Augusta (title)

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Augusta ("the sublime") is a designation of honor that Roman emperors could bestow on their wives or close female relatives - such as their mothers, sisters, grandmothers or daughters. Until late antiquity it represented the female counterpart to the title Augustus , which was part of the imperial titulature in the Roman and early Byzantine empires . Although not endowed with specific legal or political competences, Augusta's dignity was of great ideological importance; the Augustae often held a special, sometimes very powerful position at the imperial court.

Origin and meaning

For the first time, Livia Drusilla , the long-time third wife of the first emperor Augustus , was given the name Augusta by the deceased Princeps' testamentary decree in AD 14. At the same time Livia was adopted by Augustus and accepted into his family, the gens Iulia . After his death she therefore bore the name Iulia Augusta, with her deification in 42 under her grandson Claudius she was given the name Diva Augusta. The elevation of Livia to Augusta was decisive for the successor policy of Augustus, since her role as emperor's wife and mother empress was strengthened and the sacred and politically significant character of the Augustus title was transferred to Livia. At the same time, this measure strengthened the position of the new Emperor Tiberius as the son of Augusta, both politically and ideologically.

The honorary Cognomen Augusta increasingly developed into a title of imperial wife or other female relatives, which - like the Augustus title - did not confer any specific legal authority. From then on, the Augusta title was also significant, as it was able to legitimize dynastic rule in the form of Augusta as the mother empress (mater principis) . The award took place through a senate resolution with the consent of the emperor, often at his instigation. The main reasons for this were the arrival of the emperor, marriage or the birth of a descendant. The Augusta was the first woman in the state, which mainly earned her ceremonial dignity and duties. However, not all imperial wives were holders of the title; the award could also be refused (recusatio) . Whether or not imperial women received this honor does not necessarily provide information about their political significance.

Regardless of the award of the title Augusta, the wives or female relatives of the emperors were often honored with the name Sebastḗ ( Σεβαστή ) translated into Greek in the Greek-speaking east of the Imperium Romanum . This title could also be awarded to women of the imperial family who were not officially Augustae or who were not later raised to it. For example, an inscription from Paphos describes Iulia , Augustus' daughter, as Sebastḗ , although she was never awarded the Augusta dignity. Since Marcus Aurelius's wife Faustina , who was the first imperial woman to receive a second official honorary title, the women of the imperial family also repeatedly carried the honorary title of a mater castrorum until the early 4th century . With the proclamation of the empress as the “mother of the army camp”, an ideological connection was established between the imperial family and the troops. In the 3rd century this designation was expanded to "mother of the army camp, the senate and the fatherland" (mater castrorum et senatus et patriae) ; Iulia Domna , the wife of Septimius Severus , bore this title for the first time. Both titles were used in parallel from now on. In Iulia Mamaea , the mother of Severus Alexander , the unofficial title of a Spanish inscription was increased to a "mother of the army camp, the senate, the fatherland and the whole human race" (mater castrorum et senatus et patriae et universi generis humani) . In a similar way , imperial wives were also celebrated with the name "queen" ( regina , βασιλίς basilís ) , especially in late antiquity .

Early and high imperial times

Agrippina as Augusta with her son Nero on an aureus

According to Livia, the Senate, at the instigation or at least with the consent of Emperor Caligula, posthumously awarded the Augusta title to his grandmother Antonia Minor , the mother of the future Emperor Claudius, in whose care Caligula had grown up; during her lifetime she had refused to be awarded the title. After the sudden death of his sister Drusilla in 38, Caligula had her bestowed with all the honors that Livia had bestowed. However, it is unlikely that she was made Augusta; His three sisters were denied this honor, as was Caligula's four wives. Under Claudius, the Senate promoted his third wife Valeria Messalina to Augusta when she gave birth to Britannicus . However, Claudius did not agree to the award. It was only Claudius' fourth wife Agrippina who received the title when the Princeps, at her instigation , adopted her son from his first marriage, the future Emperor Nero , in 50 . She was the first imperial wife to receive the title during the emperor's lifetime. At the same time, it was the first to have full minting rights, so that it was depicted on imperial coins without naming or portraying the princeps. Just as Claudius had not elevated Messalina to Augusta, so Nero did not do so with Octavia either . On the occasion of the birth of his daughter Claudia in 63, Nero had both her mother, his second wife Poppaea Sabina , and the baby (who died a little later) named Augustae. He also awarded the title to his third wife, Statilia Messalina .

Titus bestowed the title on his daughter Julia . Flavia Domitilla , the daughter of Vespasian , received the title twenty years after her death under Domitian and was also declared a diva. Soon after he came to power, Domitian also raised his wife Domitia Longina to Augusta. Since Domitian, the elevation of the imperial wife to Augusta has been a rule that has rarely been deviated from. Gradually, the women of the imperial family also developed a claim to experience this honor. Under Trajan , the Princeps's sister and wife, Marciana and Plotina , refused to be awarded the title in the spring or summer of 98, initially on the condition that Trajan must first be given the honorary title of pater patriae . Although Trajan received this honor in autumn 98, both did not accept the Augusta title until before or around 105 - possibly on the occasion of Trajan's victorious return from the first Dacian war in 102. Marciana was the first sister of a Roman emperor to receive this title during her lifetime. In 112 Trajan also made Marciana's daughter Matidia Augusta. In the period that followed, the emperors awarded the title exclusively to their wives and those of their respective heirs to the throne. Hadrian's wife Vibia Sabina only received the Augusta dignity when the princeps received the title of pater patriae , which he had repeatedly rejected at the beginning of his reign. Faustina the Elder, on the other hand, was called Antoninus Pius Augusta from the beginning of the reign of her husband , even before he received the title of pater patriae . Marcus Aurelius honored his wife Faustina the Younger with the title mater castrorum in 174 to thank her for her presence in the camp on the Danube during the Marcomann Wars. Already under her father Antoninus Pius, after the birth of her first daughter 147, she was granted the right to mint and Augusta on the same day that her husband received the tribunicia potestas . This made her the first Augusta to receive this title as the wife of a Caesar , because Marcus Aurelius was only made Augustus in 161 and pater patriae in 166 . As the daughter of Marcus Aurelius and the wife of his co-regent Lucius Verus , Lucilla could call herself Augusta at the latest in 165, and thus before Verus was raised to pater patriae (166) and the birth of her first child. Soon after their wedding with Commodus likely Bruttia Crispina have received the title. Neither Lucilla nor Crispina could build on the powerful position of earlier Augustae; both were later subjected to a damnatio memoriae .

In the second year of the four emperors, Pertinax refused to appoint his wife Flavia Titiana Augusta and his son Caesar. Didius Iulianus, on the other hand, simultaneously accepted both the Augustus and pater patriae titles and the Augusta dignity for his wife Manlia Scantilla and his daughter Didia Clara .

Iulia Domna has held the Augusta title since her husband Septimius Severus began to rule in 193. In addition, as the second empress after Faustina Minor, she carried the title of mater castrorum from 195 , which she was given on the occasion of her presence in the military camp and which later became mater castrorum et senatus et patriae has been expanded. Septimius Severus' son Caracalla made his wife Fulvia Plautilla Augusta; after her father Plautianus was accused by Caracalla of the planned murder of Septimius Severus and killed, Plautilla lost her title, was banished and was finally murdered in 211; its name fell from the damnatio memoriae . Under the Severans , the grandmother and mother of the emperor at times enjoyed the dignity of Augusta and of extraordinary political importance: Iulia Maesa , the grandmother of Emperor Elagabal , held the title of Augusta and instead of her underage grandson devoted herself to government affairs; Elagabal's mother and Maesa's daughter, Iulia Soaemias , won the title, as did all three witnessed wives of the Princeps, Iulia Paula , Aquilia Severa and Annia Faustina . As the empress mother of Severus Alexander and Augusta, Iulia Mamaea exercised great influence on the reign after her son was of legal age. Severus Alexander's wife Orbiana also carried the Augusta title. In the Severan period, the title sanctissima Augusta was also created, as evidenced by inscriptions for Iulia Maesa, Iulia Mamaea and Orbiana, and which is often found up to the end of the 3rd century. In addition, most of the power-conscious Augustae of the 3rd century documented their extraordinary position in their own coins.

Under the soldier emperors in the imperial crisis of the 3rd century , the imperial wives were often given the title of mater castrorum together with the Augusta dignity in order to take into account the increased importance that the military played in the acclamation of the emperor. However, the family circumstances of the rapidly changing throne holders and aspirants are partly only incomplete. It therefore often remains uncertain whether and to which persons the Augusta dignity was awarded. In any case, Caecilia Paulina , wife of the first soldier emperor , Maximinus Thrax , bore the title. On the occasion of her marriage to Gordian III. in 241 Tranquillina was also elevated to Augusta. Marcia Otacilia Severa , as the wife of Philip Arab , bore both the title of Augusta and mater castrorum et senatus et patriae . Since the beginning of the rule of Decius , his wife Etruscilla also received this dignity. Cornelia Supera, the wife of Aemilianus , was made Augusta, as was Salonia, the wife of Gallienus . Of the usurpers under Gallienus, only Regalianus seems to have appointed his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla 260 to Augusta. Aurelian also granted his wife Ulpia Severina this honor. Finally, for Magnia Urbica as the wife of Carinus, the elevation to Augusta is attested.

When Aurelian opened a campaign against the Palmyrenian kingdom in the spring of 272 , the underage Vaballathus and his mother Zenobia, who ran his affairs of state for him , adopted the title Augustus and Augusta, respectively, and thus openly turned against Roman rule. During this phase, Zenobia had coins struck, on which she claimed the imperial title for herself and her son. For the Imperium Galliarum , only in the case of Victoria , the mother of Victorius , is it known that she received the title of Augusta and mater castrorum from Tetricus I in 271 ; however, the reliability of this information in the Historia Augusta is doubtful.

Late antiquity

In late antiquity (from AD 284) the women of the imperial family received the Augusta dignity as a rule through the emperor. However, they could never formally rule in their own name, but only gained importance indirectly through their personal influence as mothers, sisters and daughters of the emperors; the Augusta dignity remained ideologically significant despite the continued lack of legal competences. Sometimes Augustae appeared as the de facto regents for emperors who were still underage. However, neither all imperial wives were dubbed Augustae nor do female members of the imperial family appear on coins as often as in the early and high imperial period.

Compared to the previous time of the soldier emperors, the role of the imperial wife became more important with the more stable conditions of the tetrarchy . However, among the tetrarchs only Galerius raised his wife Valeria , daughter of Augustus Diocletian , to the rank of Augusta. The wives of Diocletian, Maximian or Constantius I , however, were denied this honor. Possibly the reason for the reluctance to award the Augusta title among the tetrarchs lies in the lower origin of their wives. Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena, also lacked an elegant parentage; after Ambrose of Milan she was a stable maid. She should not have been married to Constantine's father Constantius I. He left Helena and married Emperor Maximian's stepdaughter, Theodora . In 325 Constantine had his mother raised by the troops to Augusta and struck coins with her portrait. Since Constantine the dynastic idea became much more important for the empire than in the early imperial period, so that the women of the ruling house (domus divina) could play a central role in the legitimation of the emperors. Constantine also conferred the Augusta dignity on his daughter Constantina , with the help of which she exercised considerable political influence: in consultation with her brother Emperor Constantius II , she persuaded the master Vetranio to be proclaimed Augustus and in this way on the On her brother's side , to put a stop to the usurper Magnentius , who had risen against Constans , Constantius' brother, in the west. A year later, Constantina was married to Constantius Gallus , who was appointed Caesar . Constantina's sister-in-law Eusebia , the wife of Constantius II, who also achieved an important position of power, was denied the title of Augusta until her death, as did the two other wives of Constantius; Overall, the sons of Constantine did not award any Augusta titles. The following emperors Julian , Jovian , Valentinian I and Gratian refrained from honoring their wives as Augustae; only Valens bestowed the title on his wife Domnica again .

Theodosius I made his first wife Aelia Flaccilla , but not his second, Galla , Augusta. Even after the division of the empire in 395 , the Augusta dignity remained in both halves of the empire: The first emperor of the eastern half , Arcadius , had his wife Aelia Eudoxia bestowed the title in 400 after the birth of her first child. Likewise, Honorius, as emperor of the western empire , elevated his patricius Flavius ​​Constantius to Augustus and co-regent (now Constantius III. ) In February 421 ; at the same time Honorius' sister Galla Placidia , with whom Constantius had been married since 417, was appointed Augusta. After the death of her husband and a falling out with her brother, Placidia fled to Constantinople , but returned to the Western Empire when Honorius died and led her son, who later became Valentinian III, to come of age . , as regent the affairs of state. In contrast to his sister, Honorius withheld the Augusta dignity from his wives Maria and their sister Thermantia ; possibly he wanted to prevent their father Stilicho , his master, from gaining too much prestige . After the death of Arcadius, his only seven-year-old son Theodosius II became Augustus of the Eastern Roman Empire. His older sister Aelia Pulcheria exercised decisive influence on the rule of the minor, from 414 to 416 as his official guardian. Theodosius awarded her the title of Augusta at the age of fifteen in 414. This did not make her co-regent (according to the Roman understanding, only one man could be at the head of the empire), but she was a powerful person who was entitled to imperial dignity and who, among other things, dealt intensively with church matters. Pulcheria selected Athenaïs as bride for her brother , whom Theodosius also raised to the rank of Augusta in 423 after marriage and baptism. After the death of Theodosius, Pulcheria married his successor Markian and thus gave him additional legitimacy. Under her cousin Valentinian III, who ruled the West since 425, his wife Licinia Eudoxia and sister Iusta Grata Honoria received the title.

When Justinian became sole ruler in 527, he named his wife Theodora , a former actress with whom he had only been able to marry two years earlier through a change in the law, as Augusta. She allegedly exercised considerable influence on her husband, who repeatedly referred to her as "his God-given adviser". She herself received envoys and demanded the same rank for herself in court ceremonies that the emperor held, such as prosksynesis . However, since their influence is likely to be greatly exaggerated by the sources, which are never neutral, but either very hostile (e.g. Prokopios of Caesarea , who despised them because of their origin) or glorified (the Monophysites ), there is much to be said for that Theodora's role was in fact no different from that of other late antique empresses. Due to the circumstances, however, it was perceived as particularly offensive.

Theodora's niece Sophia , who became Empress as the wife of Justinian's nephew and successor Justin II. 565, did, in contrast to her aunt, actually intervene decisively in the fortunes of the empire. She was the first Augusta to be depicted on coins with the same insignia as the emperor. When her husband became mentally ill in 574, she made sure that the successful general Tiberius Constantinus was raised to the rank of lower emperor (Caesar) in order to run the business of government with her. Her hopes of being married to the now sole ruler Tiberius after her husband's death were, however, disappointed in 578. She lost her political influence, but retained the rank of Augusta.


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  1. Ovid , fasti 1.536; Tacitus , Annales 1,8,1 ; Suetonius , Augustus 101.2 ; Cassius Dio 56,46,1 .; see Hans-Werner Ritter: Livias Elevation to Augusta . In: Chiron 2, 1972, pp. 313-328.
  2. Perkounig (1995), pp. 121-146.
  3. ^ Inscriptiones Graecae ad res Romanas pertinentes 3, 940 . See Temporini (1978), pp. 28f. Note 115 with further examples.
  4. Kuhoff (1993), p. 253.
  5. CIL 2, 3413 .
  6. Kienast (1996), p. 57 with documents.
  7. ^ Suetonius, Claudius 11.2 . However, Antonia is referred to as Augusta in the Arval brothers' files even before her death; Kuhoff (1993), p. 246, note 7.
  8. Cassius Dio 59.11.2.
  9. Temporini (1978), p. 29f.
  10. Tacitus, Annales 12:26 .
  11. Temporini (1978), pp. 30f.
  12. Tacitus, Annales 15:23 .
  13. Tacitus, Historiae 2,89,2 reports that Vitellius honored his mother Sextilia as Augusta in the year of the Four Emperors 69 after his entry into Rome . However, there are no official sources that would testify that this was a regular Augusta survey; Kuhoff (1993), p. 247 with note 12.
  14. ^ Temporini (1978), pp. 23-27.
  15. Temporini (1978), pp. 35f. on the connection between the Augusta and pater patriae titles under Trajan and Hadrian.
  16. Temporini (1978), p. 33.
  17. ^ Temporini (1978), p. 34.
  18. Cassius Dio 74.7; on the other hand, see Kuhoff (1993), pp. 251f.
  19. For the historical background and the dating for the creation of this new title, see Wolfgang Kuhoff : Iulia Aug. mater Aug. n. Et castrorum et senatus et patriae . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97, 1993, pp. 259–271 ( online ; PDF; 1.3 MB), which sees the fall of Plautianus in 205 as the reason for this.
  20. Herbert W. Benario: The Titulature of Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea. Two notes . In: Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 90, 1959, pp. 9-14.
  21. Kuhoff (1993), S: 254 Note 43 with evidence.
  22. On the Severan empresses see Erich Kettenhofen : Die syrischen Augustae in the historical tradition. A contribution to the problem of orientalization . Bonn 1979 ( Antiquitas , series 3, treatises on prehistory and early history, on classical and provincial Roman archeology and on the history of antiquity , vol. 24).
  23. An inscription found in Sardinia names Cornelia Gallonia , the second wife of Valerian , attested only by this inscription , as Augusta; AE 2004, 673 ; on this Beatrice Girotti: Cornelia Gallonia Augusta, seconda moglie di Valeriano. Un contributo epigrafico ad un problema storiografico? In: Epigraphica 66, 2004, pp. 365-367. Whether it is an officially awarded Augusta title or an unofficial designation remains uncertain.
  24. Udo Hartmann : The Palmyrene Partial Kingdom . Stuttgart 2001, p. 43, 254ff. ( Oriens et Occidens , Vol. 2).
  25. Historia Augusta , Thirty Tyrants 5.3 ; Kienast (1996), p. 247.
  26. Alexander Demandt : The late antiquity. Roman history from Diocletian to Justinian 284–565 AD 2., fully edited. and exp. Ed., Munich 2007, p. 258.
  27. Kienast (1996) p. 56.
  28. Ambrosius, De obitu Theodosii 42.
  29. Demandt (2007), p. 76f.
  30. Philostorgios 3:28; 3.22. Due to the lack of further mentions and other (apparent) inconsistencies, Kenneth Holum did not consider Constantina's Augusta dignity to be historical; Kenneth G. Holum: Theodosian Empresses. Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity . Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 1982, pp. 31, 33f .; on the other hand: Bruno Bleckmann : Constantina, Vetranio and Gallus Caesar . In: Chiron 24, 1994, pp. 29-68, here pp. 33-42.
  31. Demandt (2007), p. 106.
  32. Demandt (2007), p. 182.
  33. Kienast (1996), p. 57.
  34. Demandt (2007), p. 195.
  35. Demandt (2007), p. 234.
  36. Hartmut Leppin : Imperial cohabitation. On the normality of Theodoras. In: Christiane Kunst, Ulrike Riemer (Ed.): Limits of Power. On the role of the Roman imperial wives. Stuttgart 2000, pp. 75-85.
  37. Averil Cameron : The Empress Sophia. In: Byzantion 45, 1975, pp. 5-21.