The gens Octavia was a plebeian family at Rome, which was raised to patrician status by Caesar during the first century BC. The first member of the gens to achieve prominence was Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, quaestor circa 230 BC. Over the following two centuries, the Octavii held many of the highest offices of the state; but the most celebrated of the family was Gaius Octavius, the grandnephew and adopted son of Caesar, who was proclaimed Augustus by the senate in 27 BC.
There are many indications that the Octavian family was in days of old a distinguished one at Velitrae; for not only was a street in the most frequented part of town long ago called Octavian, but an altar was shown there besides, consecrated by an Octavius. This man was leader in a war with a neighbouring town, and when news of a sudden onset of the enemy was brought to him just as he chanced to be sacrificing to Mars, he snatched the entrails of the victim from the fire and offered them up half raw; and thus he went forth to battle, and returned victorious. There was, besides, a decree of the people on record, providing that for the future too the entrails should be offered to Mars in the same way, and the rest of the victims be handed over to the Octavii.
Towards the end of the Republic, it became fashionable for noble families to trace their origin to the gods and heroes of olden time, and accordingly in Suetonius we also read that the Octavii received the franchise from Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth King of Rome, and were enrolled among the patricians by his successor, Servius Tullius. They afterwards passed over to the plebeians, until the patrician rank was again conferred upon them by Caesar.
This story is not improbable in itself, but since neither Livy nor Dionysius mention the Octavii when they speak of Velitrae, and the Octavii do not appear in history till the latter half of the third century BC, the tradition connecting them with the Roman kings may be safely rejected.
The nomen Octavius is a patronymic surname, derived from the Latin praenomen Octavius. Many other gentes obtained their nomina in this manner, including the Quinctii from Quintus, the Sextii from Sextus, and the Septimii from Septimus.
Branches and cognomina
Most of the Octavii of the Republic were descended from Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, who had two sons, Gnaeus and Gaius. The descendants of the younger Gnaeus held many of the higher magistracies, but the descendants of Gaius remained simple equites, who did not rise to any importance. The great-grandfather of Augustus served as a military tribune during the Second Punic War, and survived the Battle of Cannae; however, when Marcus Antonius wished to throw contempt upon Augustus, he called this Gaius Octavius a freedman and a restio, or rope-maker. The first of this family who was enrolled among the senators was Gaius Octavius, the father of Augustus. It is quite uncertain whether the ancestors of Augustus had anything to do with rope-making.
During the Republic, none of the Octavii of this family bore any cognomen other than Rufus, and even this is rarely mentioned. The surname, which means "red," may have been obtained by one of the Octavii because he had red hair.
A few other persons named Octavius were not descended from Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, or whose descent cannot be traced. They bore cognomina such as Balbus, Ligur, Marsus, and Naso. Balbus was a common surname, referring to one who stammers, while Naso is thought to refer to someone with a prominent nose. Ligur refers to one of the Ligures, the aboriginal people of Liguria, while Marsus refers to one of the Marsi, an ancient people of central Italy, who later allied with the Samnites.
- Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, quaestor circa 230 BC.
- Gnaeus Octavius Cn. f., praetor in 205 BC, during the Second Punic War; he obtained Sicily as his province, and captured eighty Carthaginian ships of burden. After the Battle of Zama, Scipio directed him to march on Carthage.
- Gaius Octavius Cn. f., the younger son of Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, he was a simple eques, who never attempted to rise any higher in the state.
- Gaius Octavius C. f. Cn. n., tribunus militum in 216 BC, during the Second Punic War. He survived the Battle of Cannae, and in 205 served in Sicily under the praetor Lucius Aemilius Papus.
- Gnaeus Octavius Cn. f. Cn. n., commanded the Roman fleet during the war against Perseus, over whom he triumphed. He was consul in 165 BC, and erected the Porticus Octavia. He was assassinated at Laodiceia while on an embassy in 162.
- Gnaeus Octavius Cn. f. Cn. n., consul in 128 BC; according to Cicero, he was accustomed to speaking in the courts of justice.
- Marcus Octavius (Cn. f. Cn. n.), tribunus plebis in 133 BC, he opposed the agrarian law of his colleague, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus
- Gaius Octavius C. f. C. n., the grandfather of Augustus, possessed considerable property, and lived quietly in his villa at Velitrae. He probably augmented his income by money-lending, for both Antonius and Cassius Parmensis called Augustus the grandson of a money-lender.
- Gnaeus Octavius Rufus, quaestor in 107 BC; perhaps the same man as the consul of 87.
- Gnaeus Octavius Cn. f. Cn. n., consul in 87 BC, he was a supporter of the Optimates, and placed himself in opposition to his colleague, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, who was driven from the city. Octavius was slain shortly after Cinna's return with Gaius Marius.
- Marcus Octavius Cn. f. Cn. n., tribunus plebis in an uncertain year, brought forward a law raising the price at which corn was sold to the people.
- Lucius Octavius Cn. f. Cn. n., consul in 75 BC; in the following year he died while proconsul of Cilicia, and was succeeded by Lucius Licinius Lucullus. He is frequently confounded with the jurist Lucius Octavius Balbus.
- Gnaeus Octavius M. f. Cn. n., consul in 76 BC, and a minor orator; he suffered such severe gout that he was unable to walk.
- Gaius Octavius C. f. C. n. Rufus, the father of Augustus, was praetor in 61 BC. Subsequently proconsul of Macedonia, he defeated several Thracian tribes, and was saluted imperator by his troops. He died suddenly in 58.
- Octavius, a legate in the army of Marcus Licinius Crassus, killed at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC.
- Marcus Octavius Cn. f. M. n., aedile in 50 BC, he was a partisan of Pompeius during the Civil War and commanded his fleet with considerable success.
- Marcus Octavius, an admiral who commanded the middle of Marcus Antonius' fleet at the Battle of Actium.
- Octavia C. f. C. n., the elder daughter of the praetor of 61 BC, and half-sister of Augustus; she married Sextus Appuleius.
- Octavia C. f. C. n., the younger daughter of the praetor of 61 BC, and sister of Augustus; she married first Gaius Claudius Marcellus, consul in 50 BC, and second Marcus Antonius.
- Gaius Octavius C. f. C. n., the first Roman emperor; he was the great-nephew of Caesar, in whose will he was adopted; in 27 BC the senate proclaimed him Augustus.
- Octavius Rufus, a friend of the younger Pliny.
- Marcus Octavius Ligur, a senator, and tribunus plebis with his brother, Lucius, in 82 BC. Verres compelled him to come to Rome in 74 in order to defend his rights respecting an estate that he had inherited in Sicily, and then charged him the costs of the trial.
- Lucius Octavius Ligur, tribunus plebis with his brother, Marcus, in 82 BC, he defended his brother's interests in Sicily from Verres during Marcus' absence. Perhaps the same person mentioned in one of Cicero's letters to Atticus.
- Marcus Octavius Laenas Curtianus, one of the distinguished men who supplicated the judges on behalf of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, in 54 BC.
- Gaius Octavius Laenas, curator of the aqueducts in Rome from AD 34 to 38, during the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula.
- Servius Octavius Laenas Pontianus, consul in AD 131.
- Octavius Graecinus, one of the generals of Sertorius in Hispania, he distinguished himself in battle against Pompeius in 76 BC. In 72 BC, he joined the conspiracy of Marcus Perperna, by which Sertorius perished.
- Lucius Octavius, a legate of Pompeius during the war against the pirates, in 67 BC; succeeded Quintus Caecilius Metellus in the command of Crete, and received the submission of the Cretan towns.
- Lucius Octavius Naso, left his estate to Lucius Flavius, praetor designatus in 59 BC.
- Lucius Octavius Balbus, an eminent legal scholar and judex in the time of Cicero; in 42 BC he was proscribed and put to death by the triumvirs.
- Lucius Octavius, detected in adultery by Gaius Memmius, and punished by him.
- Octavius Marsus, legate of Publius Cornelius Dolabella, who sent him into Syria with one legion in 43 BC. After the town of Laodiceia was betrayed into the hands of Gaius Cassius Longinus, Dolabella and Octavius put an end to their own lives.
- Marcus Octavius Herennius, originally a flute player, he became engaged in trade, and built a chapel to Hercules near the Porta Trigemina, at the foot of the Aventine Hill, supposedly in gratitude for having been delivered from pirates.
- Gaius Octavius Lampadio, a grammarian, who divided the poem of Naevius on the First Punic War into seven books.
- Octavius Fronto, a contemporary of Tiberius, he had been praetor, and in AD 16 spoke in the senate against the great luxury then prevailing.
- Publius Octavius, a noted epicurean during the reign of Tiberius.
- Octavius Sagitta, tribunus plebis in AD 58, he murdered his mistress, Pontia Postumia, because she refused to marry him after promising to do so. He was condemned and exiled to an island, but returned to Rome following the death of Nero. In AD 70 the senate again condemned him and reinstated his punishment.
- Gaius Octavius Vindex, consul suffectus in AD 184.
- Gaius Octavius Appius Suetrius Sabinus, senator, twice consul in AD 214 and 240.
- Octavius Horatianus, a name sometimes assigned to the author of the Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor, usually attributed to the physician Theodorus Priscianus, who lived at Constantinople during the 4th century.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. III, pp. 5, 6 ("Octavia Gens").
- Suetonius, "The Life of Augustus," 1 (J. C. Rolfe, Translator).
- Suetonius, "The Life of Augustus," 2.
- Velleius Paterculus, ii. 59.
- Cassius Dio, xlv. 1.
- Chase, pp. 130, 131.
- Chase, p. 110.
- Cassell's Latin & English Dictionary, s. v. rufus.
- Chase, pp. 109, 110.
- Chase, p. 114.
- Cassell's Latin & English Dictionary, s. v. balbus, Marsi, Ligur.
- Cicero, De Oratore, i. 36.
- Suetonius, "The Life of Augustus," 2, 4, 6.
- Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum, 104.
- Cicero, De Officiis, ii. 21, Brutus, 62.
- Fasti Capitolini.
- Cicero, In Verrem, i. 50, iii. 7.
- Obsequens, 121.
- Plutarch, "The Life of Lucullus," 6.
- Cicero, Brutus, 60, 62, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, ii. 28.
- Sallust, Historiae, ii. p. 205, ed. Gerl. min.
- Suetonius, "The Life of Augustus", 4.
- Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, i. 7, ii. 10, ix. 38.
- Cicero, In Verrem, i. 48, ii. 7, 48.
- Pighius, vol. iii. p. 266.
- Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum, vii. 18. § 4.
- Asconius Pedianus, In Ciceronis Pro Scauro, p. 29, ed. Orelli.
- Frontinus, De Aquaeductu, § 102.
- Frontinus, Strategemata, ii. 5. § 31.
- Plutarch, "The Life of Sertorius", 26.
- Cassius Dio, xxxvi. 1, 2.
- Plutarch, "The Life of Pompeius," 29.
- Cicero, Epistulae ad Quintum Fratrem, i. 2. § 3.
- Cicero, Pro Cluentio, 38, In Verrem, ii. 12.
- Valerius Maximus, v. 7. § 3.
- Valerius Maximus, vi. 1. § 13.
- Cicero, Philippicae, xi. 2.
- Appian, Bellum Civile, iv. 62.
- Cassius Dio, xlvii. 30.
- Masurius Sabinus, Memorial ii.
- Macrobius, iii. 6.
- Servius, viii. 363.
- Suetonius, De Illustribus Grammaticis, 2.
- Tacitus, Annales, ii. 33.
- Seneca the Younger, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, 95.
- Tacitus, Annales, xiii. 44, Historiae, iv. 44.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, Brutus, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, De Officiis, De Oratore, Epistulae ad Atticum, Epistulae ad Quintum Fratrem, In Verrem, Philippicae, Pro Cluentio.
- Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), Bellum Jugurthinum (The Jugurthine War), Historiae (The Histories).
- Marcus Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History.
- Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium (Memorable Facts and Sayings).
- Masurius Sabinus, Memorial.
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius).
- Quintus Asconius Pedianus, Commentarius in Oratio Ciceronis Pro Scauro (Commentary on Cicero's Oration Pro Scauro).
- Sextus Julius Frontinus, De Aquaeductu (On Aqueducts), Strategemata (Stratagems).
- Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), Epistulae (Letters).
- Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Annales, Historiae.
- Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans.
- Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars, or The Twelve Caesars), De Illustribus Grammaticis (The Illustrious Grammarians).
- Appianus Alexandrinus (Appian), Bellum Civile (The Civil War).
- Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus (Cassius Dio), Roman History.
- Julius Obsequens, Liber de Prodigiis (The Book of Prodigies).
- Maurus Servius Honoratus (Servius), Ad Virgilii Aeneidem Commentarii (Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid).
- Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia.
- Stephanus Winandus Pighius, Annales Magistratuum Romanorum, Antwerp (1599–1615).
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed., Little, Brown and Company, Boston (1849).
- George Davis Chase, "The Origin of Roman Praenomina", in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. VIII (1897).
- D.P. Simpson, Cassell's Latin and English Dictionary, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York (1963).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Octavia Gens". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. III. p. 5.