Julia the Elder

Julia the Elder
Berlín Julia Augusti.TIF
Bust of Julia the Elder
Born30 October 39 BC
Died14 AD (aged 52)
SpouseMarcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
IssueGaius Caesar
Julia the Younger
Lucius Caesar
Agrippina the Elder
Agrippa Postumus
HouseJulio-Claudian Dynasty
Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Augustus27 BC – 14 AD
Tiberius14–37 AD
Caligula37–41 AD
Claudius41–54 AD
Nero54–68 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.

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. Moreover, Augustus desired a male issue; as his only living child Julia's duty would be to provide her father with grandsons whom he could adopt as his heirs.[7]

In 25 BC, at the age of fourteen, Julia married her first cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the son of her father's sister Octavia, who was some three years older than her. Augustus himself was not present for the wedding as he was fighting a war in Spain and had fallen ill. Instead, he commissioned Agrippa to preside over the ceremony and hold the festival in his absence.[8]

The decision to marry Marcellus to Julia, and then Augustus's choice to raise Marcellus to the pontificate and curule aedileship[9], was perceived to be an indication that he would be Augustus' successor in power, despite his youth.[10] This put him at odds with Agrippa, whom people believed would oppose Marcellus' accession to power; the apparent preference for Marcellus is allegedly the catalyst that led to Agrippa to withdraw to Mytilene, Greece.[11]

However, 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."[12] 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").[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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 travelled to meet Agrippa where he was campaigning. She was caught up in a flash flood in Ilium (Troy), and almost drowned.[16] 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[17] 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. Suetonius alleges that Tiberius had a low opinion of Julia's character,[18] while Tacitus claims that she disdained Tiberius as an unequal match and even sent her father a letter, written by Sempronius Gracchus, denouncing him.[19] The marriage was thus blighted almost from the start, and the son that Julia bore him died in infancy.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]


Reluctant to execute her, Augustus decided instead to confine Julia on Pandateria, an island that measures less than 1.75 square kilometres (0.68 sq mi), with no men in sight and forbidden even to drink wine.[23] Her mother, Scribonia, accompanied her into exile.[24][25] 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.[26]

In AD 6, Julia's youngest son, Agrippa Postumus, was exiled for his growing unruliness. Then in 8 her elder daughter, Julia the Younger, was exiled to Tremirus also changed with adultery; it may also have been related to the attempted revolt by her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus and one Plautius Rufus.[27] It is said that at any mention of Julia or her two disgraced children, Augustus would remark of them: "If only I had never married, or had died childless", slightly misquoting Hector, in the Iliad.[28]

Five years after her initial exile, around AD 4, Julia was moved to Rhegium on the mainland and appears to have granted her a peculium (property), a yearly income and permitted her to walk about the town.[29] Despite these concessions Augustus never forgave her nor ever allowed her to return to Rome. This choice appears to have been unpopular with the Roman people who petitioned several times for her to be recalled.[30] Julia's exile cast a long shadow over Augustus's remaining years. There is mention of at least one suppressed plot to take her from captivity; one Lucius Audasius and one Asinius Epicadus had planned to forcibly take her and her son Agrippa Postumus from where they were held and to the armies, presumably to stage a coup against Augustus.[31]

Upon Augustus' death in 14, Tiberius ascended to the Princeps. Despite having shown some sympathy towards Julia when she was initially exiled[32], he instead enforced harsher conditions upon her. He removed her dowry and yearly income, citing that Augustus had failed to make provisions for them in his will, and thus left her destitute.[33] Furthermore, he denied her permission to leave her house or receive visitors.[34]

Death and aftermath

Julia died in 14, some time after Augustus' death.[35] While it is generally agreed by contemporary historians that it was as a result of Tiberius's actions against her, the circumstances of her death are obscure. Dio Cassius indicates Tiberius had a direct hand in her death by imprisoning her until she died either from debility or starvation.[36] Tacitus remarks that upon learning Postumus had been murdered, she succumbed to despair and her health slowly declined.[37] Augustus had explicitly given instructions in his will that she should not be buried in his Mausoleum of Augustus.

Simultaneously, her alleged paramour Sempronius Gracchus, who had endured 14 years of exile on Cercina (Kerkenna) off the African coast, was executed either at Tiberius' instigation[19] or on the independent initiative of Nonius Asprenas, proconsul of Africa.

Her daughter Julia died in AD 29 after 20 years of exile; she was also forbidden to be buried in Augustus' tomb by his will.

According to Suetonius, after his own ascension Caligula, the son of Julia's daughter Agrippina and Tiberius's nephew Germanicus, would claim that his mother Agrippina was the product of an incestuous union between Julia and Augustus. The reason for this is allegedly because he not wish to be thought of as the grandson of Agrippa due to his humble origins.[38] However, the existence of coins and inscriptions dating from Caligula's reign that clearly identify Agrippina as Agrippa's daughter suggests this account is apocryphal.[39]

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