Disentangling the Augustan Succession (Part 6 – the Children of Julia)

The death of Marcellus ruined Augustus’ first hopes.  But he caused Julia 1 to remarry by 21 BC.  She was 18, her new husband some 25 years older.  The new husband had to divorce his wife, another cousin of Julia’s, to marry her.  In fact the ex-wife was the sister of Julia’s dead husband.  Augustus’ family was becoming extremely complicated.  But it all seemed worthwhile to him because Julia had to be the mother of heirs and she had to have a hand-picked husband.

The husband picked in this case was Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Augustus’ second-in-command who had won the crucial Battle of Actium for him in 31 BC, causing the flight and suicide of Augustus’ rival Mark Antony and his consort Cleopatra.  The choice of Agrippa seems to have been purely practical – Augustus needed a regent who could take over and protect his heirs if he died.  On the NO MORE WAR principle, Agrippa was the obvious person to take over, and he would champion the rights of Julia’s children if they were also his own.

Augustus had not abandoned the idea of bringing his own father’s descendants back into the line of succession.  He was arranging other marriages among his kin which we will come back to later.  Augustus did not adopt Agrippa.  His focus was on Julia’s children and their marriages.

Julia and Agrippa had a number of children, many of them doomed to be martyrs to the Augustan succession.   The marriage produced three sons.   Gaius Vipsanius Agrippa (b. 20 BC) and Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa (b. 17 BC) were the first two.  Augustus stretched the law in order to adopt them both in 17 BC; he removed them from their parents, and brought them up in his own household.  As the boys were adopted, they officially took new Julian names.  You will find them listed as Lucius Caesar and Gaius Caesar.  He showered titles and privileges on them and sent them out into theatres of war as soon as they were old enough to get experience.

Gaius and Lucius aureus.jpg
Aureus of Augustus, Lugdunum Mint, 2 BC – 2AD, RIC 209

This coin was recently sold by vcoins.com for $21,000.  It is solid gold – nearly 8 grams.  This was a prestigious coin, celebrating the stability of the succession.  The younger boy put on the adult toga in 2 BC, and died in 2 AD, so scholars think the coin must have been minted in the interval when both were alive and officially adult.  On the obverse is Augustus, with his titles – SON OF THE GOD, FATHER OF THE FATHERLAND, CAESAR AUGUSTUS.  On the reverse, CLCAESARES – GAIUS AND LUCIUS CAESARS.  Above this legend stand the heirs, wearing the toga and displaying shields and spears.  The odd objects floating between them are religious implements.  The message is clear – the youths are ready to take over from Augustus in civil, military and religious life.  Around them are their own titles; SONS OF AUGUSTUS, CONSULS DESIGNATE, LEADERS OF YOUTH.

The coin told one story, reality another, but there was no reason why most people handling the coin should know the true situation.  Augustus presented an image of direct father son succession, cleverly constructed by adoption.  The title ‘leader of youth’ was invented especially for the Senate to bestow on Gaius (5 BC) and Lucius (2 BC), along with ceremonial silver shields and spears, pictured on the coin.  In the days when consuls had been elected from the Senate, a consul designate would usually be a senior general in his forties.  Now, under Augustus, the role was ceremonial.  Gaius was designated as consul in 6 BC aged 14, before he even put on his adult toga.  The next year he put on the toga, was appointed to the elite religious role of pontifex, and was made leader of youth and given a ceremonial military command.  Lucius followed in his footsteps as he reached the same ages.  Gaius held his consulship in AD 1, aged barely twenty.  There was no substance behind the images.

Augustus also married Gaius to his 12 year old cousin Livilla in 1 BC.  She complied with the four principles by being descended through women from Augustus’ sister (DADS ARE BEST, GIRLS ARE MUMS), and by being the daughter of Livia’s younger son (AUGUSTUS LOVES LIVIA).   But she was very young to begin producing heirs and Augustus probably felt there was no urgency.  He focused on rapid military training for Gaius and Lucius instead (NO MORE CIVIL WAR).  By 4 AD they were both dead in foreign lands – Lucius in Marseilles and Gaius in Lycia (Turkey).   Hostile writers suggest that Livia poisoned them, but their deaths are probably more an illustration of the deadliness of the exposure to disease and accidents which was an inevitable part of campaigning.

Amid state mourning in 4 AD, Augustus had to make a new plan.


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