We often hear about the Roman Emperors, but rarely do we ever hear about the Roman Empresses married to them. Livia Drusilla was first married to Tiberius Claudius Nero (thought to be in 43 BC) and gave birth to future Emperor Tiberius in 42 BC. She later became the third and final wife of Emperor Augustus of the Roman Empire.
She was born on 30 January 58 or 59 BC to Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus and his wife, Aufidia, likely in Rome. As the lives of women during this time were not well documented, not a lot is known about her early life. While married to Tiberius Claudius, she went into exile with him and their family in Greece after the former chose the wrong political alliances (conservatives in the Roman Senate and Mark Antony). They later returned to Rome in 39 BC. She was pregnant with her second child, Nero Claudius Drusus when she divorced Tiberius Claudius Nero to marry Emperor Augustus in 37/38 BC. They would remain married for 51 years.
Livia was known to be a faithful and reliable but quiet supporter of her husband. Augustus respected her thoughts and opinions so much so that he would discuss things within the Empire with her, and because of this, many considered her influence as high on the Emperor. She was said to be able to convince him to be merciful toward his opponents. Livia Drusilla would claim not to have that much influence over Augustus, but according to the Roman historian Tacitus, this was not so. He wrote in The Annals (written history of the Roman Empire from the years 14–68 AD ), “She had gained such a hold on the aged Augustus that he drove out as an exile into the island of Planaxia, his only grandson Agrippa Postumus, though devoid of worthy qualities, and having only brute courage of physical strength, had not been convicted of any gross offence.”
Additionally, her dignity, beauty and intelligence were admired throughout Rome. However, as is the norm for anyone, there were those who disliked and did not trust her. One was her step-grandson, Gaius who was said to have called her “Ulysses in a frock” for her sharp tongue.
She was primarily focused on ensuring that one of her two sons would end up on the throne, and she worked tirelessly to see that come to fruition. She was fearful that Augustus’s biological grandsons would be the heir instead of one of her two sons. In 4 AD, Augustus adopted Tiberius and made him the heir. Upon Augustus’s death on 19 August 14 AD (where Livia was by his side), Tiberius became Roman Emperor. Augustus left two-thirds of his property to his heir and only one third to Livia.
As Livia Drusilla was so important to Augustus, he ensured that she would be able to maintain her status, as well as her power. The will also stated that she was adopted into his Julian family; he also gave her the honorific title of Augusta. From then on, she went by Julia Augusta thanks to the honours Augustus had bestowed upon her.
After her son had ascended the throne, they had good relations – at least for a period. Although later on, she was never afraid to intervene in Tiberius’s decision making. Tacitus wrote that, until the year 22 AD, “a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed” consisted between the two. However, the historian Cassius Dio disagreed saying he loathed his mother at the time of his ascension. Tired of her meddling, she was removed from public affairs by her son. Tiberius rushed home to be by her side when she fell ill in 22 AD, but when she died in 29 AD, he remained in Capri where he had self-exiled himself to citing too much work. Many argue that her domineering nature was the cause of his exile. He would veto any and all honours of his mother after her death. Those honours would finally be granted when her grandson eventually took the throne. She was then named Diva Augusta in Latin (The Divine Augusta). A statue of her was also installed at the Temple of Augustus.
Livia Drusilla would later become the grandmother of Emperor Claudius through her son Nero Claudius Drusus. She died at the age of 86 in 29 AD – eight years before her sons passing.