Livia Did It!

In the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020, John Hodgman (who I am a massive fan of his work all around) and Elliot Kalan of Maxiumfun.org put together a 13-podcast series call I, Podius about the the 12-part BBC miniseries from the 1976 called I, Claudius, based on an adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God books.

I myself am a huge fan of this series, for all its foibles and fictionalization, mainly because I love Roman history and secondly because it stars some of the best British actors that I grew up watching and admiring.

For Example, here is a sampling:

Claudius – Derek Jacobi (known more recently for almost everything)

Tiberius – George Baker (perhaps most famous for his parts in Bond films and had a part on Doctor Who, of course also in an episode of Midsummer Murders)

Antonia – Margaret Tyzack (played in a Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and also Midsummer Murders)

Livia – Sian Phillips (she was the Reverend Mother Mohiam in Lynch’s Dune, Cassiopeia in Clash of the Titans, and of course made an appearance on Midsummer Murders)/

Emperor Augustus – Brian Blessed (for me he was the guy who starred in every Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare film and Prince Vultan in Flash Gordon)

Herod Agrippa – James Faulkner (most recently Lord Randyll Tarly in HBO’s Game of Thrones and before that Lord Sinderby in Downton Abbey)

Caligula – John Hurt (the man who has also been everything, except Midsummer Murders)

Livilla – Patrica Quinn (most famous for many for playing Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Sejanus – Patrick Stewart (the man is a treasure, never did Midsummer Murders, but most notably is Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek and Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men)

Castor – Kevin McNally (today is really best known as Gibbs, first mate to Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise)

Germanicus – David Robb (perhaps today best known as Dr. Clarkson on Downton Abbey but was also in an episode of Midsummer Murders)

Postumus – John Castle (I actually know him for his role opposite Antony Hopkins, Kathsrine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton in The Lion in Winter or as the bad guy Paul McDaggett in Robocop 3, but did you know he was also in Midsummer Murders?)

Macro – John Rys-Davies (best know of course for playing Sallah in two of the Indiana Jones movies as well the dwarf Gimli in the Lord of the Rings franchise…he was also Prof. Arturo in Slides)

A major theme running in the books, the mini-series, and for some historians is the idea that Livia, played by Sian Phillips, orchestrated the deaths and removal of MANY of the characters to make way so that her son, Tiberius (George Baker) would become emperor after Augustus.

This leads to the joking saying on the podcast and, for me, most pointedly by Mike Duncan in his podcast The History of Rome: “Livia Did It.”

I took this and ran with it to create 3 panel min-comics highlighting the people she gets rid of when she comes to see them as a threat, either to Tiberius’ succession (he’s not first in line) or to the position of power established by the Emperor Augustus as sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus was the nephew, only son of his sister Octavia, of the Emperor Augustus and his designated heir. He was married to Augustus’ daughter Julia. He died in 23 BC from what was said to be the plague, having fallen suddenly ill. The rumor mill of gossip in history somewhat holds, and I, Claudius depicts it, that Livia found a convenient opportunity to poison him (possibly through her doctor) and remove him from succession with plans to marry the widowed Julia to her son Tiberius. However, to preserve his alliance and need for his friend and general, Marcus Agrippa, Augustus decided to have Julia marry him instead.
Marcus Agrippa was one of Augustus’ oldest friends who worked and served with him to rule over the empire. After Marcellus’ death, he married Julia and they had quite a few children (more heirs for the empire). He had helped defeat Mark Antony and Cleopatra with Augustus. He died in 12 BC, when for I, Claudius‘ version of Livia he had outlived his usefulness, at one of his estates in southern Italy. His manner of death was not given, but the gossip most of pseudo-history believes that, once again, Livia had him removed, possibly by poison.
Livia had TWO sons by her first marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero, who she divorced to marry Augustus. By him she had Tiberius Claudius Nero (Tiberius) and Nero Claudius Drusus (Drusus and father of Germanicus and future emperor Claudius). Tiberius and Drusus are both excellent generals for Rome. While on deployment, and in the I, Claudius telling expounding to Tiberius a wish for Rome to be come a republic again and for Augustus to give up power, Drusus, who is Tiberius’ only friend, is injured. He would die of his injuries shortly after Tiberius rode to be by his side on the frontier in 9 BC. The implication of I, Claudius is, again, that Livia (his own mother) took him out to preserve power in Augustus and eventually for Tiberius. It paints her as pretty damn cold.
Agrippa and Julia had at least three sons who survived to adulthood: Lucius, Gaius, and Postumus (who was named for his father but with the extra cognomen of “Postumus” that he was known by for being born after his father had passed. Tiberius, at this time, chose to abandon Rome and defy Augustus by going in to exile. In I, Claudius even eventually decides he wants to return, having basically abandoned Julia who he claims to hate and who is brought down via the scandal of her own sleeping around behind her dad’s moralizing back, but Augustus won’t allow him. He is eventually allowed to return, when Lucius dies by drowning in a boat with his friend in 2 AD, forcing Augustus to recall Tiberius to help rule.
Lucius’ death was succeeded by his older brother Gaius’ death in 4 AD while deployed in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, while dealing with a situation in Armenia. His death, in early 4 AD, came only 18 months after that of his brother Lucius. It left the succession to Postumus, being the only male heir between Tiberius and the succession.

Of course, there is more to this and it is my plan, at some future date, to return and ideally finish this series with the deaths of Augustus, Postumus, and for extra innings the death of Fabius and Germanicus.

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