Julia Augusta Livia

Julia Augusta Livia

Julia Augusta Livia, the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, was born on 30 January 58 BC.

In 42 BC, her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero. Her father committed suicide in the Battle of Philippi, but her husband continued fighting against Augustus, now on behalf of Mark Antony and his brother. In 40 BC, the family was forced to flee Italy.

A general amnesty was announced, and Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Augustus in 39 BC. At this time, Livia already had a son, the future emperor Tiberius, and was pregnant with Drusus the Elder. Octavian fell in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married to Scribonia. Octavian divorced Scribonia in 39 BC and Tiberius Claudius Nero was forced to divorce Livia. Octavian and Livia married on 17th January. Her second child was born three days later.

Livia was an extremely intelligent woman who had a great influence on how Augustus ran the Roman Empire. From their surviving letters, it is clear that Augustus listened very carefully to what she had to say. Many Roman politicians resented Livia's political power and this is probably why Roman historians tend to say unpleasant things about her.

After her marriage to Augustus, Livia did not have any more children. Augustus chose Tiberius, Livia's son by her first marriage, to become the next emperor. As part of the deal, Tiberius had to marry Augustus' daughter Julia. Tiberius, who was already happily married, objected but eventually agreed to accept the orders of Augustus.

Augustus died in AD 14, (the month that he died, Sextilis, was then changed to August). Augustus was one of the most outstanding leaders the world has ever known. In the fifty years of his rule, he completely reformed the Roman Empire, and in doing so, made it so strong that the system he installed lasted for hundreds of years. Although he had taken much of their power away, the Senate recognised his greatness and within a month of his death declared him to be a god.

Livia died in AD 29.

Primary Sources

(1) Dialogue between Emperor Augustus and Empress Livia, quoted by Cassius Dio, The Roman History (c. AD 215)

Livia: What is it that troubles you, husband? Why do you not sleep?

Augustus: Can you not see how many there are who never cease to plot against me? And nothing restrains these men...

Livia: I have a piece of advice to offer you... a suggestion which nobody else, not even your closest friend, would venture to put forward. Augustus: Tell me, whatever it is...

Livia: I would urge you to cease to inflict the death penalty upon anyone... The position of ruler has been created to ensure the safety of those he rules... We must educate the citizens by means of laws and benefits... to ensure they act with moderation... I believe that far more things are put right by kindness than by harshness.

(2) Cassius Dio, The Roman History (c. AD 215)

At this time it was said that Livia had had a hand in the death of Marcellus, because he had been preferred for the succession (to replace Augustus as emperor when he died) before her son... When Gaius and Lucius died... suspicion fell upon Livia of having been involved in the deaths of both men.

(3) Tacitus, Annals (c. AD 118)

After the death of Augustus all public documents were signed by Livia as well as by Tiberius, and letters on public business were addressed to her as well as to the emperor.

(4) Suetonius, Tiberius (c. AD 110)

Tiberius complained that his mother Livia upset him by wanting to be co-ruler of the Empire; which was why he avoided meetings or long private talks with her. Although he did occasionally need and follow Livia's advice, he disliked people to think of him as giving it serious consideration... He often warned Livia to remember that she was a woman and must not interfere in affairs of state. He become very angry... when a fire broke out and news reached him that Livia was directing the civilian and military fire-fighters in person.


1. What advice does Livia give Augustus in source 1? Why did Livia give Augustus this advice?

2. Select sources from this unit that are critical of Livia.

3. Give some possible reasons why these Roman historians were so critical of Livia. Why would modern historians have to be very careful about using these sources if they were writing a book about Livia?