daughter of Bassianus, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus, mother of Caracalla and Geta, grand-aunt of Elagabalus and Alexander. (See the stemma of CARACALLA.) Born of obscure parents in Emesa, she attracted the attention of her future husband long before his elevation to the purple, in consequence, we are told, of an astrological prediction, which declared that she was destined to be the wife of a sovereign. Already cherishing ambitious hopes, and trusting implicitly to the infallibility of an art in which he possessed no mean skill, Severus, after the death of Marcia, wedded the humble Syrian damsel, with no other dowry than her horoscope.
The period at which this union took place has been a matter of controversy among chronologers, since the statements of ancient authorities are contradictory and irreconcileable. Following Dio Cassius as our surest guide, we conclude that it could not have been later than A. D. 175, for he records that the marriage couch was spread in the temple of Venus, adjoining the palatium, by the empress Faustina, who in that year quitted Rome to join M. Aurelius in the east, and never returned. Julia, being gifted with a powerful intellect and with a large measure of the adroit cunning for which her countrywomen were so celebrated, exercised at all times a powerful sway over her superstitious husband, persuaded him to take up arms against Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus, thus pointing out the direct path to a throne, and, after the prophecy had been completely fulfilled, maintained her dominion unimpaired to the last.
At one period, when hard pressed by the enmity of the all-powerful Plautianus, she is said to have devoted her time almost exclusively to philosophy.
By her commands Philostratus undertook to write the life of Apollonius, of Tyana, and she was wont to pass whole days surrounded by troops of grammarians, rhetoricians, and sophists.
But if she studied wisdom she certainly did not practise virtue, for her profligacy was a matter of common notoriety and reproach, and she is said even to have conspired against the life of her husband, who from gratitude, weakness, fear, or apathy, quietly tolerated her enormities.
After his death, her influence became greater than ever, and Caracalla entrusted the most important affairs of state to her administration.
At the same time, she certainly possessed no controul over his darker passions, for it is well known that he murdered his own brother, Geta, in her arms, and when she ventured to give way to grief for her child, the fratricide was scarcely withheld from turning the dagger against his mother also. Upon learning the successful issue of the rebellion of Macrinus, Julia at first resolved not to survive the loss of her son and of her dignities, but having been kindly treated by the conqueror, she for a while indulged in bright anticipations. Her proceedings, however, excited a suspicion that she was tampering with the troops : she was abruptly commanded to quit Antioch, and, returning to her former resolution, she abstained from food, and perished, A. D. 217. Her body was transported to Rome, and deposited in the sepulchre of Caius and Lucius Caesar, but afterwards removed by her sister, Maesa, along with the bones of Geta, to the cemetery of the Antonines.
There can be little doubt that Domna
was her proper Syrian name, analogous to the designations of Maesa, Soaemias,
borne by other members of the same family.
The idea that it is to be regarded as a contraction for domina,
and was employed because the latter would have been offensive to a Roman ear, scarcely requires refutation. (See Reimarus on D. C. 74.3
One accusation, of the foulest description, has been brought against this princess by several ancient historians. Spartianus and Aurelius Victor expressly affirm that Julia not only formed an incestuous connexion with Caracalla, but that they were positively joined in marriage: the story is repeated by Eutropius and Orosius also, while Herodian hints at such a report (4.16), when he relates that she was nicknamed Jocasta by the licentious rabble of Alexandria.
But the silence of Dio Cassius, who was not only alive, but occupied a prominent public station during the whole reign, on the subject, is a sufficient reason for rejecting the tale altogether.
It is absolutely impossible that he should have been ignorant of such a rumour, if actually in circulation, and it is equally certain, from the tone of his narrative, that he would not have suppressed it had it been deserving of the slightest credit. On the other hand, the vouchers for the fact are in themselves totally destitute of authority upon all points which admit of doubt or controversy, and in the present case were so illinformed as to suppose that Julia was only the stepmother of Caracalla. (D. C. 74.3
; Herodian, 4.13, 16, 5.3; Spartian. Sept. Sev.
3, 18, Caracall.
3, 10; Capitolin. Clod. Albin.
9; Lamprid. Alex. Sev.
5; Victor, Epit.
21; de Caes.
21; Eutrop. 8.11
; Oros. 7.18
; Philostrat. Vit. Sophist. Vit. Apollon.
1.3; Tzetzes, Chil.
vi. H. 45.)