World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Octavia Minor

Octavia Minor
Spouse Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor
Mark Antony
Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Claudia Marcella Major
Claudia Marcella Minor
Antonia Major
Antonia Minor
Father Gaius Octavius
Mother Atia Balba Caesonia
Born 69 BC
Nola, Roman Republic
Died 11 BC
Rome, Roman Empire
Burial Mausoleum of Augustus

Octavia the Younger (69 BC – 11 BC), also known as Octavia Minor or simply Octavia, was the sister of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (known also as Octavian), half-sister of Octavia the Elder, and fourth wife of Mark Antony. She was also the great-grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, maternal grandmother of the Emperor Claudius, and paternal great-grandmother and maternal great-great grandmother of the Emperor Nero.

One of the most prominent women in Roman history, Octavia was respected and admired by contemporaries for her loyalty, nobility and humanity, and for maintaining traditional Roman feminine virtues.



Full sister to Augustus, Octavia was the only daughter born of Gaius Octavius' second marriage to Atia Balba Caesonia, niece of Julius Caesar.[1] Octavia was born in Nola, Italy; her father, a Roman governor and senator, died in 59 BC from natural causes. Her mother later remarried, to the consul Lucius Marcius Philippus. Octavia spent much of her childhood travelling with her parents.

First marriage

Before 54 BC her stepfather arranged for her to marry Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor. Marcellus was a man of consular rank, a man who was considered worthy of her and was consul in 50 BC. He was also a member of the influential Claudian family and descended from Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a famous general in the Second Punic War. In 54 BC, her great uncle Caesar is said to have been anxious for her to divorce her husband so that she could marry Pompey who had just lost his wife Julia (Julius Caesar's daughter, and thus Octavia's cousin once removed). However, Pompey declined the proposal[2] and married Cornelia Metella instead. So Octavia's husband continued to oppose Julius Caesar including in the crucial year of his consulship 50 BC.

Marcellus, a friend of Cicero, was an initial opponent of Julius Caesar when Caesar invaded Italy, but did not take up arms against his wife's great uncle at the Battle of Pharsalus, and was eventually pardoned by him. In 47 BC he was able to intercede with Caesar for his cousin and namesake, also a former consul, then living in exile. Presumably, Octavia continued to live with her husband from the time of their marriage (she would have been about 15 when they married) to her husband's death when she was about 29. They had three children: Claudia Marcella Major, Claudia Marcella Minor and Marcus Claudius Marcellus.[3] All three were born in Italy. Her husband Marcellus died in May 40 BC.

Second marriage

By a Senatorial decree, Octavia married Mark Antony in October 40 BC, as his fourth wife (his third wife Fulvia having died shortly before). This marriage had to be approved by the Senate, as she was pregnant with her first husband's child, and was a politically motivated attempt to cement the uneasy alliance between her brother Octavian and Mark Antony; however, Octavia does appear to have been a loyal and faithful wife to Antony.[4] Between 40 and 36 BC, she travelled with Antony to various provinces and lived with him in his Athenian mansion.[5] There she raised her children by Marcellus as well as Antony's two sons; the two daughters of her marriage to Antony, Antonia Major and Antonia Minor, were born there.


The alliance was severely tested by Antony's abandonment of Octavia and their children in favor of his former lover Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt (Antony and Cleopatra had met in 41 BC, an interaction that resulted in Cleopatra bearing twins, a boy and a girl). After 36 BC, Octavia returned to Rome with the daughters of her second marriage. On several occasions she acted as a political adviser and negotiator between her husband and brother.[6] Mark Antony divorced Octavia in 32 BC,[7] after she had supplied him with men and troops, in 35 BC, to be used in his eastern campaigns.[8] Following Antony's rejection of her, their divorce, and his eventual suicide in 30 BC, Octavia became sole caretaker of their children[9] as well as guardian of Antony's children from his unions with both Fulvia and Cleopatra:

Octavia did not marry a third time.

Life after Antony

Augustus adored, but never adopted, her son Marcellus (Plut. Ant. is mistaken). When Marcellus died of illness in 23 BC unexpectedly, Augustus was thunderstruck, Octavia disconsolate almost beyond recovery. The major source that Octavia never recovered is Seneca (Cons. ad Marciam), but Seneca may wish to show rhetorical hyperbole, not repeat a fact. Some facts dispute Seneca's version, for Octavia publicly opened the Library of Marcellus, dedicated in his memory, while her brother completed Marcellus's theatre in his honor. Undoubtedly Octavia attended both ceremonies.

Aelius Donatus, in his Life of Vergil, states that Virgil

recited three whole books [of his Aeneid] for Augustus: the second, fourth, and sixth--this last out of his well-known affection for Octavia, who (being present at the recitation) is said to have fainted at the lines about her son, "… You shall be Marcellus" [Aen. 6.884]. Revived only with difficulty, she sent Vergil ten-thousand sesterces for each of the verses."[10]

She never fully recovered from the death of her son and retired from public life, except on occasions. She appears to have attended the Ara Pacis ceremony to welcome her brother's return in 13 from the provinces. She was also consulted in regard to, and in some versions advised, that Julia marry Agrippa after her mourning for Marcellus ended. Agrippa had to divorce Octavia's daughter Claudia Marcella (Major) in order to marry Julia, so Augustus wanted Octavia's endorsement very much.


Octavia died between 11 and 9 BC of natural causes. Her funeral was a public one, with her sons-in-law carrying her to the grave in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Augustus delivered the funeral oration and gave her the highest posthumous honors (e.g. building the Gate of Octavia and Porticus Octaviae in her memory). Augustus declined some other honors decreed to her by the senate, for reasons unknown.[11] She was one of the first Roman women to have coins minted in her image; probably only Antony's previous wife Fulvia pre-empted her.


Children with Marcellus

Octavia and her first husband had one son and two daughters born late in their marriage:

  1. Marcellus
  2. Claudia Marcella Major
  3. Claudia Marcella Minor
Children with Mark Antony

Octavia and Mark Antony had two daughters by their marriage (her second, his fourth), and both were the ancestors of later Roman Emperors.

  1. Antonia Major: grandmother to Emperor Nero.
  2. Antonia Minor: mother to Emperor Claudius, grandmother to Emperor Caligula, and great-grandmother to Emperor Nero.


(See also Julio-Claudian family tree)

Fictional representations

A highly fictionalized version of Octavia's early life is depicted in the 2005 television series Rome, in which Octavia of the Julii (Kerry Condon) commits incest with her brother, has a lesbian affair with Servilia of the Junii (the series' version of Servilia Caepionis) and a romantic relationship with Marcus Agrippa (based on the historical Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa).

Octavia's later life, around the time of the death of Marcellus, is depicted in the 1976 television adaptation of Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius. The role was played by Angela Morant, and should not be confused with Claudia Octavia (also referred to as "Octavia" in the series), Claudius' daughter and wife of the future emperor Nero, who was played by Cheryl Johnson.


Further reading

Life and virtues
  • Details on Octavia pt 1 "Octavian was much attached to his sister, and she possessed all the charms, accomplishments and virtues likely to fascinate the affections and secure a lasting influence over the mind of a husband. Her beauty was universally allowed to be superior to that of Cleopatra and her virtue was such as to excite even admiration in an age of growing licentiousness and corruption."
  • Details on Octavia pt 2
  • Nuttall Encyclopedia profile says merely that she was "distinguished for her beauty and her virtue"
  • Octavia's birth and life discussed briefly
  • Octavia's marriage discussed briefly
Family and descendants
  • Marcellus, Octavia's only son who died aged 20
  • Julia, Octavia's daughter-in-law and niece

External links

  • Octavia entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith
  • Octavia Minor
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.