle the matter by way of an omen. Each twin sat on their respective hill and watched. First, Remus saw six birds and claimed the gods had chosen him. Then Romulus saw twelve birds and claimed that he was the chosen one. Livy's version has the twins come to blows over this and Remus is killed. He also cites the "more common" account, wherein Remus leaped over Romulus' wall and was killed by Romulus in a fit of rage. Afterwards, he declares: "Sic deinde, quicumque alius transiliet moenia mea" ("So is it with anyone who leaps over my walls").

Reign of Romulus

The war with the Sabines

According to Livy, the Sabines were, unlike the other cities, cunning and calculating when it came to war. Tatius tricked Tarpeia, the daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, the commander of the city's walled citadel to open the gates to his men by offering her what she thinks will be the gold bracelets they wear on their left arms, instead they crushed her to death when they heaped their shields on top of her as her reward. Livy reports that other sources state that she was killed only after the Sabines came to suspect her of treachery.

The Battle of the Lacus Curtius

When the Roman army assembled at the foot of the hill beneath the citadel, the Sabines refused to emerge and engage them. Finally, in spite of their lack of the high ground, the frustrated Roman army attacked. Initially inspired by the heroics of their general Hostus Hostilius on the front line, the Romans line broke when he fell, and they were pushed back across the low ground between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. The Sabines marched forth, on the verge of victory. Romulus makes a pledge to Jupiter that if he will hold off the Sabine charge and restore the Roman's courage, he will build a new Temple to "Jupiter the Stator" on the site. With a cry, Romulus led his army into the Sabines and routed them. The Sabine general Mettius was tossed in a swamp by his horse after it bolted.

After the Sabines regrouped, the battle continued in the area between the two hills, but the Roman army had by then gained the upper hand. Suddenly, the abducted Sabine daughters rushed onto the battlefield and put themselves between the two armies. They implored both sides to stop the bloodshed and accept each other as family, as they then were. Ashamed, the leaders of the two peoples ended the fighting.

Union with the Sabines

The two people are merged under a joint throne with Rome as the capital. The Sabines and Romans alike were then declared Quirites, from the Sabine city of Cures. To honor the Sabine women, when Romulus divided the city into 30 local councils, he named them after the women. He also recruits three new units of knights and called them Ramnenses Tatiensis (from the two kings names). The two kings rule jointly until Tatius is killed in revenge for a crime by a relative while he is visiting Lavinium. Romulus, once again the sole ruler, declined to go to war in retaliation and signed a treaty with the city.

Wars with Fidenae and Veii

Fearing the growing threat Rome posed, the nearby Etruscan city of Fidenae invaded and began pillaging the land between the two cities. Romulus ambushed them and pursued them back to their city, managing to follow them through their gates before they can be closed. This draws in the people of Veii, also from Etruria and also fearful of Rome's rising power. They likewise invade Rome and engage in looting before withdrawing. When the Roman army is denied an engagement, they set up camp and are suddenly set upon by the Veientes. Despite their utter lack of preparation, the strength of the veteran Roman troops prevails. Declining to besiege the city, Romulus laid waste to their fields in repayment for their crimes. They concluded a 100-year peace treaty with Veii in exchange for some of their land.

Death of Romulus

While in Capra reviewing troops, a storm arose and Romulus was swept up in a whirlwind, never to be seen again. When the nobles who were nearest him at the time report this to the public, there is widespread acceptance of the account. The people were lost in their sorrows until a few, and then all of them declared "deum deo natum, regem parentemque urbis Romanae salvere universi Romulum iubent" "Romulus, you are descended from the gods, our king, the father of our city and the defender of all Romans!"

Livy goes on to say that he believes that despite the outpour of emotion by the public, there were those who even at the time suspected that Romulus had in fact been murdered by a group of patricians who then dismembered his body and disposed of the parts. Rumors of such spread a growing resentment against the nobles. He tells us that a well-esteemed Roman named Proculus Julius came forward and reported that Romulus had appeared before him at dawn and told him that he the gods willed that Rome be the capital of the world. They should keep their armies strong and that Roman power and arms will never be overcome. He then ascended into the sky as a god. On a final note, Livy expresses his surprise that the anger on behalf of the commoners and the army was so easily laid to rest by hearing that he was now an immortal.

The rape of the Sabine women

Livy dedicates five full pages to this episode and its aftermath, a third of the entire retelling of the twin's story. In his version, Rome, though new, had grown in population to rival the other, nearby cities. As it did so, however, a dearth of women developed. Roman efforts to appeal to their neighbors for an alliance and marriages were met with mockery. Apparently, the city's lack of history, due to its recent founding, had made their neighbors look poorly on marrying into Roman families.[61] Public attitudes in the other cities toward Rome were very negative. They also feared the long-term threat Rome posed to them. Livy states that the neighboring cities feared being overwhelmed by Rome.

Romulus hatched a plan. He announced spectacular and magnificent games to be held in honor of Neptune Equestrian, the Consualia Ludi, and invited the citizens of their neighbor cities. According to Romulus, Rome's citizens would be going all-out to ensure that it will become an annual tradition. Families from the other cities, especially from Caenina, Crustumerium, and Antemnae came in large numbers. According to Livy, the entire Sabine population, men, women and children came. They were amazed at how quickly Rome had grown in size and power.

In the middle of the event, Romulus gave a signal, and groups of plebeian young men organized by individual senators began to grab and carry off the other cities' unmarried women. Care was taken so that the women wouldn't be sexually violated in any way. Livy states that the woman brought to the senator Thalassius was fairer than any of the others and his name became associated with weddings. The parents of the women appealed to the Romans for their daughters' return. They invoked Neptune, complaining that it was to his festival they were invited to under false pretenses.

The women themselves feared what would come next until Romulus personally went from house to house to tell the women that this had happened because the fathers of their cities had thought they were too good for the Romans, their neighbors. They would be legally wed, and be given all the rights that come with their new husband's status in the city and their rights as parents to their future children. He implored them to not be angry, but to be happy and accept the new husbands to whom fate had delivered them. Finally, he tells them that often a good marriage will grow from this type of crime, and that their husbands would be kinder, would do what was expected of them and would treat them better to make up for the fact that they'll be living away from their families and former homes. The men then approached and flattered them and professed their love and passion for their new wives. This type of approach, Livy notes, often works with women, and in fact their fears are put at ease.


Livy wrote in a mixture of annual chronology and narrative, often interrupting 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".[62] It is an expansion of the fasti, the official public chronicles kept by the magistrates, which were a primary source for Roman historians. Those who seem to have been more influenced by the method have been termed annalists.

The first and third decades (see below) of Livy's work are written so well that Livy has become a sine qua non of curricula in Golden Age Latin. Some have argued that subsequently the quality of his writing began to decline, and that he becomes repetitious and wordy. Of the 91st book Barthold Georg 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.[63]

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.[64]

Livy's publication

The first five books were published between 27 and 25 BC. The first date mentioned is the year Augustus received that title: twice in the first five books Livy uses it.[65] For the second date, Livy lists the closings of the temple of Janus but omits that of 25 (it had not happened yet).[66]

Livy continued to work on the History for much of the rest of his life, publishing new material by popular demand. This explains why the work falls naturally into 12 packets, mainly groups of 10 books, or decades, sometimes of 5 books (pentads or pentades) and the rest without any packet order. The scheme of dividing it entirely into decades is a later innovation of copyists.[67]

The second pentad did not come out until 9 or after, some 16 years after the first pentad. In Book IX Livy states that the Cimminian Forest was more impassable than the German had been recently, referring to the Hercynian Forest (Black Forest) first opened by Drusus and Ahenobarbus.[68] One can only presume that in the interval Livy's first pentad had been such a success that he had to yield to the demand for more.


There is no uniform system of classifying and naming manuscripts. Often the relationship of one manuscript (MS) to another remains unknown or changes as perceptions of the handwriting change. Livy's release of chapters by packet diachronically encouraged copyists to copy by decade. Each decade has its own conventions, which do not necessarily respect the conventions of any other decade. A family of MSS descend through copying from the same MSS (typically lost). MSS vary widely; to produce an emendation or a printed edition was and is a major task. Usually variant readings are given in footnotes.

First decade

All of the manuscripts (except one) of the first ten books (first decade) of Ab Urbe Condita Libri, which were copied through the Middle Ages and were used in the first printed editions, are derived from a single recension commissioned by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, consul, AD 391.[69] A recension is made by comparing extant manuscripts and producing a new version, an emendation, based on the text that seems best to the editor. The latter then "subscribed" to the new MS by noting on it that he had emended it.

Symmachus, probably using the authority of his office, commissioned Tascius Victorianus to emend the first decade. Books I–IX bear the subscription Victorianus emendabam dominis Symmachis, "I Victorianus emended (this) by the authority of Symmachus." Books VI–VIII include another subscription preceding it, that of Symmachus' son-in-law, Nicomachus Flavianus, and Books III–V were also emended by Flavianus' son, Appius Nicomachus Dexter, who says he used his relative Clementianus' copy.[70] This recension and family of descendant MSS is called the Nicomachean, after two of the subscribers. From it several MSS descend (incomplete list):[71][72]

Nicomachean Family of MSS
Location & NumberNameDate
VVeronensis rescriptus10th century
HHarleianus10th century
EEinsiedlensis10th century
FParis 5724Floriacensis10th century
PParis 5725Parisiensis9th/10th century
MMediceus-Laurentianus10th/11th century
UUpsaliensis10th/11th century
RVaticanus 3329Romanus11th century
OBodleianus 20631Oxoniensis11th century
DFlorentinus-MarcianusDominicanus12th century
Petrarch's copy
12th–14th century

Epigraphists go on to identify several hands and lines of descent. A second family of the first decade consists of the Verona Palimpsest, reconstructed and published by Theodore Mommsen, 1868; hence the Veronensis MSS. It includes 60 leaves of Livy fragments covering Books III-VI. The handwriting style is dated to the 4th century, only a few centuries after Livy.[73]

In the Middle Ages there were constant rumors that the complete books of the History of Livy lay hidden in the library of a Danish or German Monastery. One individual even affirmed under oath in the court of Martin V that he had seen the whole work, written in Lombardic script, in a monastery in Denmark. All of these rumors were later found to be unsubstantiated.[74]


The details of Livy's History of Rome vary from arguably legendary or perhaps even mythical stories at the beginning to detailed accounts of certainly real events toward the end. He himself noted the difficulty of finding information about events some 700 years or more removed from the author. Of his material on early Rome he said "The traditions of what happened prior to the foundation of the City or whilst it was being built, are more fitted to adorn the creations of the poet than the authentic records of the historian."[75]

Nevertheless, according to the tradition of writing history at the time, he felt obliged to relate what he read (or heard) without passing judgment as to its truth or untruth. One of the problems of modern scholarship is to ascertain where in the work the line is to be drawn between legendary and historical. One view has been that buildings, inscriptions, monuments and libraries prior to the sack of Rome in 387 BC by the Gauls under Brennus were destroyed by that sack and were scarcely available to Livy and his sources. This view originates from Livy himself, who notes this fact.[76] A layer of ash over the lowest pavement of the comitium believed to date from that time seemed to confirm a citywide destruction.

A new view by Tim Cornell, however, deemphasizes the damage caused by the Gauls under Brennus. Among other reasons, he asserts that the Gauls' interest in movable plunder, rather than destruction, kept damage to a minimum.[77] The burnt layer under the comitium is now dated to the 6th century BC.[78] There apparently is no archaeological evidence of a widespread destruction of Rome by the Gauls. Cornell uses this information to affirm the historicity of Livy's account of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

Livy's sources

For the first decade, Livy studied the works of a group of historians in or near his own time, known as annalists. Some twelve historians in this category are named by Livy in Book I as sources on the period of the monarchy.[79] In date order backward from Livy they are: Gaius Licinius Macer, Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius, Valerius Antias, Gnaeus Gellius, Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus (consul 129 BC), Lucius Cassius Hemina, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi (consul 133), Aulus Postumius Albinus (consul 151), Gaius Acilius Glabrio, Marcus Porcius Cato, Lucius Cincius Alimentus, Quintus Fabius Pictor. Elsewhere he mentions Sempronius Asellio. Macer, the latest of these, died in 66. Fabius, the earliest, fought in the Gallic War of 225.

Livy's sources were by no means confined to the annalists. Other historians of his time mention documents then extant dating as far back as the Roman monarchy. These include treaties between Servius Tullius and the Latins, between Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and Gabii, three between Rome and Carthage, and one between Cassius and the Latins, 493, which was engraved in bronze. In addition the Pontifex Maximus kept the Annales Maximi (yearly events) on display in his house, the censors kept the Commentarii Censorum, the praetors kept their own records, the Commentarii Pontificum and Libri Augurales were available as well as all the laws on stone or brass; the fasti (list of magistrates) and the Libri Lintei, historical records kept in the temple of Juno Moneta.[80]

Nevertheless, the accounts of Rome's early history are for the most part incomplete and therefore suspect (in this view). Seeley argues, "It is when Livy's account is compared with the accounts of other writers that we become aware of the utter uncertainty which prevailed among the Romans themselves... The traditional history, as a whole, must be rejected..."[81] As Livy stated that he used what he found without passing judgement on his sources, attacks on the credibility of Livy often begin with the annalists. Opinions vary. T.J. Cornell presumes that Livy relied on "unscrupulous annalists" who "did not hesitate to invent a series of face-saving victories."[82] Furthermore, he argues, "The annalists of the first century BC are thus seen principally as entertainers..." Cornell does not follow this view consistently, as he is willing to accept Livy as history for the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. A more positive view of the same limitations was given by Howard:[83]

The annalists were not modern historians, and not one of them is absolutely free from the faults attributed to Antias. That any of them, even Antias, deliberately falsified history is extremely improbable, but they were nearly all strong partisans, and of two conflicting stories it was most natural for them to choose the one which was most flattering to the Romans, or even to their own political party, and, as the principle of historical writing even in the time of Quintilian was stated to be that history was closely akin to poetry and was written to tell a story, not to prove it, we may safely assume that all writers were prone to choose the account which was most interesting and which required the least work in verification.

For the third decade, Livy followed the account of the Greek historian Polybius, as did the historical accounts of Marcus Tullius Cicero.[84] Polybius had access to Greek sources in the eastern Mediterranean, outside the local Roman traditions.

Machiavelli and Livy

Niccolò Machiavelli's work on republics, the Discourses on Livy, is presented as a commentary on the History of Rome.


The first complete rendering of Ab Urbe Condita into English was Philemon Holland's translation published in 1600. According to Considine, 'it was a work of great importance, presented in a grand folio volume of 1458 pages, and dedicated to the Queen'.[85]

The authoritative translation of The History of Early Rome, was made by B.O. Foster in 1919 for Harvard University Press. A 1960 edition, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, was printed by Penguin Books Ltd.[86]

An online English translation is available.[87]


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgLivy himself called his history the Annales, but this title has not been used by modern scholars, who usually refer to it simply as the History of Rome, or History of Rome from the Founding of the City, or in Latin, Ab Urbe Condita ("From the Founding of the City"). As with other Latin works, the number of books is frequently appended to the title, hence the occasional rendering Ab Urbe Condita Libri CXLII, ("From the Founding of the City in 142 Books"). Livy, xliii. 13.  Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Livius". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. II. p. 790.
Sep 28, 2019, 6:35 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgVarious indications point to the period from 27 to 20 BC as that during which the first decade was written. In the first book (xix. 3) the emperor is called Augustus, a title which he was granted by the Roman Senate early in 27, and in ix. 18 the omission of all reference to the restoration, in 20, of the standards taken at Carrhae seems to justify the inference that the passage was written before that date. In the epitome of book lix, there is a reference to a law of Augustus which was passed in 18.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Pelham, Henry Francis (1911). "Livy". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 817–823.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgLivy uses the chronology of Varro, one of his predecessors, whose chronology was the most widely accepted in antiquity, and remains in general use today, although scholars continue to debate the dating of specific events, including the founding of Rome itself.
Sep 28, 2019, 6:35 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIn Roman times, it was customary to date events according to the consuls of each year, rather than assigning each year a numerical name; so while it was possible to date events by reference to the founding of Rome, this was rarely done. For instance, the consuls of 439 BC were Agrippa Menenius Lanatus and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus, so that year would typically be referred to as "the consulship of Agrippa Menenius and Titus Quinctius", rather than "the year three hundred and fifteen". From this custom, the consuls who began each year are sometimes referred to as the eponymous magistrates of that year; that is, the magistrates after whom the year was named.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThis is the traditional date, but some uncertainty exists with regard to four years during the Samnite Wars for which no consuls are named in any source, and for which no elections were supposedly held; this has led some scholars to conclude that the Gallic sack of Rome occurred in or about 386 BC, although this also creates an unexplained (and undated) gap before the event. Broughton, vol. I, pp. xi, 94–96, 141, 148, 149, 163, 164, 171.
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Citation Linkwww.jstor.orgChantal Gabriellin "Lucius Postumius Megellus at Gabii: A New Fragment of Livy" in The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 53, No. 1 (May, 2003), pp. 247-259.
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Citation Linkwww.livius.org"Livy: the Periochae". www.livius.org. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
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Citation Linkwww.attalus.org"T. LIVI PERIOCHARUM FRAGMENTA OXYRHYNCHI REPERTA". www.attalus.org. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
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Citation Linkarchive.orgThe Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part XI, London, 1915, pagg. 188-89.
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Citation Linken.wikisource.orgLivy, i. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts, 1905.
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Citation Linken.wikisource.orgLivy, iii. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts, 1905.
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Citation Linken.wikisource.orgLivy, iv. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts, 1905.
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