The great history of ancient Rome, Ab urbe condita, written by Titus Livius (59 B.C.- A.D. 17), originally comprised 142 books, divided into ‘decades’ of ten books each. Only Decades I and III-IV were known in medieval times, until some of the books thought lost were rediscovered in the Renaissance. The present large volume contains the first decade of ten books.
Around c. 1350, King Jean II le Bon of France (1350-1364), commissioned the Benedictine monk Pierre Bersuire to make a translation in French. Completed c. 1358, it was the first translation of any major classical text into the French vernacular. The translation was then revised and edited at the court of King Charles V of France (1364-1380), probably by Raoul de Presles and others, and was provided with chapter titles, marginal notes, and pictorial cycles.
The illustrations of the present manuscript focus mainly on the stories of Lucretia and Virginia, exemplifying the violent world these women faced, as well as their exemplary virtue. The figures are dynamic and expressive, and with its emphasis on the unfortunate fates of renowned females, our manuscript may have been destined for the education of noble women.
Interested to learn more about Livy? Watch our video here on Les Décades.