By Jean Marie Carey

Julia, the only child of Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) was born on 30 October in 39 BCE. Octavian’s marriage to Julia’s mother Scribonia was brief, as Octavian quickly divorced to marry Livia Drusilla. Even as the daughter of the emperor, it was Julia’s fate to be married off either in political alliance or to her father’s intended heirs. Julia endured several imposed marriages, eventually to Livia’s son Tiberius.

Julia was a witty and warm conversationalist and had a set of aristocratic admirers, but nothing foreshadowed her father’s public denunciation of alleged adulteries and her expulsion to the tiny island of Pandateria (Ventotene) in the Gulf of Naples late in 2 BCE. The last third of Julia’s life was spent in exile; she starved to death in 14.

Julia’s children were left to various fates, perhaps most famously embodied by Agrippina the Elder, who was a prominent Roman citizen and also the mother of Caligula. The name Julia, which indicated a familial relationship to the Julii Caesars, continued to be popular amid that aristocratic bloodline.

Reference: Elaine Fantham. “Julia the Elder.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome.: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Julia the Elder, c. 5 BCE. Altes Museum, Berlin.

Ara Pacis Augustae, in which Julia the Elder appears in procession, Rome. First constructed between 13 and 9 BCE. Reconstruction between 1937 and 1938. Buildings constructed to house the Ara Pacis between 1938 and 2006. Photo by Shmuel Magal Sites and Photos.

Agrippina the Elder, granddaughter of Augustus, daughter of Agrippa and Julia the Elder, c. 14 BCE. Musée du Louvre, Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN), Nr. ART154087. Photo by Hervé Lewandowski.

Roman Woman in the style of Julia the Elder, c. 75, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz. antikensammlung, Nr. SK433.

Roman Empress Livia, c. 30 BCE, Musée du Louvre, Nr. NIII 1035 (Ma 1233). Photo by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archive.

Beryl intaglio with portrait of Julia Domna, 200-210. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.78.90). Photo by Schecter Lee.

Further Reading:

Elaine Fantham. Julia Augusti. Routledge: London, 2006. 

Paul Chrystal. Women in Ancient Rome. Amberley Publishing: Stroud, United Kingdom, 2015.

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