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The Women of the Caesars/Livia and Julia

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Livia and Julia

[ 46 ]In the year 38 B.C. it suddenly became known at Rome that C. Julius Caesar Octavianus (afterward the Emperor Augustus), one of the triumvirs of the republic, and colleague of Mark Antony and Lepidus in the military dictatorship established after the death of Caesar, had sent up for decision to the pontifical college, the highest religious authority of the state, a curious question. It was this: Might a divorced woman who was expecting to become a mother contract a marriage with another man before the birth of her child? The pontifical college replied that if there still was doubt about the fact the new marriage would not be permissible; but if it was certain, there would be no impediment. A few days later, it was learned that Octavianus had divorced his wife Scribonia and had married Livia, a young woman of nineteen. Livia's physical condi[ 47 ]tion was precisely that concerning which the pontiffs had been asked to decide, and in order to enter into this marriage she had obtained a divorce from Tiberius Claudius Nero.

The two divorces and the new marriage were concluded with unwonted haste. The first husband of Livia, acting the part of a father, gave her a dowry for her new alliance and was present at the wedding. Thus Livia suddenly passed into the house of her new husband where, three months later, she gave birth to a son, who was called Drusus Claudius Nero. This child Octavianus immediately sent to the house of its father.

To us, marriage customs of this sort seem brutal, shameless, and almost ridiculous. We should infer that a woman who lent herself to such barter and exchange must be a person of light manners and of immoral inclinations. At Rome, however, no one would have been amazed at such a marriage or at the procedure adopted, had it not been for the extraordinary haste, which seemed to indicate that it was undesirable or impossible to wait until Livia[ 48 ]hould have given birth to her child, and which made it necessary to trouble the pontifical college for its somewhat sophistical consent. For all were accustomed to seeing the marriages of great personages made and unmade in this manner and on such bases. Why, then, were these nuptials so precipitately concluded, apparently with the consent of all concerned? Why did they all, Livia and Octavianus not less than Tiberius Claudius Nero, seem so impatient that everything should be settled with despatch?

From the statue in Naples.
Livia, the mother of Tiberius, in the costume of a priestess.*

The legend which then formed about the family of Augustus, a legend hostile at almost every point, has interpreted this marriage as a tyrannical act, virtually an abduction, by the dissolute and perverse triumvir. I, too, in my "Greatness and Decline of Rome" expressed my belief that this haste, at least, was the effect not of political motives but of a passionate love inspired in the young triumvir by the very beautiful Livia. A longer reflection upon this episode has persuaded me, however, that there is another manner, less poetic perhaps, but [ 51 ]more Roman, of explaining, at least in part, this famous alliance, which was to have so great an importance in the history of Rome.

To arrive at the motives of this marriage we must consider who was Livia and who was Octavianus. Livia was a woman of great beauty, as her portraits prove. But this was not all. She belonged also to two of the most ancient and conspicuous families of the Roman nobility. Her father, Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, was by birth a Claudius, adopted by a Livius Drusus. He was descended from Appius the Blind, the famous censor and perhaps the most illustrious personage of the ancient republic. His grandfather, his great-grand-father, and his great-great-grandfather had been consuls, and consuls and censors may be found in the collateral branches of the family. A sister of his grandfather had been the wife of Tiberius Gracchus; a cousin of his father had married Lucullus, the great general. He came, therefore, of one of the most ancient and glorious families. Not less noble was the family of the Livii Drusi who had adopted him. [ 52 ]It counted eight consulships, two censorships, three triumphs, and one dictatorship. Thus the father of Livia belonged by birth and adoption to two of those ancient, aristocratic families which for a long time and even in the midst of the most tremendous revolutions the people had venerated as semi-divine and into whose story was interwoven the history of the great republic. Nor had the first husband given to Livia been less noble, for Tiberius Claudius Nero was descended like Livia from Appius the Blind, though through another son of the great censor. In Livia was concentrated the quintessence of the great Roman aristocracy: she was at Rome what in London to-day the daughter of the Duke of Westminster or the Duke of Bedford would be, and her noble rank explains the rôle which her family had played during the Civil War. In the great revolution which broke out after the death of Caesar, the father of Livia in the year 43 had been proscribed by the triumvirs; he had fought with Brutus and Cassius and had died by his own hand after Philippi. In 40, after the Perusinian war and [ 53 ]only two years before Livia's marriage with Octavianus, Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia had been forced to flee from Italy in fear of the vengeance of Octavianus.

Who on the other hand was Octavianus? A parvenu, with a nobility altogether too recent! His grandfather was a rich usurer of Velitrae (now Velletri), a financier and a man of affairs; it was only his immediate father who succeeded by dint of the riches of the usurer grandfather in entering the Roman nobility. He had married a sister of Caesar and, though still young when he died, had become a senator and pretor. Octavianus was, therefore, the descendant, as we should express it in Europe to-day, of rich bourgeois recently ennobled. Although by adopting him in his will Caesar had given him his name, that of an ancient patrician family, the modest origin of Octavianus and the trade of his grandfather were known to everybody. In a country like Rome where, notwithstanding revolutions, the old nobility was still highly venerated by the people and formed a closed caste, jealous of its [ 54 ]exclusive pride of ancestry, this obscurity of origin was a handicap and a danger, especially when Octavianus had as colleagues Antony and Lepidus, who could boast a much more ancient and illustrious origin than his own.

We can readily explain, therefore, even without admitting that Livia had aroused in him a violent passion, why the future Augustus should have been so impatient to marry her in 38 B.C. The times were stormy and uncertain; the youthful triumvir, whom a caprice of fortune had raised to the head of a revolutionary dictatorship, was certainly the weakest of the three colleagues, because of his youth, his slighter experience, the feebler prestige among his soldiers, and, last of all, the greater obscurity of his lineage. Antony, especially, who had fought in so many wars, with Caesar and alone, who belonged to a family of really ancient nobility, was much more popular than he among the soldiers and had stronger relations with the great families. He was therefore more powerful than Octavianus both in high places and in low. A marriage with Livia [ 55 ]meant much to the future Augustus. It would open for him a door into the old aristocracy; it would draw him closer to those families which, in spite of the revolution, were still so influential and venerable; it would be the means of lessening the hatred, contempt, and distrust in which these families held him. It was for him what Napoleon's marriage with Marie Louise and the consequent connection with the imperial family of Austria had been for the former Corsican officer, become Emperor of the French. Since, now, a lady who belonged to one of these great families was disposed to marry him, it would have been foolish to put obstacles in the way; it was necessary to act with despatch; time and fortune might change.

Such are the motives that may have induced Augustus to hasten the nuptials. But what were the motives of Livia in accepting this marriage, in such stormy times, when the fortunes of the future Augustus were still so uncertain? A passage in Velleius Paterculus would lead us to believe that he who devised [ 56 ]this historic marriage was none other than that same first husband of Livia, Tiberius Claudius Nero himself! According to our ideas it is inconceivable; but not at all strange according to the ideas of the Roman. It is probable that Tiberius Claudius Nero, feeling that the triumph of the revolution was now assured, had wished by this marriage to attach to the cause of the old aristocracy the youngest of the three revolutionary leaders. Already well along in years and infirm,—he was to die shortly after,—Nero, who well knew the intelligence of his young wife, was perhaps planning to place her in the house of the man in whom all saw one of the future lords of Rome. Thus he would bind him to the interests of the aristocracy. In the person of Livia there entered into the house of Octavianus the old Roman nobility, which, defeated at Philippi, was striving to reacquire through the prestige and the cleverness of a woman what it had not been able to maintain by arms.

All her life long, with constancy, moderation, and wonderful tact, Livia fulfilled her mission. [ 57 ]She succeeded in resolving into the admirable harmony of a long existence that contradiction between the liberty conceded to her sex and the self-denial demanded of it by man as a duty. She was assuredly one of the most perfect models of that lady of high society whom the Romans in all the years of their long and tempestuous history never ceased to admire. Even and serene, completely mistress of herself and of her passions, endowed with a robust will, she accommodated herself without difficulty to all the sacrifices which her rank and situation imposed upon her. She changed husbands without repugnance, though her marriage to Octavianus occurred but five years after the proscriptions, while he was still red with the blood of her family and friends. Likewise she renounced her two sons, the future emperor Tiberius, who had been born before her second marriage, as well as the one who had been born after. So too when, a few years later, Tiberius Claudius Nero died, appointing Augustus their guardian, with equal serenity she took them back and educated them with the [ 58 ]most careful motherly solicitude. To the second husband, whom politics had given her, she was a faithful companion. Scandal imputed to her absurd poisonings which she did not commit, and accused her of insatiable ambitions and perfidious intrigues. No one ever dared accuse her of infidelity to Augustus or of dissolute conduct. The great fame, power, and wealth of her husband did not disturb the calm poise of her spirit. In that palace of Augustus, adorned with triumphal laurel, toward which the eyes of the subjects were turned from every part of the empire, in that palace where, in little councils with the most eminent men of the senate, were debated the supreme interests of the world,—laws and elections, wars and peace,—she preserved the beautiful traditions of simplicity and industry. These she had learned as a child in the house of her father,—a house as much more illustrious with inherited glory as it was poorer in wealth than that which Victory had prepared for Augustus on the Palatine.

Photograph by Maxwell Wolf.
The young Augustus.

We know—it is Suetonius who tells us—that [ 61 ]this house on the Palatine built by Augustus, in which Livia spent the larger part of her life, was small and not at all luxurious. In it there was not a single piece of marble nor a precious mosaic; for forty years Augustus slept in the same bedchamber, and the furniture of the house was so simple that in the second century of our era it was exhibited to the public as an extraordinary curiosity. The imperial pair had several villas, at Lanuvium, at Palestrina, at Tivoli, but all of them were unpretentious and simple. Nor was there any more pomp and ceremony about the dinners to which they invited the conspicuous personages of Rome, the dignitaries of the state and the heads of the great families. Only on very special occasions were six courses served; usually there were but three. Moreover, Augustus never wore any other togas than those woven by Livia; woven not indeed and altogether by Livia's hands,—though she did not disdain, now and then, to work the loom,—but by her slaves and freed-women. Faithful to the traditions of the aristocracy, Livia counted it among her duties per [ 62 ]sonally to direct the weaving-rooms which were in the house. As she carefully parceled out the wool to the slaves, watching over them lest they steal or waste it, and frequently taking her place among them while they were at work, she felt that she too contributed to the prosperity and the glory of the empire.

Simplicity, loyalty, industry, an absolute surrender of one's own personality to the family and its interests,—these, in the great families, were the traditional feminine virtues which lived again in Livia to the admiration of her contemporaries. But with these virtues were associated also the need and the pride of participating in the affairs and work of her husband, that interest in politics which had been common to the intelligent women of the nobility. No one at Rome was astonished, especially in the upper classes, that Livia should occupy herself actively with politics; that Augustus should frequently come to her for counsel, or that he should not make any serious decision without having consulted her; that, in short, she should at the same time at [ 63 ]tend to her husband's clothes and aid him in governing the empire. For so had done from time immemorial all the great ladies of the aristocracy, mindful of their good repute and the prosperity of their families. And Livia must have tried the more earnestly to fulfil all that her education had taught her to consider a sacred duty, since to a woman of her old-fashioned breeding the times must have appeared especially difficult and perilous.

The civil wars had greatly reduced in numbers the historic aristocracy of Rome, and the peace which followed after so long a time and which had been so anxiously invoked, very soon began to threaten the prosperity of the remnant of that nobility with a more insidious but more inevitable ruin. About 18 B.C., when Livia was approaching her fortieth year, the men of the new generation who had not seen the civil wars, for when these ended they were either unborn or only in their infancy, were already beginning to come to the front. They brought with them a previously unknown spirit of luxury, of enjoyment, of dissipation, [ 64 ]of rebellion against discipline, of egotism and fondness for the new, which rendered very difficult, not to say impossible, the continuation of the aristocratic r�gime. Women submitted with more and more repugnance to those obligatory marriages, arranged for reasons of state, which had formerly been the tradition and the sure bulwark of dominion for the aristocracy. The increase of celibacy was rendering sterile the most celebrated stocks; the most lamentable vices and disorders became tolerated and common in the most illustrious families, and ruinous habits of extravagance spread generally among that aristocracy, once so simple and austere. All this had grown up after the conquest of Egypt, which had established more points of contact with the East; and it increased in proportion as those industries and the commerce in articles of luxury which had flourished at Alexandria under the Ptolemies were gradually transplanted to Rome, where the merchants hoped to establish among their conquerors the clientele which had been lost with the fall of the [ 67 ]Kingdom of the Nile. The ladies especially took up with the new oriental customs, and, preferring expensive stuffs and jewels, turned from the loom, which Livia had wished to preserve as the emblem of womanhood. Many young men of the great families were beginning to show a distaste for the army, for the government of the state, for jurisprudence, for all those activities which had been the jealous privilege of the nobility of the past. One gave himself up to literary pursuits, another cultivated philosophy, another busied himself only with the increase of his inherited fortune, while another lived only in pleasure and idleness. So it happened that there began to appear descendants of great houses who refused to be senators; every year an effort had to be made to find a sufficient number of candidates for the more numerous positions like the questorship, and in the army it was no easy matter to fill all the posts of the superior officers which were reserved for members of the nobility.

The Emperor Augustus.
This statue was found in 1910 in the Via Labicana, not far from the Colosseum.

The Roman aristocracy then, that glorious [ 68 ]Roman aristocracy which had escaped the massacres of the proscriptions and of Philippi, ran grave danger of dying out through a species of slow suicide, if energetic measures were not taken to supply the necessary remedies. It is certain that Livia had a conspicuous part in the policy of restoring the aristocracy, to which Augustus was impelled by the old nobility, especially toward the year 18 B.C., when with this purpose in view he proposed his famous social laws. The Lex de maritandis ordinibus attempted by various penalties and promises to constrain the members of the aristocracy to contract marriage and to found a family, thus combatting the increasing inclination to celibacy and sterility. The Lex de adulteriis aimed to reestablish order and virtue in the family, by threatening the unfaithful wife and her accomplice with exile for life and the confiscation of a part of their substance. It obliged the husband to expose the crime to the tribunals; if the husband could not or would not make the accusation, it provided that the father should do so; and in case both husband [ 69 ]and father failed, it authorized any citizen to step forth as accuser. Finally the Lex sumptuaria was designed to restrain the extravagance of wealthy families, particularly that of the women, prohibiting them from spending too large a part of the family fortune in jewels, apparel, body slaves, festivities, or buildings, especially in the building of sumptuous villas, then a growing fashion. In short, it was the purpose of these laws to bring the ladies of the Roman aristocracy to a course of conduct patterned upon the example of Livia. In the protracted discussions concerning these laws, which took place in the senate, Augustus on one occasion made a long speech in which he cited Livia as a model for the ladies of Rome. He set forth minutely the details of her household administration, telling how she lived, what relations she had with outsiders, what amusements she thought proper for a person of her rank, how she dressed and at what expense. And no one in the senate judged it unworthy of the greatness of the state or contrary to custom thus to introduce the name and [ 70 ]person of a great lady into the public discussion of so serious a matter of governmental policy.

Livia, then, about 18 B.C. personified in the eyes of the Romans the perfect type of aristocratic great lady created by long tradition. Having been safely preserved by good fortune through the long civil wars, this model was now set back again upon a fitting pedestal in the most powerful and richest family of the empire. She was the living example of all the virtues which the Romans most cherished, a beloved wife and a heeded counselor to the head of the state, honored with that veneration which power, virtue, nobility of birth, and the dignified beauty of face and figure drew from every one; furthermore, there were her two sons, Tiberius and Drusus, both intelligent, handsome, full of activity, docile to the traditional education which she sought to give them in order that they might be the worthy continuators of the great name they bore. Livia, with all this in her favor, might have been expected to live a happy and tranquil life, serenely to [ 73 ]fulfil her mission amid the admiration of the world.

Enlarged from the original owned by G. N. Olcott.
A silver denarius of the Second Triumvirate.
The portrait at the right (obverse) is of Caesar Octavianus (Augustus), with a slight beard to indicate mourning, and at the left (reverse), of Mark Antony. The date is 41 B.C.
Enlarged from the original owned by G. N. Olcott.
Silver coin bearing the head of Julius Caesar.
This coin, a denarius, worth about seventeen cents, represents Caesar as Pontifex Maximus. Together with all the other Roman coins bearing Caesar's image, it was struck in the year before his death—44-45 B.C. The fact that Caesar placed his image on these coins may have strengthened the suspicion of his enemies that he wished to make himself king.


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 [ 74 ]and Marcellus. As a result, disagreeable misunderstandings and rancors 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 [ 75 ]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 [ 76 ]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 [ 77 ]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.

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 [ 78 ]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 [ 79 ]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 [ 80 ]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, [ 83 ]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.

From the cameo in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.
The great Paris Cameo.
This is the largest ancient cameo known, and is said to have been sent from Constantinople by Baldwin II. to Louis IX. It represents the living members of the imperial family protected by the deified Augustus. In the center Tiberius is shown seated, as Jupiter, with his mother, Livia, at his left, as Ceres. In front of them stand Germanicus and his mother Antonia.


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 [ 84 ]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, 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 [ 85 ]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.

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 [ 86 ]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.

From the statue in the Lateran Museum, Rome.
Octavia, the sister of Augustus.

[ 89 ]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 pretor 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 [ 90 ]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.

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 [ 91 ]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.

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, 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 popu[ 92 ]lar 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 [ 95 ]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.

From the painting by L. Alma-Tadema.
A reception at Livia's villa.
The scene evidently is at Livia's country palace at Prima Porta. Agrippa is seen descending the steps to be received by Augustus and Livia (who are not shown in the picture). The original of the status of Augustus, here shown, was found in the ruins of Livia's villa close to the flight of marble steps and its base. The remains of the steps and the base of the statue are standing to-day at Prima Porta.

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


* This is now thought to be a priestess and not Livia.
This is now thought to be the young Julius Caesar.