Comparing Virgil's Aeneid and Livy's Early History of Rome

Virgil’s Aeneid and Livy’s History of Rome chronicle the origins of the city of Rome and the Roman empire as those filled with strife, toil, and conflict. Virgil and Livy’s writings describe the details of accomplishments and failures of prominent Roman kings, creating a model of strength for all of Rome to follow. Despite violence and bloodshed, Romans are conveyed to be passionate and dutiful; their military prowess allowed them to conquer or make peace with nations and grow as an empire.

Regardless of these qualities and achievements, Romans are still fundamentally human with their own individual faults and flaws.

The Roman empire achieved its level of greatness by enduring a long history of violence and bloodshed. Livy brushes on the quarrel between Romulus and Remus, offering two versions, both of which resulted in the death of Remus. Establishing his rightful position of power, Romulus sends out a threat, “so perish whoever else shall leap over my walls” (Livy 1.

7). Despite the bond of family, Romulus resorted to violence and became the first king of Rome, founding the city upon the Palatine Hill in 753 BCE. Through this, Livy establishes the Roman tradition of war, brutality, and aggression–defining the empire over time.

Romans are dutiful, acting morally and fairly as well as following destiny predetermined by the Fates. Remus and Romulus display Robin Hood-like traits. The twins often “attacked robbers who were laden with plunder” and divided the shares with other shepherds (Livy 1.4). They demonstrated a respectable sense of morality, seeking justice and righteousness.

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As future king of Rome, Romulus will carry this moral code to establish a fair and just system of law and inclusive communities. In the Aeneid, Aeneas takes on his predetermined role of founder of a great future of the Roman empire, hardly allowing himself to stray from his path. In his argument with Dido before his departure from Carthage, Aeneas insists that he “would fortify a second Troy to house [his] Trojans in defeat” (Virgil 4). Despite his intimate interactions with Dido and their unofficial marriage, Aeneas prioritizes his fate and destiny; he chooses duty and responsibility over love and emotions.

Romulus continued to supervise the expansion of Rome, leading the empire through many military victories. Most notably, the Roman war against the Sabine army claimed countless lives on both sides and resulted in a treaty promising “peace, [and] also one state from two” (Livy 1.13). This expanded the Roman empire almost two-fold, and secured a dominant place within the region, marking Rome as a formidable force in the world. Although Rome’s great size and strength derived from displays of power and extreme violence, often times the same result could be achieved through peace and mutual agreement.

Romans are presented as compassionate and kind; in Columbia University Professor Michael Shen’s analysis of the Aeneid “Facets of Passion and Duty”, he highlights acts of humanitarian compassion demonstrated by Aeneas during his interactions with enemies of Trojans. Aeneas encounters a Greek sailor clearly identifiable by his uniform, yet offers him kindness and pity, treating him “as a fellow human, rather than an archenemy” (Chen). This encounter closely follows the Trojan War (in which Aeneas’s people fell at the hands of the Greeks). Contrary to expected behavior, Aeneas extends kindness to a sworn enemy, establishing a model of fairness for his men to follow. In another instance of compassion and respect, Aeneas honors Lauses, a Latin boy who died by his sword, by refraining from “[stripping] him of his armor, a conqueror’s prize”, feeling immense pity for killing a boy so young (Chen). Aeneas goes as far as returning the boy’s body to the Latin people for a proper burial. This encounter–as well as the previous encounter with the Greek sailor–reflect Aeneas’s empathetic and fair nature, setting an example of mercy for future generations of Rome.

Despite becoming one of the most powerful forces of the world during this time through violent warfare and civil labor, Romans were inherently human; they had flaws and faults that often resulted in impulsive and rash decisions. Most notably, upon hearing Turnus beg for mercy, Aeneas’s forgiving nature hesitated, his will to kill his enemy decreasing as “Turnus’s words began to sway him more and more” until he “caught sight of the fateful sword-belt of Pallas” worn as a trophy and plunges his sword into Turnus (Aeneid 12). Although Aeneas’s motives and supposed fair nature often come into question, it is clear that his decision to kill Turnus was driven by rage and grief. Aeneas’s previous encounters with enemies of Troy (the Greek sailor and Lauses) reflected a Roman of all-forgiving mercy, as the enemies must have certainly murdered Trojans before. Therefore, there is no difference between Turnus and these men other than the fact that Turnus killed Aeneas’s brother-in-arms, with whom Aeneas formed a fraternal love. In this instance, the humanitarian and kind Aeneas was replaced with a grieving Roman warrior faced with the murderer of a fellow comrade. Simply put, like many people, Aeneas’s impulsive decisions overcame all rational thought.


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Comparing Virgil's Aeneid and Livy's Early History of Rome. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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