Disentangling the Augustan Succession (Part 4 – Happy Families)

Augustus (Octavian, as he was called until 27 BC) made three marriages.

He made his first marriage was made to cement the uneasy alliance he entered with Mark Antony after Caesar’s death in 44 BC.  The bride was Antony’s step-daughter.  Divorce was rapid, and helped cause a small war.

By the time of his next marriage, 40 BC, Augustus was seeking the alliance of Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, who had gained control of Sicily.   The bride was Scribonia, a relation of Sextus’ wife.  She was 17 years older than Octavian and had to divorce in order to marry him.  The alliance with Sextus was short-lived.  The marriage ended in 39 BC; Sextus was defeated and killed in 35 BC.

The marriage to Scribonia produced one daughter Julia; we have to call her Julia 1 because there are other Julias in this story.   Julia 1 was born on the day of her parents’ divorce because Augustus was preparing to marry the love of his life, Livia Drusilla.  Under Roman law, the father took custody, and Julia was brought up by her stepmother.  It turned out that Julia 1 was the only legitimate child Augustus would ever father, making her crucial to his plans.

Livia and Augustus married in January 38 BC.  The marriage was extremely unlikely; Livia’s father and husband had sided with the killers of Caesar against Antony and the young Augustus.  Her father had committed suicide after losing to Augustus in the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.  Livia was still married to her husband and pregnant with his second child when she and Augustus made a love match.  A divorce was arranged and the marriage took place while she was still pregnant by her ex-husband – a scandal even by Roman standards.

Livia’s ex-husband waived his right to keep their sons; Livia brought them up in Augustus’ household.  The two boys were named Tiberius Claudius Nero and Decimus Claudius Drusus   We will call them Tiberius and Drusus 1.  They were not adopted as children and remained officially members of the Claudius family.  Augustus did not adopt them.

In 27 BC the Senate granted Gaius Iulius Caesar Octavianus the title Augustus.  By this time he had assembled the model Roman family – a strong father (himself), a dutiful wife (Livia), two sons and a lovely daughter.  He used his own family as the model for a campaign for a return to traditional moral values.  But in fact the tensions and divisions which would cause major problems in the succession were already in place.  Augustus had no male heir – and he did not intend to make his stepsons his heirs, although Livia, their mother had ambitions for them.  Julia’s relationship with her stepmother was unhappy, and her value as a mother of heirs in the line of succession destined her for a disastrous future, which begins in Part 5.

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