Julia Drusilla

Julia Drusilla (Classical Latin: IVLIA•DRVSILLA[1]) (16 September AD 16 10 June AD 38) was a member of the Roman imperial family, the second daughter and fifth child of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder to survive infancy. She had two sisters, Julia Livilla and the Empress Agrippina the Younger, and three brothers, Emperor Caligula, Nero Julius Caesar, and Drusus. She was a great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, grand-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, niece of the Emperor Claudius, and aunt of the Emperor Nero.

Julia Drusilla
Drusilla, Munich Glyptothek (Inv. 316)
Born16 September AD 16
Abitarvium, Germany
Died10 June AD 38 (aged 21)
SpouseLucius Cassius Longinus
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
HouseJulio-Claudian Dynasty
MotherAgrippina the Elder
Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Augustus 27 BC AD 14
Tiberius AD 14–37
Caligula AD 37–41
Claudius AD 41–54
Nero AD 54–68
Gens Julia
Gens Claudia
Julio-Claudian family tree
Category:Julio-Claudian dynasty
Preceded by
Roman Republic
Followed by
Year of the Four Emperors


Drusilla was born in Abitarvium, modern day Koblenz, Germany. After the death of her father, Germanicus, she and her siblings were brought back to Rome by their mother and raised with the help of their paternal grandmother, Antonia Minor. In 33 CE, Drusilla was married to Lucius Cassius Longinus, a friend of the Emperor Tiberius.[2] After Caligula became emperor in 37 CE, however, he ordered their divorce and married his sister to his friend, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.[3] During an illness in 37 CE, Caligula changed his will to name Drusilla his heir,[4] making her the first woman to be named heir in a Roman imperial will. This was probably an attempt to continue the Julian line through any children she might have, leaving her husband to rule in the meantime.[5] Caligula recovered however, and in 38 CE, at the age of twenty-one, Drusilla died.[3][6] Her brother went on to deify her, consecrating her with the title Panthea (all-goddess) and mourning at her public funeral as though he were a widower.[7][8]


Reportedly, Drusilla was her brother's favorite. There also are rumors that they were lovers. If true, that role probably gained her great influence over Caligula. Although the activities between the brother and sister might have been seen as incestuous by their contemporaries, it is not certain whether they were sexual partners. Drusilla earned a rather poor reputation because of the close bond she shared with Caligula and even was likened to a prostitute by later scholars, in attempts to discredit Caligula.[9]

Some historians suggest that Caligula was motivated by more than mere lust or love in pursuing intimate relationships with his sisters, thinking instead, that he may have decided deliberately to pattern the Roman lineage after the Hellenistic monarchs of the Ptolemaic dynasty where marriages between jointly ruling brothers and sisters had become tradition rather than sex scandals. This also has been used to explain why his despotism apparently was more evident to his contemporaries than those of Augustus and Tiberius.

The source of many of the rumors surrounding Caligula and Drusilla may be derived from formal Roman dining habits.[9] It was customary in patrician households for the host and hostess of a dinner (or in other words, the husband and the wife in charge of the household) to hold the positions of honor at banquets in their residence. In the case of a young bachelor being the head of the household, the female position of honor traditionally was to be held by his sisters, in rotation. In Caligula's case, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla would have taken turns sitting in the place of honor. Apparently, Caligula broke with this tradition and reserved the place of honor exclusively for Drusilla.

Death and aftermath

Drusilla died on 10 June 38 AD, probably of an illness that was rampant in Rome at the time. Caligula was said never to have left her side throughout her illness and, after she had died, he would not let anyone take away her body.

Caligula was badly affected by the loss. He buried his sister with the honors of an Augusta and acted as a grieving widower. He had the Roman Senate declare her a Goddess, as Diva Drusilla, deifying her as a representation of the Roman goddess Venus or the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Drusilla was consecrated as Panthea, most likely on the anniversary of the birthday of Augustus.[9]

A year later, Caligula named his only known daughter, Julia Drusilla, after his dead sister. Meanwhile, the widowed husband of Drusilla, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, reportedly became a lover to her sisters, Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger, in an apparent attempt to gain their support that he would succeed Caligula. This political conspiracy was discovered during that autumn by Caligula while in Germania Superior. Lepidus was executed swiftly and Livilla and Agrippina were exiled to the Pontine Islands.

Cultural references

  • In the Robert Graves novel, I, Claudius, the narrator of the story states that he believes that Drusilla was killed by Caligula, although he admits that he does not have firm evidence of this.
  • This theme was embellished considerably in the 1976 BBC television adaptation of I, Claudius, where Drusilla was played by Beth Morris. A pregnant Drusilla was subjected to a brutal Caesarean section by an insane Caligula, who then swallowed the child as Zeus did his children. Although scenes depicting that scenario were cut from the production before broadcast in the United States, they were restored for the VHS and DVD releases.
  • Teresa Ann Savoy played Drusilla in the 1979 motion picture Caligula, which showed a version of Drusilla dying from a fever, followed by a scene of Caligula licking her corpse in mourning, and then having sexual intercourse with Drusilla one last time in an act of necrophilia. The last scene was deleted from all the released versions of the film.


See also


  1. E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen - e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933 - I 664
  2. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 21.
  3. Cassius Dio, 59.11.1
  4. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24.
  5. Susan Wood, Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (July 1995), pp.459
  6. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24.2
  7. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Life of Caligula, 24
  8. Cassius Dio, 59.11.1-5
  9. Susan Wood, Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (July , 1995), p. 457-482


  • Media related to Drusilla at Wikimedia Commons
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