At the start of the story, Livia Drusilla is a woman of advanced years who recounts the events of her life. She reminisces about a time when she was a fourteen-year-old girl living under her father’s roof, before she was married. She was the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, a respectable Roman nobleman who consequently plotted to murder Julius Caesar.
Augustus Caesar (once known as Tavius), Rome’s first emperor, is surrounded by three powerful women: Livia, Tavius’s wife and true love; Julia, Tavius’s only child; and Cleopatra Selene (called Selene), Tavius’s ward. Having just defeated the combined powers of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and Mark Antony, the Roman turncoat, Tavius brings Cleopatra’s children to Rome to take part in his triumph. At the mercy of the Roman emperor, Selene is given into the care of Octavia, the wife who Mark Antony once cast aside in favor of the Egyptian queen. Although she is living amongst those she considers enemies, she is treated like a Roman woman (similar to how a Roman daughter of Mark Antony’s would have been) but is regarded with coldness by Octavia.