Scribonia (c. 75 BCE–after 16 CE)

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Scribonia (c. 75 bce–after 16 ce)

Roman noblewoman and wife of Augustus Caesar. Name variations: Sempronia. Born around 75 bce; died after 16 ce; younger sister of L. Scribonius Libo; married (probably) Cn. Lentulus Marcellinus (consul), in 56 bce; married Cornelius Scipio; married Octavian (63 bce–14 ce), who after their marriage became Augustus Caesar, emperor of Rome (r. 27 bce–14 ce), in 40 bce; children: (second marriage) Cornelia (who married Paullus Aemilius Lepidus, a consul in 34 bce); (third marriage) Julia (39 bce–14 ce).

Scribonia's ancestors were of the second tier of the Roman political elite, for none had advanced beyond the status of praetor. Scribonia was married (probably no more than) three times. Her first husband was (probably) Cn. Lentulus Marcellinus, consul in 56. Her second spouse is even less certain, but is also said to have reached the consulship. Apparently he was a Cornelius Scipio (perhaps the consul suffect of 35 bce), for Scribonia gave birth to their daughter Cornelia , who would one day marry Paullus Aemilius Lepidus, who was a consul in 34 bce.

Scribonia's third husband was Octavian, who long after their marriage became Augustus Caesar. They married in 40 bce, at the time of the rebellion Octavian was facing in Italy (the Perusine War, 41–40). Octavian, whose first wife was Clodia , was around 12 years younger than Scribonia (he was born in 63, she was born around 75 bce), and the marriage was purely political. Her attractiveness lay entirely in her brother L. Scribonius Libo, who was the father-in-law and a supporter of the still-powerful Sextus Pompey. Sextus, the son of Julius Caesar's famous rival Pompey the Great, was at the time a force to be reckoned with in a world still unsettled after Caesar's assassination (44 bce), and through Scribonia, Octavian was seeking potential allies against a possible break with Marc Antony (a break which eventually came, but not in 40).

Although in 39 bce Octavian and Scribonia produced a daughter Julia (his only offspring), theirs was not a happy marriage. Within months of Julia's birth, Octavian divorced Scribonia (giving as his reason his inability to put up with her nagging) so as to quickly remarry Livia Drusilla , to whom he would stay married until his death in 14 ce. In fact, most thought Octavian married Livia far too hastily, for when they wed she was still pregnant by the husband whom Octavian had encouraged her to abandon in his own favor. Thus discarded by the future emperor, Scribonia also was forced to part with Julia, who would be raised with strictness by Augustus and Livia.

It is uncertain whether Scribonia remarried after the divorce from Octavian, but it is unlikely. When Julia fell into disgrace and was exiled in 2 bce, Scribonia voluntarily followed her daughter into exile, first to Pandateria and then to Rhegium (4 ce). Scribonia and Julia lived together until Julia died of malnutrition in 14. Thereafter, Scribonia lived at least into 16, but it is not known how long into the imperial era she survived.

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