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Scribonia from "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum "

Scribonia (68 BC - 16 AD) was the second wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and the mother of his only natural child, Julia the Elder. She was the mother-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, great-grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, grandmother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius, and great-great grandmother of the Emperor Nero.


  • Life 1
  • Marriages and issues 2
  • Depictions 3
    • Literature 3.1
    • Drama 3.2
  • Notes 4


Scribonia was the daughter of a Lucius Scribonius Libo, probably the praetor of that name of 80 BC. Her brother of the same name was consul and died in 34 BC.[1] The name of her mother was Sentia.[2] According to Suetonius, Scribonia's first two marriages were to former consuls. Her first husband is unknown, although it had been suggested that he was Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (consul 56 BC), as there is an inscription that refers to freedmen (post 39 BC) of Scribonia and her son Cornelius Marcellinus,[3][4] indicating that she had a son from her previous marriage and that he was living with her after she divorced her third husband. He may have died young and is ignored by historians. Her second husband was a Publius Cornelius Scipio, a supporter of Pompey.[5] They had a daughter Cornelia Scipio who married the censor Lucius Aemilius Paullus. Scribonia may have also been the mother to Publius Cornelius Scipio, consul in 16 BC.

In 40 BC Scribonia was forced to divorce her husband and marry Octavian, who was younger than she was by several years. Octavian in turn divorced his wife Clodia Pulchra, marrying Scribonia to cement a political alliance with her niece Scribonia's husband Sextus Pompey. Their daughter Julia the Elder was born in 39 BC, probably in October, and on that very same day Octavian divorced her.[6] Their marriage had not been a happy one; Octavian felt she nagged him too much. She never remarried. Cassius Dio and Marcus Velleius Paterculus says that when her youngest child, Julia, was sent into exile for adultery and treason, she requested that she be allowed to accompany her.[7]

When Emperor Tiberius came into power, he separated Scribonia from her daughter, and allegedly starved Julia to death. When Scribonia died is unknown. It is mainly placed two years after Julia and Augustus. In Seneca, she is mentioned as being alive and in full possession of her wits as late as the end of 16 when she tried to convince her nephew Marcus Scribonius Libo not to commit suicide and face his punishment.

Scribonia's image as a shrew is probably the product of propaganda to divert the potentially scandalous circumstances of her divorce from Augustus. Seneca describes her as a gravis femina; gravis meaning “dignified” and “severe”. Modern scholars are divided on her character; while some describe her as "tiresome" and "morose"[8] most others view her as an ideal example of a Roman matron as she clearly had the "composure" and "calmness" to look after depressed and suicidal characters such as her daughter and nephew.[9][10] Sextus Propertius praises her motherhood referring to her as "sweet mother Scribonia" in Cornelia Scipio's funeral elegy in 16 BC.

Marriages and issues

Her great-great-grandson, Marcus Junius Silanus Torquatus, was born during her lifetime.



  • Scribonia is mentioned in Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius when he recalls Julia's birth and later when Julia is exiled. He describes her as a good, moderate and generally kind Roman matron. She is forbidden to see Julia and is only allowed to be with her once she is exiled. Livia convinces Augustus that Scribonia has been unfaithful to him causing him to divorce her faster than he cared to. Evidently Augustus believed she was innocent, as he kept Julia. Graves places Scribonia's death at least two years prior to when it is traditionally placed.
  • Scribonia occurs several times in Augustus by Allan Massie. Allan Massie portrays her stereotypically, being ugly, gap-toothed and fat. The novel suggests that Julia got her personality from Scribonia rather than Augustus as historians tend to claim.
  • Scribonia plays a major role in the novel Caesar's Daughter by Edward Burton, trying to aid Julia in her daily life. She is a very politically aware woman, with detailed information gathering and she plays patroness to many poets such as Horace and Ovid as well as being very popular with the people of Rome. Despite their differences, Augustus respects her.
  • Scribonia is mentioned in I Loved Tiberius by Elisabeth Dored. Augustus' reign is portrayed as a dictatorship and Scribonia is portrayed as a pretty, gentle, sensitive, warm and steadfast woman made a victim of her husband's cruelty but eventually makes herself a martyr for her daughter, Julia.
  • She also is shown in Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough. Scribonia is described a beautiful, kind and sensible. She remains friends with Octavia following her divorce and, contrary to historians' accounts, is allowed to raise Julia herself. Augustus orders that Julia be educated in the manner of a man, rather than a woman.
  • Scribonia is mentioned in the book Cleopatra's Daughter (2009), by Michelle Moran. In the single scene she is in- she is at a theater, watching her daughter, Julia, from afar because after the divorce they were not allowed to see each other. She's mentioned by her daughter and other characters; 'sweltering in Rome with the plebs, because she can't afford a fashionable summer villa' and being shunned by affluent society, afraid of angering Augustus and Livia.
    Later, it's mentioned they're permitted to visit with each other, once a year- and it's implied Julia sneaks out to see her mother, in addition to doing so for her liaisons with Marcellus. In the Epilogue, when her daughter's disgraced, Scribonia accompanies her into exile.
  • In Betray the Night by Benita Kane Jaro, Scribonia is portrayed as an elderly woman of great strength and personal distinction and courage, who all her life, in spite of the handicaps imposed on women, has been an important player in the factional and family politics of the Augustan period.


  • Scribonia in Imperium: Augustus is only a few years older than Augustus, and he marries her for her money to pay his armies. Maecenas describes her as being "lovely" and "charming". Julia is loyal to Scribonia blaming Augustus for treating her badly and using her just to get a baby. However, Augustus claims he loved Scribonia in his own way because she gave him Julia.


  1. ^ Scheid, J. Scribonia Caesaris et les Julio-Claudiens: Problèmes de vocabulaire de parenté. Mémoires de l'École francaise de Rome et Athènes. 87: 349-71.
  2. ^ CIL 6.31276: Sentia Lib[onis] mater Scr[iboniae] Caes[aris].
  3. ^ CIL 6.26033: Libertorum et familiae Scribonae Caes. et Corneli Marcell. f. eius
  4. ^ Scheid, J, Scribonia Caesaris et les Cornelii Lentuli, Bulletin de Correspondence Helléenigue 100: 185-201.
  5. ^ Billows, R. American Journal of Ancient History.
  6. ^ Cassius Dio 48.34.3
  7. ^ Fantham, Elaine. (2006) Julia Augusti. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3.
  8. ^ Syme, R. (1939) The Roman Revolution. Oxford.
  9. ^ Fantham, Elaine. (2006) Julia Augusti. "Routledge". ISBN 0-415-33146-3.
  10. ^ Barrett, A.A. (2004) Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome. "Yale University Press". ISBN 0-300-10298-4
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