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Atia (mother of Augustus)

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Vase (AM 1932.233-18).jpg
This scene on the Portland Vase may depict Atia.
Born85 B.C.
DiedAugust 43 B.C. (aged c. 42)
SpouseGaius Octavius
Lucius Marcius Philippus
IssueOctavia Minor
Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome
FatherMarcus Atius Balbus
MotherJulia Minor

Atia (also Atia Balba)[ii] (85 BC – 43 BC) was the niece of Gaius Julius Caesar (through his sister Julia Minor), mother of Gaius Octavius, who became the Emperor Augustus, step-grandmother of the Emperor Tiberius, great-grandmother of the Emperor Claudius, great-great grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, and great-great-great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero.


Early life

Atia was the daughter of Julia Minor and her husband praetor Marcus Atius Balbus. Atia had at least one younger sister, and possibly an older one. Due to this, she is sometimes called Atia Secunda or Atia Balba Secunda.[1] She may also have had a brother.[2][3]

First marriage

Her first marriage was with Gaius Octavius, the praetor in 61 BC and then Macedonian governor. Her family lived close to Velitrae, ancestral home of the Octavii. They had two children: Octavia Minor, born around 66 BC,[4] and the younger Gaius Octavius, born in 63 BC.

In his Dialogus de oratoribus, Tacitus notes her to be exceptionally religious and moral, and one of the most admired matrons in the history of the Republic:

In her presence no base word could be uttered without grave offence, and no wrong deed done. Religiously and with the utmost delicacy she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but also their recreations and their games.

Suetonius' account of Augustus mentions the divine omens she experienced before and after his birth:

When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colours like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo. Atia too, before she gave him birth, dreamed that her vitals were borne up to the stars and spread over the whole extent of land and sea, while Octavius dreamed that the sun rose from Atia's womb. (Suetonius:94:4)[5]

The day he was born the conspiracy of Catiline was before the House, and Octavius came late because of his wife's confinement; then Publius Nigidius, as everyone knows, learning the reason for his tardiness and being informed also of the hour of the birth, declared that the ruler of the world had been born. (Suetonius:94:5)[5]

Octavius died in 59 BC, when their son Gaius Octavius (future Roman emperor Augustus) was four years old.

Second marriage

The same year as her first husband died Atia remarried to Lucius Marcius Philippus, consul in 56 BC. Philippus already had three children at the time; the already adult Lucius Marcius Philippus (consul suffectus in 38 BC who ended up marrying Atia's younger sister), Marcia (the wife of Cato the Younger) and Quintus Marcius Philippus (proconsul of Cilicia in 47 BC).[6][7][8] It's possible that she and Philippus had children.[9]

Atia was so fearful for her son's safety that she and Philippus urged him to renounce his rights as Caesar's heir. She died in August or September 43 BC. Octavian honored her memory with a public funeral.

Cultural depictions

A fictionalised Atia of the Julii is portrayed by Polly Walker in the BBC-HBO-RAI television series Rome. There she is portrayed as ambitious, shrewd, manipulative, sexually uninhibited, and morally bankrupt; the program also shows her as involved in a long-term romantic relationship with Marc Antony. Jonathan Stamp, the historical consultant for Rome, stated that in addition to the historical Atia, the character version of Atia draws significant influences from other Roman women from the same time period, such as the infamous Clodia, and Marc Antony’s wife, Fulvia.

See also


  1. ^ Her inscriptions in the coin is "Accia Octavi[i] Avg[vsti] mater", meaning "Atia, mother of Octavi[us] Aug[ustus]." Note that this spelling of her name is anachronistic, Accia was the name of a different gens in ancient Rome.
  2. ^ She is sometimes also called Atia Balba Caesonia.[citation needed] The caeso part in Caesonia may originate from caedere ("to cut"), if it were her true cognomen, possibly indicating her maternal descent. In one interpretation, the cognomen Caesar of the gens Julia originated from a caeso matris utero ("born by Caesarean section"). See also: Gaius Julius Caesar (name). Caesonia might have been a misplacement of the nomen gentilicium of Milonia Caesonia, fourth wife of Caligula.[original research?]


  1. ^ Lovano, Michael (2014). All Things Julius Caesar: An Encyclopedia of Caesar's World and Legacy. ABC-CLIO. p. 72. ISBN 9781440804212.
  2. ^ Syme, Ronald (1989). The Augustan Aristocracy. Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-19-814731-2. (Limited Preview of this page at Google Books)
  3. ^ Syme, Ronald (1970). Ten Studies in Tacitus. Clarendon P. p. 63. ISBN 9780198143581.
  4. ^ Moore 2017, p. 9.
  5. ^ a b Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Retrieved at
  6. ^ Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, xiii. 73, 74.
  7. ^ Badian, "Two More Roman Non-Entities", pp. 142–144.
  8. ^ Sumner, "Lex Annalis", pp. 252–254.
  9. ^ Fantham, Elaine; Foley, Helene Peet; Kampen, Natalie Boymel; Pomeroy, Sarah B.; Shapiro, H. A. (30 March 1995). Women in the Classical World: Image and Text. ISBN 978-0-19-976216-3.


Further reading

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Atia (mother of Augustus)
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