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.

One thought on “The mystery of Octavii

  1. I find this post really interesting cause my current historical pet project is listing the known survivors and casualties of the battle of Cannae. I think Ocativus grandfather survived the Battle of Cannae. I think the 2nd punic war was a huge social sieve so to speak. My theory is that it led to the decline of a lot of leading noble families and led to a lot of the political opportunities for lesser nobles and new men like Cicero to showcase their talents in the late republican period.


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