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Livy: Waging war against all rights human and divine


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Livy: On the political utility of starting unprovoked wars


From History of Rome
Translated by Cyrus Edmonds

…the Athenians were introduced; who, having suffered grievously, could, with the greater justice, inveigh against the cruelty and inhumanity of the king. They represented, in a deplorable light, the miserable devastation and spoliation of their fields; adding, that “they did not complain on account of having, from an enemy, suffered hostile treatment; for there were certain rights of war, according to which, as it was just to act, so it was just to endure. Their crops being burned, their houses demolished, their men and cattle carried off as spoil, were to be considered rather as misfortunes to the sufferer than as ill-treatment. But of this they had good reason to complain, that he who called the Romans foreigners and barbarians, had himself so atrociously violated all rights, both divine and human, as, in his former inroad, to have waged an impious war against the infernal gods, in the latter, against those above. That the sepulchres and monuments of all within their country had been demolished, the graves laid open, and the bones left unprotected by the soil. There had been several temples, which, in former times, when their ancestors dwelt in the country in their separate districts, had been consecrated in each of their little forts and villages, and which, even after they were incorporated into one city, they did not neglect or forsake. That around all these temples Philip had scattered his destructive flames, and left the images of the gods lying scorched and mutilated among the prostrated pillars of their fanes. Such as he had rendered the country of Attica, formerly opulent and adorned, such, if he were suffered, would he render Aetolia and the whole of Greece. That the mutilation of their own city, also, would have been similar, if the Romans had not come to its relief: for he had shown the same wicked rage against the gods who are the guardians of the city, and Minerva who presides over the citadel; the same against the temple of Ceres at Eleusis; the same against Jupiter and Minerva at Piraeus. In a word, having been repelled by force of arms not only from their temples, but even from their walls, he had vented his fury on those sacred edifices which were protected by religion alone. They therefore entreated and besought the Aetolians, that, compassionating the Athenians, and with the immortal gods for their leaders, and, under them, the Romans, who, next to the gods, possessed the greatest power they would take part in the war.”


Accordingly, those who, being always accustomed to fight with Greeks and Illyrians, had only seen wounds made with javelins and arrows, seldom even by lances, came to behold bodies dismembered by the Spanish sword, some with their arms lopped off, with the shoulder or the neck entirely cut through, heads severed from the trunk, and the bowels laid open, with other frightful exhibitions of wounds: they therefore perceived, with horror, against what weapons and what men they were to fight.

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