Atia of the Julii

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Atia of the Julii
Rome character
Atia rom.jpg
Walker as Atia (2005)
First appearance "The Stolen Eagle"
August 28, 2005 (US)
Last appearance "De Patre Vostro"
March 25, 2007 (US)
Portrayed by Polly Walker
Information
Gender Female
Occupation Socialite
Title Patrician
Significant other(s) Mark Antony
Children Octavian (Augustus)
Octavia of the Julii
Relatives Julius Caesar (uncle)

Atia of the Julii is a fictional character from the HBO/BBC/RAI original television series Rome, played by Polly Walker from 2005 to 2007. The niece of Julius Caesar and mother of Octavian/Augustus and Octavia, she is depicted as a cheerfully amoral and opportunistic manipulator whose family connections and sexual liaisons have made her a highly influential figure in Roman society. Atia is very loosely based on the historical figure Atia Balba Caesonia, about whom little detail is known; Rome Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp has said that the character was based on more well-known Roman women of the period, like Clodia.[1]

Walker's performance as Atia earned her a 2005 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama.[2][3] Michael Ventre of Variety called Atia the "most complex character" in the series, noting that "She can be loyal and loving, yet she is capable of doing the most villainous things."[4]

You are swearing now that some day you will destroy me. Remember: far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go look for them now.
 
— Atia, "De Patre Vostro"

Personality[edit]

The HBO website provides the following character description:

Niece of Caesar, Atia of the Julii is snobbish, willful, cunning, and sexually voracious. In a culture in which women lack formal power and men leave for years on military campaigns, the wives, daughters, and mothers have built powerful networks and alliances completely independent of the men's worlds. Atia is among the women who serve as the shadow rulers of Rome.[5]

Portrayed as the anti-heroine and femme fatale of the series, Atia is greedy and ambitious, and will do virtually anything to get what she wants. Seduction, humiliation and violence (including murder) are all tools acceptable to her; Atia's occasional hypocrisy is overshadowed by her general acceptance of her own extremely corrupt and unethical nature.

Fiercely protective of her family and their social status, Atia's motives usually involve advancement or self-preservation for the Julii. Her manipulations often extend to her own relatives; feeling that she knows best, Atia will not let even her children thwart her plans. Seeing a more advantageous match, Atia forcibly divorces her daughter Octavia from her first husband (and later has him eliminated).

Atia has a vicious rivalry with the mother of Brutus, Servilia of the Junii, who is having an affair with Atia's uncle, Julius Caesar. Atia's machinations end the affair but incite Servilia to scheme against both Caesar and Atia for vengeance.

Atia occasionally shows moments of weakness and more sympathetic traits. Her romantic feelings for Mark Antony sometimes cloud her judgment and make her vulnerable to his whims, and as much as she seeks to control her children, she will humble herself if necessary to assure their love for her. When Atia's schemes or attempts at seduction fail, she is often unable to maintain her composure and shows genuine distress.

Atia is clever, but not as clever as she thinks. Throughout the series her plans often misfire or meet with mixed success.

Character history[edit]

Season One[edit]

Atia's first scene in the series sees her using her sexuality to bribe Timon, her hired hand, into giving her a white horse he intended to sell at the market. Successful, she informs her twelve-year-old son Octavian that she intends him to take the horse to Gaul as a gift to their uncle Julius Caesar. When Octavian goes missing after being kidnapped by Gauls, Atia partakes in a special ritual in which a bull is sacrificed on a platform above her, drenching her in its sacred blood; she asks the gods to protect Octavian and see him safely to Caesar.

Taking her rivalry with Servilia to a new level in "The Ram has Touched the Wall", Atia pays to have graphic sexual depictions of Servilia and Caesar drawn on every street corner, humiliating Caesar's wife Calpurnia. This ends the affair, but causes Servilia to curse both Caesar and Atia.

In the episode "Egeria", Atia is concerned about her son Octavian and his apparent lack of virility and masculinity; she hires Titus Pullo to train him as a fighter and to take him to a brothel for his first penetration. Upon Octavian putting on the toga virilis and observing how his fighting skills have improved, Atia suggests that he join a military academy.

Though a widow, Atia is by no means resigned to celibacy and spinsterhood. She suggests to her lover Mark Antony that if they married, his social status would be elevated enough to seize control over Rome in Caesar's absence; however, Antony rejects her aggressively. Nonetheless, he later confides in Octavia that he finds himself wretched without Atia and they quickly make up their differences.

When Atia learns her daughter Octavia has seduced her brother Octavian into committing incest (under Servilia's influence) in "Utica", Atia loses control and furiously confronts Octavia with a whip. When Octavian intervenes, snatching the whip from her and declaring, "I am your son, not your child. You will not strike me anymore!", Atia replies, "Will I not?" and strikes him to the floor with a blow to the face. Following this event, Octavia runs away and Octavian leaves to convince her to come back. Atia takes revenge on Servilia by having Timon and her slaves publicly humiliate her: they pull Servilia from her litter, strip and beat her in the forum and cut her hair.

When Caesar is assassinated by the Senate, Servilia invites Atia to her villa to tell her the news in person. Worried what Servilia may be planning, Atia insists her son accompany her. Atia is devastated by the news, and somewhat shaken by Servilia's vow to make Atia suffer, "Slowly and deeply, as you made me suffer." Octavian remains composed and calm, eyeing Servilia coldly.

Season Two[edit]

With Octavian's input, Mark Antony manages to broker a peace between Caesar's supporters and the conspirators, ensuring the safety of himself and Atia's family. Soon Antony is welcoming Caesar's former mistress Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to Rome; he dismisses her request for public acknowledgement of Caesar's son Caesarion with derision. He assures a jealous Atia that Cleopatra is unappealing. Later, at a party for the Egyptians, Atia plans to have guest Servilia kidnapped and murdered; Octavian and Antony put an end to the plot as Cleopatra arrives with fanfare. Atia senses trouble from the Egyptian Queen, whom she feels is beneath her; as Cleopatra is leaving, Atia whispers in her ear, "Die screaming you pigspawn trollop."

When an attempt by Servilia to poison Atia fails, Atia has her rival kidnapped, raped and tortured horribly. Finally Timon, disgusted by Atia's cruelty and overcome by an attack of conscience, sets Servilia free, throttles Atia and leaves her gasping for breath.

The growing rivalry between Mark Antony and Octavian puts them literally at war with each other; until they see the need for them to unite against the powerful armies of Brutus and Cassius. Atia goes to Mark Antony in Cisalpine Gaul to secure an alliance.

In "Death Mask", both Brutus and Cassius have been killed in the Battle of Philippi, and Atia has one final encounter with Servilia. Broken and alone, Servilia curses her rival before publicly killing herself on Atia's doorstep; despite their animosity, Atia is clearly unnerved by Servilia's death as the suicide was meant to bring misfortune to Atia's house. Soon, Atia suggests that the marriage between her and Mark Antony finally occur as a show of unity between Antony and Octavian. The men agree that such an arrangement is necessary, but to Atia's surprise it is her daughter Octavia who is betrothed to Antony. Understanding that Octavia's childbearing age makes her more suitable for the match, Atia goes along with the marriage – but is furious.

Atia and Mark Antony have resumed their affair in "A Necessary Fiction", and Octavian's darker side emerges further when he discovers this betrayal (and that fact that Octavia is involved with his friend, Marcus Agrippa). He commands Antony to leave Rome indefinitely, or be publicly shamed with Octavia's adultery, and sends Atia and Octavia into seclusion (under armed guard) at Atia's villa. Antony manages a goodbye at Atia's doorstep with guards keeping them from embracing, and promises that when the time is right he will send for her. This never happens, and these are the last words he ever says to her.

In "Deus Impeditio Esuritori Nullus", three years have passed since the previous episode. With Rome starving from a lack of grain caused by Antony's desire to provoke Octavian into Civil War which is not ideal due to Antony's popularity. Octavian asks that Octavia and Atia go to Egypt to plead for Antony to give the grain to Rome. While Atia is ecstatic at finally being reunited with Antony she is heartbroken when Antony refuses to see her (in order not to humiliate her or kill her as Cleopatra desires). Returning to Rome while angry at her son's toying with her emotions Atia demands that he destroy Antony and Cleopatra.

Octavian returns to Rome in "De Patre Vostro", and establishes his position as the first Roman Emperor. During his triumph, Atia, while making sure that she is seen as the first woman in Rome, begins to realize that she may no longer be able to control her son. She begins to sadly ponder on how Octavian developed from a good honest child to a cruel liar. When the trophies of Octavian's victory over Antony are paraded before the Senate, she is seen one last time, with a deep sadness in her eyes.

Comparison with the historical Atia Balba Caesonia[edit]

Atia Balba Caesonia (born 85 BC) was the second daughter of Julius Caesar's elder sister Julia Caesaris and Marcus Atius Balbus, son of a Senator from Aricia. Atia herself had two sisters, not mentioned in the series, and was a cousin to general Pompey through her father. The real Atia would also have been considered plebeian, not patrician; however, like Caesar's mother Aurelia, this was of little importance during the late Republic when patricians were rather thin on the ground. Octavia and Octavian were both plebeian as well, but like Mark Antony, drew their status from their familial and political ties with Caesar. Officially, as an Atia Balba, Atia would have been considered a member of the Atii Balbi rather than a 'woman of the Julii', which is how she identifies during the series. As the niece of Caesar, however, she would have been considered a Caesarian politically, and would have owed much of her status to her position in Caesar's extended family.

Atia's first husband was Gaius Octavius, a Senator of obscure provincial origins. By him she had a daughter, Octavia Minor (Octavius already had a daughter, Octavia Major, from a previous marriage), and a son, Gaius Octavius (Octavian). After Octavius died in 59 BC, Atia married another Senator, Lucius Marcius Philippus, who was a devoted stepfather to her children. He would have been present throughout the period covered by Rome, however the character in the series is known to be unmarried.

Contrary to Rome's representation, Tacitus describes Atia as a pious, devoted mother and an ideal Roman matron; little other detail is known of her. There is no historical evidence to suggest that she was romantically involved with Mark Antony or in a contemptuous rivalry with Servilia Caepionis (basis for the character Servilia of the Junii), as is dramatized in the series. It is not known what involvement she may have had in the political intrigues of Julius Caesar or Octavian, but she did fear for her son's safety and at some point urged him to renounce his rights as Caesar's heir.

Atia died in the year 43 BC, before the Battle of Philippi in which the legions of Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius. In the series, she outlives these events and even lives to see her son become the first Roman Emperor, which occurred historically in 27 BC.

References[edit]