By Matthew Dennison
Mythology engulfs Livia. Elevated to the rank of goddess within a generation of her death, this woman once accounted a paragon among Roman wives has been more effectively fictionalized that the pagan gods whose pantheon she joined. Her name is no longer a byword for wifely piety. Today she is a schemer…a villianness…a murderess. She has no defense. Her crime is ambition.
Ironically Livia owes her dehumanization to motherhood. Ancient Rome adopted a throwaway approach to single women. Devoted wives and mothers were the pride of the Roman Republic, their self-abnegation their only crown. In Rome, virtuous mothers transmitted a blueprint of good behaviour to successive generations of virtuous men. They conceived desires of their own at their peril.
So what of Livia? Why must the wife of Rome’s greatest emperor, Augustus, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? The answer, of course, lies in part with her son.
Few rulers have done less to curry favour with the masses than the Emperor Tiberius. Two thousand years ago, as today, unhappy multitudes demanded a scapegoat for their suffering. Augustus could not have cursed Rome with so joyless a ruler of his own volition. Surely, for her own ends, Tiberius’s mother brokered the deal which forced a generation of Romans into tyrannous misery?
To Rome’s mostly male readership, it was a plausible argument. Today we can look afresh at a woman whose reputation was tarnished not by her own hand but those of later commentators sick with fear at that most exciting prospect – a powerful woman.
About the author: Matthew Dennison is the author of The Last Princess. A journalist, he contributes to The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Country Life, and The Spectator. He is married and lives in London and North Wales.
Giveaway is closed.
Would you like an email notification of other drawings? Sign up for our giveaway email list by clicking here.
Image Credit: ancienthistory.about.com