Julia (gens)

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Denarius issued under Augustus from the mint at Lugdunum (present-day Lyon, France), showing Gaius and Lucius Caesar standing facing on the reverse (ca. 2 BC–14 AD)

The gens Julia or Iulia was one of the most ancient patrician families at Ancient Rome. Members of the gens attained the highest dignities of the state in the earliest times of the Republic. The first of the family to obtain the consulship was Gaius Julius Iulus in 489 BC. The gens is perhaps best known, however, for Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, and grand uncle of the emperor Augustus, through whom the name was passed to the so-called Julio-Claudian dynasty of the 1st century AD. The nomen Julius became very common in imperial times, as the descendants of persons enrolled as citizens under the early emperors began to make their mark in history.[1]


The Julii were without doubt of Alban origin, and it is mentioned as one of the leading Alban houses, which Tullus Hostilius removed to Rome upon the destruction of Alba Longa. The Julii also existed at an early period at Bovillae, as we learn from a very ancient inscription on an altar in the theatre of that town, which speaks of their offering sacrifices according to the lege Albana, or Alban rites; and their connection with Bovillae is also implied by the sacrarium, or chapel, which the emperor Tiberius dedicated to the gens Julia in the town, and in which he placed the statue of Augustus. It is not impossible that some of the Julii may have settled at Bovillae after the fall of Alba Longa.[2][3][4]

As it became the fashion in the later times of the Republic to claim a divine origin for the most distinguished of the Roman gentes, it was contended that Iulus, the mythical ancestor of the race, was the same as Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, and founder of Alba Longa. Aeneas was, in turn, the son of Venus and Anchises. In order to prove the identity of Ascanius and Iulus, recourse was had to etymology, some specimens of which the reader curious in such matters will find in Servius. Other traditions held that Iulus was the son of Aeneas by his Trojan wife, Creusa, while Ascanius was the son of Aeneas and Lavinia, daughter of Latinus.[5][6]

The dictator Caesar frequently alluded to the divine origin of his race, as, for instance, in the funeral oration which he pronounced when quaestor over his aunt Julia, and in giving Venus Genetrix as the word to his soldiers at the battles of Pharsalus and Munda; and subsequent writers and poets were ready enough to fall in with a belief which flattered the pride and exalted the origin of the imperial family.[7]

Though it would seem that the Julii first came to Rome in the reign of Tullus Hostilius, the name occurs in Roman legend as early as the time of Romulus. It was Proculus Julius who was said to have informed the sorrowing Roman people, after the strange departure of Romulus from the world, that their king had descended from heaven and appeared to him, bidding him tell the people to honor him in future as a god, under the name of Quirinus. Some modern critics have inferred from this, that a few of the Julii might have settled in Rome in the reign of the first king; but considering the entirely fabulous nature of the tale, and the circumstance that the celebrity of the Julia gens in later times would easily lead to its connection with the earliest times of Roman story, no historical argument can be drawn from the mere name occurring in this legend.[1][8][9]

In the later Empire, the distinction between praenomen, nomen, and cognomen was gradually lost, and Julius was treated much like a personal name, which it ultimately became. The Latin form is common in many languages, but other familiar forms exist, including Giulio (Italian), Julio (Spanish), Jules (French), Júlio (Portuguese), Iuliu (Romanian) and Юлий (Russian).


The Julii of the Republic used the praenomina Lucius, Gaius, Sextus, and Vopiscus, of which the last was rare. The earliest of the Julii appearing in legend bore the praenomen Proculus, and it is not impossible that this name was used by some of the early Julii, although no later examples are known. In the later Republic and imperial times, Vopiscus and Proculus were sometimes used as personal cognomina.

The gens was always said to have descended from and been named after a mythical personage named Iulus or Iullus, even before he was asserted to be the son of Aeneas; and it is entirely possible that Iulus was an ancient praenomen, which had fallen out of use by the early Republic, and was preserved as a cognomen by the eldest branch of the Julii. The name was later revived as a praenomen by Marcus Antonius, the triumvir, who had a son and grandson named Iulus. Classical Latin did not distinguish between the letters "I" and "J", which were both written with "I", and for this reason the name is sometimes written Julus, just as Julius is also written Iulius.

The many Julii of imperial times, who were not descended from the gens Julia, did not limit themselves to the praenomina of that family. The imperial family set the example by freely mingling the praenomina of the Julii with those of the gens Claudia, using titles and cognomina as praenomina, and regularly changing their praenomina to reflect the political winds of the empire.[1]

Branches and cognomina[edit]

The family-names of the Julii in the time of the Republic are Caesar, Iulus, Mento, and Libo, of which the first three are undoubtedly patrician; but the only families which were particularly celebrated were those of Iulus and Caesar, the former at the beginning and the latter in the last century of the Republic. On coins the only names which we find are Caesar and Bursio, the latter of which does not occur in ancient writers.

It is uncertain which member of the Julia gens first obtained the surname of Caesar, but the first who occurs in history is Sextus Julius Caesar, praetor in BC 208. The origin of the name is equally uncertain. Spartianus, in his life of Aelius Verus, mentions four different opinions respecting its origin:

  1. That the word signified an elephant in the language of the Moors, and was given as a surname to one of the Julii because he had killed an elephant.
  2. That it was given to one of the Julii because he had been cut (caesus) out of his mother's womb after her death; or
  3. Because he had been born with a great quantity of hair (caesaries) on his head; or
  4. Because he had azure-colored (caesii) eyes of an almost supernatural kind.

Of these opinions the third, which is also given by Festus, seems to come nearest the truth. Caesar and caesaries are both probably connected with the Sanskrit kêsa, "hair", and it is quite in accordance with the Roman custom for a surname to be given to an individual from some peculiarity in his personal appearance. The second opinion, which seems to have been the most popular one with the ancient writers, arose without doubt from a false etymology.

With respect to the first, which was the one adopted, says Spartianus, by the most learned men, it is impossible to disprove it absolutely, as we know next to nothing of the ancient Moorish language; but it has no inherent probability in it; and the statement of Servius is undoubtedly false, that the grandfather of the dictator obtained the surname on account of killing an elephant with his own hand in Africa, as there were several of the Julii with this name before his time. An inquiry into the etymology of this name is of some interest, as no other name has ever obtained such celebrity — as Spartianus states, "clarum et duraturum cum aeternitate mundi nomen."[10][11]

The Julii Caesares became physically extinct in the male line, either with Caesar's death on the Ides of March or, if Caesarion was truly his son, with the latter's death. Legally however the name passed on to a member of the Gens Octavia through Augustus, the adopted son and heir of the dictator, and then to a member of the Gens Claudia through Augustus' adopted son, Tiberius. It continued to be used by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, as members either by adoption or by female-line descent from Caesar; but though the family became extinct with Nero, succeeding emperors still retained it as part of their titles, and it was the practice to prefix it to their own name, as for instance, Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus. When Hadrian adopted Aelius Verus, he allowed the latter to take the title of Caesar; and from this time, though the title of Augustus continued to be confined to the reigning prince, that of Caesar was also granted to the second person in the state and the heir presumptive to the throne.[1]

In imperial times we find an immense number of persons named Julius; but it must not be supposed that they were connected by descent in any way with the Julia gens; for, in consequence of the imperial family belonging to this gens, it became the name of their numerous freedmen, and it may have been assumed by many other persons out of vanity and ostentation.[1]


This list includes abbreviated praenomina. For an explanation of this practice, see filiation.

Julii Iuli[edit]

Julii Mentones[edit]

Julii Libones[edit]

Julii Caesares[edit]

Main article: Julii Caesares

In the Roman Republic, most, if not all, of the men named Caesar came from the Julii Caesares. Though, Claudius Caesar occurred in the name of two emperors, Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus and his adopted son and grandnephew Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus. Claudius adopted the name "Caesar" as his cognomen, and Nero inherited this name from being adopted by his great-uncle.

The Julio-Claudian dynasty[edit]


See also[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 
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