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How the Ancient Romans Used to Eat: Everything You Need to Know

by September 15, 2020

Written by Jason Dunlap, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Everyone likes to eat out at a nice restaurant. Indeed, modern fancymeals are considered a classic way to enjoy a special night. Have you ever wondered what the people of ancient civilizations used to eat? What was considered lavish and luxury dining in ancient Rome?

Well then, let’s walk you through the magnificent dining halls of ancient Rome and see how they used to celebrate food and eating.

A dinner spread based on meals in ancient Rome

Daily Meals in Ancient Rome

An ordinary Roman used to have ientaculum breakfast, which means they’d have breakfast as soon as they got up. A small lunch called prandium was served around 11 am. The main meal of the day was called cena. Some people may have eaten a late supper called vesperia.

Higher-class Romans (those above the working class) sometimes used to enjoy a larger cena in the late afternoon, ditching the final supper.

The cena brought together the whole family. It was served on low-rise tables with couches on three sides. The fourth side was usually left open so that the servant could serve the meal from that side.

Dinner tables in ancient Rome were used to reflect their status and were often richly decorated to indicate the family’s wealth.

Mosaic in Villa Romana del Casale, Italy

Diet and Cooking Methods

But food in ancient Rome was not only about one’s wealth – it was also about one’s health (and one’s philosophy). The Mediterranean diet is still considered one of the healthiest diets in the modern age. To give you a rough idea, let’s just say that much of the Roman diet (at least the diet of the privileged Romans) was similar to the modern Italian diet.

The expansion of the Roman Empire brought new items to the dining table, as well. As the empire grew, new fruits, vegetables, beans, and meats made their way to the dining tables of the privileged classes in Rome.

Ancient Romans Loved Fish Sauce

Who doesn’t love fish sauce? While commonly associated with Asian cuisine, the Romans also used it frequently in their meals. There are theories that they discovered how to make it by accident. Traditional Roman fish sauce was made from fish guts and small fish. The fish and guts are first salted and then left in the sun to be fermented. The resulting fermentation was filtered, and voila, the fish sauce ready to be drizzled.

In terms of food, there was very clear discrimination among the working class and the ruling elite, but one exception to this was fish sauce.  It was something the rich and poor alike could have in their meals. The reason for this was simple – the ingredients were widely available and cheap.

The Sale of Bread fresco, House of the Baker or Casa del Forno (c. 79 CE), Pompeii, Italy


Grains and Cereals in Ancient Rome

Throughout human history, grains and cereals form a crucial part of the human diet, and the ancient Romans were no exception.  Cereals in ancient Rome represented the bulk of the diet of most Romans. Wheat and barley were widely consumed and used to make bread and porridge.

It is interesting to note that the bread in ancient Rome was coarse and quite dark in color. However, higher-quality loaves (lighter in color and finer in texture) were served in the meals of the Roman elites.

What Kind of Fruits and Vegetables Did They Eat?

If you think that bread and meat were all that the ancient Romans used to eat, then you are wrong. In fact, fruits and vegetables were a major part of their diet. The most commonly available fruits were apples, figs, and of course, grapes. All these fruits were used fresh and sun-dried. Apart from these fruits, pears, plums, cherries, and peaches were also available. Most of these fruits were sun-dried to increase their shelf life.

Figs played an important role in ancient Roman culinary tradition

Vegetables were also a part of regular meals. Beans and lentils were served frequently, with peas putting in a particularly frequent appearance. Other vegetables included asparagus, mushrooms, onions, turnip, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, leek, celery, cucumbers, artichokes, and garlic.

Where Did They Get Their Food?

As we all know, the city of Rome expanded a lot over time and with it, the demand for food. This increased demand gave rise to private enterprises that met the needs of the citizens by bringing food from outside the city, mainly from the Italian mainland. Sicily and Sardinia were also among the Islands that used to provide food for the city of Rome.

When the church took over in Rome, the food was supplied through the church and regularized by the church.

Well, there you have it. Now you know and what Romans used to eat. So if you want to arrange a Roman-themed dinner, go for it!

Mesopotamian Echoes in Greek mythology

by September 11, 2020

Written by Ronan McLaverty-Head, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
When Alexander the Great marched into Babylon in 331 BC, it was not the first time that the Greek world had encountered the cultures of the ancient Near East. From around the 8th century BC, the Greek states had entered an “Orientalizing Period,” deliberately absorbing and adapting influences from Egypt, the Levant, and Mesopotamia.
This period was also the heyday of Mesopotamian political and cultural power, as part of the imperial expansion of both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. A diffusion of Mesopotamian ideas made their way across the wider world, including the Greek states.
The term “Mesopotamia”—itself a Greek word—refers to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now mostly modern-day Iraq and Syria. This fertile crescent saw the first urbanization and the first writing, cuneiform. Its peoples and cultures—Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians—had an important influence on the Classical world, particularly in the form of myth. One such mythic motif that found its way from Mesopotamia to Greece was the divine journey.

Ancient Mesopotamia in relation to the Middle East today

As Charles Penglase in Greek Myths and Mesopotamia has demonstrated, the Homeric hymns—the earliest works of Greek literature—include several motifs that derive from Mesopotamian myth.
In the hymn to Apollo, for example, we see stages of the divine journey also found in the myths of the Babylonian god Ninurta. The Ninurta stories were already ancient at the time they were being copied by the Assyrian and Babylonian scribes when contact with Greece was at its greatest.
Apollo’s journey takes him first from Delos, where he was born, to other islands; he then seeks out Delphi before finally ascending Mount Olympus. His adventures contain the following Mesopotamian parallels, among others:
  • Like Ninurta, son of the supreme god Enlil, Apollo, son of the supreme god Zeus, kills guardian monsters on his ascent;
  • Apollo’s proud entry into the celestial assembly, where he strikes fear in the gods—only to be soothed by his mother—mirrors Ninurta’s aggressive entry into his father’s temple and the calming influence of his own mother.

A relief showing Zeus and Leto with their offspring Apollo and Artemis to the right. 420-410 BCE. (Archaeological Museum of Brauron, Greece)

Apollo also echoes certain characteristics of the epic hero Gilgamesh, whose myth was one of the most widely known in the ancient world, with copies being found as far away as ancient Israel and Asia Minor.
Gilgamesh undertakes a journey to the end of the world to try to find the secret of immortality. At the end of his journey he bathes and dresses, before diving into the sea, where he finds the plant of youth—a descent/ascent motif joined with dressing and food also present in the Apollo hymn. Gilgamesh’s earlier wounding of the goddess Ishtar, who is then comforted by her parents, is also reminiscent of the wounding of Aphrodite in the Iliad, who is similarly comforted by her parents, Zeus and Dione.
The hymn to Demeter finds parallels in the myths of descent in the Mesopotamian corpus, both of which act as explanations for the failure of fertility on earth. Demeter’s search for Persephone in the underworld echoes the descent of Inanna (later called Ishtar) in search of her lover Dumuzi. Ishtar herself clearly has an influence on the characterization of Aphrodite.
One description is particularly interesting: after bathing and putting on her clothes and jewelry in preparation for meeting her lover, Ishtar “like a moonbeam came out to him from the house.” In the hymn to Aphrodite, we hear that her robe “was a thing of beauty, golden, decorated with every sort of design. Like the moon it glowed.”
Gilgamesh Epic

Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic

The myths of Prometheus and Pandora found in Hesiod also have interesting parallels with Mesopotamian antecedents, especially the myth of Enki. Like Prometheus, Enki is a cunning god who rebels against the supreme god, the consequences of which highlight connections between Greek and Mesopotamian ideas regarding the creation of mankind:
  • Rebellion results in the creation of humans and an imposition on them of hard work;
  • Humans are created out of clay;
  • The rebellious god is punished while the supreme god attempts to destroy humans (with an implicit criticism of the supreme god present in the story);
  • A second creation occurs after a great flood, the survivors of which become the progenitors of the different human races.
In all these cases, the appearance of Mesopotamian motifs in Greek mythology does not represent mere mimicry. In fact, it is often in how the motifs are adapted to suit the new culture that they are the most illustrative, demonstrating their particular interests and beliefs. As Penglase (p.192) notes, the Greek versions show “many alterations and different applications of the same elements in a new story, but nothing that is not consistent with the creative use of a living tradition in a new cultural environment.”

The Age of Homer, or the Dark Ages (12th-9th century)

by September 8, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
We often regard the Greeks as the epitome of Civilizations. However, before the great achievement of the Fifth Century BC in Athens and elsewhere, they underwent a period of decline and dislocation. For over three centuries Greece endured a Dark Age when cities were abandoned and society collapsed. However, out of this grim period there emerged trends that contributed to the glories of Greece Civilization.
The Collapse of Mycenae Civilization
Before 1200 BC, what is now modern Greece was dominated by the Mycenaeans. They are regarded as early Greeks and they were a warrior, people. Based on their archaeological remains they developed a hierarchal society. They constructed vast palaces at sites all over Greece and were renowned seafarers. The Mycenaeans were probably the source of the legends concerning the siege and fall of Troy.
Sometime about 1200 BC, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed and they abandoned their palaces. Once it was believed that another group of Greeks from the northern Balkans, the Dorians, led to their downfall. However, this has been rejected in recent years.
The fall of the Mycenaeans was probably linked to the Bronze Age Collapse when many civilizations in the Near East collapsed. This has often been blamed on the Sea-People a group of invaders. It is possible that climate change led to famines, which caused civil war and led to the collapse of the Mycenaeans.

Found in Tomb V in Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876. Gold death-mask known as the “Mask of Agamemnon”. This mask depicts the imposing face of a bearded nobleman. It is made of a gold sheet with repoussé details. Two holes near the ears indicate that the mask was held in place of the deceased’s face with twine.

The Aftermath
The Mycenaeans collapse saw the end of the monumental building in Greece for centuries. Their palaces had been centers of culture and with their demise, the knowledge of their writing system known as Linear B was lost.
The material culture of the region declined as seen in the poor quality of pottery from the period. It appears that many areas of Greece and its island were depopulated and many settlements were deserted. There is some evidence that towns were abandoned and many people returned to living in remote settlements that could easily be defended.
There were no longer any more kingdoms with centralized states and bureaucracies as in the past. Now society was more likely to be based on clans who were headed by chieftains. People lived in self-sufficient households called Oikos. Archaeologists show that long-distance trade collapsed and while once the Mycenaeans had traded with other civilizations this ended from the 12th to 9th century BC.
Pockets of Civilization
While much of Greece was in the Dark Age, some areas remained urbanized and engaged in long-distance trade. Lefkandi, on the island of Euboea, was a trade and manufacturing hub and it was a large town by the standards of the time. It appears that it was a maritime power.
The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate, the main entrance of the citadel of Mycenae, 13th century BC

The Mycenaeans had colonized parts of the island of Cyprus, where there are elements of their civilization, including the use of an adapted form of Linear B. Such findings lead some experts to believe that there was no Dark Age and that Greek society was much more sophisticated than often believed.
By the 8th century, the archaeological record shows bigger settlements were increasing in size and that new towns were emerging. By this time Athens and Sparta were beginning to grow. There is evidence of more long-distance trade and manufacturing. The quality of the pottery also improved.
It appears that Greeks had many more contacts with other cultures, such as the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were great merchants and had also developed an alphabet, a phonetic one. This was adopted by the Greeks and, as a result, they once more were able to become a literate society. Greece became quite prosperous by the 8th century and the population increased. This led to the colonization of other areas especially in Crimea and Asia Minor.
Age of Homer?
The Dark Ages saw the emergence of the poetry of Homer. He was the greatest of all Greek poets and one of the greatest poets in all the Western tradition. Traditionally, Homer is portrayed as a man who was blind.

Homer and His Guide (1874) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Homer is credited with the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. These were original works of oral poetry that were based on the semi-legendary stories about a war between the Greeks and Trojans and the adventures of Odysseus in its aftermath.
Experts believe that Homer lived in the 9th century and can be seen as a figure from the Dark Age. However, he was also a forerunner of the recovery of Greek civilization in the 8th century BC. He used the Greek alphabet to set down the oral poems and created a new literary language, which greatly stimulated the growth of Hellenic culture.
The stories of the Iliad and Odyssey had a profound impact on Greek society, including its literature, art, ethics, and even mythology. Just as important, the epic poems helped to foster a sense of a common Greek heritage and identity. Homer was a critical influence in the development of Classical Greek culture.
The Mycenaeans developed a great civilization but, after the Bronze Age Collapse, it disappeared. Greece declined socially, culturally, and economically. It became a poor and backward area, and this remained the case for many centuries. However, parts of the Greek world may have continued to be advanced and prosperous. The creation of a new Greek alphabet was crucial to the ending of the Dark Ages, and the works of Homer contributed to a Renaissance in the Hellenic World.
  • West, M. L. (1999). “The Invention of Homer”. The Classical Quarterly. 49 (2): 364–382
  • Whitley, James (2003) Style and Society in Dark Age Greece: The Changing Face of a Pre-literate Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Hunting Dogs in the Ancient World

by September 2, 2020

Written by Robert Gate, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
For millennia, dogs and people have shared a close partnership. No one is still ready to claim when and where the first dog was domesticated, but it is generally accepted that it was for hunting.
Thousands of years ago, men did not have big guns to aid them in hunting or protect from wild animals – this is why they needed dogs.
Canine friends delivered and were highly appreciated. Archaeologists discovered numerous stone columns and other objects that stand as evidence of the deep tie dogs and humans share.
Stay tuned to find out all there is to know about hunting dogs in the ancient world!

Hunting Dogs in Ancient Greece

Heracles and Cerberus

Heracles, chain in left hand, his club laid aside, calms a two-headed Cerberus, which has a snake protruding from each of his heads, a mane down his necks and back, and a snake tail. Amphora (c. 525–510 BC) from Vulci (Louvre F204). Source: Wikiwand.

Dogs were an important part of ancient Greece. They were protectors and hunters but companions as well. The Greeks were the first to invent spiked collars to protect their canine friends from wolves. 
Greek goddesses Artemis and Hecate had dogs too. Artemis, being the goddess of the hunt, used them for hunting. 
As far as the literature is concerned, the most famous Greek dog was the three-headed dog Cerberus, a guardian to the gates of Hades.
King Odysseus of Ithaka (from Homer’s Odyssey) had a loyal four-legged friend too – a dog named Argos.
He was the only one to recognize his master after twenty years of absence and was over the moon to see him again. When the king ignored his joy, the dog laid down and died of sadness.

What Breeds Of Dogs Were There In Ancient Greece?

  • Molossers
This group of dog breeds is associated with the Molossi tribe that lived in Epirus in the northwest region of Ancient Greece.
They were mostly used as guardians and herding dogs but often helped hunters take down the big game. Mastiffs are considered to be their descendants. 
  • The Greek Harehound 
This dog breed used to be bred as a scent hound. The shorthaired black and tan dogs were mostly used to track and chase hares in the southern parts of Ancient Greece.
  • Alopekis 
These small white dogs are believed to be the ancestors of most terriers and other small dog breeds we can find in modern Western Europe.
  • Laconian hound (Ichnilatis Lakonias)
The Laconian hounds were used for hunting deer and hares. They were a bit slow, though, and greatly relied on their sense of smell while hunting. 
  • Meliteo Kinidi
These small Greek domestic dogs are a bit larger than the Alopekis and have dropped ears. They can be both long and short-haired.
The ones with long hair are more often depicted on ancient artifacts. This breed of the Hellenic dog hunts birds and small game but can be a good companion too.
  • The Cretan Hound (Kritikos Ichnilatis)
Present to this day, this breed from the island of Crete is considered to be one of the oldest breeds of hunting dogs in the world.
Cretan Hounds are multi-talented dogs – quick and agile, and with exceptional scent. They are the extraordinary hare and wild rabbit hunters but have guarding instincts too.
  • Greek Shepherd  (Hellenikos Poimenikos)
Greek Shep is a relatively large dog, with a solid body and massive head. It can take down almost any enemy and protect the flock but can sometimes be too stubborn to train.

Hunting Dogs in Ancient Rome

Dog mosaic

‘Cave canem’ (beware of the dog) mosaic. From Pompeii, Casa di Orfeo.

The Romans had various pets, but dogs were their favorite animal companions. Just like in Greece, dogs were depicted in works of art and literature.
Famous Latin poet Virgil praised them as guardians, while the writer Varro advised that every family should have both a watchdog and a hunting dog.
The Romans even believed that dogs could protect them from the unnatural forces. Their barking could warn people of any disembodied spirit preying on them.

What Breeds Of Dogs Were There In Ancient Rome?

  • Cane Corso
Cane Corso is a quite impressive dog breed that is believed to originate in what is now known as south of Italy but used to be a part of an enormous Roman Empire. They belong to the Molosser family. 
These dogs have a muscular body with a prominent guarding instinct. Being fit and powerful, they could take down big animals, so they were used for big game hunting such as deer or wild boars.
They could even hamper bears. The Roman army used them in battles too, and thus they are also often referred to as the Roman dogs of war.
  • Agassian
This energetic breed of hunting dogs is believed to have been “imported” to the Roman Empire from the area of today’s Britain.
Agassians were small in size but armed with powerful claws and even more powerful noses.  
They were excellent trackers and could mark almost any airborne scent. As such, they made indispensable hunting companions.
  • The Laconian greyhound
Imported from Greece, these large dogs with a small head and a long neck were mostly used for hunting. They made quite a great noise barking and chased the game vigorously. 

Hunting Dogs in Ancient Egypt


The Anubis Shrine; 1336–1327 BC; from the Valley of the Kings; Egyptian Museum (Cairo).

Even though Ancient Egypt is often associated with cats rather than dogs, Egyptians were “dog people” as well. Egyptologists found that dogs had been domesticated in the Pre-Dynastic era of Egypt. 
Egyptians used dogs as Greeks and Romans did. They were companions, but also guardians, hunters, and weapons of war.
Canines were highly regarded, and as evidence of that, there are many hounds mentioned in mortuary texts and depicted in Egyptian art.

What Breeds Of Dogs Were There In Ancient Egypt?

  • Basenji
This breed originated in Nubia. The name of the breed translates as “dog of the villagers.”  The Basenji dogs were often family pets that doubled as hunting dogs for small game or guard dogs. 
  • Greyhound
Even though the Greyhound origin is not entirely sure, there is evidence that this breed lived in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Greyhounds were mostly used for open-area hunting of big game. 
  • Ibizan
The Ibizan, regardless of its current name, is a breed of Egyptian origin. It is considered to be a ‘typical’ Egyptian dog most often represented in Egyptian art.
This leggy visitor from the dawn of civilization was used for hunting small animals such as rabbits.
  • Pharaoh
Pharaoh Hound is a dog you will most probably see depicted in hunting scenes of Egyptian art. It was a breed used as a sacrifice to Egyptian deity Anubis too.
  • Saluki  (Sloughi breed)
This breed originated in Mesopotamia but was quite popular in Egypt later on. Salukis were used as both hunting dogs and companions. 
  • Whippet
Referred to as the dogs of the Egyptian kings, whippets were actually small and agile hunting dogs used for hunting in open terrain.

Other Hunting Dogs in the Ancient World

The best hunting dog was not easy to find in the ancient world, nor is it an easy task today.
Here are the breeds that were highly appreciated then and have survived to this very day:
  • Chow Chow
Originated in Northern China (150 – 200 B.C.) 
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
 Originated in China (206 B.C.) 
  • Samoyed
Originated in Siberia (1000 B.C.)
  • Alaskan Malamute
 Originated in Alaska’s Norton Sound Region (around 1000 B.C)
  •  Afghan Hound
Originated in Afghanistan (around 6,000 B.C.) 
  • Basenji
Originated in  Central Africa (around 6000 B.C.)
  • Akita Inu
Originated in Japan (around 8,000 B.C.)

The Banishment of Julia Augusti (PART 6)

by September 1, 2020

Written by Mary Naples, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Of how she was rounded up, the details are unknown. It would have had to occur in the dead of night. Since she was beloved, her banishment by light of day might have led to political unrest. Because she was the house of Augustus’s first exile—though mournfully not its last—a system of removal was not yet in place.
For her daughter, Agrippina the Elder, Tiberius would employ squads of Praetorian Guards to fetch her. But nothing as dramatic existed for Julia. Some believe that it may have been Livia, the iron maiden herself, who summoned Julia in the middle of the night. Long an adversary of her headstrong stepdaughter, the omniscient and omnipresent Livia played no small role in Julia’s abrupt downfall.
Likely, the charges had been building up, though according to the Princeps’ letter to the Senate, he had just “discovered” that his married daughter had committed multiple adulteries. But adultery was not her only crime. In behavior considered irreverent, the Princeps ranted that she indulged in public depravities in the forum: “from the very rostra where he had proclaimed the leges Juliae (Julian marriage laws).” That it was in the public square was a fact made much of by the ancients as a place no women should be. Not uncoincidentally the depraved acts were only performed in the dead of night, a time when no respectable citizens could verify the story.

An erotic fresco from the Casa del Ristorante, Pompeii. Courtesy Wikimedia

Over the years, the most heinous and debauched acts have been attributed to her, with historians today believing them to be examples of misogynist hyperbole common in the ancient world. Although on the face of it adultery was the crime for which she paid the steep price, many argue that because of the intensity of Augustus’s wrath it may have been more personal than mere adultery. In fact, accusing women of sexual license was code for conspiratorial activity in ancient Rome.
The five men with whom Julia was linked all came from notable patrician families not least of which was Iullus Antonius, Antony’s son with Fulvia raised by the benevolent Octavia. Even though Antonius would have been more or less raised right alongside the royal family, some ancients believed that he may have long harbored ambitions to avenge his father. Perhaps the fullness of Augustus’s anger could only be explained by the discovery of a plot to depose him; the real offense not being adultery but conspiring against the regime. If true, the son of his greatest enemy linked to his daughter romantically would have been enough to send the Princeps raging.
About the liaison between Antonius and Julia, Seneca mused: “Once again a woman to be feared with an Antony.” Julia’s popularity with the people coupled with the ceaselessly favorable impression of Antony could have made them a fearsome duo. But did they, in fact, have designs on the throne? While it is easy to see why Antonius would, with both of her sons prepped for the throne what would Julia have to gain by the maneuver?
Lucius and Gaius with Augustus

Statues of the Roman emperor Augustus and his grandsons Gaius and Lucius Caesar. Late 1st cent. B.C. – Early 1st cent. A.D.

Another assessment suggests that for eminent women in ancient Rome, adultery, and conspiracy were one and the same thing. In view of this, marriage, or short of that, sexual commerce, was a means of creating vital alliances that Julia (essentially an unmarried woman) would need in order to navigate the treacherous waters surrounding her.
The ever-paranoid Princeps, deaf to his daughter’s pleas for a life of her own, chose to leave Julia in matrimonial limbo precisely because if married she was dangerous to his regime. Yet regardless of marriage, as princess, all the men in her social circle were from prominent families, many of whom could pose a threat to the house of Augustus. It would have been just a matter of time before someone as social as she was allied to at least one of them. In the wake of the denunciation, while bleak exile awaited Julia and four of the men listed in the accusation, Antonius was condemned to death.
But at least Julia had one parent with her better interests at heart. In a show of support and undying love, Scribonia accompanied her daughter into exile. After five years at Pandateria, due to persistent public outcry to return their (still) popular princess, the intractable Princeps blinked. When the boat came for her, if Julia thought she was finally returning home, she must have been greatly disappointed. With conditions slightly improved, the somber destination where she would spend the remaining eleven years of her life was Rhegium (present Reggio Calabria).

A Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, with the Figure of Julia, Banished from Rome

Over the years, one by one Julia would live to see her three sons die by the age of twenty-five. While accident and sudden illness officially claimed Gaius and Lucius within eighteen months of each other, after Augustus died in 14 CE, Agrippa Posthumous, by then living in exile, was summarily executed by a centurion in the employ of the new emperor, Tiberius.
As to her daughters—in a tragic example of history repeating itself—within ten years of Julia’s exile, her daughter, Julia the Younger, was charged with adultery and exiled to a penal island where she gave birth to a child that Augustus ordered exposed. She would die in exile at age forty-eight. But for Tiberius, her second daughter, Agrippina the Elder, might have been empress. Instead, she and two of her sons were sent into exile where she would ultimately die at forty-six years of age.
Invited to the party but not allowed to dance, from an early age Julia was commoditized in the interest of regency. As emperor’s daughter, her every move was dictated by the dynastic whims of a despot. After three loveless marriages and reproducing enough offspring for Augustus’s imperial ambitions, she tried to forge a life of her own. But the cards were stacked squarely against her. Though she had reason enough to wish for her father’s ousting, without due process in a court of law ancient and modern historians alike can only speculate about whether her exile was due to adultery, conspiracy, or a combination of both.
After Augustus died in 14 CE at the advanced age of seventy-seven, the new emperor, Tiberius, exacted revenge on his former wife and stopped all food provisions to her isolated outpost. Shortly thereafter, Julia died of malnutrition at fifty-two years of age.

The Banishment of Julia Augusti (PART 5)

by August 25, 2020

Written by Mary Naples, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Thus, hard on the heels of the birth of her fifth child, Agrippa Posthumous, and still in mourning for her husband, the Princeps had his newly widowed daughter betrothed—this time to her stepbrother, Tiberius.
One can only imagine Livia’s delight. Finally, another Julio-Claudian union—the fervent hope must have been that it would be more fruitful than the last. Like Agrippa before him, everything was set except for one small detail: Tiberius was married.
In fact, Tiberius had been down this road with his stepfather eight years ago when, for purely political reasons yet again, Augustus married him to Vispania Agrippina (Agrippa’s eldest daughter with his first wife). According to Suetonius, in 11 BCE Tiberius divorced Vispania non sine magno angore animi (with great mental anguish). At last, the Princeps had been responsible for a union that resulted in love. Upon their heartbreaking divorce, an inconsolable and pregnant Vispania lost their second child.

Seated Statue of Tiberius, 1st century A.D., Museo Chiaramonti of the Vatican Museum

Alas, the marriage of Julia and Tiberius had an inauspicious start. Raised in the Julio-Claudian palace more or less as brother and sister, rumor had it that the vivacious young Julia once had a crush on the solemn Tiberius. Those days long gone, initially they tried making a go of it resulting in Julia’s pregnancy. But theirs was not destined to be a happy union and the baby boy died in infancy. Shortly thereafter, injured fatally in a riding accident, Tiberius’s beloved younger brother Drusus died. For a man of his somber temperament, a grief-stricken Tiberius would not easily recover from the loss.
By this time, relations had broken down between the couple who found it difficult to live under the same roof much less in the same bed. Further, as a man who nursed his resentments, Tiberius felt slighted that the tender-aged heirs apparent—now his insolent stepsons—were increasingly promoted to consulships and distinguished priesthoods, while he, with an acclaimed military background, was relegated to diplomatic posts.
When Augustus offered him the tribunician power in the East, much to the dismay of the Princeps and the consternation of Livia, Tiberius flatly turned it down announcing he intended to “retire” from politics and move to the island of Rhodes. With a husband over fourteen hundred miles away, Julia was not content to stitch away the hours spinning and weaving as her conservative kin Livia and Octavia had done.
Livia and Tiberius

Livia and her son Tiberius, AD 14–19, from Paestum, National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid

Making her vulnerable to the draconian marriage laws, she ran with a sophisticated crowd who viewed extramarital activities with nonchalance. She must have known the risks and appealed to her father for a divorce from her absent husband. But the Princeps would have none of it. As an eligible woman, the celebrated princess was a danger to the house of Augustus. With his successors waiting in the wings, the last thing the autocrat wanted was for an ambitious nobleman to jockey for political power, thus reducing the Princeps’ authority or that of his “own sons”—even though (or perhaps particularly because) they were truly Julia’s sons.
As a married woman with an absent husband, she was essentially an unmarried woman with no position in society. Even the cloistered Vestal Virgins would have been expected to have a more active public and social life than an unmarried woman. Required to live the life of a hermit, while being the life of the party, the extroverted thirty-something Roman darling was incapable of living in relative isolation—a simple fact a more attentive father would have known.
Then, in February of 2 BCE, the Princeps celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of “restoring the republic.” Amid much fanfare, Augustus was awarded the title of Pater Patriae (father of his country) and used the opportunity to promote his “own sons,” Gaius and Lucius as political heirs beginning a precedent for heritable rule.
It should be noted that, unlike his previous two sons-in-laws, Tiberius was not the Princeps’ political heir. In fact, after Tiberius’s self-exile to Rhodes, to a large extent, he was persona non grata at the house of Augustus and considered to be a threat to the successors should the Princeps die. Along those lines, to his imagined great humiliation, whether or not Tiberius should be allowed to return to Rome at all was now determined by none other than Gaius, his eighteen-year-old supercilious stepson.

Relief of Mars Ultor, 26–14 BCE; in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Six months later, as propagandist extraordinaire, the Princeps threw another party to celebrate his reign. This time under the auspices of inaugurating the Forum of Augustus which housed the temple of Mars Ultor, an avenging military god founded by Augustus. The first of its kind, the edifice was dedicated to Roman nationalism and lined with statues of legendary Romans, singling out the Julian clan with notables such as: Aeneas, Romulus, Divus Julius (Divine Julius) and the headliner himself: Caesar Augustus.
Romans, always game for a party, were ostensibly celebrating twenty-five years of relative peace and uneven prosperity; a supposed golden era ushered in by the Princeps, who hailed as their father, Pater Patriaie. Yet, because of subsequent events that night, Augustus is less remembered as the father of Romans than he is as the father of Julia. After the revels had ended and the pageantry long faded, the Princeps was not yet done with his day. That night, he sent a letter of denunciation against his own daughter to the servile Senate.