The whole truth about the first empress of ancient Rome Livia Drusilla

The first Roman empress, Livia Drusilla, was constantly demonized and in fact described only as a villainess and a murderer. However, the creators of the new eight-part series made an attempt to separate fact from fiction.

“Livia is the mother who dishonored the nation and the stepmother who dishonored Caesar’s house.”

A new look at Livia Drusilla: the whole truth about the first empress of ancient Rome
In the famous 1976 adaptation of the Robert Graves I novel, Livia Drusilla is a sarcastic schemer (Source: Alamy)

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Such was the characterization of Libya from Tacitus. The historian wrote that Libya completely crushed her husband, Emperor Augustus, and physically eliminated all possible heirs, clearing the way for her own son Tiberius. Moreover, Libya was even suspected of having killed her own 70-year-old husband.

  • Can you trust Tacitus, who lived a hundred years after Drusilla’s Libya?
  • And was not his story a subjective attitude towards the empress and frank fiction?

The contemporary of Tacitus Suetonius, who managed Roman libraries and archives, also had a negative attitude towards Libya.

  • Did Suetonius rely on facts or also allowed himself to somewhat tarnish the image of the empress?

Writer Robert Graves relied on the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius to write his novel. “I, Claudius.” Livia Drusilla looks like an insidious schemer and gossip woman who adores luxury.

The TV adaptation of Graves’ book took place in 1976, where Welsh actress Shan Phillips played Libya. She portrayed her character as a cold and calculating woman who manipulated the men around her. Shan Phillips’ Libya looked even tougher than the Libya from ancient history books.

The series “Domina” and a new look at Livia Drusilla

Premiere of a new series Domina (“Lady”) took place in May 2021, and Libya is again the main character. However, already in the first episode, we see her as a 15-year-old young girl with expressive eyes, and not an insidious matron at the head of the empire.

“Livia’s father from the Claudian family is going to marry his daughter to Tiberius’s cousin Nero, who is well over forty. And this is a historical fact!

The wedding is celebrated after the assassination of Julius Caesar, when the Civil War is already breaking out. The so-called Liberators who saved Rome from dictatorship flee.

Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar, spearheads a movement to avenge his death. Meanwhile, Libya’s father Drusilla supports the Liberators. “

I must admit that the creators of the series are a little loose with the facts.

“Young Octavian suddenly finds himself at Livia’s wedding, and young people even merge in a kiss.

Later, when Octavian enters Rome, Livia and her husband (Tiberius Nero in the film is depicted as a rude man with sexual problems) with their newborn son Tiberius flee and seek refuge in Greece, and then in Sicily. The liberators are finally defeated, and Libya’s father takes his own life. “

An unexpected development of events

A few years later, Libya, pregnant with her second child, returns to Rome with her husband and eldest son … but Livia divorces and becomes Octavian’s wife.

Historians believe that he simply took away the pregnant Libya from her husband, as he was amazed at her beauty. In addition, Octavian was pretty tired of the harmful and grumpy first wife.

In the series, Livia behaves decisively, she herself achieves Octavian, while he simply dreams of her, but does not take any steps. Libya, on the other hand, inspires Octavian that this union is beneficial to both of them: he will become related to a noble family, and she will be able to regain her status and wealth.

It is possible that the real Libya just had such a strength of character. She was an iron woman who had to give her ex-husband two children (the boys lived with their father for several years until he died).

And she was a desperate woman who married a man who fought against her father. According to the historian Suetonius, Octavian really loved only Libya all his life, although he started romances on the side. Their marriage was clearly more than a marriage of convenience.

TV series Domina is by no means an accurate biography of the Empress. The first three episodes, for example, show some very curious and fictional moments.

A new look at Livia Drusilla: the whole truth about the first empress of ancient Rome
New Drama Series Domina Reimagines Livia Drusilla (Source: Sky)

The story of a slave named Antigone and the killing of turtles. However, the series perfectly reflects the spirit of the times, moral values, architecture and fashion.

The fear of the monarchy and dictatorship is especially accurately shown, and this fear turned into reality, since with the full support of Libya, her second husband Octavian became Octavian Augustus, the emperor of the Roman Republic.

Libya, on the other hand, is increasingly immersed in state governance. We know from ancient sources that she helped to obtain citizenship for persons loyal to the emperor, she saved people sentenced to death.

In fact, Libya dealt with issues that were considered a purely male sphere, for which her great-grandson Caligula called her “Odyssey in a woman’s stole.”

Historians viewed Libya Drusilla’s fascination with state affairs solely as a desire to control her own husband.

Robert Graves in the book “I, Claudius“Puts the following phrase into the mouth of Claudius (grandson of Libya):

“Everyone knew very well that Libya had influence on Augustus, and although he was not afraid of her, he was still very careful not to offend his wife.”

In the series, it is shown that Libya’s participation in government is a manifestation of her mind. She was not indifferent to the fate of her country and did everything possible for her.

Power struggle

In any case, one should be very skeptical about the assumptions that Livia Drusilla eliminated rivals, clearing the way to the throne for Tiberius, and even killed Augustus himself, since the emperor may have wanted to see his grandson as his successor, and not his stepson.

More reliable, rather, is the hypothesis that Libya insisted that Augustus adopt Tiberius and leave the throne to him. Since Livia and Augustus had no children, Tiberius could become the founder of a new dynasty of Julius-Claudius.

However, the relationship between Libya and Tiberius has also been described by historians as a typical power struggle. The mother allegedly wanted to be a co-ruler, and the son in every possible way resisted her pressure.

However, it is possible that the mother simply tried to share her experience and wisdom with her son, and he was eager to act exclusively at his own discretion.

Historians wrote that Libya talked with Tiberius for a long time, giving him advice, and he insisted that she was a woman and should not interfere in men’s affairs.

As Livia Drusilla states on the show: “The first rule of power is survival”And she proved that a woman can well influence politics and the course of history.

The Empress died in 29 AD, having lived to 86, a very respectable age for that time.

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