Octavia (gens)

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The gens Octavia was a plebeian family at Rome, which was raised to patrician status by Caesar during the 1st 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 grand nephew of Caesar and adopted son, who was proclaimed Augustus by the senate in 27 BC.[1]

Origin of the gens[edit]

The Octavii originally came from the Volscian town of Velitrae, in the Alban Hills. The historian Suetonius writes,

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.[2]

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.[3][4][5]

This story is not improbable in itself, but since neither Livius nor Dionysius mention the Octavii when they speak of Velitrae, and the Octavii do not appear in history till the latter half of the 3rd century BC, the tradition connecting them with the Roman kings may be safely rejected.[1]

The nomen Octavius is a patronymic surname, derived from the praenomen Octavius, which was widely spread in Latium. Many other gentes obtained their nomina in this manner, including the Quinctii from Quintus, the Sextii from Sextus, and the Septimii from Septimus.[1][6]

Praenomina used by the gens[edit]

The chief praenomina used by the Octavii were Gnaeus, Gaius, Marcus, and Lucius. Examples of Publius and Servius are found under the Empire.[1]

Branches and cognomina of the gens[edit]

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.[1][7]

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.[6][8]

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.[1][8]

Members of the gens[edit]

Octavii Rufi[edit]

Octavii Ligures[edit]

  • 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.[22][23]
  • 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.[24]

Octavii Laenates[edit]


  • 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.[27][28]
  • 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.[29][30]
  • Lucius Octavius Naso, left his estate to Lucius Flavius, praetor designatus in 59 BC.[31]
  • 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.[32][33]
  • Lucius Octavius, detected in adultery by Gaius Memmius, and punished by him.[34]
  • 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.[35][36][37]
  • 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.[38][39][40]
  • Gaius Octavius Lampadio, a grammarian, who divided the poem of Naevius on the First Punic War into seven books.[41]
  • Octavius Fronto, a contemporary of Tiberius, he had been praetor, and in AD 16 spoke in the senate against the great luxury then prevailing.[42]
  • Publius Octavius, a noted epicurean during the reign of Tiberius.[43]
  • 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.[44]
  • Gaius Octavius Vindex, consul suffectus in AD 184.[13]
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, Editor.
  2. ^ Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum, "Augustus," 1. Translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Loeb Classical Library 1912-13).
  3. ^ a b c Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum, "Augustus," 2.
  4. ^ a b Marcus Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, ii. 59.
  5. ^ Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, xlv. 1.
  6. ^ a b George Davis Chase, "The Origin of Roman Praenomina", in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. VIII (1897).
  7. ^ Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum, "Augustus," 2. It is quite uncertain whether the ancestors of Augustus had anything to do with rope-making.
  8. ^ a b D.P. Simpson, Cassell's Latin & English Dictionary (1963).
  9. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore, i. 36.
  10. ^ Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum, "Augustus," 2, 4, 6.
  11. ^ Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Jugurthine War, 104.
  12. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis, ii. 21, Brutus, 62.
  13. ^ a b c d Fasti Capitolini.
  14. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Verrem, i. 50, iii. 7.
  15. ^ Julius Obsequens, Liber de Prodigiis, 121.
  16. ^ Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, "Lucullus," 6.
  17. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Brutus, 60, 62, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, ii. 28.
  18. ^ Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Historiae, ii. p. 205, ed. Gerl. min.
  19. ^ Julius Obsequens, Liber de Prodigiis, 121.
  20. ^ Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Vita Caesarum, "Augustus," 4.
  21. ^ Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Epistulae, i. 7, ii. 10, ix. 38.
  22. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Verrem, i. 48, ii. 7, 48.
  23. ^ Pighius, vol. iii. p. 266.
  24. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum, vii. 18. § 4.
  25. ^ Quintus Asconius Pedianus, in Scauro, p. 29, ed. Orelli.
  26. ^ Sextus Julius Frontinus, De Aquaeductu, § 102.
  27. ^ Sextus Julius Frontinus, Strategemata, ii. 5. § 31.
  28. ^ Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, "Sertorius," 26.
  29. ^ Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, xxxvi. 1, 2.
  30. ^ Plutarchus, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, "Pompeius," 29.
  31. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Epistulae ad Quintum Fratrem, i. 2. § 3.
  32. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Cluentio, 38, In Verrem, ii. 12.
  33. ^ Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium libri IX, v. 7. § 3.
  34. ^ Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium libri IX, vi. 1. § 13.
  35. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Philippicae, xi. 2.
  36. ^ Appianus, Bellum Civile, iv. 62.
  37. ^ Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, xlvii. 30.
  38. ^ Masurius Sabinus, Memorial ii.
  39. ^ Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, ap. Saturnalia, iii. 6.
  40. ^ Servius, ad Virg. Aen., viii. 363.
  41. ^ Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, De Illustribus Grammaticis, 2.
  42. ^ Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Annales, ii. 33.
  43. ^ Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, 95.
  44. ^ Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Annales, xiii. 44, Historiae, iv. 44.

 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.