Julia the Elder
The scandalous daughter of Rome’s finest emperor
By Max Paschall
Born to Augustus in 39 B.C., Julia was the only natural child of the emperor Augustus. She was betrothed at the age of two and was latter married three times in succession (C. Marcellus, Agrippa and Tiberius) on orders from her father and step-mother. Like most women of the Roman imperial household, her life and marriages were dictated for political purposes. Evidently she rebelled with notorious promiscuity and infidelity. Julia lived a miserable life of hardship and scandal, the last 12 years in banishment during which all three of her sons died. In 14 A.D., Julia the Elder died of slow starvation , either as the result of suicide or on the orders of her vengeful ex-husband, the emperor Tiberius.
On the day of her birth, her mother, Scribonia (second wife of Augustus) divorced the emperor Augustus. Augustus would soon marry Livia. History indicates Livia was perhaps much worse than the stereotypical step-mother.
At the age of two, Julia was betrothed to Marc Antony’s son, Antyllus, at the Treaty of Tarentum in 37 B.C. Antyllus died in 30 B.C., thus becoming the first of Julia’s many dead relations.
Her first marriage, was to her cousin, Marcellus in 25 B.C., who then died 2 years later. Marcellus evidently died of natural causes although it was believed that Livia may have had him poisoned.
Julia was then married to Agrippa, 25 years her senior. Agrippa was Augustus’s right-hand man, one of Rome’s best generals, and heir apparent. Despite their age difference, Julia and Agrippa had 5 children and she traveled with him. Their first child, Gaius, born in 20 B.C., was probably depicted on a denarius (RIC 540). There is controversy over whether the portrait is either that of Augustus, or of Gaius, Augustus’s eldest grandson and heir (see reference below). His brother (and Augustus’s second heir) was Lucius, born in 17 B.C. That same year Gaius and Lucius were both adopted as heirs of Augustus and the Ludi Saeculares (or Secular Games) were held by Augustus and Agrippa. Julia and Agrippa's other three children included Julia the younger (19 B.C.), Agrippina Senior (14 B.C., she played a crucial role in Tiberius’s reign and the fate of Rome), and Agrippa Postumus (12 B.C., the last surviving son of Julia).
4770. Copper as, RIC Caligula 58, S 556, 10.70g, 11.0mm, 180º, Rome mint, struck under his grandson, Caligula, 38 A.D.; obverse M AGRIPPA L F COS III, head left wearing a rostral crown; reverse S- C, Neptune holding a dolphin and trident
When Agrippa died in 12 B.C., Augustus and Livia forced Julia to marry Tiberius in either 12 or 11 B.C. To marry Julia, Tiberius was forced to divorce his beloved wife Vipsania Agrippina. The marriage was not a success, they did not like each other and Julia bore Tiberius no children. During Julia’s marriage to Tiberius, and after, she had affairs with many people. Two of the most prestigious men were Ovid, the poet, and Iullus Antonius, the son of Marc Antony and Fulvia. Tiberius finally abandoned Julia and went to Rhodes in "self-exile.”
"Tribute Penny” silver denarius of Tiberius, 14-37 A.D., obverse: Tiberius laureate head right, reverse: Livia seated – PONTIF MAXIM (Pontifex Maximus, or "High Priest”)
Augustus, who had passed morality laws prohibiting promiscuity, discovered Julia’s many affairs and had to make an example of her. He banished his own daughter to the island of Pandataria with her mother, Scribonia in 2 B.C. Julia was allowed no pleasures whatsoever on her island banishment, including even wine. After five years, Augustus moved Julia and Scribonia to luxurious dwellings on the mainland, in Rhegium, southern Italy. Yet Julia was still isolated, except for the occasional news of her children being slowly killed off one by one.
Julia's daughter, Julia the Younger (born in 19 B.C.), was also banished in 8 A.D. on promiscuity charges.
Julia lived a life that was for the most part miserable and unhappy. She finally died in her banishment by slow starvation in 14 A.D. Her death may have been ordered by Tiberius or may have been a suicide after she discovered that her last son, Agrippa Postumus, had been murdered.
Julia's mother Scribonia also lived up until the early years of Tiberius’s reign (14-37 A.D.) , when she too died in her banishment. Julia's daughter, Agrippina Senior, survived long and married the famous Germanicus and bore him 9 children. In 33 A.D., however, Tiberius also executed Agrippina Senior by starvation. Agrippina Senior's son and Julia's grandson, Caligula, would become the emperor in 37 A.D.
A very famous yet extremely rare denarius depicts the heads of Julia, between her two eldest sons Caius and Lucius. After Julia was banished, these coins were destroyed in, essentially, a "damnatio memoriae” (damnation of the memory). There were two types of this denarius, they both have the same reverse, but the obverse is slightly different. The first type, RIC 404, is the most common and has the bare head of Augustus right, with a lituus (augurs wand) behind with the inscription of AVGVSTVS. The second type (and rarer, RIC 405) has the same reverse, yet has a different obverse where there is the bare head of Augustus right, but it is encircled by a wreath and the inscription AVGVSTVS DIVI F.
Above: RIC 405, reverse: heads of Caius, Julia, and Lucius with inscription: C MARIVS TRO III VIR, wreath above Julia, from the personal collection of the author.
Before the scandals, Augustus had a denarius of Julia minted depicting her as the virgin huntress, Diana. Although not as rare as the dynastic portraiture on RIC 404-5, it is a very historic, and rare coin.
Roman Coins and Their Values, by David R. Sear, The Millennium Edition
Ancient Coin Collecting, by Wayne G. Sayles, Vol. III
Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, by David L. Vagi, Vols. I-II
See my other articles at www.forumancientcoins.com today!
Also, see my article about Gaius Caesar, Julia’s son and heir of Augustus at:
Thanks for reading!