Mary Stone | March 28, 2023
Livia Drusilla (Latin: LIVIA-DRVSILLA, IVLIA-AVGVSTA) (58 BC – 29 AD), known after 14 AD as Julia Augusta, was the wife of the first Emperor of Rome, Octavian Augustus, and one of the most powerful women in the history of the Empire. She was the mother of Drususus and Tiberius, grandmother of Germanicus and Claudius, great-grandmother of Caligula and Agrippina the Younger, and great-great-grandmother of Nero. She was deified by the Emperor Claudius who granted her the title of Augusta.
Livia was born on 30 January 58 BC to the senator Marcus Livius Drusus Claydianus, the daughter of his wife Aphidia or Alfidia, who was the daughter of Marcus Aphidius Lourcus, a Roman judge from a city in Italy. The diminutive “Drusilla,” which often accompanies her name, indicates that she was his second daughter. She had at least one brother, Marcus Livio Drususus, who served as Consul during the reign of Augustus.
In 42 BC, her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero, a cousin of hers who belonged to the patrician class, and who fought with him on the side of Julius Caesar”s assassins against Octavian. Her father committed suicide at the Battle of Philippi, along with Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. However, Livia”s husband continued to fight against Octavian, this time on the side of Marcus Antonius and his brother, Leucius Antonius. In 40 BC, the family was forced to flee Italy in order to avoid Octavian”s treachery. They first fled to Sextus Pompey in Sicily and then to Greece.
After the announcement of a general amnesty, Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Octavian in 39 B.C. By this time Livia already had a son, the future emperor Tiberius, and was pregnant with her second son, Nero Claudius Drususus. Legend has it that Octavian fell in love with her at first sight, even though he was already married to his second wife, Scrivonia. Octavian divorced her in 39 BC, the same day that Scrivonia gave birth to his daughter Julia the Elder. Apparently around this time, when Livia was in her sixth month of pregnancy, Tiberius Claudius Nero was persuaded or coerced by Octavian to divorce Livia. On 14 January, the child was born. Octavian and Livia were married on 17 January, skipping the traditional waiting period. Tiberius Claudius Nero was present at the ceremony, delivering the wedding “as a father would”. The importance of the patrician Claudius family to Octavian”s plans and purposes and the political survival of the Claudius Nero family are probably more realistic explanations for this union. Nevertheless, Livia and Octavian remained married for the next 51 years, although they had no children beyond an aborted pregnancy. Livia always enjoyed the prestige of being her husband”s distinguished advisor, advancing his pleas to third parties and influencing his policies, an unusual role for a Roman wife in a purely patriarchal society.
After the suicide of Marc Antony in the aftermath of the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian had now removed all the thorns from his crown and ruled henceforth – albeit unofficially – as monarch from 27 BC onwards, under the honorific name of “Augustus”. He and Livia were a model for Roman households. Despite his wealth and power, Augustus and his family continued to live modestly in their home on Palatine Hill. Livia exemplified the noble Roman matron. She did not wear elaborate jewelry and dresses, she took care of the house and her husband, often making his clothes herself, always faithful and devoted. In 35 BC Octavian gave Livia the unprecedented privilege of handling her finances and dedicated a public statue to her. She maintained her own circle of protégés and promoted many of them to political office, among whom we find the grandfathers of the later emperors Galba and Otto.
Since Augustus was the father of only one daughter, Julia the Elder of Screconia, Livia proved to be an ambitious mother by promoting her sons Tiberius and Drususus to power. Drusus became a trusted general and married Augustus” favourite niece, Antonia the Younger. Tiberius married Augustus” daughter Julia in 11 BC, and was finally adopted by his stepfather in 4 BC, taking the right of succession.
A conspiracy theory wants the death in 23 BC of Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, husband of Julia Sr. and favoured as his successor, not to have been caused by natural causes and Libya to be behind it. Later, Julia married Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. After the death of the two older sons she had with Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted as his sons and heirs, the remaining son, Agrippa Postumus, was imprisoned and put to death. The historian Tacitus accuses Livy of not being innocent of these deaths, and Dio Cassius also mentions rumours to this effect, but even the rumour-hunter Suetonius, who had access to the documents of the state, does not repeat them. Most modern historical accounts reject it as an idea. There are also some rumors mentioned by Tacitus and Dion Cassius that Livy caused the death of Augustus himself by poisoning fresh figs.
Augustus died in 14 AD and was deified by the Senate shortly afterwards. In his will, he left one third of his property to Livy and the other two thirds to his successor, Tiberius. In his will, Augustus also made Livia a member of the family of the Julii, thus making her a patrician, and conferred on her the honorary title of Augusta. These concessions allowed her to retain her power after the emperor”s death, under the name of Julia Augusta.
For a time, Livia and her son Tiberius, the new emperor, seemingly got along well. To speak against her began to be considered treason from 20 AD onwards, and in 24 AD her son secured her a place in the theatre among the Estuary Virgins. Livia exercised unofficial but very real power in Rome. Eventually Tiberius was alarmed by his mother”s political power, and generally denied the idea that she had given him the throne. At the beginning of his reign he vetoed the Senate”s intention to confer on her the unprecedented title of “Mater Patriae” (Mother of the Fatherland), on the model of “Pater Patriae” (Father of the Fatherland), a title borne by Augustus. Tiberius in fact fervently denied the title “Pater Patriae” for himself as well.
The historians Tacitus and Dion Cassius describe an overbearing and authoritative royal empress, always ready to interfere in the decisions of Tiberius, most notably in the case of a Roman aristocrat named Urgulania, who assumed that her friendship with the empress placed her above the law, and the also Roman aristocrat Plancina, on whom suspicions of Germanicus” murder fell and who was saved by Livy”s intervention. An account from 22 A.D. states that Julia Augusta dedicated a statue to Augustus in the centre of Rome, placing her name before that of Tiberius.
Ancient historians attribute Tiberius” withdrawal to Capri to his inability to endure it any longer. By 22 AD there was, according to Tacitus, a “genuine harmony between mother and son, or a well-hidden hatred”. Dion reports that already from the time he ascended the throne he hated her from the bottom of his heart. In 22 Livia fell ill and Tiberius rushed to Rome to be with her. But in 29 A.D. when she fell ill again and finally died, Tiberius remained in Capri on the excuse that he was very busy, and sent Caligula to see to the ceremony. He adds the macabre detail that “when she died … after a delay of many days, during which it was hoped that he would come, she was finally buried because the condition of the dead body demanded it …” Tiberius also vetoed the conferring of divine honours on her, as if he derived pleasure from depriving her of her intimate ambitions. He later obstructed all the honours conferred on her by the Senate after her death and annulled her will.
It took 13 years until 42 AD to return the honours that were taken away from her and to complete her deification during the reign of her grandson, Claudius. She was named “Diva Augusta” (Divine Augusta) and a chariot drawn by elephants was dedicated to her to carry her image to all public games. A statue of her was erected in the Temple of Augustus, alongside that of her husband, and chariot races were organised to honour her, while women invoked her name in their sacred vows.
Her villa in the north of Rome is currently being excavated. Its famous frescoes of imaginary gardens are kept in the National Museum of Rome. One of the most famous statues of Augustus – the Augustus of Prima Porta – comes from the villa”s grounds.
Citing various rumours, ancient sources generally describe Livia (Julia Augusta) as a proud woman with the characteristics of a queen, faithful to her imperial husband, for whom she was a worthy companion, always balanced and dignified. With virtuosity she managed to fulfil the role of wife, mother, widow and royal mother. Dion mentions two of her quotations:
“Once, when some naked men met her and as a result were about to be killed, she saved their lives by saying that for a virtuous woman such men are no different from statues. When once asked how she managed to gain such influence over Augustus, she replied that she did it by remaining virtuous herself, by doing with joy what pleased him, by keeping away from his affairs, and, above all, by pretending not to listen to or care for the darlings of his passion.”
In time, however, and now a widow, her arrogance, her thirst for power and her overt pursuit of power came to the surface. Livia always benefited from the climate of flattery that Augustus worked hard to create and which Tiberius disliked. Whenever she went to the theater, there was a seat reserved for her on the side of the Estonians, and perhaps this was done so that it would be more of an honor for the Estonians than for her.
Livia played an important role in the formation of her children, Tiberius and Drous. Of interest is her role in her divorce from her first husband, father of Tiberius, in 39
In his Chronicles, Tacitus describes Livia as a person of great influence, to the extent that “she had the elder Augustus firmly under her control – so much so that he banished his only surviving grandson to the island of Planasia”.
Depictions of Libya appear on ancient coins and portraits. She was the first woman to appear on provincial coins in 16 B.C. Her depictions can be chronologically classified in part by her hairstyles, which serve a much more important purpose than simply keeping the empress in fashion at the time. To depict her in such detail translates into a political statement, that of depicting the ideal Roman woman. The image of Livia evolves gradually, with different styles of depiction that show her influence on imperial propaganda, which helped to bridge the gap between her role as the wife of Emperor Augustus and that of Emperor Tiberius” mother. Born more than the “beautiful woman” described in ancient texts, Livia is a public image of the idealization of a woman”s virtues under the Romans, a maternal figure, and ultimately a depiction of a goddess that alludes to her virtue. The power of Livia as a symbol of the rebirth of the Republic, while paralleling the feminine virtues of Pietas and Concordia in public depictions, had a drastic influence on the way future imperial women were represented as ideal and honoured mothers and wives of Rome.
In Robert Graves” popular fantasy novel “I, Claudius”, Livia is portrayed as a vicious, scheming political genius. Dedicated to bringing Tiberius to power and then to keeping him on the throne, she is involved in almost every death or symbiosis in the Julius-Claudius Dynasty until her death. In the 1976 BBC television series based on the book, Livia is played by Sun Phillips.
Livia also appears as a character in the HBO and BBC series Rome. Making her debut in the 2007 episode “A Necessary Fiction”, Livia (Alice Henley) soon catches the attention of young Octavian, who has not married or had children. In fact, Octavian had already married and divorced Claudia and had married the pregnant Scrivener. The series acknowledges the existence of Livia”s child by her first husband, Tiberius, but not the fact that she was pregnant with her second son. Livia is portrayed as deceptively submissive in public, while in private life she possesses an iron will and a gift for political intrigue.
Livia also appears in Neil Gaiman”s comic book “Distant Mirrors – August” which can be found in its entirety in “The Sandman: Fables and Reflections”.
- ^ Barrett, Anthony A. (2002). “Appendix 5: Livia”s Birthdate”. Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome. Yale University Press. pp. 309–310. ISBN 9780300102987. JSTOR j.ctt1nq0jw.
- 1,0 1,1 1,2 1,3 1,4 «Livii» (Ρωσικά)
- Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη της Γερμανίας, Κρατική Βιβλιοθήκη του Βερολίνου, Βαυαρική Κρατική Βιβλιοθήκη, Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη της Αυστρίας: (Γερμανικά, Αγγλικά) Gemeinsame Normdatei. 119226014. Ανακτήθηκε στις 15 Οκτωβρίου 2015.
- «Ливия Друзилла» (Ρωσικά)
- E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen – e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933 – L 301
- M. A., Linguistics; B. A., Latin. «Livia Drusilla the 1st Empress of Rome». ThoughtCo (em inglês). Consultado em 30 de setembro de 2020
- “Livia”s Birthdate”, p. 309. Barrett, Antony A., Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome. Yale University Press. 2002.
- a et b Virginie Girod, La véritable histoire des douze Césars, Perrin, 2019, p.68-69.
- D”après Dion Cassius, Histoire Romaine, livre 55, chap. 33, 4 et Tacite, Annales, livre 1, chap. 3 et 6.
- (de) Helmut Werner, Tyranninnen : Grausame Frauen der Weltgeschichte, Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, 2011, p. 149
- a et b Girod 2019, p. 110.