Abstract: Divine Depictions of Livia in Early Imperial Statuary and Literature

Marble statue of Livia depicted as Ceres from the Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Marble statue of Livia depicted as Ceres from the Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Livia Drusilla occupies an important role in Roman history as the wife of Octavian Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, and as mother of Tiberius, the second ruler.  She contributed to the creation of imperial ideology, and her public image crucially supported the public image of the emperor and the imperial family during a time when they were solidifying their role in the state.  As Augustus led Rome from Republic to Empire in the first century BC, he stressed old Roman morals and virtues through his social legislation, so Livia embodied those ideals to support his authority.  As a result, early imperial statues depict Livia as a pious, regal, dutiful wife.

Some of the portraits, however, represent more than Livia’s matronly virtue and liken her to a goddess, using symbolism to compare her especially to Ceres, Juno, and Salus, goddesses associated with motherhood and public well-being.  Such associations promote the image of Livia as the mother of the Roman state and deify her through art, complementing both Augustus’ role as the father of the state and his own apotheosis.  Further testament to Livia’s importance is found in early imperial literature, and authors such as Suetonius, Ovid, and Tacitus mention her in their works.  In addition to studying statues of Livia, I will use these primary literary sources to support the conclusions I draw from the imagery of her statues, because despite their bias and differing assessments of Livia, the written sources provide useful information about her reputation during and shortly after her life.  Many of the sources corroborate the association between Livia and certain goddesses, and even critical sources attest her great political influence in the formation of Julio-Claudian rule.

Though Livia was not formally deified until 41 AD, twelve years after her death and during Claudius’ reign, my research will examine whether or not the Roman Empire viewed her as divine even before that date.  The statues of Livia and the early imperial literature suggest that she did achieve a divine status while living, and I will argue that the empire treated Livia as more than mortal before 41 AD.  The implications of her divinity stretch beyond her lifetime and affect the reputations and portraiture of later imperial women, for whom she was the first model.  Thus, it is useful to understand Livia’s divine depictions in order to better comprehend Roman art history and the role of women in supporting Roman emperors’ power.