Octavia Minor

Octavia Minor

Julio-Claudian dynasty

Octavia Minor (69 - 11 BC), also known as Octavia the Younger or simply Octavia, was the sister of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (known also as Octavian), half sister of Octavia Major, and fourth wife of Mark Antony.

One of the most prominent women in Roman history, Octavia was respected and admired by contemporaries for her loyalty, nobility and humanity, and for maintaining traditional Roman feminine virtues.



Full sister to Augustus, Octavia was the only daughter born of Gaius Octavius' second marriage to Atia Balba Caesonia, niece of dictator Julius Caesar. [Sueton, "Augustus" 4.1] Octavia was born in Nola, Italy; her father, a Roman governor and senator, died in 59 BC from natural causes. Her mother later remarried, to the consul Lucius Marcius Philippus. Octavia spent much of her childhood traveling with her parents.

First marriage

Before 54 BC her stepfather arranged for her to marry Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor. Marcellus was a man of consular rank, a man who was worthy of her and was consul in 50 BC. He was also a member of the influential Claudian family and descended from Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a famous general in the Second Punic War. In 54 BC, her great uncle Caesar is said to have been anxious for her to divorce her husband so that she could marry Pompey who had just lost his wife Julia (Julius Caesar's daughter, and thus Octavia's cousin once removed). However, Pompey apparently declined the proposal. [Sueton, "Caesar" 27.1] So Octavia's husband continued to oppose Julius Caesar including in the crucial year of his consulship 50 BC.

Marcellus, a friend of Cicero, was an initial opponent of Julius Caesar when he invaded Italy, but did not take up arms against his wife's great uncle at the Battle of Pharsalus, and was eventually pardoned by him. In 47 BC he was able to intercede with Caesar for his cousin and namesake, also a former consul, then living in exile. Presumably, Octavia continued to live with her husband from the time of their marriage (she would have been about 15 when they married) to her husband's death when she was about 29. They had three children: Claudia Marcella Major, Claudia Marcella Minor and Marcus Claudius Marcellus. [Sueton, "Augustus" 63.1; Plutarch, "Antony" 87] All three were born in Italy. Marcellus died in May 40 BC.

econd marriage

By a Senatorial decree, Octavia married Mark Antony, in October 40 BC, as his fourth wife (his third wife Fulvia having died shortly before). This marriage had to be approved by the Senate as she was pregnant with her first husband's child and was a political marriage to cement the uneasy alliance between her brother Octavian and Mark Antony - however, Octavia appears to have been a loyal and faithful wife to Antony. [Plutarch, "Antony" 31; Appian, "Civil Wars" 5.64 and 5.66; Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 48.31.3] Between 40 BC–36 BC, Octavia lived with him in his Athenian mansion. [Plutarch, "Antony" 33; Appian, "Civil Wars" 5.76] She raised her children by Marcellus; Antony's two sons and their two daughters: Antonia Major and Antonia Minor, who were born there. She travelled with him to various provinces.


The alliance was severely tested by Octavia's second husband abandoning her and their children for his former lover Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Mark Antony and Cleopatra had already met in 41 BC, and subsequently had twins. After 36 BC, Octavia returned to Rome with her children by Mark Antony. On several occasions she acted as a political adviser and negotiator between her husband and brother. [So at the treaty of Taranto in 37 BC: Plutarch, "Antony" 35; Appian, "Civil Wars" 5.93-95; Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 48.54] Mark Antony divorced Octavia in 32 BC, [Plutarch, "Antony" 57.4-5; Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 50.3.2] after she had supplied him with men and troops in 35 BC (to be used in his eastern campaigns). [Plutarch, "Antony" 53; Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 49.33.3-4] With Antony's rejection, divorce, and eventual suicide in 30 BC, Octavia became the sole caretaker of their children. [Plutarch, "Antony" 87; Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 51.15.5] She also became guardian of Antony's remaining children from his unions with both Fulvia and Cleopatra:
* Iullus Antonius (Fulvia),
* Alexander Helios (Cleopatra),
* Cleopatra Selene II (Cleopatra), and
* Ptolemy Philadelphus (Cleopatra)

Octavia did not marry a third time.

Life after Antony

Augustus had adopted her son Marcellus as his heir, but Marcellus died of illness in 23 BC. Octavia had opened the Library of Marcellus in his memory, while her brother completed Marcellus's theatre in his honor.

Aelius Donatus, in his [http://virgil.org/vitae/ Life of Virgil] , states that Virgil cquote|"recited three whole books [of his Aeneid] for Augustus: the second, fourth, and sixth--this last out of his well-known affection for Octavia, who (being present at the recitation) is said to have fainted at the lines about her son, "…You shall be Marcellus" [Aen. 6.884] . Revived only with difficulty, she ordered ten-thousand sesterces to be granted to Virgil for each of the verses." She never fully recovered from the death of her son and retired from public life, spending her final years dressing in mourning.


Octavia died in 11 BC, sometime after her niece Julia the Elder married Tiberius. [Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 54.35.4] Her funeral was a public one, with her sons-in-law carrying her to the grave. While her brother Augustus delivered the funeral oration and gave her the highest posthumous honors (e.g. building the Gate of Octavia and Porticus Octaviae in her memory, declaring her a goddess and built temples for her), he also declined many of the honors decreed to her by the senate, for reasons unknown. [Cassius Dio, "Roman History" 54.35.4-5] She was one of the first Roman women to have coins minted in her image.


Octavia's children with Marcellus

Octavia and her first husband had one son and two daughters born late in their marriage:

#Claudia Marcella Major
#Claudia Marcella Minor

Octavia's children with Mark Antony

Octavia and Mark Antony had two daughters by their marriage (her second, his fourth), and both were the ancestors of later Roman Emperors.

#Antonia Major: grandmother to Emperor Nero.
#Antonia Minor: mother to Emperor Claudius, grandmother to Emperor Caligula, and great-grandmother to Emperor Nero.

Octavia in popular culture

A highly fictionalized version of Octavia's early life is depicted in the 2005 television series "Rome", in which Octavia of the Julii (Kerry Condon) commits incest with her brother, has a lesbian affair with Servilia of the Junii (the series' version of Servilia Caepionis) and a romantic relationship with Marcus Agrippa (based on the historical Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa).

Octavia's later life, around the time of the death of Marcellus, is depicted in the acclaimed 1976 television adaptation of Robert Graves's novel "I, Claudius". The role was played by Angela Morant, and should not be confused with Claudia Octavia (also referred to as 'Octavia' in the series), Claudius' daughter and wife of the future emperor Nero, who was played by Cheryl Johnson.


Octavia's life and virtues

* [http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/2336.html Details on Octavia pt 1] "Octavian was much attached to his sister, and she possessed all the charms, accomplishments and virtues likely to fascinate the affections and secure a lasting influence over the mind of a husband. Her beauty was universally allowed to be superior to that of Cleopatra and her virtue was such as to excite even admiration in an age of growing licentiousness and corruption."
* [http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/2337.html Details on Octavia pt 2]
* [http://www.fromoldbooks.org/Wood-NuttallEncyclopaedia/o/octavia.html Nuttall Encyclopedia profile] says merely that she was "distinguished for her beauty and her virtue"

Discussion of Octavia

* [http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Post/657712 Octavia's birth and life discussed briefly]
* [http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Post/657609 Octavia's marriage discussed briefly]

Octavia's family and descendants

* [http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/2042.html Marcellus, Octavia's only son who died aged 20]
* [http://www.livius.org/jo-jz/julia/julia03.html Julia, Octavia's daughter-in-law and niece]
* [http://www.caligulathemovie.com/family1.html Octavia's descendants] include the Roman emperors Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.


External links

* [http://www.inforoma.it/img/octavia.jpgA statue of Octavia Minor]
* [http://virtualreligion.net/iho/octavia.html Octavia] entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith
* [http://www.livius.org/oa-om/octavia/octavia_minor.html Livius.org: Octavia Minor]

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