Marcus Claudius Marcellus (Julio-Claudian dynasty)

This article is about the nephew of Augustus. For the Second Punic War general from whom this child was descended, see Marcus Claudius Marcellus.
Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty

Marcellus, nephew and son-in-law of Augustus
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

Marcus Claudius Marcellus (42 BC – 23 BC) was the eldest son of Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor, a former Roman consul, and of Octavia Minor, sister of Caesar Augustus, and hence was Augustus' nephew. He married the emperor's daughter Julia two years prior to his death, and served in that same year, 25 BC, under Augustus in Hispania alongside the future emperor Tiberius. He was given preference and so was elected at an unusually young age as a curule aedile, a magistrate's office, an honor Marcellus celebrated by presenting extraordinary public games (with Augustus' support). His ambitions are said to have brought him into conflict with Agrippa and with others: he is described as the presumptive monarchic heir of Augustus (though not by Augustus), or as his beloved nephew and son-in‑law (though less preferred than Agrippa as heir). He died at ca. 19 years of age, in Baiae, Campania, Italy, in 23 BC, and was buried in the mausoleum of Augustus, specific cause of death uncertain. His mother Octavia built a library in his honor, and Augustus' fondness was expressed in his funeral oration, and in naming a theatre and placing funerary statues of him (e.g., Marcellus as Hermes Logios). Though dying young and unproven, Marcellus' position led to his celebration by Sextus Propertius and by Virgil in the Aeneid.

Birth and lineage

Marcellus, born 42 BC, was the eldest son of Augustus's sister Octavia Minor and Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor, a former consul, and hence Augustus's nephew.[1] He was descended through his father from Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a famous general in the Second Punic War.


Augustus had no sons, and Marcellus was one of his closest relatives. Marcellus was therefore engaged to Pompeia, daughter of Sextus Pompey at the age of three, when his uncle needed to solidify a peace with Sextus Pompey (though after Pompey was defeated, the engagement was annulled). Marcellus was seen often in public with Augustus as he grew older, including at his triumphs over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and in a campaign against the Cantabri.


In 25 BC, just two years prior to his death, Marcellus was married to Augustus' only daughter, Julia the Elder,[1] with Agrippa officiating in Augustus's absence.[2] On Augustus's falling ill at this period "all were expecting that Marcellus would be preferred for Augustus's successor", according to Dio.[3] Velleius, a pro-Augustan source, states that:

People thought that, if anything should happen to Caesar, Marcellus would be his successor in power, at the same time believing, however, that this would not fall to his lot without opposition from Marcus Agrippa. He was, we are told, a young man of noble qualities, cheerful in mind and disposition, and equal to the station for which he was being reared.[4]

According to historians, this passage supports the suggestion in Tacitus and other sources that other potential heirs such as Tiberius and Agrippa felt threatened by Marcellus's rise. After the marriage Agrippa set out for Asia "on the pretext of commissions from the emperor, but, according to current gossip, was in fact withdrawing for the time being, on account of his secret animosity for Marcellus".[5] In addition, Dio states that:

[Augustus] well understood that Agrippa was exceedingly beloved by the people and he preferred not to seem to be committing the supreme power to him on his own responsibility. When he recovered, for, and learned that Marcellus because of this was not friendly toward Agrippa, he immediately sent the latter to Syria, so that no occasion for scoffing or for skirmishing might arise between them by their being together. And Agrippa straightway set out from the city, but did not reach Syria; instead, acting with even more than his usual moderation, he sent his lieutenants thither, and tarried himself in Lesbos.[6]

Aedileship and College of Pontiffs

In the same year as his marriage, 25 BC, Marcellus served under Augustus in Spain, alongside future emperor Tiberius.[1] Augustus began to encourage Marcellus' political career, in 23 BC gaining him the right to be a senator among the ex-praetors, to stand for the consulship ten years earlier than was customary, and through his election to a magistrate’s office, as a curule aedile that year, "at a younger age than normal," an honor that Marcellus celebrated with Augustus' approval and assistance through "exceptionally magnificent games,"[1][7] ones that Velleius called "a magnificent spectacle."[8] According to Tacitus, Marcellus was also appointed to the College of Pontiffs by Augustus.[9]

Ambitions and death

Marcellus' ambitions are said to have brought him into conflict with Agrippa and others.[1] He is variously described as being the presumptive monarchic heir of Augustus (though this was denied by Augustus), or as beloved by Augustus as nephew and son-in‑law, though with Agrippa preferred before him as heir.[1]

As it would come to pass, Marcellus did not live to see completed the theatre that Augustus had commissioned;[10] he became ill in the year of his aedileship, and died soon after, at approximately 19 years of age, in Baiae, Campania, Italy.[1] His death was ascribed to Livia (by hearsay), as reiterated skeptically by Cassius Dio,[11] an ascription also followed in Robert Graves' historical novel I, Claudius.[12] Whether he died of an infectious disease, or food or other poisoning, or another ailment is uncertain.

He was buried in his uncle's mausoleum and Augustus expressed his fondness in giving the funeral oration.[1] His mother Octavia built a library in his honor, and Augustus completed and named the Theatre of Marcellus for his lost nephew,[1][13] and placed funerary statues of Marcellus (e.g., Marcellus as Hermes Logios. Dio states:

Augustus gave him a public burial after the customary eulogies, placing him in the tomb he was building ... And he ordered also that a golden image of the deceased, a golden crown, and a curule chair should be carried into the theatre [of Marcellus] at the Ludi Romani and should be placed in the midst of the officials having charge of the games.

This he did later; at the time, after being restored to health, he brought his will into the senate and desired to read it, by way of showing people that he had left no successor to his realm; but he did not read it, for none would permit it. Absolutely everybody, however, was astonished at him because, although he loved Marcellus both as son-in‑law and nephew.... nevertheless he had not entrusted to him the monarchy, but actually had preferred Agrippa before him. Thus it would appear that he was not yet confident of the youth's judgment, and that he either wished the people to regain their liberty or for Agrippa to receive the leadership from them.[14]

Virgil reading Aeneid, Book VI, to Octavia, by Tailasson

Marcellus was celebrated further by Sextus Propertius,[1] and was added by Virgil at the end of the list of illustrious future Romans whom Aeneas sees in the underworld, in the Aeneid.[15] The passage—recounting Marcellus's life, connecting him to his illustrious ancestor Marcellus the Elder, and lamenting his tragically early death—is said to have caused Octavia to faint with grief when it was read.[16]


Citations and notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Editors of EB, 2015, "Entry: Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Roman official [died 23 BC]," Encyclopædia Britannica (online), see , accessed 22 April 2015.
  2. "Cassius Dio — Book 53". Retrieved 2015-04-24.
  3. "Cassius Dio — Book 53". Retrieved 2015-04-24.
  4. "LacusCurtius • Velleius Paterculus — Book II, Chapters 59‑93". Retrieved 2015-04-24.
  5. Velleius
  6. Dio 53.31.4-32.1
  7. Dio 53.28.3
  8. Dio (53.31.3) states that Augustus helped by "sheltering the Forum during the whole summer by means of curtains stretched overhead and had exhibited on the stage a dancer who was a knight, and also a woman of high birth."
  9. "The Internet Classics Archive | The Annals by Tacitus". Retrieved 2015-04-24.
  10. Augustus completed it "as a memorial to him" see Dio 53.30.5.
  11. "Cassius Dio — Book 53". Retrieved 2015-04-24. Livia, now, was accused of having caused the death of Marcellus, because he had been preferred before her sons; but the justice of this suspicion became a matter of controversy by reason of the character both of that year and of the year following, which proved so unhealthful that great numbers perished during them.
  12. Livia's responsibility for Marcellus' death, via poisoning, was dramatised forcefully in the subsequent television adaptation of I, Claudius.
  13. The remains of Marcellus' theatre were still standing in the 21st century, see Editors of EB, 2015, "Entry: Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Roman official [died 23 BC]," op. cit.
  14. Dio, 30.5-31.3
  15. Aen. 6.884.
  16. "Aelius Donatus, "Life of Virgil"". Retrieved 2015-04-24. Virgil "recited three whole books for Augustus: the second, fourth, and sixth—this last out of his well-known affection for Octavia, who (being present at the recitation) is said to have fainted at the lines about her son… 'You shall be Marcellus'. Revived only with difficulty, she ordered ten-thousand sesterces to be granted to Virgil for each of the verses."
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Marcellus.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 9/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.