Julia Drusilla (daughter of Caligula)

Julia Drusilla (Classical Latin: IVLIA•DRVSILLA;[1] middle of AD 39 – 24 January 41), known as Drusilla the Younger (Classical Latin: DRVSILLA•MINOR; transcribed as Drusilla Minor) during her lifetime, was the only child and daughter of Roman Emperor Gaius (Caligula) and his fourth and last wife Milonia Caesonia. One-year-old Julia Drusilla was assassinated along with her parents on 24 January 41.

Julia Drusilla
Bornmid–AD 39
Rome, Roman Empire
Died24 January AD 41 (aged 1)
Palatine Hill, Rome, Roman Empire
MotherMilonia Cæsonia


Named after her late aunt and her father's favorite sister, Julia Drusilla, Julia was born not long after Caligula married Caesonia (some sources have her being born on the same day as the marriage). The date of her parents' marriage has not been determined for certain, but it is known that it was sometime in the summer of AD 39.[2] When Drusilla, as the child was called, was born, Caligula took her to a temple that housed statues of goddesses and placed her on the lap of Minerva, instructing the goddess to nurse and train his new daughter. The reason for Caligula's hasty marriage with the neither young nor beautiful Milonia Caesonia was the purported illegitimacy of his daughter: should Caligula marry his daughter's mother, the child would become his heir.[3]

The order of events suggests that he did not want to marry until a child of his had already been born, a child who would be the purpose of the union.[2] Soon after her birth, Caligula set up donation boxes around Rome marked "Julia's Drink" or "Julia's Food". According to the ancient historian Suetonius, Caligula believed that Minerva would supervise his daughter's growth and education.[4] Suetonius further claims that "[Caligula] considered [Drusilla] as his own child for no better reason than her savage temper, which was such even in her infancy, that she would attack with her nails the face and eyes of the children that play with her."[4]


On 24 January 41, Julia Drusilla and her parents were at the imperial palace complex on the Palatine Hill in Rome. A conspiracy to assassinate Caligula and replace him with his uncle Claudius had been in discussion for some time and that day had been decided for the event. While Caligula was addressing an acting troupe of young men during a series of games and dramatics held for the Divine Augustus, the Praetorian Guard, led by Cassius Chaerea, stormed the imperial complex.[5]

The cryptoporticus (underground corridor) where this event would have taken place was discovered beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill.[6] By the time Caligula's loyal Germanic guard responded, the emperor was already dead. A few hours later, the Empress Caesonia was fatally stabbed by Lupus, a tribune especially sent by Chaerea to murder the two remaining family members.[7] Drusilla was murdered by "having her brains knocked out against a wall."[8]


After their murder, all images of Empress Caesonia and young Drusilla Minor were destroyed in hopes of making people forget they ever existed, as a sort of damnatio memoriae. Although these once did exist, no sculptures of Caesonia and Drusilla survive.[9] Although other, more powerful motives caused the deaths of her parents, Drusilla's murder was only justified by her paternity: as Caligula's only legitimate child, she could have claimed the throne for her descendants or even for herself. Her savage temper also contributed to Drusilla's death.[9] The only surviving image of Drusilla is a coin issued by Herod Agrippa the Great, King of the Jews, that represents Drusilla as a small child sitting next to Victory. The coin reads "to Drusilla, daughter of Augustus."[10][11]

Impact on economy

Julia Drusilla's birth gave Caligula an additional excuse to impose heavier taxes on the empire for the burden of parenthood. Suetonius quotes him to have complained, "In addition to the burden of sovereignty, I must now shoulder that of fatherhood." He promptly took up a collection for her education and dowry.[12] Suetonius said that "after the birth of his daughter, complaining of his poverty, and the burdens to which he was subjected, not only as an emperor, but a father, he made a general collection for her maintenance and fortune. He likewise gave public notice, that he would receive new-year's gifts on the calends of January following; and accordingly stood in the vestibule of his house, to clutch the presents which people of all ranks threw down before him by handfuls and lapfuls. At last, being seized with an invincible desire of feeling money, taking off his slippers, he repeatedly walked over great heaps of gold coin spread upon the spacious floor, and then laying himself down, rolled his whole body in gold over and over again."[12]

Cultural depictions

She was portrayed by uncredited child actors in the 1976 miniseries I, Claudius and the 1979 film Caligula.




  1. Groag, Stein & Petersen 1933, p. 665.
  2. Winterling & Schneider 2011, p. 105.
  3. Wood 2000, p. 216.
  4. The Twelve Caesars: Caligula, Part 25.
  5. The Twelve Caesars: Caligula, Part 58.
  6. Archaeologists unearth place where Emperor Caligula met his end by Richard Owen, 17 October 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
  7. Winterling & Schneider 2011, p. 181.
  8. The Twelve Caesars: Caligula, Part 59.
  9. Varner 2004, p. 44.
  10. Barrett 2002, p. 96.
  11. coin showing Caesonia and Julia Drusilla
  12. The Twelve Caesars: Caligula, Part 42.


  • Suetonius (121). The Twelve Caesars.
  • Groag, E.; Stein, A.; Petersen, L. (1933). Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR). Berlin.
  • Barrett, Anthony A. (2002). Caligula: The Corruption of Power. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-21485-8.
  • Varner, Eric R. (2004). Mutilation and Transformation: Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 9789004135772.
  • Winterling, Aloys; Schneider, Deborah Lucas (2011). Caligula: A Biography. California: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520248953.
  • Wood, Susan E. (2000). Imperial Women: A Study in Public Images. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 9789004119697.
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