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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Plan for a Complete History of Rome
By Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776–1831)
 
From the Introduction to the ‘History of Rome’: Translation of Julius Charles Hare and Connop Thirlwall

I HAVE undertaken to relate the history of Rome. I shall begin in the night of remote antiquity, where the most laborious researches can scarcely discern a few of the chief members of ancient Italy, by the dim light of late and dubious traditions; and I wish to come down to those times when, all that we have seen spring up and grow old in the long course of centuries being buried in ruins or in the grave, a second night envelops it in almost equal obscurity.  1
  This history in its chief outlines is universally known; and by very many, at least in part, immediately from the classical works of Roman authors, so far as their remains supply us with a representation of several of the most brilliant and memorable periods of republican and imperial Rome. If the whole of these works were extant,—if we possessed a continuous narrative in the histories of Livy and Tacitus, extending, with the exception of the last years of Augustus, from the origin of the city down to Nerva,—it would be presumptuous and idle to engage in relating the same events with those historians: presumptuous, because the beauty of their style must ever lie beyond our reach; and idle, because, over and above the historical instruction conveyed, it would be impossible to have a companion through life better fitted to fashion the mind in youth, and to preserve it in after age from the manifold barbarizing influences of our circumstances and relations, than such a copious history of eight hundred and fifty years written by the Romans for themselves. We should only want to correct the misrepresentations during the earlier ages, and to sever the poetical ingredients from what is historically sure and well grounded; and without presumptuously appearing to vie with the old masters, we might draw a simple sketch of the constitution, and of the changes it underwent at particular times, where Livy leaves us without information, or misleads us. But as those works are only preserved in fragments; as they are silent concerning periods perhaps still more prominent in the importance of their events than those which we see living in their pages; as the histories of those periods by moderns are unsatisfactory, and often full of error,—I have deemed it expedient to promote the knowledge of Roman history by devoting a course of lectures to it. A doubt might be entertained whether it were better to give a connected narrative, or merely to treat of the portions where we are left without the two historians. I have determined in favor of the former plan, trusting that I shall not lead any of my hearers to fancy he may dispense with studying the classical historians of Rome when he has gained a notion of the events which they portray, and hoping that I may render the study easier and more instructive.  2
  Much of what the Roman historians have set down in the annals of their nation must be left out by a modern from that mass of events wherein their history far surpasses that of every other people. Under this necessity of passing over many things, and of laying down a rule for my curtailments, I shall make no mention of such persons and events as have left their names a dead letter behind them, without any intrinsic greatness or important external results; although a complete knowledge of every particular is indispensable to a scholar, and though many a dry waste locks up sources which sooner or later he may succeed in drawing forth. On the other hand, I shall endeavor to examine the history, especially during the first five centuries, not under the guidance of dim feelings, but of searching criticism. Nor shall I merely deliver the results, which could only give birth to blind opinions, but the researches themselves at full length. I shall strive to lay open the groundworks of the ancient Roman nation and State, which have been built over and masked, and about which the old writers preserved to us are often utterly mistaken; to execute justice in awarding praise and blame, love and hatred, where party spirit has given birth to misrepresentations, and thereby to false judgments, after upward of two thousand years; to represent the spreading of the empire, the growth of the constitution, the state of the administration, of manners, and of civility, according as from time to time we are able to survey them. I shall exhibit the characters of the men who were mighty in their generation for good or for evil, or who at least rose above their fellows. I shall relate the history of the wars with accuracy, wherever they do not offer a mere recurring uniformity; and so far as our information will allow, shall draw a faithful and distinct portrait of the nations that gradually came within the widening sphere of the Roman power. Moreover, I shall consider the state of literature at its principal epochs, taking notice of the lost as well as the extant writers.  3
 
 
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