Allan Massie

From Livia To Soaemias

Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia


Quercus 320pp £20 order from our bookshop

It is impossible to write the biography of any but a few people in the ancient world. The materials which go to provide the content of a modern biography are lacking. There are few letters or diaries, few even partly reliable memories of contemporaries. Most of the authorities are not contemporary with the subject of the biography, and their accounts are rendered untrustworthy by our ignorance of their sources and signs of the authors’ political or religious bias. There is of course epigraphical evidence, and that of statues and coins, but this is as reliable as a publicist’s press release, for it was almost all intended to serve the purpose of propaganda. Finally, much that is stated by ancient historians, often writing long after the events they chronicle and with no personal knowledge of the people they describe, is little better than conjecture when it is not simply invented.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Why did the 'bold and determined' Empress Matilda never manage to become Queen regnant? Peter Marshall reviews a n… ,
    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,