Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography

Matthew Dennison, Author
Matthew Dennison, St. Martin's, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-65864-9
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-8919-0
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In the wake of Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra, this is an attempt to similarly rescue the wife of her antagonist, Augustus, from the demonization of ancient historians. Livia Drusilla of the Claudii (58 B.C.E.–29 C.E.) was vilified by Tacitus and later by Robert Graves's I, Claudius as the ambitious schemer who poisoned five of her son's competitors for the Roman throne. Beautiful, intelligent, an aristocrat of impeccable lineage, through her first husband, who haplessly backed Mark Antony against the emperor Augustus, Livia was mother of two future emperors. While pregnant with her second son, she became mistress to Augustus and soon married him. As empress, Livia espoused an idealized image of virtue and restraint. British journalist Dennison (The Last Princess) clears Livia of the charge of poisoning Marcellus, Augustus's son-in-law and presumed successor, attributing his death to typhoid fever. As to the scant evidence offered posthumously that she killed Augustus's three grandsons, another son-in-law, her own grandson, and even Augustus himself, Dennison claims Livia's real crime was the exercise of power in an assertively masculine society. This is an erudite, nuanced, and engrossing portrait of a turbulent era and of an empress demonized for refusing to be invisible. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Jan.)
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