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Livy, Orosius, and the Rebuilding of Augustan Rome

David Levene

New York University

Despite the immense recent interest in the physical environment of Rome, and more particularly the transformations of the city under Augustus (e.g. Favro, Haselberger, Nelis & Royo, Carandini, Loar et al.), one piece of evidence, with far-reaching implications, has been almost entirely overlooked. This paper will be addressing that evidence and its implications.

A fragment of Livy cited by Orosius (F 35J = Orosius 7.2.11) refers to a major fire that took place in AUC 700, which destroyed fourteen vici, and adds that the damage was not repaired until Augustus did so at public expense.  Orosius refers to the same fire at 6.14.5, where he relates it to Caesar’s imminent invasion of Italy. Hence this is the same fire as in Obsequens 65, itself deriving from Livy, which dates it to 50 B.C. and treats a prodigy of the imminent Civil War.  But Orosius’ date AUC 700 (deriving from Orosius himself, not Livy) does not seem compatible with Obsequens’. 

There is also a discrepancy about the location. According to Orosius 6.14.5, the fire destroyed the Vicus Iugarius.  However, this seems implausible.  The Vicus Iugarius was at the heart of Rome, between the Capitol and the Forum.  It stretches credulity that massive destruction in this neighborhood would be left unrestored for so long, and that no other source would refer to such devastation there.  But Dio 41.14.2-3 also refers to a fire that was a portent of the Civil War, which destroyed, inter alia, the Temple of Quirinus, on the north-west slope of the Quirinal, nowhere near the Vicus Iugarius.

There is a simple explanation for both divergences.  Orosius dated the consulship of Pompey and Crassus in 55 B.C. to AUC 697 (6.13.1); on this dating, AUC 700 corresponds to 52 B.C. And there was indeed a major fire in 52 B.C. close to the Vicus Iugarius, namely the fire that famously destroyed the Curia at the funeral of Clodius.  Clearly Orosius conflated the two fires: the smaller one in 52 B.C. at the Curia, and the massive one in 50 B.C., which destroyed 14 vici, and which affected the area north-west of the Quirinal.  Most probably Augustus rebuilt the latter area in 16 B.C., when he restored the Temple of Quirinus (Dio 54.19.4; cf. Augustus, RG 19.2).

The implications are vast. The destruction of fourteen vici impacted tens of thousands of people, yet, aside from Livy, it remained invisible in contemporary and near-contemporary sources.  The fact that the fire occurred immediately prior to the civil wars may explain something of that invisibility; another explanation is that the segment of the city affected was peripheral.  Both of these also explain why this substantial area remained ruined for so long.  This does not mean, of course, that nothing was rebuilt prior to Augustus, nor that these vici remained uninhabited.  Modern parallels suggest that individual land-owners would have restored their property to some degree, and that in a city where living accommodation was at a premium poorer people would have erected makeshift dwellings among the ruins.

Session/Panel Title

Roman Historiography

Session/Paper Number

75.1

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