Julia the Elder was the only biological child of the famous Emperor Augustus – the first emperor of the Roman Empire. While Julia was the only biological child of his, he was known to have adopted several male members of his family as his sons (just as Julius Caesar had done to him).
Julia was born on 30 October 39 BC to Augustus (who at the time was being referred to as Octavian but for the sake of this article will only be called Augustus) and his second wife, Scribonia. On that same day, he divorced Scribonia and took Julia from her where he took complete parental control of his daughter as per Roman custom. He was known to deeply care for his only daughter and wanted to, and did, provide her with the best education available. However, once he took Julia from her mother and she had deemed old enough, she was sent to live with her new stepmother, Livia, who was to teach her to be an aristocrat.
Julia the Elder, also known at the time as both Julia Caesaris filia and Julia Augusti filia, had a strict education which included being taught spinning and weaving. She was known to love to read with Macrobius writing about “her love of literature and considerable culture, a thing easy to come by in that household.”
Augustus kept strict control over his daughter – not just in education but in socialisation, as well. She was forbidden to speak to anyone who he had not vetted beforehand. It comes as no surprise that her love life was also under his control. She was betrothed to be married at only the age of two, to Mark Antony’s son, then 10-years-old, Marcus Antonius Antyllus. This came to be after Augustus’s friends had made an agreement with Antony. The wedding never occurred due to the outbreak of a civil war.
Julia was married twice. First, she was married to her first cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus when she was 14 in 25 BC – an age which seems young to us now but was the norm in Roman times. The union would only last two years, as Julia was left a widow. They had no children. She was next married to the most trusted general and friend of her father’s, Agrippa, in 21 BC when she was 18. An arranged marriage, he was 25 years her senior. They would have five children: Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, Agrippina the Elder, and Agrippa Postumus. Agrippa would die at the age of 51 in March of 12 BC, and Julia would deeply mourn his passing. Her third marriage was another arranged marriage to Tiberius, which has been reported as an unhappy union. They would have a son who only survived ten days after his birth.
Trouble and scandal would brew a few years later as Julia the Elder, who was known for her wit and sharp tongue, was arrested and banished for adultery and treason in 2 BC. It ended up being proven that she had participated in nightly drinking parties in the famed Roman Forum; she was also known to have an adulterous relationship with Iullus Antonius.
Julia, accompanied by her mother Scribonia, was exiled on the island of Pandateria with harsh conditions that included a ban on drinking wine. The island was also almost uninhabitable, as well. Eventually, Augustus would allow his daughter to return, ordering her to reside in Regium, as he had not forgiven her for her actions.
Her third husband would force her to meet her end. After taking the throne in 14 AD, it has been said Tiberius ordered his wife to commit suicide at the age of 53 in 14 AD; she reportedly died of malnutrition. Augustus had given orders that she was not to be buried in his Mausoleum of Augustus.
Julia the Elder only had one child to survive her. Her daughter, Agrippina, outlived her but also died in exile in 17 October AD 33 at the age of 47.
In the writings of Macrobius, for those that knew Julia, she was quite popular and said to have a kind heart. He wrote that she was popular with the Roman people for “her kindness and gentleness and utter freedom from vindictiveness.”