Livia Drusilla (58 BC-AD 29) was the third wife of Emperor Augustus, the mother of Emperor Tiberius, and the grandmother of Emperor Claudius. She stands as one of the remarkable women who rose to prominence while residing in the shadow of a powerful leader.
Early Life & Marriage
Though much of Livia’s early life remains shrouded in mystery, a common thing for women of her era, she is believed to have been born on January 30, 58 or 59 BC, most likely in Rome. Before her marriage to Augustus, she was the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero, a member of the esteemed Claudian clan. During their marriage, Livia bore two children—Tiberius, the future emperor, and Nero Claudius Drusus, the father of the future emperor Claudius.
While pregnant with Drusus, Livia divorced Nero and married Augustus in 37 (or 38) BC. This marriage not only symbolised the union of two prominent families, the Julians (Augustus's family) and the Claudians (Livia's family through marriage), but also marked the beginning of a pivotal chapter in Roman history.
To the people of Rome, Livia was perceived as a symbol of traditional virtue, combining intelligence, beauty, and dignity. Augustus valued her counsel highly, recognising her wisdom. In this sense, she played a crucial role in shaping his policies, and her influence extended beyond the imperial court. While Livia maintained that she had minimal impact on her husband's decisions, the ancient historian Tacitus, in his work “The Annals”, hinted at her involvement in “secret intrigues”, mentioning her influence in the exile of Augustus's grandson Agrippa Postumus.
Livia’s official responsibilities, like those of many Roman wives, revolved around domestic affairs. Being the emperor's wife afforded Livia certain legal privileges, including financial independence and immunity from verbal or physical attacks, a status known as sacrosanctity or inviolability. She was also referred to as Romana princips, a role akin to a first lady.
While supportive of her husband, Livia was primarily focused on securing the throne for one of her sons. Her concerns about Augustus's heir were rooted in the complex lineage. Augustus's daughter, Julia, had given birth to multiple children, making her sons Gaius, Lucius, and Agrippa Postumus potential heirs. Thus, Livia's sons, being related to Augustus through marriage, faced stiff competition. Despite this, her efforts proved successful in promoting her sons, as tragedy would bring Tiberius to the throne. First, Livia lost her youngest son Drusus in 9 BC when he died in battle. Then, Gaius and Lucius died in AD 4 and 2 respectively. Finally, Agrippa Postumus, although adopted by Augustus, faced exile and eventual execution. The suspicious circumstances surrounding their deaths led historians to question Livia's involvement in these events.
Last Years & Legacy
On August 19, AD 14, Augustus passed away while he and Livia were more than 100 miles away from Rome. Some argue that the recorded date of his death might be inaccurate, suggesting Livia intentionally delayed announcing it until Tiberius, who was also out of Rome, could return. Similar to the deaths of her stepsons, there is speculation among historians that she might have played a role in the emperor's death. In his will, Augustus bequeathed most of his estate to Livia and Tiberius. Additionally, he adopted her, granting her the title Augusta. However, Tiberius later grew weary of his intrusive mother, excluding her from public affairs and potentially even exiling himself to Capri to distance himself from her.
Livia passed away at the age of 86 in AD 29, outliving her son by eight years. The debate regarding her potential involvement in her husband's death or the deaths of her step-grandchildren continues among historians.
History remembers Livia as a formidable woman who stood alongside her husband while strategically removing obstacles to ensure her son Tiberius ascended to the throne. The Julio-Claudian dynasty would continue to rule the empire until AD 68 when Nero committed suicide. Although subsequent rulers—Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—did not achieve the same greatness as Augustus, the empire endured under their reigns.
- roman empire
- the twelve caesars
- julio-claudian dynasty