Lecture 17: The Augustan family.

Lecture 17, Tuesday 12th November 2019

Picking up from Lecture 13.

Via Labicana Augustus (after 12 BCE)

Marble statue of veiled Augustus as pontifex maximus, from the Via Labicana, Rome. 1st c. CE.  Augustus became pontifex maximus in 12 BCE (Augustus, Res Gestae 10). Images: public domain via wikimedia.

Ramage & Ramage (2015: 126): “Whenever a Roman is shown with his toga drawn over his head, it signifies that he is represented in the role of a priest. In this case, Augustus is shown as the pontifex maximus, the most important priest, a position held for life. This had been an elected post in the Republic, but under his rule, and henceforth, it was a position taken on by the emperor, and it became a standard part of his titles. Eventually, in the 5th century CE, the title passed to the popes.”

The Ara Pacis (13-9 BCE)

Ara_Pacis_(SW).jpgThe Ara Pacis Augustae — “Altar of Augustan Peace” — in its modern setting in the Museo dell’Ara Pacis in Rome designed by the American architect Richard Meier. The altar, made of Carrara/Luna marble, was erected in the northern Campus Martius, voted in 4th July 13 BCE by the senate (according to Augustus’ Res Gestae 12) to commemorate his safe return from Gaul and Spain, and dedicated 30th January 9 BCE, the birthday of Augustus’ wife, Livia (Ovid Fasti 1.709-722). An acanthus frieze binds the whole design in unity. Image: “Rabax63” (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia.

ara pacis plan.jpgAerial plan of the Ara Pacis. Text overlay by Čulík-Baird based on Pollini ap. Tuck 2016: 121; base image: “Augusta 89” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.


Detail of frieze on the east side of Ara Pacis. A seated female figure, variously interpreted as Mother Earth (tellus), Peace (pax), Venus, Ceres, or Italy, with two babies in her lap. Sheep and cow rest beneath her. Representations of fresh water, air, and sea (indicated by tipped over water jug left, billowing drapery, and waves at right). Image: Manfred Hedye (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

Ara_Pacis_Aeneas-Numa_(14727962756)Detail of frieze on the west side of the Ara Pacis. Numa Pompilius or Aeneas sacrificing a sow. The white sow with 30 piglets is a sign that shows Aeneas that he has found the site of Rome in Vergil’s Aeneid 8. A small shrine in the rocky hill in the background with two seated male divinities. Numa/Aeneas wears a Greek cloak (himation) drawn over his head like a toga to indicate him acting as a priest; two wreathed youths assist him in the sacrifice. Image: “Amphipolis” (CC-BY-SA-2.0) via Wikimedia.

Ara_Pacis_relieve_Roma_01Detail of frieze on the south side of the Ara Pacis, showing individuals believed to be Agrippa, Livia, and Tiberius. Strong visual connection to the 5th c. BCE Parthenon frieze at Athens. Unlike the so-called Altar of Ahenobarbus, this relief shows women and children. Image: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

“I Colori dell’Ara Pacis”, published by Musei in Comune Roma 2010. Colour reconstructions are projected onto the surface of the Ara Pacis.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 5.04.53 PM.png

3D model of the Ara Pacis by Matthew Brennan.

Livia, wife of Augustus (b. 58 BCE, d. 29 CE)

  • Octavian marries Livia in 38 BCE while she’s 6 months pregnant with Nero Drusus, the second child of Tiberius Claudius Nero (d. 33 BCE), whom Octavian made divorce Livia. They never have a biological child together. 

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 62-63): “…he took to wife Mark Antony’s stepdaughter Claudia, daughter of Fulvia by Publius Clodius, although she was barely of marriageable age; but because of a falling out with his mother-in‑law Fulvia, he divorced her before they had begun to live together. Shortly after that he married Scribonia, who had been wedded before to two ex-consuls, and was a mother by one of them. He divorced her also, “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition,” as he himself writes, and at once took Livia Drusilla from her husband Tiberius Nero, although she was with child at the time; and he loved and esteemed her to the end without a rival. [63] By Scribonia he had a daughter Julia, by Livia no children at all, although he earnestly desired issue. One baby was conceived, but was prematurely born.”

Dio Cassius (48.34): “he was already beginning to be enamoured of Livia also, and for this reason divorced Scribonia the very day she bore him a daughter.”

Dio Cassius (48.43-44): Caesar married Livia. [44] She was the daughter of Livius Drusus, who had been among those proscribed on the tablet and had committed suicide after the defeat in Macedonia, and the wife of Nero, whom she had accompanied in his flight, as has been related. And it seems that she was in the sixth month with child by him. At any rate, when Caesar was in doubt and enquired of the pontifices whether it was permissible to wed her while pregnant, they answered that if there was any doubt whether conception had taken place the marriage should be put off, but if this was admitted, there was nothing to prevent its taking place immediately. Perhaps they really found this among the ordinances of the forefathers, but certainly they would have said so, even had they not found it. Her husband himself gave the woman in marriage just as a father would… Later, when the woman was now living with Caesar, she gave birth to Claudius Drusus Nero. Caesar both acknowledged him and sent him to his real father, making his entry in his memoranda: “Caesar returned to its father Nero the child borne by Livia, his wife.” Nero died not long afterward and left Caesar himself as guardian to the boy and to Tiberius. Now the populace gossiped a great deal about this and said, among other things, “The lucky have children in three months”; and this saying passed into a proverb.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Portraits of Livia. 1) mid to late 30s BCE, marble. Livia is represented with “a new coiffure with no precursors in the ancient world — the nodus hairstyle — in which a section of hair is arranged in a nodus or roll over the forehead. The rest of the hair is brushed back in loose waves over the ears and fastened in a bun at the back of the head” (Diana Kleiner I, Claudia 1996: 53). Image: Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery. 2) onyx cameo, height: 2.5 inches. Late 1st c. BCE/1st c. CE. Image: Rijksmuseum. 3) early 1st c. CE, marble. Arsinoe, Egypt. Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen. Image: Flickr. 4) Livia on the south wall of the Ara Pacis, which mirrors the image of Tellus/Pax. 5) Siân Phillips as Livia in the 1976 BBC television adaptation of I, Claudius.

Diana Kleiner (I, Claudia 1996: 53): “In these portraits, Livia is depicted as a serene beauty with almond-shaped eyes and a small rounded mouth. Her prominent aquiline nose is also accentuated. There is in these portraits little indication, even in Livia’s later years, of the aging process. This was in keeping with the Augustan ideal of an eternal youthfulness for portraiture of men and women that was based on the images of youthful male athletes and goddesses.”

  • Livia was called princeps femina — “the female princeps” by Ovid (Letters from the Black Sea 3.1.125)
  • from 35 BCE, Livia (and Octavia) received sacrosanctitas (inviolability) — gave the women independence, the ability to act without a male guardian, and the protection as though of public office (Dio Cassius 49.38.1)
  • Livia occupied a special place in the theater as though she were a Vestal Virgin (Tac. Ann. 4.16) and was granted a ceremonial carriage (carpentum)
  • 9 BCE on death of son Drusus she was granted right of ius trium liberorum, rights given to mother of at least three children (Dio Cassius 55.2.5-6)
  • as priestess of the deified Augustus (after his death), she was given a lictor (special attendants of magistrates with imperium) — Dio Cassius 56.46.1-2
  • named mater patriae — “mother of the country” at her death (Dio Cassius 58.2.3); Augustus had been called pater patriae in 2 BCE (Suet. Aug. 58); she was deified in 41 CE

Augustus: man or god?

30 BCE: Octavian’s name inserted into the hymn of the Salii (Augustus, Res Gestae 10

30 BCE: libations are made to his genius at public and private banquets by senatorial decree (Dio Cassius 51.19.7)

30 BCE: Octavian appears as Pharoah in Egypt. Temple of Dendur to Isis, Osiris, Pediese, Pihor (15 BCE) which is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, shows Augustus in the traditional iconography of Egyptian Pharoah. Augustus is depicted making offerings to Isis, Osiris, Horus.

30/29 BCE: in response to requests from Greek cities, Octavian agrees that Roman citizens will worship the Goddess Rome (Dea Roma) and the deified Caesar; the Greeks will worship Octavian and Rome at Pergamum, Nicomedia, Ephesus, Nicaea (Dio Cassius 51.20.6-8)

28 BCE: Temple of Apollo on the Palatine (Suet. Aug. 29.1), attached to his house (Suet. Aug. 29.3) — in its portico there was a statue of Octavian; cf. many explicit connections between Augustus and Apollo: dinner party of the 12 gods where Aug. dressed up as Apollo (Suet. Aug. 70)

27 BCE: Mytilene (Greek island of Lesbos) votes a whole series of honours for Augustus: temple, priests, games, statues, monthly sacrifices on the day of Augustus’ birth — decrees announcing all this set up at Rome and all around the mediterranean, at Pergamum, Actium, Brundisium, Tarraco, Massilia, and Antioch in Syria (IGR IV 39, see Zanker 1990: 304)

26-25 BCE: altar to Augustus at Tarraco (Tarragona), Spain (Zanker 1990: 304); a palm tree miraculously grew from this altar (Quintilian 6.3.77); a temple to Augustus was built there in 15 CE after his death (Tacitus Annales 1.78)

12 BCE: Pledge by Drusus (Aug.’s stepson) of an altar at Lugdunum (Lyon) to Rome and Augustus; consecrated 10 BCE (Dio Cassius 54.32.1, Livy Per. 139)

8 BCE: the Roman month ‘Sextilis’ is renamed ‘Augustus’ because this is the month in which he made his greatest victories (Suet. Aug. 31.2, Dio Cassius 55.6.6)

2 BCE: evidence of the flamines Augustales (‘priests of Augustus’) appear in inscriptions

Dendur 15 BCE.jpg

Temple of Dendur to Isis, Osiris, Pediese, Pihor (15 BCE) which is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, shows Augustus in the traditional iconography of Egyptian Pharoah. Augustus is depicted making offerings to Isis, Osiris, Horus. Image: Metropolitan Museum in New York.

R.6294 Lugdunum

Dupondius (copper alloy coin), 12-14 CE. RIC I (2) Augustus 237. Obverse (left): head of Tiberius, laureate. Text: TI.CAESAR.AVGVST.F.IMPERAT.VII. Reverse (right): front of the Altar of Lugdunum decorated with the corona civica between two laurels, flanked by nude male figures. Victories on columns, facing each other. On the altar itself two shrines for Roma and Augustus; alongside, perhaps, busts of the imperial family. This coin type was minted in large quantities for an unusually long time. Image: British Museum.

Problems in the family

CL 102 Spring 2018-Augustus' heirs.jpg

[CL 102 Spring 2018 Augustus’ heirs printable pdf] 

1024px-MaisonCarrée.jpegThe Maison Carrée, a limestone temple in ancient Nemausus, modern Nîmes, begun late 1st c. BCE. Image: public domain via Wikimedia.  

Ramage & Ramage (2015: 116): “It was begun in the late first century BCE. The inscription across the front dedicates the building to Augustus’ grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, called the ‘princes of youth.’ The letters are gone but Jean François Séguier, an 18th-century scholar reconstructed the words from the holes where the pins to hold the bronze letters had been inserted. It is today one of the best surviving Roman buildings anywhere, and has been highly influential on later architecture. Once again we find the Etruscan tradition in the high podium, frontal stairs, front porch, and engaged columns on the sides and back. Here the capitals are Corinthian.”

Julia and Julia

  • Augustus’ marriage laws (18 BCE + 9 CE) criminalized adultery
  • Julia the Elder (daughter of Augustus) in 2 BCE was charged with multiple adulteries and sent into exile (Velleius Paterculus 2.100.3; Pliny NH 7.149) — Velleius gives a list of five adulterers, all with noble Republican names, including Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony); Julia was initially sent to the island of Pandateria (Tacitus Annales 1.53, Dio Cassius 55.10.14)
  • Julia the Younger (daughter of Julia) was also exiled for adultery in 8 CE, suspected of an affair with D. Silanus (Tacitus Annales 3.24.5); Augustus refused to allow Julia’s child, born in exile, to be raised (Suet. Aug. 65). The poet, Ovid, who was also exiled in 8 CE, writes that it was because of carmen (poem) and error (a mistake), Tristia 2.207. Tristia 2.103ff. claims he saw something unwittingly.

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 65): But at the height of his happiness and his confidence in his family and its training, fortune proved fickle. He found the two Julias, his daughter and granddaughter, guilty of every form of vice, and banished them. He lost Gaius and Lucius within the span of eighteen months, for the former died in Lycia and the latter at Massilia. He then publicly adopted his third grandson Agrippa and at the same time his stepson Tiberius by a bill passed in the assembly of the curiae; but he soon disowned Agrippa because of his low tastes and violent temper, and sent him off to Surrentum. He bore the death of his kin with far more resignation than their misconduct. For he was not greatly broken by the fate of Gaius and Lucius, but he informed the senate of his daughter’s fall through a letter read in his absence by a quaestor, and for very shame would meet no one for a long time, and even thought of putting her to death. At all events, when one of her confidantes, a freedwoman called Phoebe, hanged herself at about that same time, he said: “I would rather have been Phoebe’s father.” After Julia was banished, he denied her the use of wine and every form of luxury, and would not allow any man, bond or free, to come near her without his permission, and then not without being informed of his stature, complexion, and even of any marks or scars upon his body. It was not until five years later that he moved her from the island to the mainland and treated her with somewhat less rigour. But he could not by any means be prevailed on to recall her altogether, and when the Roman people several times interceded for her and urgently pressed their suit, he in open assembly called upon the gods to curse them with like daughters and like wives. He would not allow the child born to his granddaughter Julia after her sentence to be recognized or reared. As Agrippa grew no more manageable, but on the contrary became madder from day to day, he transferred him to an island and set a guard of soldiers over him besides. He also provided by a decree of  the senate that he should be confined there for all time, and at every mention of him and of the Julias he would sigh deeply and even cry out: Would that I ne’er had wedded and would I had died without offspring”* and he never alluded to them except as his three boils and his three ulcers.

*adaptation of Homer, Iliad 3.40, where Hector says to Paris that it would have been better if Paris had never been born or had died unmarried

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 101): He gave orders that his daughter and his granddaughter Julia should not be put in his Mausoleum, if anything befell them.

Macrobius (Saturnalia 2.5.9): Julia the elder — “I never take on a passenger unless the ship is full” (trans. A. Richlin)

Further Reading:

  • Amy Richlin (2014) “Julia’s Jokes, Galla Placidia, and the Roman Use of Women as Political Icons,” in Arguments with Silence: Writing the History of Roman Women. pp 81-109. Available online via BU library.
  • Diana Kleiner (1996) “Imperial Women as Patrons of the Arts in the Early Empire,” in I, Claudia. Women in Ancient Rome. pp28-41. [Mugar library: N5763 .I25 1996]
  • Gwynaeth McIntyre (2016) A Family of Gods: The Worship of the Imperial Family in the Latin West. Available online via jstor.