A Basanite Babe

 Livia Drusilla, standing marble sculpture as Ops, with wheat sheaf and cornucopia, 1st C BC

Livia Drusilla, standing marble sculpture as Ops, with wheat sheaf and cornucopia, 1st C BC, Louvre

Livia Drusilla, first Empress of Rome, was indisputably the most powerful woman in the Julio-Claudian Roman Empire. All Julio-Claudian emperors were her direct descendents, despite having a childless marriage to the 1st Emperor of Rome, Augustus (formerly Octavian Augustus, back when there was a triumvirate and Rome was a Republic). This marriage lasted 50 years and by all accounts was a partnership of two clever heads. Livia (58 BC – 29 AD) saw to it that her son, Augustus’s step-son, inherited the throne. This, despite the fact that Augustus intended five others to inherit the throne (all of whom happened to die, some under rather suspicious conditions).

Basanite bust of Empress Livia (58 BC - 29 AD), Louvre

Basanite bust of Empress Livia (58 BC – 29 AD), Louvre

Because this bust is basanite (a volcanic rock), it’s believed to have been sculpted just after the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), when Octavian Augustus seized Cleopatra’s kingdom (the loss of this naval battle caused Mark Anthony to commit suicide). This would have made Livia 27 years old, already an able leader just as cunning as her Egyptian counterpart, Queen Cleopatra.

With senators on both sides of her family, Livia was not only the creme of the Roman aristocratic crop, she also had financial independence from Emperor Augustus (and from her former husband, the father of her two sons) through being granted the ‘marks of status’ in 35 AD, which was rarely granted to women. Soon thereafter she was also granted the sancrosancitas, which gave her the same rights Augustus had.

Tacitus described Livia as malevolent and called her a “feminine bully” and Robert Graves had a ball depicting her shrewd ambition in I, Claudius as the epitome of a scheming matriarch poisoning anyone who crossed her, and anyone who got in the path of her son Tiberius inheriting the throne. But no one questioned the fact of either her cunning intelligence or her absolute power. Second only to her husband.

WIth so many anecdotes under her belt, Livia is a perfect candidate for plenty of THATLous, from Wealth + Power to Women in Art / Ladies at the Louvre, or seen holding wheat she could even fit in for the Foodies in France THATLou coming up this summer!

7 thoughts on “A Basanite Babe

    1. Daisy de Plume

      You’re an angel, Somesh! I am particularly fond of the Julio-Claudian dynasty because they’re so riddled in scheming scandal. Will have some more of them posted soon!

      Reply
    1. daisydeplume

      Yes, me, too. Also about their personalities and how true to form their faces were. Talk about slow to respond, sorry!

      Reply
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