Livilla as Anchisean Aphrodite in Ilium

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Halileli (Turkey)
18 CE to 19 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Base of a column, most likely with a statue on top 
141 centimetres in height and an average of 60 centimetres in width
Roman, Greek
Frisch, Die Inschriften von Ilion, p. 188, no. 88 [IGRR IV.206]

For our collection, this testimony is most important because of the reference to Livia as Anchisean Aphrodite in lines 11 and 12. However, a preliminary analysis of the content and circumstances of the honorific inscription will prove necessary.

The text is perfectly preserved and there is no doubt that a local man in Ilium is honouring a woman called Antonia for being his own goddess and benefactress. The identity of this Antonia is also unequivocal thanks to the long genealogical connections recorded. As daughter of Octavia and Mark Antony, she was niece of Augustus (l. 2-3). When Antonia Minor (or the Younger) married Drusus Claudius Nero around 16 BCE, she also became sister-in-law of Tiberius (see Levick, Claudius, p. 11-12). Her husband died in 9 BCE during the German campaigns and hence the text refers to Antonia as “former wife”. From their marriage, three children were born: Germanicus, the future emperor Claudius, and Livia (also known as Livilla). When Augustus died and Tiberius acceded to the throne, the role of Antonia’s first son and now nephew of the emperor increased significantly (Marsh, The Reign, p. 67-104). Germanicus proved himself as a successful commander and was particularly popular in the provinces of the Roman Empire (see Höet-van Cauwenberghe, Kantiréa, “La popularité”). In 18 CE, he became consul for the second time and Tiberius also entrusted him with the task of taking care of the eastern Mediterranean (Gallota, Germanico, p. 99-181). Tacitus at the end of book II of the Annals narrates this trip, which started on the Illyrian coasts and soon reached the city of Athens. Here Germanicus was extraordinarily honoured (Annals II.53); something which is confirmed by surviving epigraphic testimonies (IG II2 3258-3260, see Follet, Athènes, p. 322). From Athens, he travelled via Euboea to Lesbos. Tacitus (Annals II.54) only reports that Agrippina – Germanicus’s wife – gave birth to Julia on the island. Again, the available inscriptions confirm that the event had a considerable impact on the local population. Two of them refer to Germanicus as a “new god” and to Agrippina as the “fruit-bearing goddess Aiolis”. In other words, the people of Lesbos identified members of the imperial house with divinities, who in the case of Agrippina had borne a descendant. These precedents are important to contextualise the episode in Ilium.

According to the same chapter of Tacitus, Germanicus moved on to the Bosphorus area, unsuccessfully tried to reach Samothrace, and ended up in Ilium visiting “what shall be venerated from the vicissitudes of fortune and our (Roman) origin.” The historian is naturally referring to the fact that the city of Ilium was located in the ancient territory of the Trojans, who were defeated by the Greeks, fled, and became the mythical ancestors of the Romans. The connection between Troy and Rome was established through the son of Aphrodite and Anchises, Aeneas, who after roaming the Mediterranean arrived in the Italian shores and established a kingdom for his own descendant Ascanius/Iulus. The Roman family of Iulii regarded him as their ancestor (see Weinstock, Divus Julius, p. 4-18). So, when Julius Caesar and Augustus came into power, this legendary past and link with Venus was heavily advertised as famously illustrated by Virgil’s Aeneid (Erskine, Troy, p. 15-43; Pani, “Troia resurgens”). Germanicus had also been adopted into the gens Iulia and his visit to Ilium acquired particular significance for both the Roman people and other members of the Augustan family. As has been noted above, Agrippina was also present in this trip and we know that their son Caligula participated according to a loyalty oath proclaimed in Assos – nor far from the Trojan peninsula  (I.Assos 26, l. 15-17). Thanks to our honorific inscription, we can suppose that Antonia, Germanicus’s mother, was equally accompanying the entourage of the consul.

If we are to believe the information provided by textual transmission, Germanicus may have spent his time in Ilium visiting Hector’s tomb and composing an epigram in which he celebrated that the sons of Achilles, the Thessalians, were now subject to the descendants of Aeneas; that is the Romans (Anthologia Latina 4.102; Anthologia Palatina 9.387). Meanwhile, his mother would have engaged with the local community and provided those public services (ἀρχαί/archai) for which Philo considers her a benefactress. His preceding description of Antonia as “his goddess” would not imply communal cult but rather personal devotion and, obviously, exaggeration. More interesting is that the actions completed by her were related to the “very divine lineage” (l. 14-15). I take this to refer to the Julian family that was connected with the gods because its members were descendants of Venus/Aphrodite. During the imperial period, Aeneas was also considered a patron of Ilium (Frisch, Die Inschriften, no. 143) and we know that the myth of Troy was commemorated with both local epigrams and coins (e.g. Frisch, Die Inschriften, p. 233-238; Roman Provincial Coinage III. 1576-1577; IV. 91, 98-99, 112, 120-121, 128-129, 2487; VII.1 36, 42-3; IX. 397-398; see Erskine, Troy, p. 225-253). Antonia would have contributed to the maintenance of such a common ancestral memory in a period particularly tough for the population of Asia after the devastating earthquake of 17 CE (Tacitus, Annals II.47; Pliny, Natural History II.86; Cassius Dio, Roman History 57.17.7; Suetonius, Tiberius 48.5). This tradition was later continued by Claudius and Nero, who are reported to have released Ilium from all tributes because of kinship links (Suetonius, Claudius 25.3; Tacitus, Annals XII.58; cf. Frisch, Die Inschriften, no. 91).

After this explanation of the circumstances of the trip and the honorific monument, the reference to Livia (Livilla) as an “Anchisean Aphrodite” should be better understood. On the one hand, it is related to the fact that she had been fully adopted into the Julian family after her first marriage to Gaius Caesar, the dynastic descendant of Augustus. On the other hand, we can see a local community such as Ilium trying to take advantage of their mythical past in order be connected with the Romans, their rule, and favours as they previously did with Julius Caesar (Strabo, Geography, XIII.1.27). It is therefore not coincidental that one of the statute bases of Augustus found in the city praises him as “relative, patron, and saviour” (Frisch, Die Inschriften, no. 82). This strategy of kinship was not exclusive to Ilium and can also be observed in other settlements of Asia Minor such as Aphrodisias, which ended up reaching the privileged status of “free and autonomous.” Under Tiberius, we also have a loyalty oath sworn in the island of Cyprus, mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, in which their common ancestry is emphasised. Finally, the sacred law of Gytheion dedicated one day of its Kaisareia festival to Drusus Iulius Caesar, son of Tiberius and second husband of Livia (Livilla), and he is equally associated with Aphrodite. In the case of Ilium, her epithet is related to Anchises (Ἀγχισιάδης/Anchisiades), so specifically the version of the goddess joint with the mortals and mother of Aeneas, which the Romans referred to in Latin as Venus Genetrix (see Schilling, La religion Romaine, p. 304-346). 

Bibliographical references: 


Gallotta, BrunobookGermanicoRomeErma di Bretschneider1987


Levick, BarbarabookClaudiusLondonB.T. Batsford1990

Divus Julius

Weinstock, StefanbookDivus Julius OxfordClarendon Press1971
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