Little-Known Ancient History Facts

Augustus’ daughter, Julia the Elder. Wikimedia

39. Roman Dads Could Kill Their Daughters and Those Defiling Them

The Roman patriarch’s powers of life and death over his family members were particularly evident when it came to his authority over the women of the family. Notwithstanding the ancient Romans’ reputation for licentiousness and debauchery and wild orgies, they managed to indulge in such carnal excesses while simultaneously viewing adultery as a serious matter. Not just on moral grounds, but also because it introduced the possibility of illegitimate heirs to a pater familias’ estate. When Augustus became emperor, he sought to restore traditional values with a slate of morality laws aimed at combating adultery – defined as a woman having sex with a man who was not her husband. However, sex with female slaves and prostitutes did not count.

Augustus’ exiled granddaughter, Julia the Younger, imagined in ‘Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno’, by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1774. Pintrest

One of Augustus’ morality laws, enacted in 18 BC, codified a father’s traditional rights if he caught somebody engaged in adultery with his daughter. The father could legally kill the lover, as well as his daughter, whether in his own house or in the house of his son in law. Ironically, Augustus’ own daughter, Julia the Elder, ran afoul of those anti-adultery laws. He did not kill her, but to save face, he had her exiled in 2 BC, first to a small island, then to a tiny village in the toe of Italy. She remained in exile for the rest of her life. In 8 AD, Augustus’ granddaughter, Julia the Younger, also got caught up in an adultery scandal with a Roman Senator. He had her exiled to a remote island, where she gave birth to a love child. Augustus ordered the infant exposed.