Page 32. " I once saw a strange painting "

Given that Claudius now claims to have seen an inscription marked "Poison is Queen" alongside a supposed portrait of Livia, executed a century before her birth, one may question whether, even in the context of the novel, Livia is actually portrayed as a poisoner, or whether this characterisation of her derives from Claudius's imagination. Suetonius describes the historical Claudius as being "cowardly and suspicious," and "terrified by ill-founded reports of conspiracies": unwilling even to attend dinner parties unless "guardsmen armed with lances were stationed around, and soldiers took the place of servants." It is, perhaps, this strand in Claudius's character that Graves is drawing on here.

Page 37. " Two days later, Marcellus fell sick "

Statue of Marcellus, The Louvre
GNU Free Documentation LicenseStatue of Marcellus, The Louvre - Credit: Alphanidon
Marcus Claudius Marcellus (42-23 BC), the nephew of Augustus, was one of two figures in the history of the Julio-Claudian dynasty whose untimely death was later to prompt questions of "what if..?"

Marcellus was assumed by many to be Augustus's natural successor. Velleius, in his Compendium of Roman History, tells us that he was "a young man of noble qualities, cheerful in mind and disposition, and equal to the status for which he was being reared." He had served as an Aedile (a junior magistrate) and as a member of the College of Pontiffs (a priestly role), and had begun the construction of the theatre which bears his name.

Claudius points the finger at Livia as bearing responsibility for his death. This suspicion was raised by Cassius Dio in his Roman History, but was rejected by him on the basis of the great number of natural deaths (presumably as the result of some epidemic) that had occurred during the course of that year.


The Theatre of Marcellus, Rome
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Theatre of Marcellus, Rome - Credit: MarkusMark

Page 40. " He was obliged to divorce his own wife "

Vipsania Agrippina
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeVipsania Agrippina - Credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc
This description of Tiberius's first marriage, to Vipsania Agrippina, whom he passionately loved, is taken almost word-for-word from Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars. Augustus's callousness, in forcing Tiberius to divorce his true love in order to contract a more "suitable" political marriage, has often been seen as a factor in Tiberius's later descent into personal unhappiness and sexual depravity. 

Page 41. " My Uncle Tiberius was one of the bad Claudians "

The Emperor Tiberius, The Louvre,
Public DomainThe Emperor Tiberius, The Louvre, - Credit: Jastrow
Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus (42 BC - 37 AD), the son of Livia and step-son of Augustus, reigned as Emperor from 14 AD until his death. A successful general, with victories over the Balkan and German tribes, he was described by Pliny the Elder in his Natural Histories as "the gloomiest of men." After 26 AD he became a recluse, retiring to the island of Capri and leaving the government of Rome, disastrously, in the hands of a brutal military strongman, Lucius Aelius Sejanus.

Graves's physical description of Tiberius draws heavily on Suetonius's account in The Twelve Caesars, even down to the strength of his hands ("his left hand was the more agile and powerful and his joints were so strong that he could push a finger through a fresh and sound apple and, with the tap of a finger, could injure the head of a boy or even a youth").

Page 42. " Those were his last words, and presently my uncle Tiberius closed his eyes "

The death described here is that of Nero Claudius Drusus, Claudius's father. He died on campaign in Germany, apparently from an injury sustained when he fell from his horse. Here Claudius once again points the finger at Livia, but with no real evidence to support the contention that Drusus was murdered.