The Roman Empire
Julia, with Livia





Coin Details

Design Description: Julia and Livia AE17
Item Description: AE17 Mysia, Pergamum of Augustus. RPC I 2359. c10-2 BC. Wife & daughter
Full Grade: NGC VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Not surprisingly, ancient histories regarding Julia the Elder (39 BC – 14 AD) focus more on her crassness and sexual promiscuity than her intelligence and independent spirit. Although among the most eminent women of her generation, Julia abode within the constraints of male-dominated Rome. As such, societal expectations focused on marriages and the resulting propagation of her clan’s prominence. The stakes were rather high in her particular case. After all, she was daughter and only biological child of Octavian, later known as Augustus.

From the start, Julia’s life intertwined with familial tension. On the day of her birth, Julia’s father Octavian divorced her mother Scribonia. Julia was placed under the care and imperial grooming of her new stepmother, Livia Drusilla. Julia’s role as a dynastic pawn also began at an early age. While still an infant, her future marriage was arranged to the 10-year-old son of Marc Antony, Octavian’s fellow triumvir. The union never materialized, and Octavian and Antony ended up opposing one another for Rome’s control. Octavian won that epic conflict, and afterward became known as Augustus, whereupon Rome transformed into in Empire. The pre-teenaged Julia was now part of Rome’s first imperial family.

Peaceful and prosperous Augustan Rome afforded the young Julia rich cultural opportunities. However, her father strictly controlled her social circle. Since Augustus had no direct male heir, he had to rely on finding a suitable candidate to adopt and/or bring into the imperial clan via marriage. To this end, as soon as Julia turned fourteen, she wedded her seventeen-year-old cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The union was brief and childless; Marcellus died just two years later. Next, Augustus paired his daughter with his most trusted comrade and military ally, namely Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, two and a half decades Julia’s elder.

Julia spent a considerable portion of her second marriage travelling abroad with Agrippa. Around 16 BC, they departed for a tour of Rome’s eastern territories including Asia Minor, where this ancient bronze coin was struck (in the ancient city of Pergamum, located in Mysia). This coin is one of only three ancient issues attributed to Julia, whose likeness inspired the reverse engraving of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation (Venus was the equivalent Roman divinity). The pairing of Julia and Aphrodite is an interesting one, considering that the Emperor’s daughter was reportedly not reserved regarding her own sexuality. The obverse of this coin features Julia’s stepmother, appropriately in the guise of the Greek goddess Hera (known to the Romans as Juno), wife of Zeus, the King of the Gods (Jupiter, to the Romans).

Julia and her family did not return to Italy until about 13 BC. The following year, Agrippa fell ill and died. Their decade long marriage resulted in no fewer than five children: Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, and Agrippina Sr., and Agrippa Postumus. Dutifully or not, Julia successfully produced dynasts for the newly launched Empire. And she was capable of more; at least, that was her father’s thinking.

For Julia’s next husband, Augustus chose Tiberius, son of Livia by her previous husband. Forced to divorce his wife at that time (even though he deeply loved her), Tiberius viewed the marriage as unwanted. The feeling was mutual. Even so, Julia did manage to produce another male heir. Sadly, the young prince died in infancy, and the rift between Julia and Tiberius widened even further.

In 6 BC, Julia was left behind in Rome as Tiberius departed for Rhodes, seeking to retire from public life. The couple was probably already separated by that time. In any case, Julia now had to live alone, without any hope for divorce, since her father disallowed it, except under strictly defined circumstances. That initiative was part of a religious revival that Augustus had been promulgating since his final conquest over Antony. At first, the public supported the effort; many deemed it necessary to maintain the new and hard-won harmony. Augustus’ divine docket included holding holy festivals and legislating religious morals. It was a convenient platform to consolidate power and address perceived social ills such as the declining rate of marriage and children within Rome’s upper classes. The decrees included penalties for those who did not marry, and benefits to those married with multiple children. Harsh consequences met those found guilty of adultery. Over time, Romans grew critical of such religious reforms dictated by an Emperor with a track record of exploiting marriage for political gain and suspected relationships with both sexes.

Although Julia was indoctrinated under these religious reforms, she strove for the same sexual liberties her father had once enjoyed. She acted upon that desire, perhaps flagrantly so, at least according to the ancient sources. The latter describe indecent behavior ranging from public drunkenness to numerous cases of adultery. For example, Seneca alleged that Julia sold her sexual favors, and did so publically at the statue of Marsyas in Rome’s Forum. Augustus strove to prohibit inappropriate behavior in public places such as the Forum. The choice of venue is interesting, since the Romans considered Marsyas a symbol of free speech against oppression. In fact, the statue was known as a meeting place for Romans to share their critical views.

Veracity of such revelries aside, other aspects of Julia’s personality can be discerned from surviving evidence. She harbored a keen sense of humor, and was well liked among the Roman people. She enjoyed repartee with her those around her, including her father. Perhaps her most outrageous recorded remark addressed why her children resembled Agrippa, despite her apparent dalliances:…that’s because I only take on passengers when the cargo is already loaded!” Another interesting example was Julia’s response to pleas that she adopt her father’s austerity: “He forgets that he is Caesar, but I remember that I am Caesar’s daughter. Reportedly, Augustus once commented that he had to endure the caprices of “two spoiled daughters,” the other being Rome herself.

The situation came to a crisis in 2 BC when Augustus formally accused his daughter of infidelity. The enraged Emperor, ignoring his own legislation, divorced Julia on behalf of Tiberius. Julia was summarily banished to the tiny island of Pandateria, without a chance to defend herself. While the ancient sources clearly discredit Julia, many questions remain unanswered regarding the exact circumstances of the scandal. Augustus may have feared that the list of Julia’s partners indicated her complacency in a parricidal plot. Those on that list were also banished, and some, like Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony and Fulvia), were coerced to suicide. Regardless of true extent of her guilt, removal of the popular and rebellious Augustus’ daughter was unquestionably convenient.

Augustus disallowed Julia any visitors, except by his own permission, and he even denied her wine. Julia remained on Pandateria for a half decade. Augustus finally allowed her to return to mainland Italy, provided she remained in Rhegium, far removed from the intrigues of Rome. Augustus died in 14 AD, without offering forgiveness or apology to his daughter. By this time, Julia’s three sons had died, and she found herself at the mercy of Tiberius, who succeeded her father. She died shortly thereafter. Some speculate that Julia starved to death by orders of her ex-husband, although just as likely she simply succumbed to despair.

Perhaps the ancient author Macrobius best described the life of Julia the Elder, daughter of Augustus:“...she abused the indulgence of fortune no less than that of her father.

Additional Reading: Julia Augusti. The Emperor’s Daughter. E. Fantham, 2006.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, MYSIA, Pergamum, Julia Augusta (Livia), with Julia, daughter of Augustus, Charinos, grammateus, Æ (17mm, 4.16 g, 1h), Struck 16-12 BC, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface 3/5, Obverse: Draped bust of Livia, daughter of Augustus (as Hera) right, ΛΙΒΙΑΝ ΗΡΑΝ ΧΑΡΙΝΟΣ, Reverse: Draped bust of Julia (as Aphrodite) right, ΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗΝ, References: RPC I 2359; SNG Copenhagen 467.

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