Book Review: Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography


by Matthew Dennison

New York: St. Martin's Press, 2011. Pp. x, 320. Illus., stemmata, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $27.99. ISBN: 0312658648

One of the most maligned women in history, Livia Drusilla (58 BC-AD 29 ), wife of the Emperor Augustus, is best known to moderns as the homicidal “Tiger Mom” of Robert Graves’ novel I, Claudius and the very popular 1970s TV mini-series that was based on it. 

In writing this book, journalist and biographer Dennison, author of The Last Princess  and other works, did a terrific job of sifting through the available evidence, critiquing sources from ancient literature, carefully sorting the sequencing of events, and, where direct evidence is wanting, comparing Livia’s life and experiences with those of other notable women of the period. He concludes that like other strong women in history, Livia seems to have suffered from a very hostile “press”.  She, in fact, seems to have been an influential help-mate to Augustus, but hardly an eminence grise manipulating events by any convenient means.  As he does this, Dennison also helps clarify the highly complex political, military, legal, familial, and cultural tools that Augustus wielded to attain and keep supreme power longer than anyone else in Roman history. 

Worth reading for anyone interested in the Roman Empire.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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