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Reading Livy against Livy: The dream and nightmare of (American) empire1

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Recent debates over the rise of an American Empire have relied on analogies to past empires, from ancient Athens to modern Britain. Such historical analogies, while inexact and debatable, are a basic mode of understanding our relation to the past. This article explores the analogy of the United States to the Roman Empire. The figure of Rome is a contested legacy, as can be seen in the long-ago writings of Livy and Tacitus, in the developing ideal of Rome during the Middle Ages, and in the works of modern scholars and poets living under Soviet domination in Poland. Tacitus tells us that the most profound symptoms of empire may be seen in the homeland. The debate over analogies for the American Empire is thus a debate over the “state of America's soul.”

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville, Historical Studies Department, Peck Hall, Room 0216, Edwardsville, IL 62026-1454, USA, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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