Scribonia (wife of Augustus)

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Scribonia from "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum "

Scribonia (c.80 BC - 16 AD)[1] was the second wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and the mother of his only natural child, Julia the Elder. She was the mother-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, great-grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, grandmother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius, and great-great grandmother of the Emperor Nero.


Scribonia was the daughter of a Lucius Scribonius Libo, probably the praetor of that name of 80 BC. Her brother of the same name was consul in 34 BC.[2] The name of her mother was Sentia.[3] She is famous as the second wife of Octavian, later Augustus Caesar. She was married three times. According to Suetonius, her first two husbands both were former consuls. The name of the first is unknown, but it has been suggested that he was Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (consul 56 BC), because of the existence of an inscription that refers to freedmen (post 39 BC) of Scribonia and her son Cornelius Marcellinus,[4][5] indicating that she had a son from a previous marriage who was living with her after she was divorced from Octavian. This son, unmentioned by historians, may have died young. Her second husband was a Publius Cornelius Scipio, a supporter of Pompey.[6] Their daughter Cornelia Scipio married the censor Lucius Aemilius Paullus, and her death in 16 BC was the subject of one of the poet Sextus Propertius's finest elegies. Scribonia may have also been the mother of Publius Cornelius Scipio, consul in 16 BC.

In 40 BC Scribonia was forced to divorce her second husband and marry Octavian, who was around seventeen years her junior. Octavian in turn had divorced his wife Clodia Pulchra. Octavian's motive in marrying Scribonia was to cement a political alliance with Sextus Pompey, who was married to Scribonia's niece (also named Scribonia). The marriage was brief and unhappy. Octavian reportedly accused Scribonia of nagging him. He divorced her on the very same day as the birth of their daughter, Julia the Elder, his only natural child, probably in October of 39 BC.[7] Scribonia never remarried. Cassius Dio and Marcus Velleius Paterculus say that when her daughter Julia, after her marriage to Tiberius, was sent into exile for adultery and treason, she requested that her mother be allowed to accompany her and this wish was granted.[8]

When Tiberius succeeded Augustus to the Imperial throne in AD 14, he separated mother and daughter and allegedly starved Julia to death. The exact date of Scribonia's death is uncertain, but is thought to have occurred around AD 16, two years after those of Julia and Augustus. Seneca mentions Scribonia as alive and in full possession of her faculties as late as the end of 16 when she tried unsuccessfully to convince her nephew Marcus Scribonius Libo to face trial and punishment on false charges by Tiberius rather than commit suicide.

Scribonia's reputation as a scold was likely propaganda contrived to justify Augustus's scandalous haste in divorcing her. Seneca called her a gravis femina; gravis, meaning “dignified” and “severe” in the Roman manner. Modern historians have alternately described her as "tiresome" and "morose"[9] and also praised her as an exemplary Roman matron with the "composure" and "calmness" required to sustain her rejected daughter Julia and suicidal nephew Scribonius in their tragic misfortunes.[10][11] Sextus Propertius praises her maternal qualities, referring, in his Funeral Elegy for Cornelia Scipio (16 BC) to "sweet mother Scribonia".

Marriages and issues[edit]

Her great-great-grandson, Marcus Junius Silanus Torquatus, was born during her lifetime.



  • Scribonia is mentioned in Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius when he recalls Julia's birth and later when Julia is exiled. He describes her as a good, moderate and generally kind Roman matron. She is forbidden to see Julia and is only allowed to be with her once she is exiled. Livia convinces Augustus that Scribonia has been unfaithful to him causing him to divorce her faster than he cared to. Evidently Augustus believed she was innocent, as he kept Julia. Graves places Scribonia's death at least two years prior to when it is traditionally placed.
  • Scribonia appears several times in Augustus by Allan Massie. Allan Massie portrays her stereotypically, being ugly, gap-toothed and fat. The novel suggests that Julia got her personality from Scribonia rather than Augustus as historians tend to claim.
  • Scribonia plays a major role in the novel Caesar's Daughter by Edward Burton, trying to aid Julia in her daily life. She is a very politically aware woman, with detailed information gathering and she plays patroness to many poets such as Horace and Ovid as well as being very popular with the people of Rome. Despite their differences, Augustus respects her.
  • Scribonia is mentioned in I Loved Tiberius by Elisabeth Dored. Augustus' reign is portrayed as a dictatorship and Scribonia is portrayed as a pretty, gentle, sensitive, warm and steadfast woman made a victim of her husband's cruelty but eventually makes herself a martyr for her daughter, Julia.
  • She also is shown in Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough. Scribonia is described a beautiful, kind and sensible. She remains friends with Octavia following her divorce and, contrary to historians' accounts, is allowed to raise Julia herself. Augustus orders that Julia be educated in the manner of a man, rather than a woman.
  • Scribonia is mentioned in the book Cleopatra's Daughter (2009), by Michelle Moran. In the single scene she is in- she is at a theater, watching her daughter, Julia, from afar because after the divorce they were not allowed to see each other. She's mentioned by her daughter and other characters; 'sweltering in Rome with the plebs, because she can't afford a fashionable summer villa' and being shunned by affluent society, afraid of angering Augustus and Livia.
    Later, it's mentioned they're permitted to visit with each other, once a year- and it's implied Julia sneaks out to see her mother, in addition to doing so for her liaisons with Marcellus. In the Epilogue, when her daughter's disgraced, Scribonia accompanies her into exile.
  • In Betray the Night by Benita Kane Jaro, Scribonia is portrayed as an elderly woman of great strength and personal distinction and courage, who all her life, in spite of the handicaps imposed on women, has been an important player in the factional and family politics of the Augustan period.


  • Scribonia in Imperium: Augustus is only a few years older than Augustus, and he marries her for her money to pay his armies. Maecenas describes her as being "lovely" and "charming". Julia is loyal to Scribonia blaming Augustus for treating her badly and using her just to get a baby. However, Augustus claims he loved Scribonia in his own way because she gave him Julia.


  1. ^ Who’s who in the Roman world: "Scribonia (c.80BC-16AD) was the Wife of Octavian (see AUGUSTUS) whom he married (her third husband) in 40BC to win over Sextus POMPEIUS"
  2. ^ Scheid, J. Scribonia Caesaris et les Julio-Claudiens: Problèmes de vocabulaire de parenté. Mémoires de l'École francaise de Rome et Athènes. 87: 349-71.
  3. ^ CIL 6.31276: Sentia Lib[onis] mater Scr[iboniae] Caes[aris].
  4. ^ CIL 6.26033: Libertorum et familiae Scribonae Caes. et Corneli Marcell. f. eius
  5. ^ Scheid, J, Scribonia Caesaris et les Cornelii Lentuli, Bulletin de Correspondence Helléenigue 100: 185-201.
  6. ^ Billows, R. American Journal of Ancient History.
  7. ^ Cassius Dio 48.34.3
  8. ^ Fantham, Elaine. (2006) Julia Augusti. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3
  9. ^ Syme, R. (1939) The Roman Revolution. Oxford.
  10. ^ Fantham, Elaine. (2006) Julia Augusti. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3.
  11. ^ Barrett, A.A. (2004) Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome. "Yale University Press". ISBN 0-300-10298-4