Real Housewife's of Rome: Livia

By: Pranav Tetali


Livia was born Livia Drusilla in 58 BC, she is the daughter of Livius Drusus Claudianus and his wife Alfidia. Livia's mother was part of a magistrate from an Italian town. While her father was adopted by Livius Drusus. Which thus allows Livia to carry the blood and prestige of both the Livii and the Claudii. She also had a connection with gens Claudia which made her powerful at a young age.


Livia's first husband was Claudius Nero, and she had 2 children with him. Her first son was born in 42 BC, he would soon become known as emperor Tiberius. She then married Julius Caesar Octavianus when she she was 6 months pregnant with Nero's second son. Nero was willing to give up his wife, he was even present for her second wedding. Octavian divorced his first wife only to marry Livia. After Nero died his two sons lived with Livia and Octavian. When Nero was fled to Sicily after he joined the assassins and fought Phillippi, Octavian was rising to power and needed political support from Nero. Thus the relationship between her husbands and her children strengthened.

The Wife

Livia was a loving, dutiful, and compassionate mother, but she is also known to have a grip in Roman politics and the laws that are passed in her time period. Augustus and Livia cooperated in the encouragement of upper-class women to behave like the upper-class. Livia traveled with Augustus and was always a trusted adviser. Though Livia could not give Augustus children, he did not divorce her, the two were life long partners. Many of Livia's decisions were sometime Augustus's final decision, Livia can be compared to a puppeteer, she controlled Augustus like he was a puppet. Everyone thought that Augustus was in charge, but in reality Livia was making all of the calls. She never did meddle in her husbands affairs unless he asked her to. The dutiful wife, who appeared in public only as a model of traditional propriety, exercised a great deal of private power.


Livia had a huge influence on the emperors, she had a strong grip on Octavian, she helped influence many of Octavian's political decisions, she manipulated him for her own needs. In 35 BC Livia received her first official marks of status, she earned the right to control her own financial affairs. She also got her own statue, which is a huge achievement in that time period. When her sons became leader of the Roman military, she was awarded with ius Liberorum, which is a huge honor in her time period. Livia was wealthy in her own right, she had her own circle of clients whom she rewarded. She launched the career of M. Salvius Otho, the grandfather of the Otho who would be emperor briefly in AD 69. He lived in her house, and it was through her favor that he entered the senate. The marriage of her grandson, the future emperor Cladius to Plautius' daughter Urgulanilla was presumably the result of her influence as well. It was her wealth, her good looks and her intelligence, combined with the status of her husband, that made her role possible.

Is she favorable in public or not? Is this fair?

within the family that Livia exercised her greatest influence, and it was for this reason that history assigned her the role of wicked stepmother, ambitious for her own sons at the expense of other members of the household. She was “a terrible mother for the state as a mother, a terrible stepmother for the house of the Caesars. Claudius Marcellus, the son of his sister Octavia, as his successor by marrying his daughter Julia to him. Marcellus died young in 23 BC, and rumor would later make Livia complicit in his death. Livia's image in the public greatly decreased. After the death of Agrippa in 12 BC that opportunity opened for her own sons and she could realistically be thought fostering their and her own ambition. The perception that Livia was ambitious for her son made it possible for her to be accused of complicity in Augustus' death. The rumor developed that she had smeared poison on figs still on a tree and then guided him to pick one of these for himself while she selected untainted ones. This destroyed Livia's reputation in the public eye, though the poison figs seem improbable. In the public view Livia was considered a horrible person, though all she wanted was for her children to succeed in life.


Livia died in AD 29 at the advanced age of 86. She received a public funeral, although a relatively modest one, and was buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus. The senate proposed divine honors, but Tiberius forbade them.