Aurelia Cotta was a daughter of Rutilia and Lucius Aurelius Cotta or his brother, Marcus Aurelius Cotta. Her father was consul in 119 BC and her paternal grandfather of the same name was consul in 144 BC. The family of the Aurelii Cottae was prominent during the Roman Republican era. Her mother Rutilia, was a member of the gens Rutilius cognominated Rufus. They were of consular rank. Publius Rutilius Rufus was her maternal uncle.
Three of her half-brothers were consuls: Gaius Aurelius Cotta in 75 BC, Marcus Aurelius Cotta in 74 BC and Lucius Aurelius Cotta in 65 BC; they were the sons of her mother, Rutilia's second marriage with her paternal uncle Marcus Aurelius Cotta.
- Julia Major (102 - 68 BC), wife of Pinarius and grandmother of Lucius Pinarius;
- Julia Minor (101 – 51 BC), wife of Marcus Atius and grandmother of emperor Augustus;
- Gaius Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC), the dictator.
The historian Tacitus considers her an ideal Roman matron and thinks highly of her. Plutarch describes her as a "strict and respectable" woman. Highly intelligent, independent and renowned for her beauty and common sense, Aurelia was held in high regard throughout Rome.
Aurelia and her family were very influential in her son’s upbringing and security. Her husband, the elder Gaius Caesar, was often away, so the task of raising their son fell mostly on Aurelia's shoulders. When the younger Caesar was about 18, he was ordered by the then dictator of Rome, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to divorce his young wife Cornelia Cinna, Cinna's daughter. Young Caesar firmly refused, and by so doing, put himself at great risk from Sulla. Aurelia became involved in the petition to save her son, defending him along with her brother Gaius Cotta.
After Cornelia's death in childbirth, Aurelia raised her young granddaughter Julia in her stead and presided as mistress over her son's households. Caesar subsequently married Pompeia Sulla. During the Bona Dea festival held at her son Caesar’s house, her maid discovered Publius Clodius disguised as a woman, ostensibly in order to start or continue an affair with her second daughter-in-law Pompeia. Although Caesar himself admitted her possible innocence, he divorced her shortly after stating that his wife must be above suspicion.[notes 1]
- According to Dryden's translation of Plutarch's biography of Caesar, he said "I wished my wife to be not so much as suspected."
- 'Aurelia' in William Smith, ed., Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (London: Taylor & Walton, 1844-1849). Vol. 1, 2, 3 vol. 1 pp. 435-436
- Dialogus de oratoribus section xxviii by Tacitus (published c. 102 CE), referenced in 'Caesar, Gaius Julius' in Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) (copy archived by WikiSource).
- 'Caesar' in Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch (published c. 100-120 CE) translated by John Dryden (1683)
- 'Cicero' in Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch (published c. 100-120 CE) translated by John Dryden (1683)