Julia the Elder

Julio-Claudian dynasty

caption= Bust of Julia the Elder

Julia the Elder (October 39 BC - 14), known to her contemporaries as Julia Caesaris filia or Julia Augusti filia (Classical Latin: IVLIA•CAESARIS•FILIA or IVLIA•AVGVSTI•FILIA [Aut|E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen - e.a. (edd.), "Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III" (PIR), Berlin, 1933 - I 634] ) was the daughter and only natural child of Augustus. 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.


Early life

Almost as soon as she was born, she was taken from her biological mother whom Augustus had divorced that very day [Dio Cassius, 48.34.3.] : Augustus, in accordance with Roman custom, claimed complete parental control over her. Once she became old enough, she was sent to live with her stepmother Livia and began her education as an aristocratic Roman girl. It was Augustus' desire that Julia should be exemplary, and so 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 [Suetonius, "Vita Augusti" 64] . Macrobius mentions 'her love of literature and considerable culture, a thing easy to come by in that household' [Macrobius, "Saturnalia: Julia's Wit", 2.5.1-10] .

Julia's social life was severely controlled, and she was allowed to talk only to people whom her father had vetted [Suetonius "Vita Augusti" 64] . However, Augustus 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." ["Inter amicos [Augustus] dixit duas habere se filias delicatas, quas necesse haberet ferre, rem publicam et Iuliam." Macrobius, "Saturnalia" 2.5.]

At the time of Julia's birth, Augustus had not yet received the title "Augustus" and was still known as Octavian. Octavian's career progressed steadily after Julia's birth. 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 mistress, Cleopatra VII of Egypt. In Alexandria, they both committed suicide, and Octavian thus became sole ruler of the Roman Empire. In 27 BC, he adopted the honorific name Augustus. He killed Caesarion (Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar) and Antyllus, sparing only the youngest children, Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus, Cleopatra's children by Antony. At the request of his sister, Octavian also spared Antony's younger son, Iullus Antonius.

First marriage

As was the case with most aristocratic Roman women of the period, Julia's life was focussed squarely on her successive marriages and family alliances. Like many Roman girls, she was first married off 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

In 21 BC, having now reached the age of 18, Julia married Marcus Vipsanius 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 counselling him upon these very matters remarked: "You have made him so great that he must either become your son-in-law or be slain" [Dio Cassius, 54.6] . Since Agrippa was nearly 25 years older than she, 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") [Tacitus, "Annals" 1.53] ] . 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 ["vulgo existimabatur", Suetonius, "Vita Tiberii" 7] .

The newly-weds lived in a villa in Rome that was excavated near the modern Farnesina in Trastevere. Agrippa and Julia's marriage resulted in five children: Gaius Caesar, Vipsania Julia (also known as Julia the Younger), Lucius Caesar, Vipsania Agrippina or Agrippina Major (mother of Emperor 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 to the country on the other side of 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.

Nicolaus and Josephus mentions 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 [Nicolaus of Damascus|Nicolaus, ( ["Fragmenta der Griechischein Historiker"] 2 A: 421-2] [Josephus, "Antiquities" 16.2.2] . 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 for an appeal. It was only once Herod, king of Judaea, went to Agrippa to receive pardon that he withdrew 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 travelled to Athens, where Julia gave birth to her fourth child, Agrippina. Augustus, who took care of their education personally, adopted the boys Lucius and Gaius Caesar after their father's death in 12 BC. Augustus adopted both the newborn Lucius and the three-year old Gaius in 17 BC. [Dio 54.18] [Suet. Div. Aug. 64]

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 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 [Dio Cassius 54.31] and then remarried to Tiberius, her stepbrother.

Marriage to Tiberius

After the death of Agrippa, Augustus sought to promote his stepson Tiberius, believing that this would best serve his own dynastic interests. Tiberius married Julia (11 BC), but to do so he had to divorce Vipsania Agrippina (daughter of 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 [Suetonius, "Vita Tiberii" 7.3] . Suetonius alleges that Tiberius had a low opinion of Julia's character ["Iuliae mores improbaret", "loc.cit". Suetonius] , while Tacitus claims that she disdained Tiberius as an unequal match and even sent her father a letter, written by Sempronius Gracchus, denouncing him [Tacitus, "Annals" 1.53] . By 6 BC, when Tiberius departed for Rhodes, if not earlier, the couple had separated.


Even when Julia's husbands Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa were alive, and Augustus was thus not technically her "pater familias", he nevertheless exerted an enormous influence on her. His kin were expected to be paragons of Roman virtue. Under Roman morality, the obligations for a woman were different than those of a man; a married man could, for example, have sexual relations with slaves without reproach, whereas a woman was expected to be entirely sexually faithful to her husband.

As the daughter of Augustus, mother of two of his heirs, Lucius and Gaius, and wife of another, Tiberius, it must have seemed to Julia that her future was assured. 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. He also asserted in public that she had been plotting against his own life [Pliny "NH" 7.149 "adulterium filiae et consilia parricidae"] . 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 removed Tiberius from favour and replace him with Antonius. This would explain the letter, written by Gracchus, asking Augustus to allow Julia to divorce Tiberius. [Levick, Barbara, "Tiberius the Politician", p26-29. ISBN 0415217539]

It is hard to reconstruct what actually happened, but historians agree that she had taken part in nightly drinking parties on the Roman Forum and that Antonius was her lover as he is the only lover mentioned by more than two contemporary historians. Several men were also reported to have enjoyed her favors, but this may have been mere gossip.


Reluctant to execute her, Augustus decided on Julia's exile, in harsh conditions. She was confined on an island called Pandateria (modern Ventotene), with no men in sight, forbidden even to drink wine [Dio Cassius 55.10, Suetonius, "Vita Augusti" 65] . The island itself measures less than 1¾ km². 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 [Suetonius. "ibid".] . Scribonia, Julia's biological mother, accompanied her into exile [Velleius Paterculus, 2.100] [Dio Cassius 55.10] . Upon any mention of her and Julia, he would say: "aith ophelon agamos t'emeni agonos t'apolesthai" meaning "Would I were wifeless, or had childless died!" [from the Iliad] [Suetonius, LXV, "Life of Augustus"] . He rarely called her by any other name than that of his three imposthumes, or cancers. The exile of his daughter left Augustus both regretful and rancorous for the rest of his life.

Five years later, Julia was allowed to return to the mainland, though Augustus never forgave her and ordered her to remain in Rhegium (Reggio di Calabria). He explicitly gave instructions that she should not be buried in his Mausoleum of Augustus. When Tiberius became emperor, he cut off Julia's allowance, ordered that she be confined to the one room in her house, and that she should be deprived of all human company.


Julia died from malnutrition some time after Augustus' death in 14, but before 15 [Tacitus, "Annals" 1.53, "That same year Julia ended her days..."; cf. "Ann".1.55, which commences the narration of events of 15] . 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 [Tacitus, "Annals" 1.53] , or on the independent initiative of Nonius Asprenas, proconsul of Africa. Augustus in his will had forbidden Julia to be buried in his own Mausoleum of Augustus; ironically Augustus ashes are not in his tomb either; they were scattered in 410 AD in the Sack of Rome by Alaric.

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 comparatively humble origins. Hence, Caligula invented the idea that his mother Agrippina was the product of an incestuous union between Julia and Augustus [Suetonius, "Vita Caligulae" 23] .


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" [Seneca, "admissos gregatim adulteros", "De Beneficiis" 6.32] ; 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. [Fantham, Elaine. (2006) "Julia Augusti". p. 82/157. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3.]

Macrobius [Macrobius, "Saturnalia" 2.5] 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 laughed as she stated that she took on new passengers only when the boat was already full, [Macrobius, "Saturnalia", II, 5, 9-10: "Numquam enim nisi navi plena tollo vectorem"] . 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." [Macrobius, "Saturnalia: Julia's Wit" 2.5.] Despite Julia's soiled 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." [Macrobius, "Saturnalia" 2.5: "Mitis humanitas minimeque saevus animus."]

Julia in popular culture


*In "I, Claudius", a novel by Robert Graves, the description of Julia's life and personality is generally accurate. She is a sympathetic person who never intended any harm to others.
**Julia is described as a child who was instantly snatched away from her mother and taken by her father's new wife, Livia.
**As a child, her stepmother enforced strict discipline and an austere life of labor.
**She was not allowed to have any friends, and if she was caught talking to people not approved by Livia, she was punished. (Graves describes an occasion, which is probably fiction, when a commoner introduces himself to Julia, and Julia has her hair cut off by Livia as punishment.)
**Livia's cruelty is due to her desire for her line to rule (Tiberius and his descendants), not Julia's, as Julia was from Augustus's previous marriage.
**Julia's behaviour resulted from Livia and her son (Julia's 3rd husband) Tiberius' mistreatment of her.
**In the end, Livia manages to turn even Augustus against Julia and, as historical fact proves, she was sent into exile. Augustus initially allows Livia to select the island, and Julia was sent to tiny Pandataria. He later relents and asks where she is; upon discovering that she is stuck on that desolate, tiny isle, he selects the pleasant town of Reggio off the strait of Messina instead.
*In "Caesar's Daughter", a novel by Edward Burton, Julia is a three-dimensional character. Julia is described as a rebellious little girl who is willful and passionate but with a gentleness and compassion for the people of Rome. She is dearly beloved by nearly everyone she meets except her stepmother, Livia. Loyal to her father, but not afraid to criticize his decisions she is (after Livia) his favourite consort. Julia grows up among intrigue and ultimately becomes its victim. Despite her tragic fate, Julia remains very cheerful and kind nonetheless.
*In "Augustus" a novel by Allan Massie, Julia is a beautiful, desirable and happy-go-lucky character who is spoilt by her father. They still both love each other deeply. She is jealous of her father's relationship with her first husband Marcellus, disgusted with her marriage to Agrippa (who is thrilled with his younger and beautiful wife) and furious by her marriage to Tiberius. Her adulteries are justified by Augustus' bad treatment of her and she decides finally to rebel, which he denies as true though he is distraught by her banishment.
*Julia is the heroine of "I Loved Tiberius" by Elisabeth Dored.
*Julia appears in "The Poetaster", a play by Ben Jonson about the poet Ovid.
**The character of Corinna in Ovid's poems have widely been thought to be Julia the Elder, daughter of Augustus.
*William Auld wrote a short poem called "Julia on Pandataria" which takes a brief look on Julia's tragedies.
*Julia is mentioned in "Antony and Cleopatra" by Colleen McCullough. She is described as very pretty from a young age and intelligent. Augustus is not discouraged by the fact she is a girl and demands that she be educated in the manner of a man rather than a woman, describing her as "a queen in waiting".


*In the BBC Television mini series adaptation of "I, Claudius", Julia was portrayed by Frances White as the overly optimistic, witty and beloved daughter of Augustus. Julia is one of the few major female characters that doesn't plot to kill or actually murder someone.

*In the Italian mini series, "", Julia was portrayed by Vittoria Belvedere as a very tragic character, a victim of domestic abuse and rape. For a majority of the story, Julia and her father, Augustus, are at the centre of the story as Augustus recalls his life to her just before she is about to marry Tiberius. The character in question has lost her husband and both of her two boys to illness. She is at first innocent, loving, and beloved deeply by her father, but she gets mixed up in an affair with her father's enemy as the result of depression brought on by Tiberius' cruelty towards her. The series took a more modern view of her affairs, that among her lovers, she had only one true love: Iullus Antonius.

*In the film, "The Robe", she is played by Rosalind Ivan, making an inaccurate appearance as Tiberius' wife. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046247/goofs Mistakes in "The Robe (1953)"] ]

Marriages and Births

*25 BC, Julia marries her cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Marcellus died in September 23 BC. They have no children.
*21 BC, Julia marries Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. They have the following children:
**Gaius Julius Caesar in 20 B.C.
**Vipsania Julia Agrippina (also known as Julia the Younger) in 19 B.C.
**Lucius Caesar in 17 B.C.
** Julia Vipsania Agrippina or Agrippina Major (mother of Emperor Caligula) in 14 B.C.
**Agrippa Postumus (born after Agrippa's death).
*11 BC, Julia marries her stepbrother Tiberius. Their union produces the following:
**Infant son, not named in contemporary sources (by some later historians dubbed Tiberillus), died before adulthood.

See also

*Julio-Claudian family tree
*I, Claudius
*Lex Julia
*Lex Papia Poppaea


External links

* [http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/wlgr/wlgr-privatelife266.shtml Julia's wit - Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.5.1-10]
* [http://www.livius.org/jo-jz/julia/julia03.html LIVIUS: Articles on ancient history (Julia)]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/ BBC Ancient Roman]

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