Don't touch the figs.
~ Livia in I Claudius by Robert Graves

Livia is a character, played by Siân Phillips, in the BBC mini-series I Claudius based on Robert Graves' novels I Claudius and Claudius the God. She is the fictionalized or at least exaggerated version of real life historical figure Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus Caesar. Livia kills numerous people in order to put her son, Tiberius, on the throne after her husband dies. She is the grandmother of the story's first person narrator, Claudius.


Early life

Livia lived through Rome's first civil war. Livia's first husband, Tiberius Claudius Nero, had threatened to divorce her several times whenever she blamed republicanism for the civil war, additionally Tiberius Claudius, was also one of the main politicians participating in the war. When Julius Caesar's adopted nephew Augustus stepped up to put down the civil war he encountered Claudius Nero and through him, his wife, Livia. Despite Augustus executing Livia's father, Marcus Livius, and Livia being married to one of Augustus's chief political enemies, both Livia and Augustus fell in love with each-other. Augusts found Livia beautiful, intelligent and resolute while Livia was enamored by the one man seeking to bring order back to her nation and with political views that matched her own. Livia divorced Tiberius Claudius and married Augustus, Tiberius Claudius pledged his wife to Augustus as a form of tribute for being allowed to step down as a rival, Augustus accepted and took his rival's wife as his own. She entered into the marriage with her son, Tiberius, from her first marriage and in the early days after the war helped her new husband establish order. But as the years wore onward, Augustus became more and more inclined to listening to friends and family who were ether corrupt, dim, too old or just plain ill-experienced to make state decisions or influence Augustus on such decisions. As a result Livia begins to take it upon herself to kill off anyone Augustus might make his heir and lead Rome to a second civil-war after Augustus died. Livia wanted her son to rule because she could rule through him. All the rivals that might have earned Augustus's favor are killed off or banished or both by Livia or her agents.

I Claudius

Livia's first murder is that of Marcellus, her step-daughter's husband and Augusta's obvious favorite for succeeding him. Marcellus frequently antagonized Marcus Agrippa, Augustus's old time war buddy who was a moral leader of the military. When things became heated enough where Augustus needed to choose between the two he chose Marcellus, a choice that Livia felt would cause untold discord as Aggrippa was favorite amongst army vets and officials that had lived through the war. So eventually when Augustus, Marcellus's wife and Marcellus's mother all were out of state and Marcellus caught a cold, Livia saw a golden opportunity to poison him by slipping poison in his food and medicines while claiming she would nurse him back to health. When Marcellus did die Livia's doctor claimed it must have been some form of food poisoning - a partial truth Livia was quick to use to deflect suspicion. In between poisoning Marcellus, Livia was trying to sew infatuation between Tiberius and Marcellus's soon to be widow, Julia, as she was also Augustus's daughter and would easily link Tiberius as an heir. When Marcellus died however, Augustus had to offer Julia's hand to Agrippa to win his allegiance back. Livia waited, ten years until Agrippa's services could be spared and then poisoned him as well to clear the way for Julia to marry Tiberius.

Tiberius had been forced to divorce his former wife partially to satisfy his own ambitions and partially because there was good chance Livia would arrange for her to no longer be an issue. Resentment at losing his beloved wife for a politcal marrage weighed on Tiberius, which resulted in a loveless marriage between him and Julia, one that Tiberius rarely acknowledged and Julia dealt with through many affairs. Tiberius eventually slapped Julia one night when she was taunting him about his former wife's appearance, saying she was so flat chested she reminded her of one of the young men she was sleeping with. Augustus had Tiberius exiled for the gesture and though he was not officially divorced from Julia he was clearly unfavored as an heir of Augustus's now.

Brian Blessed and Siân Phillips as Augustus and Livia

Augustus and Livia

After many years of trying to get Augustus to consider lifting Tiberius's exile Livia realized the only way to clear her son was to smear Julia's reputation. Livia bribed Plautius, one of Julia's lovers and a friend of her son Lucius, to document her many other affairs. Livia wanted lists, names, times and places and in exchange would not only not report Plautius's part in the scandal but would pay him well enough to get his family out of their many debts. Plautius made a very thorough list with nothing there that could not be verified through the house slaves and time tables confirming the many men's schedules. Julia had three sons Gaius, whom Livia had already poisoned in battle - made to look like he died of his wounds, Postumus - who was just a boy at the time and Lucius - who was quickly becoming a likely heir to Augustus. When Livia had the list of Julia's comings and goings she decided to use it to shame Lucius into wanting to come forward with is mother's behavior and inform Augustus for Livia. It worked and Livia made Lucius think it was his idea to expose his mother and since Augustus did not know the information came from Livia, she ensured Augustus would believe it easier. Julia was banished and Lucius was killed in a "boating accident" arranged by Plautius under Livia's instructions, thus Augutus had no one to turn to to help him manage affairs of state other than Tiberius and lifted the exile.

When Postumus came of age he was married off but was unhappy with his wife and was having an affair with Livilla, Claudius's sister and Livia's grand-daughter. Livia found out about the affair and confronted Livilla. Livia disguised her suggestion to turn against Postumus as concern for Livilla's behavior. She said if the two ever had a falling out and Postumus ever did anything rash Augustus would surely dispose of Postumus though in doing so Tiberius would surely be made heir with no rivals and this would mean that Tiberius's son, whom Livilla was married to, would become Emperor after him. Livilla took the hint and claimed Postumus was trying to rape her one night when he came to visit her, planting a knife at the scene and "forgetting" to mention that her husband was in the next room. Postumus was banished by Augustus and Tiberius's place as heir to the throne was firmly secured.

Livia, Augustus' Murder

Livia: "He's dead, Augustus is dead." Tiberius: "The earth will shake."

Claudius is one of the only people left alive who finds out the truth about Postumus and eventually gets word to Augustus of what Livia has been doing. Livia could not find out who had gotten word to Augustus but knew him well enough to have him watched. When Augustus went to change his Will out of Tiberius's favor Livia makes a desperate move to keep her plans from completely falling apart; she has Postumus killed in his exile, Augustus' witness who had been with him when he changed his Will and Augustus himself. Though Livia has assassins act for her to take care of Postumus and Augustus's friend Livia decides to kill Augustus herself by poisoning his figs then replaces his altered Will with a forgery making Tiberius the new Emperor.


Over the years Livia becomes jaded and disappointed in Tiberius as the only good decisions he ever makes are the ones she tells him to make. Livia becomes sure the empire will fall apart when she dies as Tiberius has surrounded himself with the sort of corruption she was trying to keep away from the throne but at that point is resigned to the dystopian future. Livia is feared even in her older years and people seem to dread having dinner with her and rumors spread that those that cross her have a habit of falling down dead. Livia becomes remorseful as well as fearful in her old age fearing that she will go to hell for her many misdeeds. Livia had apparently been collecting prophecies and among them found that Claudius would eventually become Emperor and asked him to deify her after she died so that she would eventually join the gods instead of remaining in hell for eternity. In exchange for promising to make Livia a goddess when he got the chance Claudius asked Livia to tell him the truth of what she had done to get Tiberius the throne..

Claudius the God

By the second book Claudius the God, Claudius has indeed become Emperor as Livia predicted, his first official act as Emperor is deification of his grandmother as he promised. Over the course of the book Claudius is left to clean up the corruption and chaos left behind by his predecessor/nephew Caligula. Claudius being born with epilepsy appears simple and retarded but proves himself an intelligent ruler despite his mannerisms but soon finds his willingness to see the good in people only made him naive as he deals with numerous people close to him exploiting his trust and willing to destroy the empire for their own personal ambitions. By the last few chapters Claudius sees what Livia feared and truly understands her lack of faith in politicians not explicitly under her control. Claudius resolves to sabotage the government after he dies, leaving a complex plan for his son to go into hiding while the empire falls apart and then to come back after the fall to rebuild it as an honest, free and responsible government. However his son is unwilling to run and makes his own plans which ultimately lead to his death. In Claudius' final days he is haunted by the ghosts of those who came before him, whether they are real or just his mind affected by the poison he is certain he has been fed is left ambiguous, among the ghosts is Livia who comments about how it only looks easy running an empire until you get inside and see the corruption you need to clean up. Livia also mocks Claudius' choices saying if he had just killed his rivals like she did his son would have lived and the empire would be run by an honest, if not necessarily competent, person.


Livia thinks that she is doing the greater good and is completely devoted to seeing her goals met. She is a control freak that feels her opinions are ignored because she is a woman and that the empire would have been better off if she was it's high ruler. She usually hides behind the facade of a concerned motherly persona publicly but in truth is cold and calculating in most regards. Even in her old age she retains her intellect and lucidity and all those that know her best including, Tiberius, his generals and heads of state show a mixture of fear and respect when she enters a room. Livia admits that she killed Marcellus, Marcus Agrippa, Both of Julia's sons, arranged for Julia to be banished and even had killed Augustus. When Claudius asks if Livia killed his brother, Germanicus or his father/her son, Drusus, Livia states she did not, Germanicus had been killed by rivals and Drusus died of his wounds in combat however she had planned to kill both eventually. When Claudius asks why she was willing to kill her own son and grandson, Livia states both were "infected with republicanism" passed down to them from her first husband, whom she had apparently also killed to prevent from filling their heads with a notion that Rome should be a republic. She shows little to no remorse for most of her murders save for some false concern here and there. However Augustus's murder is one she takes very personally falling into heavy drinking at the time the poison was starting to take effect and making sure she was in the room with Augustus for his last moments where she confesses her true concerns for the empire and where it would have been headed if Augustus's decisions had gone unchallenged.

Having lived through a civil war brought on by ambitious senators and generals, all using the notion of a republic as an excuse to rule Roman, Livia permanently associates any and all desires to do away with the monarchy as a return to a time of pointless bloodshed and petty ambitions tearing her beloved country apart. When Augustus dies she insists that Augustus be deified after his death. The time of Augustus' death is also the only time she genuinely cries and falls into a deep depression that sticks with her for the rest of her life. Even telling herself that Augustus would have done the same given his execution of her father, Livia is unable to emotionally recover from the loss of her husband at her own hands. Livia continues to carry a torch for her late husband even after killing him and even though in her old age Livia has very much mellowed, she is still willing to have anyone from peasants to senators killed on the spot if they speak ill of Augustus in her presence. Livia also hates her grandson Caligula - who she keeps alive only as a political connection. She openly refers to Caligula as "Monster", in-light of both the murder of his father in retaliation for being grounded and his incest with his sisters and cousins. Livia is annoyed by Claudius as a child who she feels embarrasses the family due to his epilepsy but in his adulthood Livia picks up on the fact that his stammer and spasms are much more in-control when he thinks she is not watching; So in her autumn years Livia finally respects Claudius as a worthy opponent who had the good sense to play the fool around her for most of his life.


  • Though the Livia portrayed in the BBC production of I Claudius is very much the same to her portrayal in I Claudius the book it is some what different than the real life Livia: who, while though feared and rumored to be a corrupt politician by rivals was also credited as being the paragon for Roman womanhood.
  • In real life, Augustus's death is never confirmed as poisoning.
  • Livia lived to be 86 years old, quite a feat in an era when 60 would have been considered a venerable life span.
  • Real life, Livia was in fact deified after her death by the hands of her grandson Claudius.
  • In real life, Tiberius's rule DID degrade into corruption and near rebellion after Livia died.
  • It is implied but never confirmed, that Livia killed Claudius's betrothed Camilla, she is poisoned and shortly afterwards Livia arranges for Claudius to be used in political marriage.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.