I Am Livia

Written by Phyllis T. Smith
Review by Shannon Gallagher

Livia Drusilla is a 14-year-old girl when she overhears her father planning the assassination of Julius Caesar. Despite her young age, her father favors her with political discussion and debate, and Livia believes her life choices are for the good of Rome and not herself. Her first sacrifice is in marriage to Tiberius Nero, a man her father needs on his side in the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s assassination. She resists the marriage but finally submits for the future of Rome.

Livia never considers that a man could inspire true passion within her until she meets the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Caesar Octavianus (later Caesar Augustus), called Tavius, a family nickname. Without looking back, Livia is ruled by her heart and in so doing goes against every principle she had henceforth held dear. She finds herself united with a man she had thought to hate and fear, united not only in marriage but in a true partnership that would last 51 years.

Though Smith’s setting is the perilous time of Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra, her novel is character-driven. Smith’s Livia is such a dynamic character, so approachably human, at times fearless and forceful but also merciful and just. Smith just as masterfully creates Tavius, history’s Caesar Augustus, distinguishing the political figure from and illustrating the life of the man. The historical backdrop of Rome becomes more accessible, less academic, when seen through the lives of Smith’s characters.

I Am Livia is a wonderful journey to ancient Rome that provides amazing, thoughtful insight into one of its most influential and unconventional citizens.