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Domina - A series about Livia Drusilla

Lord Varys

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Not sure if that show warrants its own thread but since I started to write a rather long retrospective on the first season of that show I did not want to post that in the general thread.

The show is pretty well acted, although it focuses exclusively on the lives of the noble class and their household, with no Rome-like insight into the lives of the common people. The common people are only represented by Livia's former slave and best friend, Antigone.

There are a lot of accurate historical details in the show - the ahistorical name 'Octavian' is never used, for instance. Family and friends call him Gaius and the public Gaius Julius Caesar and later Augustus. When the second triumvirate is formed Gaius only gets Africa which was the original deal - he only gets the western provinces after Philippi. Historical details are often mentioned in passing even if they are not shown, and some anecdotes about ancient Claudians told to Livia by her father are taken directly from Suetonius.

I also like the background details - oil lamps, dishes presented on plates or in bowls, etc.

It tells basically two stories - the first two episodes follow Livia from her marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero up to her divorce and subsequent marriage to Gaius, then we jump ahead a decade to the years after the death of Cleopatra and Antony. From there the show covers the 20s BCE up to Marcellus' death in 23 BCE and its aftermath. While it could have been interesting to see what Livia did during the era of the Second Triumvirate it is really great to get a detailed coverage of the 20s BCE.

What's also really great is that we get more or less the entire Imperial Family without (m)any characters being cut or merged. The only people missing are Octavia the Elder - who didn't seem to play much of a role in politics, anyway -, Antony's children by Cleopatra (Ptolemaios Philadelphos, Cleopatra Selene, and Alexander Helios), and, I think, Marcella the Younger (who is one of the Julian ancestors of Valeria Messalina, but it is not that tragic to lose her, since Messalina had multiple Julian ancestors).

We have Tiberius and Drusus, Claudius Marcellus, Marcella the Elder, both Antonias, Scribonia, Julia, and Iullus Antonius. Even Augustus' obscure first wife, Claudia, is briefly mentioned. It is really great how this show includes and depicts a complete Imperial Family without necessarily giving the children that much screentime. They are there when they feast and they are mentioned when betrothals and marriages are discussed, and that's how you do it until they become relevant to the plot.

Not so great is the swearing in the show, they are saying 'fuck' way too often for my taste. That's much more pleasant in the dubbed version.

As for the details:


Livia is depicted as a close confidant of her father, Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, explaining how she develops her keen eye for politics. Young Augustus is the philanderer he is in our sources, having an affair with Scribonia before their marriage as well as one with Cicero's young wife and trying to hit on Livia before their marriage.

Tiberius Nero is an older guy who doesn't really understand politics and who basically cannot offer his wife anything at all. He drags the family from one faction to another, resulting in them being lost in the woods where young Tiberius is forced to watch dreadful things, which apparently deeply traumatize the boy and help shape his weird personality. Tiberius is the biological son of his father, while Drusus is the biological son of Sextus Pompey with whom Livia and her husband find refuge. This also seems to be part of the reason why Drusus is always his mother's favorite, not sullen and weird Tiberius.

In a very real sense the show is the opposite of Robert Graves without throwing him and his sources down the toilet completely. Tiberius Nero does eat poisoned oysters while dining with Livia in Augustus' house ... but it is not Livia poisoning her former husband but Livia's friend Antigone who hates Tiberius Nero since their time in the forest where he knocked her out and left her for dead which resulted in her being turned into a slave who had to work in a brothel.

Unlike Graves' fantasy of Claudius as a secret Republican - which is very unlikely to be the case for a child born this late in Augustus' family - Livia is the secret Republican as her father's daughter. Livius Drusus was a very noble Roman who had scruples to involve himself directly in the plot to murder Caesar and eventually took his own life after Philippi. Livia shares his ideals but is much more pragmatic than her father whose suicide she views as him betraying/abandoning her.

Originally, her marriage to Augustus is pragmatic but there is attraction and love there from the start. Her political plan is to have a son with Augustus which she then intends to raise as a Republican so he would restore the Republic when he becomes First Citizen. The show puts much focus on Livia's and Augustus' desire to have sons, and we see two stillborn sons. When Livia's final pregnancy leaves her effectively barren an entire episode deals with the fallout - the obvious fact that a barren wife should be replaced by a fertile one in a setting where her husband not only desires sons very much but also needs a clear biological heir for the monarchy he is trying to build. How they deal with that is very well depicted.

Once it is clear that Livia and Augustus won't have any children, Livia plans to make Drusus Augustus' successor. This eventually causes problems, too, because Livia's love for Drusus doesn't turn him magically into a smart guy. Tiberius is the one who inherited his mother's political acumen - he is very much reminsicent of Rome's Octavian, being able to correctly guess the motives and plots of the various factions -, but he has a very weird personality and, apparently, no political ambition at all. Eventually Livia and her ally Piso can convince Tiberius to help Drusus to restore the Republic but in light of his personality - he has a twisted obsession with his mother, desires her sexually while also fearing/despising her, in addition to a sadistic streak - chances are that he isn't sincere in this regard.

Also, quite funnily, while Augustus' own favorite is clearly his nephew Marcellus from the start - simply because he is his blood, not because the boy is talented (which he is not) - Tiberius slowly grows on him. Originally people think he doesn't like him but he is the one showing him favor, never his mother. If the show continues I'd not be surprised if Tiberius ended up siding with his stepfather against his mother rather than the other way around.

Marcellus is introduced as a stupid bully, but as the story progresses he is pretty much a tragic failure. Livia and Antigone do poison him, but not because they are evil but rather for self-preservation. When Augustus nearly dies of the plague Marcellus and his friends plot to murder both Tiberius and Drusus and exile Livia and Antigone to a small island. They feel they have no other choice but to get rid of him. Very interesting is that, in the end, the conspiracy unravels and the truth comes out. In the last scene Augustus sides with his wife and apparently forgives her treason ... which has all kind of interesting implications for the future if the show were to get a second and third season. After all, if Livia is known as a poisoner by the family then any suspicious death in the future will be laid at her door ... and she would not get away with all of them.

Julia gets along pretty well with her stepmother while Scribonia constantly plots against Livia ... although she is surprisingly loyal to Augustus. Octavia wants to advance her son but aside from that she is the stern and noble Roman matron history made her out to be.

Insofar as the story is going to progress if there is a second and a third season it seems clear that Livia's hopes in her son Drusus will be sorely disappointed ... at latest when he dies. And since Gaius and Lucius will be adoted by Augustus shortly after their birth, she is actually going to have time and opportunity to try to mold both boys into Republicans. In that light it is worth considering that Drusus' daughter Livilla is married to Gaius Caesar before his death. If Livia were able to get Gaius to see things her way, then his connection with her family should make him pretty safe.

In that sense, my guess would be that Gaius and Lucius are either going to die of natural causes - especially Gaius, who gets injured during a campaign - rather than being poisoned. Julia and Iullus are secretly in love and get Livia's promise that they would be allowed to marry after Agrippa's eventual death ... but we know that's not going to happen. One imagines that Augustus might be the guy insisting that Tiberius marry Julia rather than Livia - especially since Tiberius is supposed to have been so happy in his marriage with Vipsania.

Julia would then eventually turn against her father with Iullus because they are no longer able to suffer the shit they have to deal with. And Tiberius might very well be the crucial force ensuring that he would, in the end, succeed Augustus, because he is the only guy who is smart and ruthless enough to mastermind this.

If anybody else gets around to watch this feel free to reply and offer your opinions.

Edited by Lord Varys
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21 minutes ago, mcbigski said:

Where is it available?

I watched it on Sky Atlantic. Wikipedia says the distributor is NBC International, so I expect it will also be shown in the US eventually, Sky seems to have made it available already in quite a few European countries. I watched both a dubbed German version as well as the original English.

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I think we can expect they intend to continue the series since most of the children/youths are called 'Young Tiberius', 'Young Julia', etc. in the credits, meaning they intend to give us older and, one assumes, eventually very old versions of the characters.

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  • 8 months later...
8 minutes ago, Zorral said:

 Like Reign, in it's emo dressed up in preposterous interpretation of how people dressed in the days of Catherine de Medici, Domina does it in togas or something. :P  Very CW in approach, in other words.

Of course, it is a soap. I cannot be anything else. But that doesn't mean it is bad.

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4 hours ago, Zorral said:

Of course it doesn't. But for this watcher -- it was unwatchable.  From HBO Rome, to ... this? Really?  Do you like Britannia?

Didn't watch it so far.

Edit: What seems to make this 'Britannia' thing weird is that it includes supernatural/fantasy elements. But then, I see that Ian McDiarmid has a role there, so perhaps I might watch that after all.

Edited by Lord Varys
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Reading LV's post in full, I caught myself thinking that is a show I'd like to watch. Only to remember I did watch it and it was pretty awful.

It looks pretty good, to be fair, and the casting is decent. The characters are not though - simplistic and unconvicing. It takes a very creative approach to history too but I suppose that is inevitable. If you go into it expecting and wanting an undemanding soap it might work better. I thought it would be something more substantial.

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I'm sorry if I gave the impression that this was not a soap. It is basically another take at the events from I, Claudius, which is basically also a soap based on the rumors and gossip from Sueton, Tacitus, Cassius Dio, etc.

But the actual historical events covered in the show are more or less accurate. Of course, the take on Livia's secret motivations and her friendship with her slave/freedwoman is invented, but the public events - the formation of the Second Triumvirate, the public events of Livia's second marriage, the suspicious death of Tiberius Nero, the charade of Augustus returning powers to the Senate, the favoritism shown to Marcellus, his death at Baiae, the conspiracy to murder Augustus - are attested in the historical sources. We also have a lot of historical details mentioned in dialogue.

What really got me to like this thing is that the creator actually respects history enough to include nearly all the branches of the Julio-Claudian dynasty - if you compare it to Rome then this is shitshow insofar as the historical people are concerned. They cut both Scribonia and Julia in the second season, and failed to include Octavia's first husband Marcellus and subsequently also her son Marcellus who would be Augustus' first heir. She also had only one Antonia with Marc Antony, just as Livia only had Tiberius with her with first husband.

If that show had continued into the reign of Augustus it would have been a simplified mess.

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