period makeups: Atia Balba Caesonia

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Ancient Roman period makeups: Atia Balba Caesonia

Atia Balba Caesonia (85 BCE–43 BCE) was the niece of Julius Caesar, a cousin of his rival Pompey, and the mother of the Emperor Augustus. Atia married the Roman Macedonian governor and senator Gaius Octavius and they had two children: Octavia Minor and Gaius Octavius Thurinus (later known as Augustus). After Octavius died in 59 BCE Atia married another Senator, Lucius Marcius Philippus, who after her death married one of her sisters and was later rewarded for his long-standing loyalty to Augustus.

Tacitus, in his Dialogus de oratoribus, described Atia as exceptionally religious and moral, and one of the most admired matrons in the history of the Republic:

In her presence no base word could be uttered without grave offence, and no wrong deed done. Religiously and with the utmost delicacy she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but also their recreations and their games.

It is not known what involvement, if any, she may have had in the political intrigues of Julius Caesar or Octavian, but she did fear for her son’s safety and at some point urged him to renounce his rights as Caesar’s heir. She died in 43BCE and thus did not survive to see Octavian and Mark Anthony and finally defeat Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42BCE. She thus died some over fifteen years before Octavian married Livia or became Emperor.

The amoral, opportunistic, and manipulative Atia of the Julii in Rome is only very loosely based on Atia Balba Caesonia.