The mystery of Octavii

Let me start by a personal note. I have always deeply disliked both Caesar and Augustus and disapproved what they did to the Roman Republic. I disapprove tyranny and the administration they built was a tyranny. Both of these men, such as many Roman emprerors had good, even excellent, qualities and not all they did was bad. However I do disapprove the pricipal structure of one man rule and while the Roman republican period is full of strong men, even temporary tyrants, the republic endured hundreds of years by its self-correcting mechanism. What Caesar and Augustus did, was to break that mechanism. Both in fact did it very skillfully, and I can admire technical aspects of that work of undoing, but still I very deeply disapprove their act.

In my years of research for this project I have tended to avoid to very last moment taking up with families and individuals connected to Caesar and Augustus – simply because I could have done so. Now, however, the time come to map out the family Octavia.

The mystery of Octavii has been for me simply: Howcome a man (or boy) from such an modest family background became so powerful? Augustus’ father was a preator and successful soldier, no doubt, but his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfater were all more or less nonentities. The mystery for me has been in this: without connections of the family, how is it possible, that an upstart gets away with it and succeeds to become a sole-ruler of highly networked, hierarchised, competitive and old aristocratic state? Support from Caesar and his party are important, but in Roman politics nothing is faster than forming and reforming of alliances to answer ever-changing situations.

I admit, that only knowledge I have had about the Octavii are about the immediate familyline of Augustus. In fact I was under impression, that there wasn’t much more than that about the Octavii. My surprise was complete, when I started to map out the Octavii of the republican period: there were far more of them than I had expected! And with this discovery, the mystery of Octavii was solved. The family had 5 consuls between 165 and 75, which is by all means no small feat. Also reading about individuals, there were military commanders, speakers and successful statesmen – everything one can expect to find from successful Roman noble family, and therefore the Octavii had lots of connections and dependencies with other families.


Of course one cannot compare the Octavii to truly great plebeian families like Licinii and Caecilii, but on the other hand the Octavii were no wall-flowers, but a truly influental family with the other family line than Augustus’, a real power in Roman political arena.

As always, there is very little information surviving on some individuals, but given the importance of the family in republican setting and especially given the importance of Augustus, it is a minor surprise that we know so little even of some of the consules of the family and their connections. Perhaps Augustus was either very conscious that he belonged to less-important family-line or wanted to surpress the information for some other reason.

One very interesting detail to note is the evident wish of both lines of the Octavii to form an alliance with the Claudii:

1) Octavia minor (sister of Augustus) was married with C. Claudius Marcellus (cos 50), from the plebeian Claudii.

2) Augustus himself married Claudia (daughter of Clodius, from the patrician Claudii).

3) The daughter of M. Octavius (aedile at 50, from the other familyline) married Ap. Claudius Pulcher (cos 54) of the patrician Claudii.

There is a great number of Octavii, whom we know too little to even attempt filiation. Also there are several lines of the Octavii that are left out from this version of the chart, because they are not of consular level.

Scipiones et Laelii

One of the most proverbial multi-generation alliances is between Scipiones and Laelii. The elder Scipio and elder Laelius were very close allies both in war and politics. Scipio was naturally the leading party with the history, resources and connections of the Cornelii Scipiones. However, Scipio’s career could hardly have been possible without the support of men like C. Laelius, whom Scipio raised into consulship at 190. This was a standard procedure: more weighty statesman raises his friend into consulship and thus gurantees his own power too.

However, what makes this pair a lot more interesting are their off-spring. Scipio’s son adopted the son of extremely influental Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, and this adopted son we know as Scipio the younger. C. Laelius had a son, C. Laelius the younger, who became as close ally of Scipio the younger as his father had been for elder Scipio. And again, younger Scipio raised the younger Laelius into consulship for 140.

And to add further interest, the alliance between Scipiones and Laelii was not sealed by marriages. This is interesting. Usually such strong ties would also include a marriage or two. There certainly would have been candidates of right age at both side, so we must look for another explanations, of which there actually are a number of:

1) There simply wasn’t need for Scipiones to the Laelii more closely with them – the success of Laelii was hugely dependent on the support of Scipiones. The Laelii would probably welcomed a marriage, but on the other hand the alliance with Scipiones being strong, that left the Laelii free to make arrangements with other families.

2) The arrogance of Scipiones: Scipiones of any generation were not actually known for their modesty and restrain in showing their importance. Marriage with low-born Laelii would have gone against Scipiones pride, they after all married with families like Aemilii Paulli.

3) Peculiar Scipionic trait of keeping it together in the family. The daughter of elder Scipio married a Scipio Nasica, a relative of her father rather than left family line and fortune to scatter about. This wasn’t only intra-family marriage within Scipiones. Probably the main idea was to protect and collect the considerable family fortune into one hands.

4) There was more to be gain by keeping potential enemies closer than current friends.

Whatever the reason was, the family-ties of Laelii seem to omit the connection with the Scipiones totally: a healthy reminder of the multitude of tactics the Roman families used to survive.

Scipiones et Laelii

2 x Laelia + 2 x Mucia + 2 x Licinia

This is very interesting 3-generation long pair of daughters. The younger Laelius had two daughters. Laelia minor married consul C. Fannius and elder Laelia married Q. Mucius Scaevola augur, consul of 117. So the daughters of younger Laelius both were married into consular level families, which if of course straight from the Roman nobility playbook. Scaevola was also a close ally of younger Scipio as was Fannius too. Scipionic circle in this case obviously meant wedding ring!

The elder Laelia and Scaevola had again two daughters, elder of which married a son of consular Acilius Glabrio (and their son became consul too at 67). The younger Mucia married L. Licinius Crassus orator, consul of 95, who also allied with Scaevolae and what was left of the Scipionic circle. This younger Mucia finally too had two daughters with Licinius Crassus, the younger of which married the son of Marius, who became consul at 82. The elder Licinia Crassa married with no other than Scipio Nasica Serapio, whose grandmother was the daughter of the elder Scipio. So now finally after 4 generations the Scipio and Laelius -lines were united by matrilinear side!

These generations of Laelia major, Mucia minor and Licinia Crassae were also close to Cicero, as Cicero studied as young boy/man in the Scaevola and Crassus households. Cicero also included C. Laelius Sapiens in numerous of his writings. Cicero also mentions that the Laeliae and Muciae were particularly well known for the purity of their Latin.

All in all these three generations of sister-pairs gives a very interesting glimpse into the life of the Roman nobility and to the tactics and importance of the marriages. One is tempted to see here greater family community and transformation of political ties into network of extended family.

The Cornelii Dolabellae

The Cornelian families very many and even though we don’t always information on their relationships with each other, the number of Cornelians active at any given moment during the republican era is quite staggering.

Of some Cornelian families we know quite a lot, both e.g. Cornelii Scipiones and Cornelii Sullae, had such illustrious representatives that they shaped the whole Roman history, if not even world history. However we know quite little on obviously very influential Cornelii Lentuli.

To this less well known group of Cornelian families belongs also the Cornelii Dolabellae. They were a long running line of Cornelii, and we do not know when they separated from the hypothetical common ancestor of all Cornelii. Quite an influental family line they were still: they held consulships at least 283, 159, 81 and 44. So not every generation had consul, but the long family history of consular level extending for over 300 years is no little achievement. The line also survived long into imperial era helding consulships and important military posts under first emperors.

Cornelii Dolabellae

Drawing a familytree of Cornelii Dolabellae is not an easy task however: we know of very few father-son pairs and even less on marriages. In the following I have drawn known filiations and placed hypothetical generations into same levels chronologically. A picture emerges of vast multi-line family (e.g. cos 81 and pr 81 having both same first name). There are possibilities that e.g. RE 132 could have been the grandfather of RE 134 or father of RE 133 or son of RE 131… but we do not have any evidence to support these hypothetical connections. I have therefore opted to leave them out from the chart.