Julia Drusilla

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Julia Drusilla
Head Drusilla Glyptothek Munich 316.jpg
Drusilla, Munich Glyptothek (Inv. 316)
Born 16 September 16 AD
Abitarvium, Germany
Died 10 June 38 AD (aged 21)
Spouse Lucius Cassius Longinus
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
House Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Father Germanicus
Mother Agrippina the Elder
Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Augustus 27 BC14 AD
Tiberius 1437 AD
Caligula 3741 AD
Claudius 4154 AD
Nero 5468 AD
Gens Julia
Gens Claudia
Julio-Claudian family tree
Category:Julio-Claudian dynasty
Preceded by
Roman Republic
Followed by
Year of the Four Emperors

Julia Drusilla (Classical Latin: IVLIA•DRVSILLA[1]) (16 September 16 AD – 10 June 38 AD) was a member of the Roman imperial family, the second daughter and fifth child to survive infancy of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder, and sister of the Emperor Caligula. Drusilla also had two sisters (Julia Livilla and the Empress Agrippina the Younger) and two other brothers (Nero and Drusus). She was also a great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, grand-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, niece of the Emperor Claudius, and aunt of the Emperor Nero.


Drusilla was born in Abitarvium, modern day Koblenz, Germany. After the death of her father, Germanicus, she and her siblings were brought back to Rome by their mother, and raised with the help of their paternal grandmother, Antonia Minor. In 33 AD, Drusilla was married to Lucius Cassius Longinus, a friend of the Emperor Tiberius.[2] However, after Caligula became emperor in 37, he ordered their divorce and remarried his sister to his friend, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.[3] During Caligula's illness in 37, he changed his will to name Drusilla his heir,[4] making her the first woman to be named heir in an imperial will. This was probably an attempt to continue the Julio line through any children she might have, leaving her husband to rule in the meantime.[5] However, her brother recovered and in 38, Drusilla died, at the age of about twenty-two.[3][6] Her brother went on to deify her, consecrating her with the title "Panthea" (all-goddess), and mourning her at her public funeral as though a widower.[7][8]


Drusilla was reportedly her brother's favorite. There are also rumors that she was his lover. If true, that role probably gained her influence over Caligula. Though the activities between the brother and sister might have been seen as incest by their contemporaries, it is not known whether the two actually had any sexual relations. Drusilla herself earned a rather poor reputation because of the close bond she shared with Caligula and was even likened to a prostitute by later scholars, in an attempt to discredit Caligula.[9]

Some historians suggest that Caligula was motivated by more than mere lust or love in pursuing relations with his sisters. He might instead have deliberately decided to pattern himself after the Hellenistic monarchs of the Ptolemaic dynasty where marriages between jointly ruling brothers and sisters had become tradition rather than sex scandals. This has also been used to explain why his despotism was apparently more evident to his contemporaries than those of Augustus and Tiberius.

The source of many of the rumors surrounding Caligula and Drusilla may be derived from the formal Roman dining habits.[9] It was customary in patrician households for the host and hostess of a dinner (or in other words, the husband and the wife in charge of the household) to hold the positions of honor at a banquet in their residence. In the case of a young bachelor being the head of the household (Caligula), the female position of honor was to be held by his sisters (Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla), taking turns sitting in the place of honor. Caligula apparently broke with this tradition in that rather than having his sisters take turns at the place of honor, the place was reserved exclusively for Drusilla. In a manner of speaking, Caligula was publicly proclaiming that Drusilla was his wife, the female head of the household, even though he was married to Lollia Paulina. However, it may just be that the allegation of incest has often been made against tyrants, usually with their mother, but in Caligula's case his mother was not available.

Death and aftermath[edit]

She died on 10 June 38 AD, probably of fever which was rampant in Rome at the time. Caligula was said never to have left her side, and after she had died, he would not let anyone take her body away.

Caligula was badly affected by her loss. He buried his sister with the honors of an Augusta, acted as a grieving widower, and had the Roman Senate declare her a Goddess as "Diva Drusilla", deifying her as a representation of the Roman goddess Venus or Greek goddess Aphrodite. Drusilla was consecrated as Panthea, most likely on the anniversary of the birthday of Augustus.[9]

A year later, Caligula named his only known daughter Julia Drusilla after his late favorite sister. Meanwhile, her widowed husband Marcus Aemlius Lepidus reportedly became a lover to her sisters Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger in an apparent attempt to gain their support in succeeding Caligula. The political conspiracy was discovered by Caligula while in Germania Superior during the autumn. Lepidus was swiftly executed, while Livilla and Agrippina were exiled to the Pontine Islands.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In Robert Graves' novel I, Claudius the narrator says that he believes that Drusilla was killed by Caligula, although he admits that he does not have firm evidence of this.
  • This was embellished considerably in the 1976 BBC television adaptation, where she was played by Beth Morris. A pregnant Drusilla was subjected to an amateurish Caesarean section (in imitation of the birth of Athena) by an insane Caligula, who then swallows the child as Zeus did, though scenes alluding to the death were cut from it before showing in the United States. They were restored for the VHS and DVD releases.
  • Teresa Ann Savoy played Drusilla in the 1979 motion picture Caligula, which showed the more plausible version of Drusilla dying from the fever, though it did follow up with a highly unlikely scene of Caligula licking her corpse in mourning and then having sex with it one last time (although the latter half of the sequence was deleted from all the released versions of the film).


See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen - e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933 - I 664
  2. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 21.
  3. ^ a b Cassius Dio, 59.11.1
  4. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24.
  5. ^ Susan Wood, Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (July 1995), pp.459
  6. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24.2
  7. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24
  8. ^ Cassius Dio, 59.11.1-5
  9. ^ a b c Susan Wood, Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (July , 1995), pp. 457-482


  • Media related to Drusilla at Wikimedia Commons