Julia the Elder
The Socialite with Bite
(39 BCE–14 CE, Rome)
Julia was the daughter of royalty—Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor, to be exact.
She was a party girl with a lot of lovers, and the philosophers of the time very much enjoyed slut-shaming her. She was perhaps an olden-times version of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, a celebutante with a reputation. She is also known for her humorous quips that relate to her sexuality.
As a young girl, Julia was raised by her step-mother and conservative father, who, being the emperor, was super concerned about decorum and propriety.
Growing up in a rich royal household, Julia was kept fairly sheltered and protected with every need taken care of.
So, naturally, she rebelled.
Her father supposedly said: “There are two wayward daughters that I have to put up with: the Roman commonwealth and Julia.”
YES DADDY SHE’S A BAAAD GIRL
Julia was smart as hell and not afraid to speak her mind. The writer Macrobious said that she had a great “love of literature and extensive learning.”
She was married off three times to arranged husbands, but refused to live a stay-at-home life. She traveled extensively and carried on many luscious affairs with multiple men and had a whole brood of children.
Somebody once marveled how unlikely it was that all of Julia's children looked like her husband, considering how she carried on with so many other dudes.
Julia shot back:
“I take on a passenger only when the ship’s hold is full.”
As in, the best birth control is being pregnant with my husband’s baby. OH SNAP! Let’s see the Supreme Court rule on that one!
One day, Julia’s father (the emperor!) was not happy with her revealing outfit. The next day, upon seeing her in more modest attire, he remarked: “How much more proper is this dress for the daughter of Augustus!”
To which Julia replied: “Why, today I decked myself out for my father’s eyes, yesterday for my husband’s.”
Historian Amy Richlin writes:
“Julia’s jokes certainly differ from the usual Roman jokes about women, which create and deride a consistently negative stereotype… Julia’s behavior may be bad, but within the joke, she is admired. She is verbally adroit; the point is not so much her promiscuity as her strength. And she gets the better of her father.”
So what happened to snappy Julia? Her dad accused her of plotting to kill him. She was arrested for treason and exiled to an island. You hate to see it.
But was Julia REALLY plotting a patricide, or was it just easier for Augustus to pass his Family Values legislation with his sassy, sexy daughter out of the picture? YOU BE THE JUDGE!
Either way, male writers and historians of the time painted Julia in a mostly unfavorable light, as a flagrant sexpot who couldn’t keep her trap shut. What a bunch of jerks.
Julia died on Exile Island, but her jokes live on.