Roman Emperors Antonia Minor

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Antonia Minor

Donna Hurley

Antonia Minor, the "lesser" or "younger" Antonia, was born on January 31, 36 BC [[1]]. Like all freeborn Roman girls, she carried the feminine form of her father's family name, and minor indicates that she was the second daughter of Marc Antony. Her older sister was Antonia Maior. They had no additional names. Her mother was Octavia, the sister of Julius Caesar Octavianus, who would become the Emperor Augustus. Her parents' marriage had been intended to bond Octavian and Antony during the period known as the Second Triumvirate, but in the end it proved insufficient to hold their alliance together. The two men eventually fought it out, and Antony was with Cleopatra by the time he died. After his death, Augustus generously allowed his nieces, the two Antonias, to benefit from their father's estate [[2]].

Marriage and Children

Octavian, once he became sole ruler of Rome and took the name of Augustus, consolidated the influence of his extended family and was energetic in strengthening the dynasty by means of careful marriage alliances. He had no sons himself, only a single daughter, Julia, by his first wife Scribonia, but he inherited stepsons through his second wife, Livia Drusilla. Livia brought to their marriage two sons by her former husband, Tiberius Claudius Nero. The older, born in 42 BC, would become the Emperor Tiberius. The second, Nero Claudius Drusus, referred to as Drusus or Drusus the Elder, was born in 38 BC, and Augustus chose him as the husband for Antonia Minor. Antonia and Drusus had an unknown number of children of whom three lived to adulthood. They were evidently married by 16 BC, for Germanicus, their oldest surviving son, was born around 15. After Germanicus came a daughter, (Claudia) Livia or Livilla, born perhaps in 13. Their youngest, Tiberius Claudius Nero, later the emperor Claudius, was born in 10 BC [[3]].

Drusus and his brother Tiberius were successful field commanders for Augustus in the Alpine and Danube regions and in territory controlled by the German tribes east of the Rhine. Their victories between 15 and 9 BC brought renown both to themselves and to their commander-in-chief. In 18 BC Drusus entered the cursus honorum five years before the legal age and advanced to the praetorship in 11 and the consulship in 9. He died while campaigning in Germany that year. Tiberius returned his body to Rome for an elaborate funeral in connection with which he delivered one eulogy and Augustus another. Drusus' ashes were placed in the Mausoleum that Augustus had built for his family, and he was awarded the honorific cognomen Germanicus, which was to be passed on to his male descendents. As a consolation, his mother Livia received honors. Drusus was clearly a much-favored prince of the house of Augustus. His glory reflected on those about him, including his wife Antonia [[4]].

The Widow in the Court

Left a hero's widow, Antonia remained a significant presence within the imperial court. She was only twenty-seven when Drusus died, and a new marriage and an additional opportunity for dynastic alliance were possible through her. Although Augustus is said to have urged this, she never remarried and so embodied the Roman ideal of the chaste woman, a univira, a woman who had only one husband throughout her life [[5]]. It was an ideal not often realized. But despite the sterling reputation that seemed to set her apart from and above the swirl of family intrigue, she was very much a part of the court dynamic. Her behavior toward her physically impaired younger son Claudius was no better than that of Livia, who refused to speak with him, or that of his sister Livilla, who prayed he might never rule Rome. Antonia called him "a monster of a man, not yet a finished product of nature but only begun" [[6]]. She and Livia together chastised him for covering in his history the cruel years between the death of Caesar and the emergence of Augustus as first man of Rome, a narrative that would have reflected badly on both of their husbands. A few years before Augustus died, he wrote a letter to his wife in which he asked her to confer on what could be done with young Claudius, whose unseemly affects were an embarrassment. He suggests that Livia share the letter with Antonia and bring her into the discussion. The exchange illustrates how the imperial family operated; Augustus was in charge and his wife was an important confidante, but Antonia belonged to the inner circle as well [[7]].

When Germanicus died in AD 20, Antonia did not attend her son's public funeral, nor did Tiberius or Livia. Tacitus speculates that ill health or overwhelming grief caused her absence or that Tiberius forbade her to go. It may, however, have been a decision that they all avoid the highly charged emotional atmosphere surrounding the funeral. There followed an inquiry into Germanicus' death and especially into the seditious activity of Cn. Calpurnius Piso, who was accused of undermining Germanicus' authority in Asia Minor. At the conclusion of this, in the official thanksgiving voted for the avenging of Germanicus, Antonia's name was included along with those of the rest of the family's inner circle -- Tiberius, Livia, Agrippina (the wife of Germanicus), Drusus (the son of Tiberius), Livilla and Claudius. Her steadfast loyalty to her deceased husband was noted in the decree's official language: "Antonia, mother of Germanicus Caesar, who, having experienced a single marriage . . .has shown by the integrity of her character that she was worthy of such close kinship with the deified Augustus" [[8]]. When Livia died in AD 29, Antonia, as the senior woman in the household, inherited the role of respected queen mother. Her grandson Gaius Caesar (Caligula), the youngest son of Germanicus, and his sister Drusilla fell to her care at that time, and it seems that Claudius, who had also lived with Livia, came into her house as well. Her friendship was valuable. She favored the Judean prince Herod Agrippa because of her close relationship with his mother Berenice, niece of Herod the Great [[9]].

Her most important -- and really only -- direct intervention in matters of state came in AD 31 when she informed Tiberius of the conspiracy against him being planned by the aggressive praetorian praefect L. Aelius Sejanus. She dispatched a letter of warning to the emperor, who was now in self-imposed isolation on Capri. According to one source, the letter was carried by her freedman Pallas, who would become wealthy and influential under Claudius; in another it was carried by Caenis, later the mistress of Vespasian. Tiberius quickly removed Sejanus from power, and he was killed. Antonia's daughter Livilla had become involved in an affair with Sejanus and so shared his fate. It would be said later that Tiberius was willing to spare her but that her mother killed her by starvation. Antonia is again portrayed as consistently loyal to the dynasty -- even at the expense of her own daughter [[10]].

Death and Posthumous Honors

Antonia Minor died at the age of 72 on May 1, 37 AD, shortly after the death of Tiberius and the accession of Gaius in March of that year. One of her grandson's first imperial acts was to grant her the title Augusta and give her all the honors that Livia had enjoyed. He made her a priestess of the cult of Augustus and gave her the privileges of the Vestal Virgins. The Acts of the Arval Brothers confirm that she received her title from Gaius because they record a sacrifice to Antonia Augusta on her birthday the following January [[11]]. But Claudius, when he became emperor in AD 41, also gave her the name of Augusta and added a ceremonial carriage to transport her image in the Circus and established games to honor her birth. This repeated conferral of the title Augusta is explained by the fact that Claudius refused to ratify the acta (ordinances) of his predecessor, and so any measures that he wanted to perpetuate (such as this recognition of his mother) had to be reenacted. But the doubling has further importance, for it made it possible to claim that it was not Gaius but Claudius who had so honored her. She was said to have declined the title from Gaius, and in the few weeks between his accession and her death, he refused to see her when she wanted an audience with him, drove her to her death by his insults and even poisoned her. When she died, he ignored her funeral. These reports of disrespect that contradict reports of his honors for her and more importantly, the inscription that names her Augusta during the reign of Gaius, served to separate her from her reprehensible grandson. An anecdote adds to the separation: She caught him in bed with his sister Drusilla during the time when both lived with her. This image of her as the disapproving grandmother cleared her of the responsibility that she had in the rearing of him [[12]].

Both when she lived and after her death, Antonia Minor was held up as an example of old-fashioned virtue, a pillar of respectability in the imperial court. She was indeed loyal but to more than dead husband. She and Drusus gave stature to the principate of their son Claudius, who stood outside the Julian line and needed to be accepted as a member of the imperial family. And she was a helpmate to her brother-in-law Tiberius and to the family as a whole as it turned itself into a dynasty.


Docs. = Documents Illustrating the Principates of Gaius, Claudius and Nero. E. M. Smallwood, ed. Cambridge (1967).

Flory, M. B. "Dynastic Ideology, the Domus Augusta, and Imperial Women: A Lost Statuary Group in the Circus Flaminius". TAPhA 126 (1996) 287-306.

Kokkinos, N. Antonia Augusta: Portrait of a Great Roman Lady. London and New York (1992).

SCPP = "The Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre. " D. S. Potter, ed. C. Damon, trans. AJPh 120 (1999) 13-41.


[[1]] Docs. 3, lines 5-7; Plut. Ant. 35.1.

[[2]] Dio 51.15.7.

[[3]] Plut. Ant. 87.3; Suet. Cal. 1.1; Cl. 1.6, 3.2; Jos. AJ 18.164.

[[4]] Suet. Cl. 1.2-3, 5; Dio 54.10.4, 22, 32-34, 36; 55.1-2; Vell Pat. 2. 94.1-2, 97.2-3. See Flory for the consolatory honors for the women of the house.

[[5]] Val. Max. 4.3.3; Jos. AJ 18.180.

[[6]] Suet. Cl. 3.2.

[[7]] Suet. Cl. 4.1-4, 41.2.

[[8]] SCPP, lines 140-42; Tac. Ann. 3.3, 18.

[[9]] Suet. Cal. 10.1; Dio 60.2.5; Jos. AJ 18.143, 156, 164-5.

[[10]] Dio 58.9-11; 65.14.1-2; Jos. AJ 181-2.

[[11]] In AD 38. Docs. 3 lines 5-7; Suet. Cal. 15.2; Dio 59.3.3-4.

[[12]] Suet. Cal. 23.2, 24.1, 29.1; Cl. 11.2; Dio 60.5.1.

Copyright © 2006, Donna Hurley. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.Comments to: Donna Hurley

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