Julia the Elder

For other Roman women named Julia the Elder, see Julia (women of the Julii Caesares).
Julia the Elder

Bust of Julia the Elder
Born 30 October 39 BCE
Died CE 14 (aged 53)
Spouse Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Issue Gaius Caesar
Julia the Younger
Lucius Caesar
Agrippina the Elder
Agrippa Postumus
House Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Father Augustus
Mother Scribonia
Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Augustus 27 BC 14 AD
Tiberius 14-37 AD
Caligula 37–41 AD
Claudius 41–54 AD
Nero 54–68 AD
Gens Julia
Gens Claudia
Julio-Claudian family tree
Category:Julio-Claudian dynasty
Preceded by
Roman Republic
Followed by
Year of the Four Emperors

Julia the Elder (30 October 39 BC – AD 14), known to her contemporaries as Julia Caesaris filia or Julia Augusti filia (Classical Latin: IVLIA•CAESARIS•FILIA or IVLIA•AVGVSTI•FILIA),[1] was the daughter and only biological child of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Augustus subsequently adopted several male members of his close family as sons. Julia resulted from Augustus' second marriage with Scribonia, her birth occurring on the same day as Scribonia's divorce from Augustus, who wished to marry Livia Drusilla.

She was the daughter of the Emperor Augustus, stepsister and second wife of the Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and the Empress Agrippina the Younger, grandmother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius, and maternal great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero.


Early life

At the time of Julia's birth, 39 BC, Augustus had not yet received the title "Augustus" and was known as "Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius," though historians refer to him as "Octavian" until 27 BC, when Julia was 11. Octavian divorced Julia's mother the day of her birth and took Julia from her soon thereafter.[2] Octavian, in accordance with Roman custom, claimed complete parental control over her. She was sent to live with her stepmother Livia when she was old enough and learn how to be an aristocrat. Her education appears to have been strict and somewhat old-fashioned. Thus, in addition to her studies, Suetonius informs us, she was taught spinning and weaving.[3] Macrobius mentions "her love of literature and considerable culture, a thing easy to come by in that household".[4]

Julia's social life was severely controlled, and she was allowed to talk only to people whom her father had vetted.[5] However, Octavian had a great affection for his daughter and made sure she had the best teachers available. Macrobius preserves a remark of Augustus: "There are two wayward daughters that I have to put up with: the Roman commonwealth and Julia."[6]

In 37 BC, during Julia's early childhood, Octavian's friends Gaius Maecenas and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa concluded an agreement with Octavian's great rival Mark Antony. It was sealed with an engagement: Antony's ten-year-old son Marcus Antonius Antyllus was to marry Julia, then two years old.

The engagement never led to a marriage because civil war broke out. In 31 BC, at the Battle of Actium, Octavian and Agrippa defeated Antony and his wife, Cleopatra. In Alexandria, they both committed suicide, and Octavian became sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

First marriage

As with most aristocratic Roman women of the period, expectations of Julia focused on marriage and on the resulting family alliances. Her family first married her off, like many Roman girls, in her early teens. In 25 BC, at the age of fourteen, Julia married her cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who was some three years older than she. There were rumors that Marcellus had been chosen as Augustus' successor, but Julia's father was not present: he was fighting a war in Spain and had fallen ill. Agrippa presided over the ceremony. Marcellus died in September 23 BC when Julia was sixteen. The union produced no children.

Marriage to Agrippa

Julia from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

In 21 BC, having now reached the age of 18, Julia married Agrippa, a man from a modest family who had risen to become Augustus' most trusted general and friend. This step is said to have been taken partly on the advice of Maecenas, who in counseling him remarked: "You have made him so great that he must either become your son-in-law or be slain".[7] Since Agrippa was nearly 25 years her elder, it was a typical arranged marriage, with Julia functioning as a pawn in her father's dynastic plans. There is from this period the report of an infidelity with one Sempronius Gracchus, with whom Julia allegedly had a lasting liaison (Tacitus describes him as "a persistent paramour").[8] This was the first of a series of alleged adulteries. According to Suetonius, Julia's marital status did not prevent her from conceiving a passion for Augustus' stepson, and thus her stepbrother, Tiberius, so it was widely rumoured.[9]

The newlyweds lived in a villa in Rome that has since been excavated near the modern Farnesina in Trastevere. Agrippa and Julia's marriage resulted in five children: Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, Agrippina the Elder (mother of Caligula), and Agrippa Postumus (a posthumous son). From June 20 BC to the spring of 18 BC, Agrippa was governor of Gaul, and it is likely that Julia followed him across the Alps. Shortly after their arrival, their first child Gaius was born, and in 19 BC, Julia gave birth to Vipsania Julia. After their return to Italy, a third child followed: a son named Lucius. In 17 BC, Augustus adopted the newborn Lucius and the three-year-old Gaius.[10] He took care of their education personally. Although Agrippa died in 12 BC., Augustus did not adopt the third brother, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Posthumus, until AD 4, after the exile of Julia - and after the deaths of both Gaius and Lucius.

Nicolaus and Josephus mention that during Julia's marriage to Agrippa, she was travelling to meet Agrippa where he was campaigning, was caught up in a flash flood in Ilium (Troy), and almost drowned.[11] Agrippa was furious, and in his anger he fined the locals 100,000 drachmae. The fine was a heavy blow but no one would face Agrippa to request an appeal. Only after Herod, king of Judaea, went to Agrippa to request a pardon did he withdraw the fine. In the spring of 16 BC, Agrippa and Julia started a tour through the eastern provinces, where they visited Herod. In October 14 BC, the couple traveled to Athens, where Julia gave birth to her fourth child, Agrippina.

After the winter, the family returned to Italy. Julia quickly became pregnant again, but her husband died suddenly in March 12 BC in Campania at the age of 51. He was buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Julia named the posthumous son Marcus in his honor. He was to be known as Agrippa Postumus. Immediately after the boy was born, and while Julia was still in mourning, Augustus had her betrothed[12] and then remarried to Tiberius, her stepbrother.

Marriage to Tiberius

After the death of Agrippa, Augustus sought to promote his step-son Tiberius, believing that this would best serve his own dynastic interests. Tiberius married Julia (11 BC), but first had to divorce Vipsania Agrippina (daughter from a previous marriage of Agrippa), the woman he dearly loved. The marriage was thus blighted almost from the start, and the son that Julia bore him died in infancy.[13] Suetonius alleges that Tiberius had a low opinion of Julia's character,[14] while Tacitus claims that she disdained Tiberius as an unequal match and even sent her father a letter, written by Sempronius Gracchus, denouncing him.[15] By 6 BC, when Tiberius departed for Rhodes, if not earlier, the couple had separated.


Because Augustus was her legitimate father, having married her mother with conubium, Augustus had Patria Potestas over her. Patria Potestas lasted until the paterfamilias, Augustus, either died or emancipated his child. Marriage had no effect on Patria Potestas, unless it was manus marriage which was rare at this point in time.

As the daughter of Augustus, mother (now legally the sister) of two of his heirs, Lucius and Gaius, and wife of another, Tiberius, Julia's future seemed assured to all. Yet in 2 BC she was arrested for adultery and treason; Augustus sent her a letter in Tiberius' name declaring the marriage null and void (Tiberius was at this time on the island of Rhodes and unable to respond quickly). He also asserted in public that she had been plotting against his own life.[16] Though at the time Augustus had been passing legislation to promote family values, he likely knew of her intrigues with other men but hesitated for some time to accuse her. Several of Julia's supposed lovers were exiled, most notably Sempronius Gracchus, while Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony and Fulvia) was forced to commit suicide. Others have suggested that Julia's alleged paramours were members of her city clique, who wished to remove Tiberius from favour and replace him with Antonius. This would explain the letter, written by Gracchus, asking Augustus to allow Julia to divorce Tiberius.[17]


Reluctant to execute her, Augustus decided on Julia's exile, in harsh conditions. She was confined on the island of Pandateria, with no men in sight, forbidden even to drink wine.[18] The island itself measures less than 1.75 square kilometres (0.68 sq mi). She was allowed no visitor unless her father had given permission and had been informed of the stature, complexion, and even of any marks or scars upon his body.[19] Scribonia, Julia's biological mother, accompanied her into exile.[20][21] It is said that Augustus would remark of them: "If only I had never married, or had died childless", slightly misquoting Hector, in the Iliad.[22] Julia's exile cast a long shadow over Augustus's remaining years.

Five years later, Julia was allowed to return to the mainland, though Augustus never forgave her and ordered her to remain in Rhegium. He explicitly gave instructions that she should not be buried in his Mausoleum of Augustus.


Julia died from malnutrition some time after Augustus' death in 14, but before 15.[23] With her father dead and no sons to take the throne, Julia was left completely at the mercy of the new emperor, Tiberius, who was free to exact his vengeance. The circumstances of her death are obscure. One theory is that Tiberius, who loathed her for dishonouring their marriage, had her starved to death. Another theory is that upon learning her last surviving son Agrippa Postumus had been murdered, she succumbed to despair. Simultaneously, her alleged paramour Sempronius Gracchus, who had endured 14 years of exile on Cercina (Kerkenna) off the African coast, was executed at Tiberius' instigation,[15] or on the independent initiative of Nonius Asprenas, proconsul of Africa. Julia's daughter Julia the Younger was also exiled in 8 AD on a charge of adultery on the same island as her mother - but actually for involvement in the attempted revolt by her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus - and died in 29 AD after 20 years of exile; she was also forbidden to be buried in Augustus' tomb by his will.

After her death

Suetonius claims that Caligula, the son of Julia's daughter Agrippina and Tiberius's nephew Germanicus, loathed the idea of being grandson of Agrippa, who came from non-elite origins. Hence, Caligula invented the idea that his mother Agrippina was the product of an incestuous union between Julia and Augustus.[24]


Among ancient writers Julia is almost universally remembered for her flagrant and promiscuous conduct. Thus Marcus Velleius Paterculus (2.100) describes her as "tainted by luxury or lust", listing among her lovers Iullus Antonius, Quintius Crispinus, Appius Claudius, Sempronius Gracchus, and Cornelius Scipio. Seneca the Younger refers to "adulterers admitted in droves";[25] Pliny the Elder calls her an “exemplum licentiae” (NH 21.9). Dio Cassius mentions "revels and drinking parties by night in the Forum and even upon the Rostra" (Roman History 55.10). Seneca (De Beneficiis 6.32) tells us that the Rostra was the place where "her father had proposed a law against adultery", and yet now she had chosen the place for her "debaucheries". Seneca specifically mentions prostitution: "laying aside the role of adulteress, she there [in the Forum] sold her favours, and sought the right to every indulgence with even an unknown paramour." Modern historians discredit these representations as exaggerating Julia's behaviour.[26]

Macrobius[27] provides invaluable details of her personality. Julia was well known for her gentle quick wit and sharp tongue. She was deeply loved by her father who admired her wit. Once, when asked her secret for having affairs while bearing children resembling her husband, she stated that she took on new passengers only when the boat was already full. (meaning that she only took lovers when she knew she was already pregnant by her husband)[28] Julia was equally celebrated for her beauty, intelligence and her shameless profligacy but mentions that "she abused the indulgence of fortune no less than that of her father."[29] Despite Julia's reputation, the people who knew her described her as a good-hearted and kind woman who was very popular with the Roman people not least because of "her kindness and gentleness and utter freedom from vindictiveness."[30]

Role in Anno Domini chronology

In 1605, the Polish historian Laurentius Suslyga, published a tract (later quoted by Kepler), which for the first time suggested that Jesus Christ was born sometime during the years 6-4 BC, not on December 25, 1 BC as Dionysius Exiguus implied, but never stated. According to Dionysius' dating scheme, the Christian era supposedly began on January 1, AD 1 about one week after Jesus' birth at the end of December. Julia's expulsion from Rome in 2 BC was featured in Suslyga's chronological argument which sought to establish Herod's death in 4 BC. Suslyga's chronological ideas concerning the dating of Herod's death based on Julia the Elder's exile have since been challenged by archaeologists.[31]

Julia in popular culture



Marriages and births


See also


  1. E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen - e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933, I 634
  2. Dio Cassius, 48.34.3.
  3. Suetonius, Vita Augusti 64
  4. Macrobius, Saturnalia: Julia's Wit, 2.5.1-10
  5. Suetonius Vita Augusti 64
  6. Inter amicos [Augustus] dixit duas habere se filias delicatas, quas necesse haberet ferre, rem publicam et Iuliam. Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.5
  7. Dio Cassius, 54.6
  8. Tacitus, Annals 1.53
  9. "vulgo existimabatur", Suetonius, Vita Tiberii 7
  10. Dio 54.18; Suet. Div. Aug. 64
  11. Nicolaus of Damascus|Nicolaus, ([Fragmenta der Griechischein Historiker] 2 A: 421-2; Josephus, Antiquities 16.2.2
  12. Dio Cassius 54.31
  13. Suetonius, Vita Tiberii 7.3
  14. "Iuliae mores improbaret", loc.cit. Suetonius
  15. 1 2 Tacitus, Annals 1.53
  16. Pliny NH 7.149 adulterium filiae et consilia parricidae
  17. Levick, Barbara, Tiberius the Politician, p26-29. ISBN 0-415-21753-9
  18. Dio Cassius 55.10, Suetonius, Vita Augusti 65
  19. Suetonius. ibid.
  20. Velleius Paterculus, 2.100
  21. Dio Cassius 55.10
  22. Suetonius, LXV, Life of Augustus
  23. Tacitus, Annals 1.53, "That same year Julia ended her days..."; cf. Ann.1.55, which commences the narration of events of 15
  24. Suetonius, Vita Caligulae 23
  25. Seneca, admissos gregatim adulteros, De Beneficiis 6.32
  26. Fantham, Elaine. (2006) Julia Augusti. p. 82/157. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3.
  27. Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.5
  28. Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, 5, 9-10: "Numquam enim nisi navi plena tollo vectorem"
  29. Macrobius, Saturnalia: Julia's Wit 2.5.
  30. Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.5: Mitis humanitas minimeque saevus animus.
  31. Frederick M. Strickert, Philip’s City: From Bethsaida to Julias, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2011), pp. 163-188.
  32. Mistakes in The Robe (1953)

External links

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