Calpurnia (c. 70 BCE–?)

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Calpurnia (c. 70 bce–?)

Roman noblewoman, third wife of Julius Caesar. Born around 70 bce; death date unknown; daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus; sister of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, the "pontifex"; became third wife of Julius Caesar (c. 100–44 bce), military and political leader of Rome, in 59 bce. Caesar was also married to Cornelia (c. 100–68 bce) and Pompeia (c. 87–?bce).

A Roman noblewoman of the late Republic, Calpurnia was the daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, who arranged her marriage to Julius Caesar, for reasons of mutual political expediency, during the latter's consulship in 59 bce. Caesar embraced this marriage in order to anchor his standing with a faction sympathetic to his liberal policies as he strove to strengthen his hand (without creating too many waves) in the wake of the formation of the First Triumvirate, the political alliance bringing Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus together. Piso's motivation for arranging his daughter's marriage was considerably more concrete: his association with Caesar guaranteed his election to the consulship in the year following Caesar's. Although Calpurnia's marriage to Caesar was entirely political at its inception, there quickly developed a real affection between Calpurnia and her husband. Affection was one thing and politics another, however, for, despite his fondness for Calpurnia, Caesar considered divorcing her in 53 bce to marry Pompeia , the daughter of Pompey and Mucia , in an effort to shore up their deteriorating political relationship. This marriage fell through, and Caesar remained united with Calpurnia who understood political realities and nursed no grudge against her husband of whom she continued to be fond. In 44, hearing rumors of Caesar's possible assassination, Calpurnia tried to prevent him from attending the meeting of the Senate where he would, in fact, be murdered. Though she must have been aware of his affair with Cleopatra VII during the last years of his life, she remained a Caesarian partisan even after her husband's death. Thinking (erroneously) that Marc Antony represented the future of Caesar's faction, after Caesar's death Calpurnia surrendered his private papers and most of his enormous fortune to Antony, to help avenge Caesar's murder. Calpurnia had no children with Caesar.

Calpurnia represented an important link between her family and that of Caesar, for her brother Lucius Calpurnius Piso, the "pontifex," long served the interests of Caesar's posthumously adopted son and heir, Octavian (later, Augustus). As a consular legate under that emperor's authority in Thrace, the younger Piso earned an ornamenta triumphalia as a reward for military accomplishment. Later, he served as the proconsul of Asia and for 20 years between 12 and 32 ce served as the city of Rome's praefectus urbi under both Augustus and his successor, Tiberius.

The date of Calpurnia's death is unknown, but her loyalty to Caesar, and her willingness to overlook his marital indiscretions, politically established her immediate family for the duration of their lives.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California