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Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome Hardcover – December 31, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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From Library Journal

Barrett, who has written biographies of Caligula and Agrippina, here reconstructs the life of a noteworthy Roman historical figure about whom little direct information is available. Livia maintained a "deliberate reserve" throughout her life and was steadfastly committed to being the Emperor Augustus's wife. Much has been suggested about the influence she had on her husband during his tenure, and common belief holds that she deliberately poisoned his successors. Barrett counters the mostly negative attacks on her character, arguing that much of what has been said about her is spurious. As such, those responsible for documenting the imperial family, such as the historian Tacitus, get scrutinized. Barrett explores other facets of Livia's personality, such as her interest in horticulture and political patronage. The book presents the general politics of the time and highlights other key figures from imperial Rome. Surprisingly, Livia was highly regarded by the Roman Senate, as well as by other peers, who often commended her for her generosity. Barrett's work is probably denser and more detailed than would interest the average reader, but for those keenly interested in studying ancient Rome it comes as a welcome addition to the genre. Recommended for academic libraries. Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Barrett is an assured and often amusing guide. -- Mark Golden, Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Barrett's excellent life of Livia…forms a worthy companion to his earlier biography, Agrippina. -- (Choice)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition. First Printing. edition (December 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300091966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300091960
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,005,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David A. Wend on May 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anthony Barrett has written another excellent biography. Livia is an historical figure who has been much maligned over time and effectively turned into a ruthless serial killer in order to see her son Tiberius as emperor. Reality is a different matter and Livia emerges as an intelligent, beautiful and caring woman whose life was generally restrained by having no official political position. As Augustus' wife, she could exert a great deal of influence but until he death, when she was adopted into the Julian gens and given the title name Augusta. Mr. Barrett has examined Livia's life in detail as the wife of the princeps, the mother of the second emperor, her role as a protector and benefactor and her public and her private life.
Among the bits of interesting information I found was that Livia gave an allowance to the Elder and Younger Julia's after they had been sent into exile that lasted for the rest of their lives. Also of interest was Livia's healthy habits, which included drinking red wine each day, and that she underwent grief management after the death of her son Drusus..
Mr. Barrett separates some more specialized discussions in the appendix, dealing with such topics as Livia's name and birth to Livia's relations with Agrippina the Elder etc. The book is invaluable for the detailed listing of sources of information about Livia, including inscriptions, sculptures, books and articles and a list of abbreviations of ancient authors and their individual works. In short, this is as complete a biography of Livia that we will have in English.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
LIVIA (First Lady of Imperial Rome)was just that. She was Augustus' wife and the mother of Tiberius and the grandmother of Caligula, Claudus, and Nero. As the first 'first lady' of the Imperial age she set the tone and pace of what would become the de-facto wife-of-an emperor (Augustus). No one had ever been in this position before. History has painted her as a murdering poisoner but author Anthony Barrett sets the gossip aside and plows right through the original sources teaching us why Tacitus and other primary sources were prejudiced against her and have handed down a tainted picture of her situation. Make no mistake, this was a hard book to read. It is real history by a real historian. But the effort really pays off if you are interested how Augustus and his wife virtually invented the politics that came to run the machinery started by Julius Caesar prior to his slaughter in the Senate House. I give it all 5 stars but caution that you should look elsewhere if you are just starting your adventure in reading about the glory that was Rome.
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Format: Paperback
The book offers a unique insight into the life of Rome's first imperial matron, Livia. Reviewing narrative and archeological evidence, Anthony Barret succeeds in showing how Livia was perceived by her contemporaries in light of Augustus' new imperial institutions. Because there's so little information on who Livia really was as a person, Mr. Barret's analysis starts becoming rather speculative when it comes to Livia's private dispositions. The book is thus more of a review of Livia's persona as opposed to her actual beliefs and behavior behind closed doors. At the very least, he succeeds in dispelling many of the anecdotal stories of her as a ambitious master schemer and regicite. These negative qualities are mostly the product of Tacitus' biased accounts which were so wonderfully crafted into Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" books. At the very least, one gets a good picture of the political and social environment Livia found herself in when she married Augustus and how it affected her public image. The book is easy to read for the casual reader but detailed enough for the scholar. I strongly recommend this work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've wavered between a two and three star rating for Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome by Anthony A. Barrett. Finally, on account of his exhaustive research I've come down on a three star rating.

Apparently there is not much in the way of hard evidence as to Livia's personality or actions. Barrett makes it very clear that historians Tacitus', Seneca and Suetonius et als are torn, and conflicting in their portrayal of Livia. The former being the most acid and hostile to Livia.

Barrett begins his biography by devoting paragraphs to speaking of Robert Graves' portrayal of Livia in I, Claudius and Claudius the God, including the BBC filming of same. He states (correctly) that Sian Phillips's portrayal of Livia was so strong, it has taken over popular opinion as the "real" Livia. There is a great deal of truth in what he says. However as far as I am concerned, Barrett has done very little to counteract that picture.

He states time after time (ad nauseam) that there is no verifiable proof of Livia being a poisoner as stated in Graves books. Every step of the way though, Barrett backs up the verifiable events as seen in Graves work. There is nothing to counteract those assumptions of being a poisoner. And, I hasten to admit, as far as I can tell, they are assumptions. We have no forensic proof that Livia poisoned the ones she was accused of poisoning in Graves books. As Barrett presents her Livia did in fact, have motive and opportunity to commit those crimes that she has been accused of.

Livia is presented by Barrett as being the epitome of Roman Womanhood, an example to be followed in every way. Loyal, and doing everything possible to support her husband.
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