Julia: Daughter of Augustus



But opposition and difficulties sprang up in her own family.  In 39 B.C. Augustus had had by Scribonia a daughter, Julia.  Following in the government of his family, as in so large a part of his politics, the traditions of the old nobility, Augustus gave his daughter in marriage when very young,-she was not yet past seventeen,-just as he early gave wives to Livia’s two sons, whose guardian he was.  In each case in order to assure within his circle harmony and power, he chose the consort in his own family or from among his friends.  To Tiberius he gave Agrippina, a daughter of Agrippa, his close friend and most faithful collaborator; to Drusus he gave Antonia, the younger daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, sister of Augustus.  To Julia he gave Marcellus, his nephew, the son of Octavia and her first husband.  But while the marriages of Drusus and Tiberius proved successful and the two couples lived lovingly and happily, such was not the case with the marriage of Julia and Marcellus.  As a result, disagreeable misunderstandings and rancor’s soon made themselves felt in the family.

We do not know exactly what were the causes of these disagreements.  It seems that Marcellus, under the influence of Julia, assumed a tone somewhat too haughty and insolent, such as was not becoming in a youth who, although the nephew of Augustus, was still taking his first steps in his political career; and it seems too that this conduct of his was especially offensive to Agrippa, who, next to Augustus, was the first person in the empire.

In short, at seventeen, Julia desired that her husband should be the second personage of the state in order that she might come immediately after Livia or even be placed directly on an equality with her. According to the Roman ideas of the family and of its discipline, this was a precocious and excessive ambition, unbecoming a matron, much less a young girl.  For the duty of the woman was to follow faithfully and submissively the ambitions of her lord and not to impart to him her own ambitions or make him her tool.  In contrast to Livia, who was so docile and placid in her respect for the older traditions of the aristocracy, so firm and strong in her observance of the duties, not infrequently grievous and difficult, which this tradition imposed, Julia represented the woman of that new generation which had grown up in the times of peace–a type more rebellious against tradition, less resigned to the serious duties and difficult renunciations of rank; much more inclined to enjoy its prerogatives than disposed to bear that heavy burden of obligations and sacrifices with which the previous generations had balanced privilege.  Beautiful and intelligent, even in the early years of her first marriage she showed a great passion for studies, and a fine artistic and literary taste, and with these a lively inclination toward luxury and display which hardly suited with the spirit or the letter of the “Lex sumptuaria” which her father had carried through in that year.  But fraught with greater danger than all this was her ardent and passionate temperament, which both in the family and in politics was altogether too frequently to drive her to desire and to carry through that which, rightly or wrongly, was forbidden to a woman by law, custom, and public opinion.


It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that a young woman endowed with so fiery and ambitious a nature did not become in the hands of Augustus as docile a political instrument as Livia.  Julia wished to live for herself and for her pleasure, not for the political greatness of her father; and indeed, Augustus, who had a fine knowledge of men, was so impressed by this first unhappy experiment that when Marcellus, still a very young man, died in 23 B.C., he hesitated a long time before remarrying the youthful widow.  For a moment, indeed, he did think of bestowing her not upon a senator but upon a knight, that is, a person outside of the political aristocracy, evidently with the intention of stifling her too eager ambitions by taking from her all means and hope of satisfying them.  Then he decided upon the opposite expedient, that of quieting those ambitions by entirely satisfying them, and so gave Julia, in 21 B.C., to Agrippa, who had been the cause of the earlier difficulties.  Agrippa was twenty-four years older than she and could have been her father, but he was in truth the second person of the empire in glory, riches, and power.  Soon after, in 18 B.C., he was to become the colleague of Augustus in the presidency of the republic and consequently his equal in every way.

Adoption Caius and Lucius

Thus Julia suddenly saw her ambitions gratified.  She became at twenty-one the next lady of the empire after Livia, and perhaps even the first in company with and beside her.  Young, beautiful, intelligent, cultured, and loving luxury, she represented at Livia’s side and in opposition to her, the trend of the new generation in which was growing the determination to free itself from tradition.  She lavished money generously, and there soon formed about her a sort of court, a party, a coterie, in which figured the fairest names of the Roman aristocracy.  Her name and her person became popular even among the common people of Rome, to whom the name of the Julii was more sympathetic than that of the Claudii, which was borne by the sons of Livia.  The combined popularity of Augustus and of Agrippa was reflected in her.  It may be said, therefore, that toward 18 B.C., the younger, more brilliant, and more “modern” Julia began to obscure Livia in the popular imagination, except in that little group of old conservative nobility which gathered about the wife of Augustus.  So true is this that about this time, Augustus, wishing to place himself into conformity with his law “de maritandis ordinibus”, reached a significant decision.  Since that law fixed at three the number of children which every citizen should have, if he wished to discharge his whole duty toward the state, and since Augustus had but a single daughter, he decided to adopt Caius and Lucius, the first two sons that Julia had borne to Agrippa.  This was a great triumph for her, in so far as her sons would henceforth bear the very popular name of Caesar.

But the difficulties which the first marriage with Marcellus had occasioned and which Augustus had hoped to remove by this second marriage soon reappeared in another but still more dangerous form, for they had their roots in that passionate, imperious, bold, and imprudent temperament of Julia.  This temperament the Roman education had not succeeded in taming; it was strengthened by the undisciplined spirit of the times.  And with it Julia soon began to abuse the fortune, the popularity, the prestige, and the power which came to her from being the daughter of Augustus and the wife of Agrippa.  Little by little she became possessed by the mania of being in Rome the antithesis of Livia, of conducting herself in every case in a manner contrary to that followed by her stepmother.  If the latter, like Augustus, wore garments of wool woven at home, Julia affected silks purchased at great price from the oriental merchants.  These the ladies of the older type considered a ruinous luxury because of the expense, and an indecency because of the prominence which they gave to the figure.  Where Livia was sparing, Julia was prodigal.  If Livia preferred to go to the theater surrounded by elderly and dignified men, Julia always showed herself in public with a retinue of brilliant and elegant youths.  If Livia set an example of reserve, Julia dared appear in the provinces in public at the side of her husband and receive public homage.  In spite of the law which forbade the wives of Roman governors to accompany their husbands into the provinces, Julia prevailed upon Agrippa to make her his companion when in the year 16 B.C. he made his long journey through the East.  Everywhere she appeared at his side, at the great receptions, at the courts, in the cities; and she was the first of the Latin women to be apotheosized in the Orient.  Paphos called her “divine” and set up statues to her; Mitylene called her the New Aphrodite, Eressus, Aphrodite Genetrix.  These were bold innovations in a state in which tradition was still so powerful; but they could scarcely have been of serious danger to Julia, if her passionate temperament had not led her to commit a much more serious imprudence. Agrippa, compared to her, was old, a simple, unpolished man of obscure origin who was frequently absent on affairs of state.  In the circle which had formed about Julia there were a number of handsome, elegant, pleasing young men; among others one Sempronius Gracchus, a descendant of the famous tribunes.  Julia seems toward the close to have had for him, even in the lifetime of Agrippa, certain failings which the “Lex de adulteriis” visited with terrible punishments.

death of Agrippa

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if from this time on there should have been fostered between Julia and Livia a half-suppressed rivalry.  The fact is, in itself, very probable and several indications of it have remained in tradition and in history.  We know also that two parties were already beginning to gather about the two women.  One of these might be called the party of the Claudii and of the old conservative nobility, the other the party of the Julii and of that youthful nobility which was following the modern trend.  As long as Agrippa lived, Augustus, by holding the balance between the two factions, succeeded in maintaining a certain equilibrium.  With the death of Agrippa, which occurred in 12 B.C., the situation was changed.

Julia was now for the second time a widow

Julia was now for the second time a widow, and by the provisions of the “Lex de maritandis ordinibus” should remarry.  Augustus in the traditional manner sought a husband for her, and, seeking him only with the idea of furthering a political purpose, he found for her Tiberius, the elder son of Livia.  Tiberius was the stepbrother of Julia and was married to a lady whom he tenderly loved; but these were considerations which could hardly give pause to a Roman senator.  In the marriage of Tiberius and Julia, Augustus saw a way of snuffing out the incipient discord between the Julii and the Claudii, between Julia and Livia, between the parties of the new and of the old nobility.  He therefore ordered Tiberius to repudiate the young, beautiful, and noble Agrippina in order to marry Julia.  For Tiberius the sacrifice was hard; we are told that one day after the divorce, having met Agrippina at some house, he began to weep so bitterly that Augustus ordered that the former husband and wife should never meet again.  But Tiberius, on the other hand, had been educated by his mother in the ancient ideas, and therefore knew that a Roman nobleman must sacrifice his feelings to the public interest.  As for Julia, she celebrated her third wedding joyfully; for Tiberius, after the deaths of Agrippa and of his own brother Drusus, was the rising man, the hope and the second personage of the empire, so that she was not forced to step down from the lofty position which the marriage with Agrippa had given her.  Tiberius, furthermore, was a very handsome man and for this reason also he seems not to have been displeasing to Julia, who in the matter of husbands considered not only glory and power.

Julia and Tiberius views of life

The marriage of Julia and Tiberius began under happy auspices.  Julia seemed to love Tiberius and Tiberius did what he could to be a good husband.  Julia soon felt that she was once more to become a mother and the hope of this other child seemed to cement the union between husband and wife.  But the rosy promises of the beginning were soon disappointed.  Tiberius was the son of Livia, a true Claudius, the worthy heir of two ancient lines, an uncompromising traditionalist, therefore a rigid and disdainful aristocrat, and a soldier severe with others as with himself.  He wished the aristocracy to set the people an example of all the virtues which had made Rome so great in peace and war: religious piety, simplicity of customs, frugality, family purity, and rigid observance of all the laws.  The luxury and prodigality which were becoming more and more wide-spread among the young nobility had no fiercer enemy than he.  He held that a man of great lineage who spent his substance on jewels, on dress, and on revels was a traitor to his country, and no one demanded with greater insistence than he that the great laws of the year 18 B.C., the sumptuary law, the laws on marriage and adultery, should be enforced with the severest rigor.  Julia, on the other hand, loved extravagance, festivals, joyous companies of elegant youths, an easy, brilliant life full of amusement.

Sempronius Gracchus and Julia

For greater misfortune, the son who was born of their union died shortly after and discord found its way between Julia and Tiberius. Sempronius Gracchus, who knew how to profit by this, reappeared and again made advances to Julia.  She again lent her ear to his bland words and the domestic disagreement rapidly became embittered. Tiberius,–this is certain,–soon learned that Julia had resumed her relations with Sempronius Gracchus, and a new, intolerable torment was added to his already distressed life.  According to the “Lex de adulteriis”, he as husband should have made known the crime of his wife to the praetor and have had her punished.  He had been one of those who had always most vehemently denounced the nobility for their weakness in the enforcement of this law.  Now that his own wife had fallen under the provisions of the terrible statute, to which so many other women had been forced to submit, the moment had come to give the weak that example of unconquerable firmness which he had so often demanded of others.  But Julia was the daughter of Augustus.  Could he call down, without the consent of Augustus, so terrible a scandal upon the first house of the empire, render its daughter infamous, and drive her into exile?  Augustus, though he desired his daughter to be more prudent and serious, yet loved and protected her; above all, he disliked dangerous scandal, and Julia dared to do whatever she wished, knowing herself invulnerable under his protection and his love.

Tiberius, fuming with rage

To this hard and false situation Tiberius, fuming with rage, had to adjust himself.  He lived in a separate apartment, keeping up with Julia only the relations necessary to save appearances, but he could not divorce her, much less publish her guilt.  The situation grew still worse when political discontent began to use for its own ends the discord between Julia and Tiberius.  Tiberius had many enemies among the nobility, especially among the young men of his own age; partly because his rapid, brilliant career had aroused much jealousy, partly because his conservative, traditionalist tendencies toward authority and militarism disturbed many of them.  More and more among the nobility there was increasing the desire for a mild and easy-going government which should allow them to enjoy their privileges without hardship and which should not be too severe in imposing its duties upon them.

Julia was most ambitious

On the other hand, Julia was most ambitious.  Since, after the disagreements with Tiberius had broken out, she could no longer hope to be the powerful wife of the first person of the empire after Augustus, she sought compensation.  Thus there formed about Julia a party which sought in every way to ruin the lofty position which Tiberius occupied in the state, by setting up against him Caius Caesar (b. 20 BC), the son of Julia by Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted and of whom he was very fond.  In 6 B.C., Caius Caesar was only fourteen years old, but at that period an agitation was set on foot whereby, through a special privilege conceded to him by the senate, he was to be named consul for the year of Rome 754, when Caius should have reached twenty.  This was a manoeuver of the Julian party to attract popular attention to the youth, to prepare a rival for Tiberius in his quality as principal collaborator of Augustus, and to gain a hold upon the future head of the state.

The move was altogether very bold; for this nomination of a child consul contradicted all the fundamental principles of the Roman constitution, and it would probably have been fatal to the party which evolved it, had not the indignant rage of Tiberius assured its triumph.

Tiberius opposed this law, which he took as an offense, and he wished Augustus to oppose it, and at the outset Augustus did so.  But then, either because Julia was able to bend him to her desires or because in the senate there was in truth a strong party which supported it out of hatred for Tiberius, Augustus at last yielded, seeking to placate Tiberius with other compensations.  But Tiberius was too proud and violent an aristocrat to accept compensations and indignantly demanded permission to retire to Rhodes, abandoning all the public offices which he exercised.  He certainly hoped to make his loss felt, for indeed Rome needed him.  But he was mistaken.  This act of Tiberius was severely judged by public opinion as a reprisal upon the public for a private offense.  Augustus became angry with him and in his absence all his enemies took courage and hurled themselves against him.  The honors to Caius Caesar were approved amid general enthusiasm and the Julian party triumphed all along the line; it reached the height of power and popularity, while Tiberius was constrained to content himself with the idle life of a private person at Rhodes.

But at Rome Livia still remained.  From that moment began the mortal duel between Livia and Julia.






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