Mothers, Murderers & Mistresses: Empresses Of Ancient Rome (2013) s01e01 Episode Script

Part One

I'm Catharine Edwards and much of my working life has been spent studying the compelling world of the ancient Roman empire.
I've long been struck by one defining characteristic.
When you look at the great triumphal monuments of ancient Rome, you see that the face of Roman power is portrayed as exclusively male.
Rome's emperors were men with thousands of legionaries under their command.
Autocrats whose word was law.
But in this series, I'm going to give you a rather different insight.
A Roman emperor governed in a highly informal way, which meant that those nearest to him could wield real power.
So who were the people who were up close and personal with the most powerful man in the known world, behind me in the Imperial Palace? Inevitably, naturally, many of them were women.
All had leading roles to play as ruling a vast empire became a family drama.
They were PR weapons and fashion role models.
Patrons and matchmakers.
Politicians and plotters.
Everything from murderers to murder victims, from pagan goddesses to Christian saints.
To reveal the secrets of these women's influence and power, I'll travel right across the empire, from its heart here in Rome to its rich eastern provinces and on to its distant northern outposts finding intriguing evidence of the impact these women made throughout the Roman world.
Is it heavy? It's not actually very heavy at all.
Would you like to have a hold? Thank you very much.
She's really lovely.
I'll explore a fascinating story spanning four centuries - of how exceptional women, from all corners of the empire, came to stand at the epicentre of imperial power.
These women took huge risks.
They tasted glory and tragedy - and changed the history of the Roman world.
And some of the most remarkable of them all were the trailblazers, who were in at the very beginning of Rome's extraordinary imperial story.
In the heart of modern Rome stands this statue of Augustus Rome's first emperor.
Beginning in 31 BC, Augustus dominated Roman politics for more than four decades.
He created Rome's first imperial dynasty, while preserving the facade of its ancient republic.
In this feat of political genius, Augustus had a crucial ally.
A woman as compelling and formidable as himself.
She was Livia Drusilla, wife of Rome's first emperor and mother of its second - a major and remarkable player in Roman public life for over sixty years.
Livia's name has become a byword for wickedness.
Second century historians and 20th century novels like Robert Graves' I, Claudius have painted her as a schemer, poisoner and murderer.
The real Livia was much more complex, though equally extraordinary.
She was a driver and a symbol of a revolutionary new order, an entirely new kind of Roman woman.
A woman forged in tumultuous times, who would shape the world she left behind her.
Livia was a child of the Roman aristocracy.
It meant that from her earliest days she knew both privilege and extreme danger.
In 44 BC, the dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated by aristocrats who resented his power.
Rome was engulfed by civil war between Caesar's killers and his supporters.
The teenage Livia faced a menacing world.
She'd been born into one of Rome's great families, the Claudii.
As a result, it was inevitable that she'd be touched by this extreme political turbulence.
Already, her father had backed the wrong horse after Caesar's death, siding with his killers and committing suicide after they were defeated in battle by his avengers.
Livia must have been tarnished by her father's disgrace.
But, by her late teens, she'd recovered enough to marry her first husband Tiberius Nero, and bear him a son.
But family life was soon thrown into chaos as a new power struggle inflamed Rome.
On one side stood Caesar's old colleague, Mark Antony.
On the other, Caesar's adopted son and heir, Octavian the man who would later become "Augustus".
Livia and her family were forced into a fateful decision.
Livia's very young, isn't she, but she and her husband nevertheless have to choose sides, don't they, between Octavian and Antony? They do because they're already involved.
Her husband is not a political innocent.
And at this point, yes, they have to pick sides.
The real risk is that they will end up on the wrong side of a civil war and when the spoils are then divided, they will have nothing.
Livia's husband opted for Mark Antony.
It was a costly mistake.
Antony's supporters were driven out of Italy.
Livia, her husband and young son began a life of precarious exile, pursued first to Sicily and then to Greece.
Even there, the supporters of their enemy Octavian were soon on the family's trail.
To evade them, the young mother was forced to run for her life through a forest fire an escape so desperate the young mother ran for her life and her hair and her clothes were scorched by the flames.
Livia spent three years in exile.
Then Octavian and Antony came to a truce.
It allowed her to return to Rome with her husband and son.
Livia was expecting her second child.
Her life was about to take a truly extraordinary turn.
The transformation in Livia's fortunes was dramatic.
She'd come back to Rome the pregnant wife of a relatively minor political figure who was lucky to be alive.
Within months, she had secured a divorce from her husband to marry Octavian, the dominant figure in Rome.
Precisely where and how Octavian fell in love with Livia is unknown, but it's clear he was instantly and forever - smitten.
The Imperial biographer Suetonius later wrote: "He loved Livia dearly, favouring her all his life beyond all others.
" But there were initial obstacles.
Livia was heavily pregnant.
So was Octavian's wife Scribonia.
Octavian's solution was ruthless.
He divorced Scribonia - on the very day she gave birth to their daughter in order to marry Livia.
Livia and Octavian, as he is known as this point, get together under rather complex circumstances and, clearly, there's a very strong personal attraction between them, but is there also, perhaps, a political dimension to their alliance, do you think? There are some advantages for Octavian to be married into one of the great old families, the Republic, but there are lots of other great old families, and maybe some disadvantages in marrying a pregnant bride, which must have shocked many people.
And she's only 19, and you can see what is in it for her, she's trading up from somebody who is a political has-been, not very successful for the last few years of his life, to a rising star.
And the two of them, they become a glorious power couple.
Octavian was Livia's second husband.
She, his third wife.
Frequent divorce and remarriage was standard in the Roman aristocracy as alliances were forged and broken.
But Livia and Octavian would be together for over 50 years and establish Rome's first imperial dynasty.
From the outset Augustus was determined his new order would not be wrecked by the infighting that had so damaged Rome.
It was going to be important to him to have a consort who could stand, not for the endless political wheeling and dealing between the inner aristocracy, but something which could produce a different kind of message.
Producing these new types of message was going to be what made Octavian Augustus so successful as a politician.
And Livia was integral to that from the start.
Octavian first deployed Livia in the front line of a propaganda war against the man who remained his rival Mark Antony.
Octavian and Antony had effectively divided the Roman world between them.
Octavian took the West.
Antony, the East.
In one of history's most enduring and tragic romances, Antony fell in love with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt.
For Octavian, their affair was an opportunity.
He painted Antony as dissolute and decadent, the creature of his exotic and depraved mistress.
Octavian cast his own wife in a very different role.
To suit her husband's political ends, Livia was presented as the exact antithesis of this strange foreigner with all her oriental vices.
Octavian told the world that Livia was quiet, homely and all that a Roman wife should be.
By 31 BC, the propaganda battles, with Livia at their forefront, finally escalated into all-out war.
Octavian's fleet destroyed Antony's navy at the battle of Actium.
Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.
This great obelisk was shipped here to Rome to celebrate the conquest of Egypt by Octavian.
News of his success was celebrated as more than simply the victory of one rival over another.
This was a triumph of Roman values.
The poet Horace gloried in "the downfall of the wild queen, "scheming with her sickly eunuchs, her filthy pack of perverts.
" Cleopatra was dead.
Livia lived on, an ever-more potent symbol of old-fashioned Roman virtues.
Now master of the Roman world, Octavian was given the new title "Augustus" by a grateful Senate.
It indicated a special reverence for him, but his lifestyle remained deliberately modest.
In their simple home here on the Palatine Hill, Augustus encouraged Livia and the women of the imperial house to weave and spin.
He wanted the Roman public to see Livia as a traditional Roman wife and mother.
Appropriately enough, this spinning was all part of the new regime's PR.
A revolution was well under way in Roman politics - and Livia's job was to help disguise that fact.
The fate of Julius Caesar, who had adopted Augustus as his son, was a stark lesson.
Caesar had called himself "dictator for ever" and been murdered by senators who saw him as a tyrant.
Augustus wanted the reality of sole power, but was happy to sacrifice its trappings.
He called himself merely "First Citizen".
Augustus claimed he was actually turning the clock back, not only restoring Rome's ancient constitution but also reviving its traditions of modesty and probity in public AND private life.
Livia was a central part of this campaign to promote old-fashioned values.
But her role as the public face of tradition raises an intriguing contradiction.
For centuries, women had essentially been invisible in Roman public life.
The very fact that Livia had a political profile at all demonstrates just how radical a figure she really was.
The proof can be found here, at Aphrodisias in southern Turkey.
In Livia's day, this was a Greek-speaking city in the thriving Roman province of Asia.
I've come to see hard evidence that Livia was much more than a mere propaganda figure.
She directly influenced daily life across the empire.
The key information is preserved here on this inscription, whose text probably dates from the early years of Livia's life with Augustus.
It actually concerns another community in this province, the islanders of Samos, who wanted the same status and exemption from taxation enjoyed by the people here in Aphrodisias.
These are some of the headlines from Augustus' response to the Samians, preserved here by the Aphrodisians, who might just have been feeling rather smug.
"You yourselves can see that I have given the privilege of "freedom to no people except the Aphrodisians, "who took my side in the war.
"I am well-disposed to you and should like to do a favour "to my wife, who is active in your behalf, "but not to the point of breaking my custom.
" The inscription proves that Livia vigorously pursued the Samians' case with Augustus, albeit with limited success at this moment.
However, her family had long been patrons of the islanders and Livia didn't give up on them so easily.
A short time after her husband's negative response, Livia got her way - and the Samians got their freedom from taxation.
Livia's influence with Augustus gave real power to a woman in Rome's new autocracy.
It was unofficial, undefined power but it was power nonetheless.
Livia's influence came to be felt all across the Roman empire.
In the late '20s BC, she accompanied her husband on a tour through Rome's eastern provinces.
During this trip, Livia became friends with Salome, sister of Herod the Great Rome's client king of Judaea, whose capital was here in Jerusalem.
When Salome asked for her advice on a personal matter with serious political implications, Livia wasn't afraid to offer it and get involved in the sensitive internal affairs of a client kingdom.
Salome had fallen in love with an Arab unwilling to convert to Judaism.
Herod warned his sister he would consider her a bitter enemy if she married this man.
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Salome tried to change Herod's mind by getting Livia to intercede for her.
Livia's initial intervention didn't work Herod continued to insist that Salome married a husband of his choosing.
Josephus records that Livia then told Salome to give in.
And accordingly, Salome "submitted to her as being Caesar's wife.
" So here we have Livia, acting as the power broker in an area which wasn't even, strictly speaking, Roman territory, willing to take action to help a friend.
showing the judgement to recommend retreat, and still preserving a friendship with Salome which would last for decades.
Livia's involvement in Judaea gives the lie to her carefully cultivated public image.
She was not just the quiet, submissive wife who spent her time weaving her husband's clothes here on the Palatine Hill.
Livia was involved, hands on and up to her elbows in the complex politics of the empire.
Livia's intervention over Salome's choice of spouse in Judaea is a very interesting moment when we see her taking a real role in imperial affairs.
Taking that one step further, is it right, do you think, to see her as a colleague of Augustus? Yes, I think one could use the term colleague.
Quite suddenly as Augustus' power becomes completely unchallenged in the Roman state, Augustus and his family find themselves taking on a royal role.
His spouse turns into a kind of queen and the power that she wields is the intimate power that a woman would wield on behalf particularly of other women.
So I think we can see this alternative to the male world happening in a really very vivid sense.
In public, Livia was showing herself to be the serene imperial consort.
In private, a supremely canny politician.
According to the imperial biographer Suetonius, one telling insight into Livia's true character came from her great-grandson, the notorious emperor Caligula Caligula frequently referred to his grandmother as "Ulysses in a stola".
So here she is, in a "stola" the female equivalent of the toga, a garment associated in the Roman mind with utter female respectability.
What Caligula was saying was that though Livia looked like a maiden aunt, she had all the cunning of Ulysses, the cleverest, shrewdest character in all of classical mythology.
Livia in her stola is part of the Ara Pacis the Altar of Peace.
This spectacular monument was commissioned by the Senate to honour Augustus and Livia.
The Ara Pacis was consecrated in 9 BC on Livia's 50th birthday.
That timing must have been deliberate.
Livia had risen to a height unknown to any previous Roman woman.
Accompanied by other members of the Roman imperial family, it's possible to see Livia and Augustus here as mother and father of the Roman state, too.
Guardians of its fortunes and of the moral standards which Augustus had been trying to enforce through legislation.
However, the image of the couple as watchful parents presiding over the Roman world had one flaw - Augustus and Livia had no children together.
Ancient sources tell us it was "the dearest wish" of Augustus to have children with Livia, but their only baby was premature and died.
This failure to produce an heir was a serious problem.
It put the future of the dynasty at risk and threatened the long-term stability of the entire empire.
If the power which had been concentrated in Augustus' and Livia's family was going to remain there after his death, an heir would have to be found.
The obvious source was the First Citizen's only child, the product of his previous marriage, his daughter, Julia.
Julia was the second trailblazing woman to leave an indelible mark on Rome's new empire.
But she would be both extremely popular and extremely wayward a deadly combination that would undermine everything her father Augustus stood for.
After she was born on the exact same day that Augustus divorced her mother, Julia had grown up with her father, as was Roman custom, until the time came for her to leave home and marry.
Two early betrothals designed to meet her father's political ends had been abandoned as his priorities changed, and at the age of 13 or 14, she was married to her father's nephew.
But Julia's first husband died just two years after their marriage.
Her father Augustus quickly remarried Julia to his great general Marcus Agrippa, who was 25 years older than her.
Julia did her dynastic duty, producing five children but there was rather more to her story than that of the simple, devoted mother.
Throughout her marriage, rumours circulated about Julia's promiscuity.
In an anecdote recorded in the fifth century, Julia is asked how it is that all her children looked like Agrippa, despite her extra-marital liaisons.
She replied: "I only take on a passenger when carrying freight".
In other words, she would only conduct an affair when already pregnant.
Julia was having fun, but it seemed she had also solved the problem of the succession.
Her two oldest sons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, were adopted by Augustus as his heirs.
Coins a key means of propaganda in the ancient world carried the image of Julia and these two boys.
Julia, and not her step-mother Livia, was the only woman to appear on a coin issued in Rome during the long reign of Augustus.
Julia was not just honoured by her father, but loved.
He used her to suit his political purposes with successive marriages, but that was a standard, long-established feature of Roman society and there's no evidence that Julia ever tried to oppose his plans for her.
However, it's also clear that, in everything from the way she dressed to the company she kept, his daughter exasperated him.
According to that same fifth century source, Augustus used to tell his friends that he had two wayward daughters to put up with the Roman state and Julia.
In 12 BC, Julia's husband Marcus Agrippa died.
Julia was pregnant.
Despite that and being in mourning her father Augustus immediately lined her up with her next husband.
Augustus had little choice.
He had set himself up as a moral champion, using marriage to reinforce social stability.
This campaign was backed by the force of law.
Wide-ranging measures introduced in 18 BC included penalties for young widows who did not remarry, while adultery was made a criminal offence, punishable by exile.
With these laws in place, the daughter of Rome's First Citizen - of all people - could not stay without a husband for long.
The solution was a wedding between Julia the daughter of Augustus and Tiberius, Livia's elder son from her first marriage.
This may have promised to be an inspired dynastic alliance.
It didn't work out that way.
The marriage was not a happy one.
The biographer Suetonius tells us that Tiberius hated Julia.
Pining for the wife he'd been forced to divorce in order to marry her, in 6 BC he left Rome.
Now a very wealthy, effectively single woman in the capital of a great empire, Julia set about enjoying herself essentially by taking more lovers.
The first century author Seneca alleges that it was here on the Rostra, the platform from which Augustus had announced his programme for moral legislation, that Julia conducted her "debaucheries".
Other authors talk of her "engaging in every sort of vice" and being "a byword for licentiousness.
" Ancient writers suggest that Julia's excesses were an open secret in Rome.
Despite that or perhaps because of it she was highly popular with the Roman masses.
Then in 2 BC, Julia's luck ran out.
News of her behaviour finally reached her unsuspecting father.
Augustus knew his daughter had a wild streak, but was stunned by the scale of her affairs.
His daughter had not only humiliated him.
She had sabotaged his great moral crusade.
The First Citizen could barely contain his rage.
According to Suetonius, Augustus thought about executing his daughter before he decided to banish her from Rome.
Augustus barred Julia from drinking wine or enjoying any other luxury in her exile.
Eventually, after five years, he transferred her to the mainland, where her treatment was rather milder.
But nothing could persuade him to recall her altogether.
Suetonius adds that despite the scandal, Julia's popularity with the Roman people endured, and led to calls for her return.
Augustus was furious and called down divine curses on anyone who mentioned the matter again.
In his will, Augustus even declared that Julia's remains should not be interred here, in the vast mausoleum he built for himself and his descendants.
Julia had been exiled not just from Rome, but from her own family.
Thinking about Julia's disgrace, is this a prime example, do you think, of conflict between the politics of the family and the politics of the state? I think I'd say it was an example of where the two are really one and the same thing under Augustus.
He's a man who made his own family the totem of Rome's prosperity and security and future, and for that he wanted his womenfolk to be model wives and mothers.
When that went wrong, it went spectacularly wrong.
And Julia was a pawn in this game, and the scandal which engulfed her later in her life perhaps had its origins in the way that Augustus tried to set his family up as a dynastic system within a republican constitution, which is a hard trick to pull off.
Julia's fall from grace was spectacular.
In flaunting her promiscuous lifestyle, she showed a crucial lack of political nous - a failing which her step-mother Livia definitely did not share.
Such was the level of political cunning attributed to Livia by some ancient authors, she was accused of manipulating the next key development in imperial history - the succession to Augustus.
It was even suggested that she brought about his death.
These dark rumours have played a dominant role in later characterisations of Livia.
The conspiracy theory goes like this - Livia's aim was to ensure her own son, Tiberius, succeeded Augustus as emperor.
But Augustus's grandsons, Lucius and Gaius, remained his designated heirs.
Then, in AD2, Lucius died.
In AD4, so did Gaius.
The great Roman historian Tacitus set the anti-Livia bandwagon rolling by pointing the finger of suspicion at her.
First Lucius Caesar and then Gaius Caesar met with premature natural deaths - unless their stepmother Livia was somehow involved.
Tacitus alleges that Livia's "secret scheming" now began in earnest.
Any further potential rival to Tiberius was to be eliminated.
Tacitus goes on to claim that by AD9, Livia had "the aged Augustus firmly under control" and so was able to arrange the banishment of his remaining grandson, Agrippa Postumus.
We don't know what charges were cited against Postumus, but a man who was potentially a rival to Tiberius had been removed from the scene, supposedly thanks to Livia.
Tacitus cast Livia as the guilty party.
But he had a political agenda.
Tacitus, who was writing a century later, was a senator.
He and his kind had been excluded from power by Augustus.
Stories of female plotting in politics were a means by which he could mock the entire imperial system.
The anti-Livia conspiracy theory had a further key element.
In AD14, Augustus fell gravely ill.
Soon he was dying.
One ancient source says simply - "He slipped away as he was kissing Livia with these words, "Live mindful of our marriage, Livia, and farewell.
" A less rosy version comes from Tacitus.
He tells us that when Augustus' health deteriorated, "some suspected his wife of foul play.
" The third century historian Cassius Dio is more specific, mentioning claims that Livia smeared figs with poison before giving them to her husband.
Anti-Livia historians claimed that she had a motive for murdering her husband of over 50 years.
They allege that Augustus had visited his grandson Agrippa Postumus in exile, and even planned to bring him back to Rome to usurp Tiberius.
But these stories are fanciful.
Tiberius was a distinguished general and experienced administrator.
For years he'd been the obvious man to succeed his step-father.
When Augustus died in AD14, the Senate immediately acclaimed Tiberius as emperor.
In short, Livia had no reason to poison her Augustus.
What's interesting is that the story took hold anyway.
It doesn't tell us a lot about Livia.
What it really reveals is how much ancient historians hated the idea of women being close to power.
A few days after his death, the body of Augustus was burned on the Field of Mars.
Livia stayed on the spot for five days of mourning.
But she would not be consumed by grief.
Livia's public life would take more dramatic turns, enhanced by her ever-mounting status.
Livia's position in Roman society was already exalted.
It reached even greater heights when her husband's will was read, here in the Senate House.
Augustus left Livia a vast fortune - and conferred unprecedented honours on her.
His will decreed that she should be adopted into his own family, the Julii - making Livia his daughter as well as his widow - and that she should be given the politically significant title of Augusta.
It was unheard of in Rome that a woman should share in her husband's title in this way.
Even in her seventies, Livia remained a trailblazer.
Later that year, the Senate made her late husband a god, and in a move which broke more new ground, Livia was appointed priestess of his cult.
Until now, the only women permitted an official role in Roman religion had been the Vestal Virgins.
As a priestess, Livia would honour Augustus in death just as she had supported him in life.
Their marriage had been a political and personal triumph.
Livia and Augustus are married for a very, very long time.
It was a very long partnership.
What is it, do you think, that makes that partnership so successful? It's a bit hard to say, isn't it? We're told that Livia was so matey - her "comitas" - that she was really easy to get on with, and I suppose that's something that you'd have to believe.
In all the areas in which Livia could represent - the parts of the Roman system in which a woman would have a particular role to play - she was the person to whom people would turn.
I suppose what you could call a kind of good cop/bad cop routine, in which Augustus is the vindicator of traditional moral values, and the stern defender of Roman tradition Hmm.
And then Livia sort of softens that a bit.
But in a quite political way, because obviously it's to Augustus' advantage not to antagonise those who feel oppressed.
Yes, quite so.
Livia, the advocate of clemency.
The flip side of that is the tradition which insists that Livia is behind the destruction of so many members of the imperial family.
This is the House of Livia on Rome's Palatine Hill.
The decorative walls offered a calming escape from a bustling city of a million people.
Here Livia could have now enjoyed, not only her wealth, but her unprecedented social and religious status.
She could have watched her money rolling in from her estates in Gaul and Asia Minor, her brickworks in Italy, her papyrus marshes in Egypt, and all her other interests.
She could have looked on with satisfaction as her son succeeded her husband as ruler of the Roman world.
But Livia had no desire for the quiet life.
Instead, she raised her political game, becoming a stronger force than ever in the running of the empire.
According to the hostile historian Tacitus, immediately Augustus died, Livia and Tiberius arranged the murder of Agrippa Postumus - grandson of Augustus, and the one remaining rival to Tiberius.
That story is just speculation.
What we can be much surer of is that once Tiberius was emperor, he soon became heartily fed-up with his mother.
Augustus had used Livia as a face of his regime and had listened to her advice in private.
But now that Tiberius had succeeded her late husband, she intervened openly in matters of state - much to her son's irritation.
Tiberius was angered by his mother Livia, because she claimed an equal share in his power.
He avoided meeting her too frequently or having private conversations with her of any length, in order not to give the impression that he was following her advice - though, actually, he sometimes needed and made use of it.
Tacitus confirms that impression.
Livia, he says, "was a compliant wife but an overbearing mother.
" Though her son could stand up for himself on occasion.
When senators suggested Livia be given the title of Mater Patriae - Mother of the Nation - just as Augustus had been its father - Tiberius blocked the idea.
In his view, it was inappropriate that such honours be bestowed on a woman.
Livia ignored these slights - and carried on annoying Tiberius.
So Tiberius is emperor, he's got all this power, yet Livia doesn't make life easy for him, does she? No, she's a very prominent person.
She's phenomenally wealthy, and she has connections with everybody who really matters.
And she is the priestess of a new religion - the Imperial cult.
And there are signs that he's really quite resentful sometimes about the extent of the influence that Livia has.
I think she's jealous of the position of emperor and he's envious of her popularity.
She's clearly extremely popular, charismatic, and he is not yet hated, but certainly regarded as a bit weird, a bit strange.
Not anything like a chip off the old block.
And there she is the priestess of the old block.
Livia's impact on Roman life only increased with the passing years.
Yet now the imperial family which she'd done so much to build was riven by a dramatic confrontation.
At its heart was one of the great tragic heroines of the Roman Empire.
Here is her funerary inscription.
"The bones of Agrippina", it reads.
"Daughter of Marcus Agrippa.
"Grand-daughter of the Divine Augustus.
Wife of Germanicus Caesar.
"Mother of Gaius Caesar".
Agrippina would make an explosive appearance on the Roman imperial stage.
She was the first Roman woman ever with the courage to take on a male emperor in a lethal contest for ultimate power.
Agrippina was the daughter of the now-disgraced Julia by her marriage to Marcus Agrippa.
That made her the grand-daughter of Augustus himself.
Agrippina was deeply conscious of the status this gave her.
Her husband was Germanicus.
Nephew of Tiberius and grandson of Livia.
Their marriage therefore united the bloodlines of Augustus and Livia.
Germanicus was a hugely popular military commander - celebrated as the avenger of Rome's disastrous defeat by the German tribes in AD9.
Agrippina and Germanicus were the golden couple of their age.
Agrippina might already have succeeded or replaced Livia as first lady of Rome.
When Augustus died, the troops Germanicus commanded on the Rhine acclaimed him as emperor.
But he was having none of it - and proclaimed his loyalty to Tiberius.
Agrippina was also making a name for herself as a leader of men.
Tacitus records how, with Germanicus away fighting across the Rhine, a rumour spread that a German invasion was coming.
Panic ensued.
Some, out of fear, conceived the disgraceful idea of demolishing the bridge over the Rhine.
But Agrippina stopped them.
In those days, this great-hearted woman took on the duties of a leader.
She herself gave out clothes to needy soldiers and dressings for the wounded.
She, a woman, had suppressed a mutiny which the emperor's name could not prevent.
Tiberius already feared and resented the popularity of Germanicus.
These events only made him increasingly suspicious of Agrippina, too.
In AD17, Agrippina left Rome with Germanicus to oversee the empire's eastern territories.
But Germanicus clashed with one of Tiberius's henchmen - Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, governor of Syria.
Making an enemy of such an imperial favourite spelt danger.
Then in AD19, Germanicus fell fatally ill in Antioch.
Germanicus believed that Piso and his wife, Plancina, had poisoned him, and that they'd been acting on Tiberius's orders.
But as he lay dying, Germanicus urged Agrippina not to seek revenge against Tiberius and those around him.
Germanicus begged Agrippina - by her memories of himself and by the children they shared - to put aside her pride, bow her spirit to cruel fortune, and, once back in Rome, to avoid provoking those stronger than herself by competing for power.
Agrippina did not listen.
When Agrippina arrived back in Rome, there was a public outpouring of sympathy for the widow mourning her murdered husband.
The Roman masses' acclamation of Agrippina alarmed Tiberius.
What got to Tiberius most was the people's intense support for Agrippina.
"The glory of her country," they called her.
"The only true descendant of Augustus.
"The sole representative of the past.
" Turning to heaven and the gods, they prayed that her offspring might live to survive their enemies.
Tiberius felt forced to put Piso and Plancina on trial for the murder of Germanicus - even though they'd been acting as his agents.
The trial took place here in front of the Senate on the Palatine Hill.
On the first day, Piso was almost torn to pieces by an angry Roman mob.
Not long after, he committed suicide.
Plancina was luckier.
Tiberius spoke out in her defence.
But there was a further twist.
Tiberius claimed he was only doing so under pressure from that ever present manipulator, his mother Livia.
When the Senate issued its verdict, it noted that the charges against Plancina were "many and serious".
It did not acquit her - but it waived the charges out of respect for Livia and what it called "her excellent service to the state.
" We can only speculate as to Livia's motives for intervening on Plancina's behalf.
What's clear is that the woman now known as The Augusta had the prestige and the influence to bend the Senate of Rome to her will.
Livia's power over the Senate was headline news.
The Senate's decision was recorded in inscriptions across the empire.
In the Piso trial, the verdict in relation to Plancina - what do you think that tells us about Livia's leverage in Roman society? Well, the verdict, of course, was to let Plancina off.
And the Senate adds - and this is the remarkable thing - that Livia could have asked them for anything, because all the benefits she has showered on people of every order, but she uses her power very sparingly.
It's a very strange thing, because it was quite unnecessary for them to say all that.
But that is an extraordinary tribute.
Livia's intervention had shown disfavour to Agrippina, denying her the vengeance she sought for the death of her husband.
And the whole episode meant Agrippina was now the outright enemy of her step-father Tiberius.
He had reason to fear her.
Tacitus tells us that Agrippina harboured ambitions for her children to succeed to the imperial throne.
To thwart her, Tiberius launched a series of prosecutions against her relatives.
Agrippina refused to retreat.
Tacitus goes on to record Agrippina angrily confronting the emperor as he made a sacrifice to the divine Augustus.
Agrippina's words were dynamite.
She said, "The man who offers sacrifices to the deified Augustus "ought not to persecute his descendants.
"It is not in mute statues that his spirit is to be found - "I, born of his sacred blood, "am his true representation.
" Agrippina, in telling Tiberius that she, not he, was the rightful descendant of Augustus, was, effectively, staking her claim to supremacy.
In addition, Agrippina had genuine charismatic appeal to the Roman masses.
But she over-reached.
This direct confrontation with the emperor was a dangerous step.
Particularly when she knew Tiberius and those around him were moving against her.
Tacitus claims Agrippina was so concerned about being poisoned by Tiberius that when she dined with him, she passed food to her slaves uneaten.
This only offended the emperor further.
No woman had ever dared to confront a Roman emperor like this.
Agrippina was playing a desperately dangerous game.
And she now upped the stakes by seeking the reinforcement of a new husband.
Agrippina is in some ways very vulnerable as a widow and at one point she wants to remarry, doesn't she? But Tiberius is very opposed to that which I think is very revealing, isn't it? That's right, yes.
In AD26, she asked permission to remarry.
At that point, her sons were in line as possible heirs.
They would have gained through that marriage a new protector and champion.
The husband would have become a political force in Rome, someone for disgruntled factions to rally round or promote.
Dangerous for Tiberius.
And he refused to allow it.
Tiberius was warned by his advisors that Agrippina's supporters were organising in Rome.
A showdown between Tiberius and Agrippina seemed inevitable.
For now, though, Agrippina survived.
Partly due to Livia.
Even Tacitus admits that the emperor's mother had a moderating influence on Tiberius, who retained what he calls "a long-standing deference for her.
" Once again, Livia's motives - this time for saving Agrippina from Tiberius's brutality - are unclear.
For the moment, Tiberius put Agrippina to one side.
The pressing issue was now his mother.
Despite the "long-standing deference" he claimed to show her, their disagreements rumbled on.
In AD26, Livia and Tiberius finally fell out altogether.
The cause was comic on one level - but also revealing about Livia's role as a political fixer, even when well into her eighties.
The story goes that Livia insistently demanded that he appoint to the jurors' list a man who had been granted citizenship.
Tiberius declared he would only do so on condition that the entry be marked "forced on the emperor by his mother".
Incensed by this, Livia produced and read out some old letters Augustus had sent her, describing Tiberius' character as "morose and inflexible".
This incident so annoyed Tiberius that he petulantly abandoned Rome for the island of Capri.
In AD29, at the age of 86, Livia finally died.
Tiberius did not return for his mother's funeral.
Soon after her death, the Senate attempted to have Livia declared a goddess.
Tiberius would not allow it, insisting that his mother had not wanted any such honour.
We've no way of knowing whether that was true, or whether he was just a resentful son getting his own back.
But Livia would not be denied a place among Rome's immortals.
Thirteen years after her death, in the reign of her grandson Claudius, she was finally deified.
Coins saluted the Divine Augustus and the Divine Augusta.
A heavenly couple watching over the Roman world.
But Augustus himself, though he had honoured Livia and provided handsomely for her, had been less willing to acknowledge her role in government.
When Augustus died, he left behind a list of all his achievements, to be reproduced all over the empire.
Here's a copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti - Things Done by the Divine Augustus.
It doesn't mention Livia once.
Augustus preferred the image of Livia as a submissive wife.
This confirms a fundamental truth about Roman imperial politics.
Any acknowledgement of a woman's involvement in that political life was a sign of weakness, and to be avoided, even by Augustus, even as he was approaching death.
But according to one source, Livia was well aware of the truth about her long marriage to Augustus.
She knew that she had enjoyed great power - and why.
When someone asked her how and by what course of action she'd obtained such a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was "by being scrupulously chaste herself, "doing gladly whatever pleased him, "not meddling with any of his affairs, "and, in particular, by pretending neither to hear, nor to notice, "the favourites of his passion.
" Though Augustus could not admit it publicly, Livia was essential to his political success - and his fellow architect in building a new imperial order.
Finally, she joined the pantheon of Roman gods.
In this respect, as in so many other others, blazing a trail for Roman imperial women - though not all would have her political shrewdness.
Livia was the supreme operator in the treacherous world of first century Roman politics.
But women whose judgement was flawed would end up not as leaders, but as victims.
Particularly when an enemy was as vindictive, powerful and patient as Tiberius.
When Tiberius became emperor, it was 20 years since he'd separated from Julia, the wife he hated.
Time had not mellowed his loathing.
We're told he soon arranged for Julia to die of starvation, "exiled and disgraced".
Next came Agrippina.
With Livia's moderating influence dead and buried, Tiberius exacted gruesome revenge on his troublesome step-daughter.
Tiberius sent a letter to Rome, denouncing Agrippina for her "insubordinate language and recalcitrant spirit".
A pliant Senate banished her to the same island where her mother had been imprisoned under Augustus.
According to the imperial biographer Suetonius, exiling Agrippina was not enough to satisfy the emperor.
When Agrippina complained about Tiberius, he had a centurion beat her until she lost an eye.
And when she was determined to starve herself to death, Tiberius gave orders that her mouth be forced open and food stuffed into it.
But Agrippina persevered and met her end.
Agrippina's miserable death from starvation - following in the grim footsteps of her mother Julia - highlights the limitations of female power in first century Rome.
It was her powerful sense of entitlement through her descent from Augustus that led Agrippina to take on Tiberius.
She miscalculated - with fatal results.
But she was right on one crucial point - the importance of her family connections, of her blood.
That was a key way in which women received and transmitted power, as Rome's imperial system took shape.
And the blood which flowed through her was shared by her children.
Her daughter, another Agrippina, would play a dominant role in the coming, dramatic decades of Roman history.
In the next programme, the fatally ambitious women who used sex and murder in the pursuit of imperial power.