Livia Drucilla was born into a patrician family on January 30, 58 BC. She was the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus by his second wife, Alfidia, from a wealthy plebian family. Since there is no record of her having any siblings, it is reasonable to assume that she was the only child of her parents.
The Claudii had two branches: one patrician, the other plebian. The former was the Nerones and the Drusi, the latter Marcelli, with both equal in distinction and influence. The Claudii were of Sabine origin from the town of Regillus. According to Livy, during the consulship of Publius Valerius and Titus Lucretius (504 BC), the Sabines were divided into two factions: one wanted war with Rome, the other peace. Attius Clausus, known later in Rome as Appius Claudius, was the leader of the peace party. But finding himself no match for the rival faction, he fled to Rome, taking his family and many dependants and supporters with him. He was granted Roman citizenship, enrolled in the patrician class, and made a senator. He was also given some land on the further side of the river Anio. Later, the original settlers became known as the Old Claudian Tribe after new members were added to their number.
Suetonius gives a somewhat confusing account of how Appius Claudius, whom he refers to as Atta Claudius, came to Rome. According to him, Appius was invited to Rome by Titus Tatius, with whom he shared the government. Suetonius is unsure whether Titus Tatius was a co-ruler with Romulus or ruled later. Titus Tatius was the king of the Sabines and jointly ruled with Romulus, though perhaps not harmoniously, since Livy says that Romulus was not much distressed over Tatius’s death when he got murdered in a riot at Lavinium. Romulus ruled between 753-716 BC, nearly two and a half centuries before Appius moved to Rome.
Whatever the truth, the Claudii were of prominent origin in their own home and continued to remain so in Rome. Suetonius says that they amassed twenty-eight consulships, five dictatorships, seven censorships, six triumphs, and two ovations over time. He further states that this branch of the family also used many different forenames and surnames, but they unanimously decided to ban the forename Lucius because one Lucius Claudius was a highwayman and the other a murderer. Instead, they opted for the surname Nero, which means strong and energetic in Sabine.
The Claudii produced many notable Romans. There was the famous Appius Claudius Caecus (Appius the Blind), censor in 312 BC, who advised the Senate that an alliance with King Pyrrhus would not be in the state’s national interest. According to Cassius Dio, Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, had answered a call to assist the people of Tarentum in defeating the Romans. When his victory was proving too costly, Pyrrhus sent his envoy to Rome to bribe the leading senators into making a peace treaty with him. When Appius heard this, he carried himself to the Senate and said that the king must first withdraw to his home country, then make a proposition about peace or anything else he wanted. The Senate adhered to his advice.
Another famous figure as recorded by both Suetonius and Polybius was Appius Claudius Caudex, the consul of 264 BC. He was the first to take a fleet across the straits of Messana at night, which was a dangerous operation, to expel the Carthaginians from Sicily.
However, not all the Claudii were of the caliber of Appius Caecus or Appius Caudex in the nobility of character. In 450 BC, Rome suspended its regular magistracies to set up a commission of ten men (decemviri), the leader of which was Appius Claudius, as the executive branch of government. These decemviri, all of whom patricians, were responsible for codifying and publishing the ten tables of laws so the plebians could read them. Previously, only patricians knew the laws and could manipulate them because they were not written down but passed down orally amongst themselves.
According to Livy, a year later, a second decemvirate was set up with different men, some of whom plebians, but with Appius Claudius still in a leadership position. These decemviri, who ended up ruling oppressively, added two more laws to the existing ones, known as unjust laws. And their reign came to be known as the reign of terror. In particular, Appius Claudius acted like a tyrant when he developed a lust for a young fourteen-year-old girl, forcing her father to kill her to set her free from Appius. The entire tragic saga led to the Second Secession of the plebians, after which the decemvirate was abolished, and Appius Claudius went into exile.
Another questionable character, as recorded by Suetonius, was Claudius Drusus, who set up a crowned image of himself at the town called Appius’s Forum and endeavored to conquer Italy using his armed dependants. There was also Claudius Pulcher, who, as consul, threw the sacred chickens overboard for refusing to eat after taking the auspices before a naval battle off Sicily during the First Carthaginian War. He cried: ‘If they don’t wish to eat, let them drink.’ He fought the battle and lost. And when the Senate ordered him to appoint a dictator, he made light of a critical situation by appointing his dispatch-rider, Glycias.
The Claudian women were no different from their men in attitude and action. According to Suetonius, there was a Claudia who, during the war with Hannibal, prayed and managed to re-float a ship stuck in the shallows of the Tiber, which was carrying the sacred image of the Idaean Mother-goddess. But another Claudia, when she was stuck in traffic, shouted: ‘I wish my brother Pulcher were alive to lose another fleet! That would thin out the population a little.’ She was tried by the people for treason. Another Claudia, a Vestal Virgin, whose brother wanted to celebrate a triumph but couldn’t because the people hadn’t given their consent, mounted the decorated chariot and rode with him to the Capitol, thus making it unlawful for the tribunes of the people to interfere with the procession.
Liva’s father, born Appius Claudius Pulcher, was a direct descendant of Publius Claudius Pulcher, the son of Appius the Blind. He was an infant when Marcus Livius Drusus adopted him, but the circumstances of his adoption are a mystery. It was customary in ancient Rome that when someone was adopted, he would take most of his name from his adopter but would keep one of his previous names in an altered form. Thus, Claudius became Claudianus.
This Marcus Livius Drusus got murdered for championing the cause of the Italian enfranchisement, as recorded by Appian. He was the son of Marcus Livius Drusus, Gaius Gracchus’s fellow tribune, upon whom the Senate prevailed to oppose Gaius’s proposal to confer Roman citizenship on Latins.
According to Suetonius, the Livii were originally plebians but achieved great distinction through obtaining eight consulships, two censorships, three triumphs, and the title of Dictator and Master of Horse. The first Drusus gained this honorable surname by killing an enemy chieftain called Drausus (283 BC) in single combat, and thus the name became hereditary.
Livia grew up against this rich historical backdrop, both good and bad, proud of her ancestry. She would have been raised with traditional Roman values and given an excellent education. However, she was also living in uncertain times. In 60 BC, two years before her birth, the political alliance between Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), and Marcus Licinius Crassus, known informally as the First Triumvirate, was formed. The triumvirate dissolved upon the deaths of two pivotal figures: Julia, Caesar’s daughter, whom he had married to Pompey, and Crassus. Julia died in childbirth in 54 and Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53.
In 49 BC, when Livia was nine, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and ignited a civil war. And she would have heard all the details of it. Her father was praetor in 50 BC, and the civil war would have been the topic of daily conversation in their home. At the age of ten, she would have heard the news of Pompey’s assassination in Egypt and, at twelve, the death of a beloved relative – Cato the Younger. Cato was the nephew of Marcus Livius Drusus, Livia’s adoptive grandfather. Drusus’s sister, Livia, was the mother of Cato the Younger. According to Appian, Cato committed suicide by disemboweling himself because he could not endure Caesar’s dictatorship.
At the age of twelve, Livia might have been too young to form her own political views and most likely would have only projected those of her father’s. And her father was a supporter of the old Republic with no tolerance for men like Julius Caesar. Thus, when Cleopatra made her first state visit to Rome in 46, it would not have impressed Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, particularly that she had produced a son by Julius Caesar. Caesar was still married to his wife, Calpurnia. However, it is possible for young Livia to have found herself rather intrigued, if not impressed, by the glamorous Egyptian queen. And perhaps in her young mind, she could have even envisioned herself as a future queen of Rome, regardless of the fact that Rome would never tolerate a king, let alone a queen.
Two years later, at the age of fourteen, Livia witnessed two major historical events: Cleopatra’s second visit to Rome and Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March. The former would have been dwarfed by the latter in importance. What Livia thought of either, we will never know, but her father would have shrugged off Caesar’s assassination as just deserts. Besides, he was busy with more pleasant matters, like finding a suitable husband for his daughter. He didn’t have to look too hard. A year later, Livia’s father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero.
Tiberius Claudius Nero was a descendant of the original Tiberius Claudius Nero, the brother of Publius Claudius Pulcher. And that made the couple cousins. Suetonius mixes the names and says that this Tiberius was the one who defeated Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal. But Livi records Gaius Claudius Nero, consul of 207 BC, with his fellow consul, Marcus Livius, who defeated Hasdrubal.
Nero was twenty-seven years Livia’s senior. But for a young girl to be married off to a much older man was not unusual in ancient Rome or, for that matter, in the ancient world. This practice was prevalent among aristocrats worldwide, where marriages often served a political purpose. Livia would have understood it. She would have been schooled in what was expected of her. Besides, she might have been fond of Nero. After all, Nero was not a stranger. There would have been plenty of opportunities at family gatherings for her to get to know Nero. It is improbable that her father would have married her off to Nero against her will.
Like Livia’s father, Tiberius Nero was a supporter of the Republic. According to Suetonius, after Caesar’s assassination, when the Senate was voting for an amnesty for the assassins to prevent further rioting, Nero moved to reward them despite Caesar having been his benefactor. In 48 BC, Nero had served under Caesar as his quaestor and had managed to successfully command his fleet in the Alexandrian War, for which he was amply rewarded. Caesar made him a priest and sent him to plant colonies in Gaul, Narbo, and Arelate.
In the same year as her marriage to Nero, the Second Triumvirate was formed between Octavian (the future Augustus), Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Dio tells us that the three men hated each other, but they needed each other’s support to take vengeance on their enemies. The three of them met at Bononia and pretended to agree to rule the Empire on equal terms as commissioners and correctors for administration and settlement affairs for a period of five years, but in reality, each man was aiming for his own supremacy. After pledges and oaths were taken, the triumviri delivered the news to their soldiers, whereupon Antony’s troops at his direction insisted for Octavian to marry Antony’s step-daughter, Claudia, even though Octavian was betrothed to the daughter of Publius Servilius Isauricus.
Claudia was the daughter of Mark Antony’s wife, Fulvia, by her first husband, Publius Clodius Pulcher, the tribune of the plebs, in 59 BC. Plutarch describes Clodius as the most unpleasant and unscrupulous character. He was murdered by Milo in 53 during their gang warfare when the former was standing for the praetorship and the latter for the consulship. According to Dio, Octavian didn’t think this marriage would hinder his design against Antony. After all, Caesar had not failed to carry out all of his plans against Pompey despite the latter being his son-in-law.
A great purge ensued when the triumvirs went on an orgy of killing. According to Dio, more killings were made by Lepidus and Antony than Octavian, for they were the ones with the greater number of enemies. Octavian was too young and had not been in politics long enough to have many enemies. Furthermore, Octavian was not cruel by nature and what he desired most was to be loved by everyone. Dio records that Octavian saved as many lives as he could. But Antony killed savagely and mercilessly. And he always viewed his victims’ heads whether he knew them or not or whether he was eating or not. His wife, Fulvia, too, took part in the killings to satisfy her enmity and gain her victims’ wealth. Among the proscribed was Cicero. Octavian didn’t want him to be killed but was forced to add his name to the list. Cicero’s head and hand were cut off and brought before Antony, who ordered for the head to be exposed on the rostra more prominently than the others.
Livia was soon to witness yet another civil war. This time between the Caesarion faction and the Republicans. Livia’s father fought on the side of Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the assassins, against Octavian and Mark Antony at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. When Brutus and Cassius were defeated, Livia’s father, whose name was on the list of the proscribed, committed suicide. It is reasonable to assume that Livia would have been devastated by her father’s death and most likely would have regarded both Octavian and Antony with hatred and disdain.
In 41 BC, Publius Servilius and Lucius Antonius, the brother of Mark Antony, became consuls. But the real power was Fulvia. Dio tells us that no transaction was made by the Senate or the people without Fulvia’s approval. Lucius was too busy trying to celebrate a bogus triumph over a people he had never conquered in a command he had never held. At first, Fulvia would not allow it, but Lucius courted her favor and got his wish. We cannot know what Livia thought of Fulvia, but it is possible that she admired Fulvia’s powers. It was not customary in ancient Rome for a woman to wield the kind of power that Fulvia did.
Upon his return to Rome, Octavian found Lucius and Fulvia at variance with him over land distribution to the army. According to Appian, Lucius and Fulvia didn’t want Octavian’s land distribution to go ahead because they didn’t want the army to be grateful to him since the victory at Phillipi was entirely Antony’s work and not Octavian’s, who was too sick to participate in the war. Consequently, Octavian dissolved his marriage to Claudia and returned her to Fulvia untouched. Octavian would have known from the beginning that this marriage would serve no real political purpose; hence, he never consummated the marriage.
With the dissolution of the marriage, Lucius and Fulvia commenced open hostilities against Octavian. Octavian’s land distribution had led to a large number of dispossessed landowners, providing a perfect excuse for Lucius and Fulvia to claim that they were fighting on their behalf, whom they called the oppressed. And Tiberius Nero, who was praetor at the time, decided to join their cause.
When eventually Octavian forced Lucius and Fulvia to flee to Perusia, Nero took Livia and their son, two-year-old Tiberius, to follow them to Perusia. Perusia was to meet a terrible end. Octavian starved the city into submission, and after its fall, most of the senators and knights were put to death but not in any ordinary manner. Three hundred of them were led to the altar consecrated to Julius Caesar, and there they were sacrificed. Dio tells us that the city was then destroyed by fire, and only the statues of Vulcan and Juno were saved.
According to Suetonius, only Nero of all the magistrates refused to capitulate upon Perusia’s fall. He stood loyally to his convictions and fled to Praeneste before going to Neapolis, where he tried vainly to enlist a force of slaves with a promise of arms and freedom. At Neapolis, when Nero and Livia were secretly slipping down to the port, Tiberius nearly gave them away twice by crying when their companions tried to assist them in their peril by first snatching the child from his nurse’s breast, then from Livia’s arms.
From Neapolis, they fled to Sicily to join Sextus Pompeius, the youngest son of Pompey the Great, who had set up an independent state in his attempt to resist the Second Triumvirate. However, Sextus snubbed Nero by refusing him the fasces and was slow at granting him an audience. Insulted, Nero fled to Greece to join Mark Antony, where they entrusted young Tiberius to the public care of the Spartans who happened to be clients of the Claudii. Suetonius and Paterculus tell us that while Livia was escaping with her son from Sparta, she ran into a sudden forest fire, which scorched her hair and part of her robe.
Livia didn’t have to join her husband on his flights. She could have stayed behind, and no harm would have come to her. The fact that she did shows that she held her husband in great affection and respect. Moreover, she must have agreed with his decisions. And we can be reasonably sure that Nero would have consulted Livia on the matter too. But why would Nero and Livia want to align themselves with questionable characters like Mark Antony, his wife Fulvia, and his brother Lucius?
In the case of Lucius, it could be that Nero and Livia were privy to the reason he joined Fulvia and rebelled against Octavian. According to Appian, Lucius was aware that Fulvia was in favor of autocratic rule but joined her only so he could bring down the triumvirate. At least, that is what he told Octavian when he made peace with him. But Mark Antony and Fulvia were another matter. It was Mark Antony who wanted Cicero, the champion of the very Republic they loved, dead and his head and hand cut off. And his wife, Fulvia, abused the dead man’s head by taking it between her knees, spitting at it, and piercing its tongue with her hairpin.
Perhaps, the reason to join them was Octavian’s excessive cruelty towards his most distinguished prisoners at Philippi. Octavian’s conduct was so bad that the prisoners saluted Antony as the general with much respect and reviled Octavian with the foulest language. It could also be that Livia might have had visions of such cruelties falling upon her father had he not committed suicide. Rome was divided between two powerful men: Octavian and Mark Antony. Nero and Livia would have had no choice but to choose a side, in which case Mark Antony might have appeared as a better option.
After Perusia, Fulvia fled with her children and joined Mark Antony in Greece. Octavian was now at war with two foes: Sextus in Sicily and Mark Antony in Greece. He decided to befriend Sextus. According to Dio, this might have been because he either thought him to be stronger or more trustworthy. The political alliance was sealed by marriage. Octavian married Scribonia, the sister of Sextus’s father-in-law, Lucius Scribonius Libo.
Scribonia had been married twice before, and she was older than him by seven years. According to Appian, Octavian had received many marriage offers, but since he didn’t have a single ship and didn’t have time to build any to fight his enemies, he instructed his friend, Maecenas, to arrange an engagement with Scribonia. When Libo heard this, he instructed his relatives to betroth his sister to Octavian without demur.
The alliance didn’t last long since Antony and Sextus joined together against Octavian. But it so happened that Fulvia died of an illness in Sicyon, which led to shifting alliances. Antony now allied himself with Octavian against Sextus. And the troops insisted for Antony to marry Octavia, the sister of Octavian, who had just lost her husband, Gaius Marcellus, and was pregnant. They married in October 40 BC. Octavian then issued a general amnesty for all those who had gone over to Antony in the war with Lucius and those whose names were on the proscription list, giving Nero and Livia a chance to return to Rome.
In 39 BC, celebrating the shaving of his beard for the first time, twenty-four-year-old Octavian held a magnificent entertainment and granted all citizens a festival at public expense. According to Dio, he kept his chin smooth afterward because he was already enamored of Livia. It is not known how he met her, only that she was six months pregnant. Dio says that Octavian at once divorced Scribonia, who had born him a daughter, to marry Livia. Scribonia gave birth to Julia on October 30, 39 BC, so the celebrations must have been held around the same time. Or it could have been a little earlier. Possibly on his birthday, September 23.
However, it is quite possible that Livia might not have been six months pregnant when he first met her. Most likely, Nero and Livia would have returned to Rome sometime in late 40 BC. Giving birth to her second son on January 14, 38 BC, would have required Livia to become pregnant between April and May 39 BC. She would have been six months pregnant if he had met her during the celebrations. But he could have met her before she was pregnant when Livia was still in Greece.
In any event, Octavian divorced Scribonia to marry Livia. His marriage to Scribonia was never going to last long. The goal of the marriage was a short-term political alliance, not a lifetime commitment. Suetonius says that Octavian gave out Scribonia’s excessive nagging as the reason for divorce. But Mark Antony said that [Octavian] abandoned Scribonia because she lamented too liberally the excessive power of a mistress –– dimissam Scriboniam, quia liberius doluisset nimiam potentiam paelicis.
We need not wonder who is telling the truth here. And we need not wonder who the mistress was. And nimiam potentiam paelicis speaks loud and clear to us as to who exercised power over whom. Livia was as interested in Octavian as he was in her, which might prove that the two knew each other before their hasty marriage. But was that interest based on love? And what role, if any, did Nero play in this affair?
It would be naïve of us to believe that two people with immense lust for power married each other for love and attraction alone. Octavian and Livia married because each had their own motives for this marriage to happen.
In the case of Octavian, he didn’t see just a beautiful woman. He saw a Claudian. Octavian was from a wealthy plebian family that was awarded the patrician status by Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome. Later they reverted to the plebian rank until Julius Caesar made them patrician again. However, Octavian’s lineage counted little with Mark Antony, who repeatedly denigrated Octavian’s family background by saying that he was the grandson of a baker and a money-changer.
Moreover, Octavian knew that Mark Antony had to be dealt with sooner or later, and he would need the support of the Senate to bring that about. He knew too that eventually, the Empire had to be ruled by one man. Sulla understood it but didn’t act upon it. Julius Caesar understood it and acted upon it and got murdered. And now Octavian was going to act upon it and survive it. What better way to increase his prestige by joining two great families, the Julii and the Claudii, in marriage before the eyes of the Senate and the people of Rome.
In the case of Livia, we may accept that Livia might have considered Octavian’s wealth. He was extremely wealthy, whereas she was not. What wealth her father had would have been confiscated once his name got into the proscription list. It is not known how wealthy Nero was, but most likely, he wouldn’t have been wealthy either, given that he, too, was once proscribed. It could even be argued that she was concerned about her husband’s health. Nero was now forty-six years of age, and maybe he was showing signs of poor health. She might have thought that soon he would die and she would have to remarry. In ancient Rome, the period of mourning after the loss of a husband was one year, and women had to remarry so they could have a male guardian. Both Dio and Suetonius say that Nero died shortly after Drusus’s birth. But this is an exaggeration. Nero died five years after Drusus’s birth.
And even if Nero’s health was a consideration, why would Livia want to divorce him when she was pregnant with their second child and rush into a marriage with Octavian? The man who was responsible for her father’s suicide. Given her beauty and family prestige as well as intelligence, Livia wouldn’t have had any problem finding another distinguished husband after Nero’s death. We have no idea what her mother thought about it all. History is completely mute on her. It could be that she was not alive by this time or if she was, she had little or no say in the matter.
But history is not mute on Nero. Suetonius says in the life of Augustus that Octavian took Livia away from her husband. And in the life of Tiberius says that when Octavian wanted to marry Livia, Nero surrendered her to him. But why would a man, who was unwilling to seek Octavian’s pardon after the fall of Perusia, just give up his heavily pregnant wife to him now? Perhaps he found that Octavian was not the ogre he thought he was, but even this was not reason enough to divorce his wife so Octavian could have her.
Tacitus alludes to Livia having been abducted from Nero. The word force is bandied about by modern historians as well. But in what way was Nero forced to divorce his wife? What could Octavian have possibly said to Nero that made the man divorce his pregnant wife? Did he threaten him? Did he simply say that he was in love with Livia and wanted to marry her? Or did he hold his breath and stomp his feet? And what about Livia herself? Did she have a say in the matter? Octavian could have never married Livia without her consent. If Livia’s father had organized this marriage, the decision to divorce or marry would have been out of her hands, but this was not the case.
Paterculus says that when Tiberius was three years old, Nero contracted Livia to Octavian. And Dio says the woman was given in marriage by her husband himself as a father might do. He even attended the wedding feast. The story gets even more bizarre. Dio tells us that at the wedding feast, Livia reclined with Octavian on one side of the room; and Nero on another with some man. For entertainment, prattling boys were brought in, and one of them went up to Livia and said: ‘What are you doing here, mistress?’ He pointed to Nero and continued, ‘For your husband is reclining over there.’ This was meant to be a witty and rude joke to make the guests laugh. Did Nero laugh?
It could be argued that what Nero did was not unprecedented since Cato the Younger did something similar. According to Plutarch, when Quintus Hortensius asked Cato to marry his wife, Marcia, who was pregnant, Cato agreed, provided her father, Philippus, approved. In response, Philippus said he would agree if Cato attended the wedding and both gave Marica to Hortensius in marriage. However, the similarities between the two cases are superficial. Hortensius, being a close companion and associate of Cato, who had no children of his own, wanted to join his family with Cato’s through marriage and children. Octavian, no admirer of Nero, though an admirer of the Claudian clan, wanted to join his family with theirs for political gain.
It is also curious to note that Hortensius first asked to marry Porcia, Cato’s daughter, who was married to Bibulus and had borne him two sons. Hortensius was even willing to give her back to Bibulus after she had borne him a child. Cato refused and considered the idea absurd and yet agreed to give Marcia away, which might indicate that perhaps Cato had no interest in his wife. But this is unlikely to have been true of Nero. After all, Livia unnecessarily risked life and limb to follow her husband in his flights from Octavian.
Force implies reluctance, but there is no evidence that Nero was reluctant in giving up Livia to Octavian. Moreover, if he was forced to do it, either by Octavian or Livia, he could have gracefully stayed away from both the wedding ceremony and the feast. He did neither. Nero was not a fool, so why did he act like a fool by playing the role of a father as opposed to a jilted husband? Could it be that this marriage served a political purpose to Nero? But in what way was this marriage politically important to him? How would he benefit from it? Nero died five years later without achieving anything politically.
For answers, perhaps we should turn our attention to their son, Tiberius. According to Suetonius, Livia tried various methods of foretelling whether the child would be a boy or girl. One was to take an egg from underneath a brooding hen and warm it alternately in her own hands and those of her maids, and she successfully hatched a cock-chick which already had a fine comb. Suetonius goes on to say that Tiberius had an unshakable belief in a glorious future that certain presages and prophecies had fixed in his mind since early childhood. He also mentions an astrologer named Scribonius who prophesied a crownless kingship for Tiberius.
It is important to note that Scribonius or any other astrologer or seer would not have sought out Tiberius’s parents to predict his future. It would have been the other way around. Nero and Livia wanted to know the future of their son. And they wouldn’t have gone to just any astrologer. They would have gone to the best. That the astrologer’s name is recorded is an indication that Scribonius was held in high regard. Of course, we are free to reject the notion that an astrologer could have predicted Tiberius’s future with any degree of accuracy. But to predict a child’s future, an educated guess by a well-practiced astrologer would have done the trick. It is not difficult to tell the difference between a highly intelligent child and an average one. And Tiberius would have fallen in the former category, which together with his ancestry would have convinced Scribonius or any other seer that the child was set for greatness.
Did belief in Tiberius’s destiny influence Livia to marry Octavian? Perhaps. Rome changed in a blink of an eye with the assassination of Julius Caesar. His assassins did not just kill Caesar; they killed the Republic. The Battle of Phillipi was the funeral of the Republic. Mark Antony could not and would not restore the Republic any more than Octavian could or would. And now Rome was divided between these two very powerful men, but only one of them could emerge as the ruler of the Roman world. No doubt, Octavian would have discussed his vision for Rome with Livia. Thus, it is possible that in those visions, Livia saw the destiny of her son – a crownless king. And we can be certain that Livia would have spoken about them to her husband.
Nero did not attend the wedding and the marriage feast because of his warm feelings for Octavian. He attended them because he knew that it would not be a Julian who would rule the Roman Empire one day. It would be his son, Tiberius, a double Claudian. No force was applied to Nero to divorce his wife. Octavian requested for Nero to divorce his wife and Nero complied. Only Livia could have convinced Nero that by marrying Octavian, they could guarantee their son’s rise to power. But for that to happen, Livia would need to have firm control of Octavian. Would she have been able to do it? There is no reason to think that she couldn’t. After all, Scribonia did lament the excessive power of a mistress over Octavian. That power was more than sexual. It was political. Livia would become more than just a wife to an emperor. She would become his political adviser too.
In part two of Women of the Empire, Livia’s marriage to Augustus will be examined.