A Woman to Know: Livia Drusilla

She had gained such a hold on the aged Augustus. — Tacitus

(image via Wikimedia)


Two thousand years ago, Livia embodied the ideal wife: beautiful, wise and generous. But to some in Roman government, her political machinations and merciless ambition represented all that was wrong with her husband's empire.

As the third wife of Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, Livia had a special position in court. She counseled him on affairs of state and even advised her husband on his much-lauded reforms. But she wasn't content to work only in the background; she fought for her sons from her first marriage to be recognized as heirs to the empire. She even convinced her aging husband to cast his own stepchildren and grandchildren out of Rome. As obstacles to the throne dropped one by one, rumors in Rome suggested Livia had a greater scheme in mind.

Augustus eventually adopted Livia's 40-year-old son Tiberius, likely prompted by his powerful wife to recognize the stepchild. The adoption guaranteed Tiberius a future as emperor — and soon after, Augustus's health rapidly declined. By the end, he was only able to signal his needs via letters to Livia. He died soon after Tiberius returned from a trip away, ensuring no one would ruin Livia's dreams for her son.

Even centuries later, some historians speculate Livia orchestrated her husband's demise, perhaps even altering his will to protect her own status in Rome.

Livia herself claimed that before he died, Augustus adopted her also, granting her the imperial title "Julia Augustus." She lived into her late 70s, still involved in the political dramas of her son and grandsons' reigns.

Add to your library list:

​​Read more:

** Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition. You can browse the archive here. **