Imagine a woman who was married, had one son while pregnant with a second son when she left her first husband, became involved with his enemy and married the second man. Not only that but she gave both her sons to her first husband, and her first husband gave her away in marriage. She and her second husband had no children but stayed together for over fifty years and ruled the greatest empire in history. Despite having no direct heirs to the to the empire, she was able to put her sons and grandsons in power. Sound slightly interesting?
Livia Druscilla or Julia Augustus was one of the most fascinating people in Roman history, but you might not gather that from Livia, Empress of Rome by Matthew Dennison. Livia had a villainous reputation because of her scheming to put her son and grandson in power. When men do this, they are normally not vilified, but women two thousand years later still are. Dennison tries to temper her image with more of what probably happened, but he makes her somewhat dull and writes more about the men.
Since there are countless books on the men of ancient Rome, I do not see the need to take one of the few books about a Roman woman and make it more about the men. I also think Dennison should have embraced what she did. Julius Caesar did not have any heirs but someone succeeded him after his death. In ancient Rome, it was not uncustomary to have non-direct heirs become emperor. Also, rarely do you read someone apologizing for what Caesar did. He was one of the great politicians and generals of all times. No apologies needed.
Livia was a politician when female politicians could not hold office. But politicians still direct events behind the scenes. She was not a tyrant, just a fascinating woman that I want to read more about.
Livia, Empress of Rome is still worthwhile for just the history but needs editing. Its too long and does not flow well. You will learn about ancient Rome but not easily.