Livia, Empress of Rome

Livia, Empress of Rome

A Biography

Book - 2011
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Rome is a subject of endless fascination, and in this new biography of the infamous Empress Livia, Matthew Dennison brings to life a woman long believed to be one of the most feared villainesses of history.

Second wife of the emperor Augustus, mother of his successor Tiberius, grandmother of Claudius and great grandmother of Caligula, the empress Livia lived close to the center of Roman political power for eight turbulent decades. Her life spanned the years of Rome's transformation from Republic to Empire, and witnessed both its triumphs under the rule of Augustus and its lapse into instability under his dysfunctional successor.

Livia was given the honorific title Augusta in her husband's will, and was posthumously deified by the emperor Claudius--but posterity would prove less respectful. The Roman historian Tacitus anathematized her as "malevolent" and a "feminine bully" and inspired Robert Graves's celebrated twentieth-century depiction of Livia in I, Claudius as the quintessence of the scheming matriarch, poisoning her relatives one by one to smooth her son's path to the imperial throne.

Livia, Empress of Rome rescues the historical Livia from the crude caricature of popular myth to paint an elegant and richly textured portrait. In this rigorously researched biography, Dennison weighs the evidence found in contemporary sources to present a more nuanced assessment. Livia's true "crime," he reveals, was not murder but the exercise of power. The Livia who emerges here is a complex, courageous and gifted woman, and one of the most fascinating and perplexing figures of the ancient world.

Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2011.
Edition: First U.S. edition.
Copyright Date: ©2010
ISBN: 9780312658649
Characteristics: x, 320 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, genealogical table ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Dennison, Matthew Empress of Rome.


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Nov 25, 2015

This is the first instance of a much vilified woman such as Livia having been given a complete white-wash. While the author rejects any negative references to his heroine by sources that he considers biased, he will use these same sources to condemn others. The time frame is constantly shifting back and forth from a few years to a few centuries as Dennison attempts some sort of clarification. This is a very non-linear method to employ; we come to the death of someone and then two pages later they're still alive. Ridiculous narrative. I would only recommend this to anyone who wants to see Livia in a positive light, no matter the cost.

Jun 06, 2011

I really wanted to like this book, but there are two problems I have with it. FIrst, Livia's life is not really told in chronological order. The author goes all over the place and zips back and forward in time, it makes it cofusing for the reader, and I am actually familiar with the events. The second thing I didn't like is the author never really picked a side. Was Livia simply maligned by later historians, or was she the patient scheming murderer? The author never really commits one way or the other which is frustrating.

Only recommended to serious students of Roman history.

Mar 12, 2011

One of history's strongest characters and some say the greatest of villains - Livia, the First Lady/ Empress of Rome is an engrossing, fascinating read. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

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