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Livia

Livia Drusilla, after 14 AD called Julia Augusta (Classical Latin: LIVIA•DRVSILLA, IVLIA•AVGVSTA) (58 BC-29 AD) was the wife of Augustus and one of the most powerful women in the Roman Empire, being Augustus' faithful advisor. She was also mother to Drusus and Tiberius, grandmother to Germanicus and Claudius, great-grandmother to Caligula and Agrippina the Younger and great-great-grandmother to Nero. She was deified by Claudius who acknowledged her title of Augusta.

Life

Birth and first marriage

She was born on 30 January 58 BC as the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus by his wife Aufidia, who was a daughter of Marcus Aufidius Lurco, a Roman magistrate from an Italic town. The diminutive Drusilla often found in her name suggests that she was a second daughter.. She had at least one sibling, Marcus Livius Drusus, who served as a consul during the reign of Augustus.

In 42 BC, her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero, her cousin of patrician status who was fighting with him on the side of Julius Caesar's assassins against Octavian. Her father committed suicide in the Battle of Philippi, along with Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, but her husband continued fighting against Octavian, now on behalf of Mark Antony and his brother. In 40 BC, the family was forced to flee Italy in order to avoid Octavian's proscriptions, and joined with Sextus Pompeius in Sicily, later moving on to Greece.

Marriage to Octavian

A general amnesty was announced, and Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Octavian in 39 BC. At this time, Livia already had a son, the future emperor Tiberius, and was pregnant with the second (Drusus the Elder). Legend said that Octavian fell immediately in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married to Scribonia. Octavian divorced Scribonia in 39 BC, on the very day that she gave birth to his daughter Julia the Elder (Cassius Dio 48.34.3). Seemingly around that time, when Livia was six months pregnant, Tiberius Claudius Nero was persuaded or forced by Octavian to divorce Livia. On 14 January, the child was born. Octavian and Livia married on 17 January, waiving the traditional waiting period. Tiberius Claudius Nero was present at the wedding, giving her in marriage "just as a father would" (Cassius Dio 48.44.1-3). The importance of the patrician Claudii to Octavian's cause, and the political survival of the Claudii Nerones are probably more rational explanations for the tempestuous union. Nevertheless, Livia and Octavian remained married for the next 51 years, despite the fact that they had no children apart from a single miscarriage. She always enjoyed the status of privileged counselor to her husband, petitioning him on the behalf of others and influencing his policies, an unusual role for a Roman wife in a culture dominated by the paterfamilias.

After Mark Antony's suicide following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian had removed all obstacles to his power and henceforth rules as Emperor, since 27 BC under the honorific Augustus. With Livia always by his side, the couple formed the role model for Roman households. Despite his wealth and power, Augustus and his family continued to live modestly in their house on the Palatine Hill. Livia would set the pattern for the noble Roman matrona. She wore neither excessive jewelry nor pretentious costumes, she took care of the household and her husband (often making his clothes herself), always faithful and dedicated.

In 35 BC Octavian gave Livia the unprecedented honour of ruling her own finances and dedicated a public statue to her. She had her own circle of clients and pushed many protégés into political offices, including the grandfathers of the later Emperors Galba and Otho.

With Augustus being the father of only one daughter (Julia the Elder by Scribonia), Livia revealed herself to be an ambitious mother and soon started to push her own sons, Tiberius and Drusus, into power. Drusus was a trusted general and married Augustus's favourite niece, Antonia Minor. Tiberius married Augustus' daugher Julia in 11 BC and was ultimately adopted by his stepfather in 4 and nominated heir to the empire.

Rumor had it that when Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, died in 23 BC, it was no natural death, and that Livia was behind it. After the two elder sons of Julia by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted as his sons and successors, had died, the one remaining son Agrippa Postumus was incarcerated and finally killed. Tacitus charges that Livia was not altogether innocent of these deaths (esp. Annals 1.3; 1.6), and Cassius Dio also mentions such rumours (53.33.4, 55.10A, 55.32; 57.3.6), but not even the gossipmonger Suetonius, who had access to official documents, repeats them. Most modern historical accounts of Livia's life discount the idea. There are also rumors mentioned by Tacitus (Annals 1.5) and Cassius Dio (55.22.2; 56.30) that Livia brought about Augustus' death by poisoning fresh figs.

Life after Augustus

Augustus died in AD 14, being deified by the senate shortly afterwards. In his will, he left one third of his property to Livia, and the other two thirds to the successor Tiberius. In the will, he also adopted her into the Julian family, thus turning her into a patrician, and granted her the honorific title of Augusta. These dispositions permitted her to maintain her status and power after his death, under the name of Julia Augusta.

For some time, Livia and her son Tiberius, the new Emperor, appeared to get along with each other. Speaking against her became treason in AD 20, and in AD 24 he granted his mother a theatre seat among the Vestal Virgins. Livia exercised unofficial but very real power in Rome, with a man convicted of treason let go at her request. Eventually, Tiberius became resentful of his mother's political status, particularly against the idea that it was she who had given him the throne. At the beginning of the reign he vetoed the unprecedented title Mater Patriae ("Mother of the Fatherland") that the Senate wanted to bestow upon her, in the same manner in which Augustus had been named Pater Patriae ("Father of the Fatherland"). (Tiberius also consistently refused the title of Pater Patriae for himself.)

The historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio depict an overweening, even domineering dowager, ready to interfere in Tiberius’ decisions, the most notable instances being the case of Urgulania, a woman who correctly assumed that her friendship with the empress placed her above the law (Cassius Dio 57.12, Tacitus, Annals 2.34), and Plancina, suspected of murdering Germanicus and saved at Livia’s entreaty (Annals 3.17). A notice from AD 22 records that Julia Augusta dedicated a statue to Augustus in the centre of Rome, placing her own name even before that of Tiberius.

Ancient historians give as a reason for Tiberius’ retirement to Capri his inability to endure her any longer (Annals 4.57, Cassius Dio 57.12.6). Until AD 22 there had, according to Tacitus, been "a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed" (Annals 3.64); Dio tells us that at the time of his accession already Tiberius heartily loathed her (57.3.3). In AD 22 she had fallen ill, and Tiberius had hastened back to Rome in order to be with her (Annals 3.64). But in AD 29 when she finally fell ill and died, he remained on Capri, pleading pressure of work and sending Caligula to deliver the funeral oration (Annals 5.1, Dio 58.2). Suetonius (Vita Tiberii 51) adds the macabre detail that "when she died... after a delay of many days, during which he held out hope of his coming, she was at last buried because the condition of the corpse made it necessary...". Divine honours he also vetoed, as if he took a perverse pleasure in depriving her of her secret aspirations. Later he vetoed all the honours the Senate had granted her after her death and canceled the fulfillment of her will.

It would not be until 13 years later in AD 42, under the reign of her grandson Claudius, that all her honours would be restored and her deification finally completed. Named Diva Augusta (The Divine Augusta), she received an elephant-drawn chariot to convey her image to all public games. A statue of her was set up in the temple of Augustus along with her husbands, races were held in her honour, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths.

Her Villa ad Gallinas Albas north of Rome is currently being excavated; its famous frescoes of imaginary garden views may be seen at National Museum of Rome. One of the most famous statues of Augustus - the Augustus of Prima Porta came from the grounds of the villa.

Livia's personality

While reporting various unsavoury hearsay, the ancient sources generally portray Livia (Julia Augusta) as a woman of proud and queenly attributes, faithful to her imperial husband, for whom she was a worthy consort, forever poised and dignified. With consummate skill she acted out the roles of consort, mother, widow and dowager. Dio (58.2.5) records two of her utterances: "Once, when some naked men met her and were to be put to death in consequence, she saved their lives by saying that to a chaste woman such men are in no way different from statues. When someone asked her how she had obtained such a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was by being scrupulously chaste herself, doing gladly whatever pleased him, not meddling with any of his affairs, and, in particular, by pretending neither to hear or nor to notice the favourites of his passion."

With time, however, and widowhood, a haughtiness and an overt craving for power and the outward trappings of status came increasingly to the fore. Livia had always been a principal beneficiary of the climate of adulation that Augustus had done so much to create, and which Tiberius despised ("a strong contempt for honours", Tacitus, Annals 4.37). In 24, typically, whenever she attended the theatre, a seat among the Vestals was reserved for her (Annals 4.16), and this may have been intended more as an honour for the Vestals than for her (cf. Ovid, Tristia, 4.2.13f, Epist.Ex Ponto 4.13.29f).

Livia played a vital role in the formation of her children Tiberius and Drusus. Attention focuses on her part in the divorce of her first husband, father of Tiberius, in 39/38 BC. It would be interesting to know her role in this, as well as in Tiberius’ divorce of Vipsania Agrippina in 12 BC at Augustus' insistence: whether it was merely neutral or passive, or whether she actively colluded in Caesar’s wishes. The first divorce left Tiberius a fosterchild at the house of Octavian; the second left Tiberius with a lasting emotional scar, since he had been forced to abandon the woman he loved for dynastic considerations. Ancient testimonies are lacking, but it may well be that Tiberius’ deep-seated antipathy towards Livia is rooted in these two events.

Livia in literature and popular culture

Livia in ancient literature

In Tacitus' Annals, Livia is depicted as having great influence, to the extent where she "had the aged Augustus firmly under control — so much so that he exiled his only surviving grandson to the island of Planasia".

Livia's image appears in ancient visual media such as coins and portraits. She was the first woman to appear on provincial coins in 16 BC and her portrait images can be chronologically identified partially from the progression of her hair designs, which represented more than keeping up with the fashions of the time as her depiction with such contemporary details translated into a political statement of representing the ideal Roman woman. Livia's image evolves with different styles of portraiture that trace her effect on imperial propaganda that helped bridge the gap between her role as wife to the emperor Augustus, to mother of the emperor Tiberius. Becoming more than the "beautiful woman" she is described as in ancient texts, Livia serves as a public image for the idealization of Roman feminine qualities, a motherly figure, and eventually a goddess like representation that alludes to her virtue. Livia's power in symbolizing the renewal of the Republic with the female virtues Pietas and Concordia in public displays had a dramatic effect on the visual representation of future imperial women as ideal, honorable mothers and wives of Rome.

Livia in modern literature

In the popular fictional work I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Livia is portrayed as a thoroughly wicked, scheming political mastermind. Devoted to bringing Tiberius to power and then maintaining him there, she is involved in nearly every death or disgrace in the Julio-Claudian family up to the time of her death. In the 1976 BBC television series based on the book, Livia was played by Siân Phillips.

Livia is also dramatized in the HBO/BBC series Rome. Introduced in the 2007 episode A Necessary Fiction, Livia (Alice Henley) soon catches the eye of young Octavian, who has never been married or fathered any children. Historically, of course, Octavian had already been married to and divorced Clodia Pulchra by this time, and was married to a pregnant Scribonia. Rome does acknowledge the existence of Livia's child, Tiberius Nero, by her first husband, but not that she was pregnant with Nero Claudius Drusus when she met Octavian. Livia is portrayed as deceptively submissive in public, while in private she possesses an iron will, and a gift for political scheming that matches Atia's.

Livia appears in Neil Gaiman's comic "Distant Mirrors - August" collected in The Sandman: Fables and Reflections.

In John Maddox Roberts's short story "The King of Sacrifices," set in his SPQR series, Livia hires Decius Metellus to investigate the murder of one of Julia's lovers.

Notes

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