Julia Domna / BEATRICE H. ZEDLER “The philosopher Julia,”

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7. Julia Domna

“The philosopher Julia,” as she is called by a 3rd century his- torian, lived during the period which followed Marcus Aurelius the Stoic and preceded Plotinus the Neoplatonist.1 Though, so far as we know, she did not write any philosophical works, she devoted herself to the study of philosophy when her busy life as an em- press permitted. Among those who have been called philosophers she is, with the possible exception of Marcus Aurelius, unique in having her name on more than three hundred and fifty different varieties of coins and on more than one hundred and eighty public buildings or statues and in being officially declared a divinity.2

We shall first look at the life-story of this eminent woman and then consider why she was called a philosopher.

Julia Domna was born in 170 A.D. in Emesa, a town on the river Orontes in Syria, near the site of the modern city of Horns. Her personal name, Damna, which might seem to suggest the Latin word domina, meaning “lady,” is not derived from the Latin, but may be an Aramaic name for Martha. Though we shall use the name, Julia, to refer to her, Julia was her surname. Her father, Julius Bassianus, was the high priest of the temple of Elagabal, the sun-god, in Emesa, an ancient religious center.3

There is no record of Julia’s early education, but it is probable that she may have met some of the most eminent and cultivated pilgrims as guests in her father’s house and learned from their conversations. It is likely that Septimius Severus made her ac- quaintance when he was stationed in Syria as the commander of a Roman 1egion.4

She was only about nine or ten years old at the time, but several years later, after the death of his first wife, he married Julia.

Lucius Septimius Severus had been born in 145 or 146 A.D. in Leptis Magna (which today is Lebda) on the north coast of Africa. After learning Greek and Latin at school he went to Rome to study law. Under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius he was appointed to a succession of posts in Spain, Sardinia, Africa, and Syria. In 186, in the reign of Commodus, he was governor of Gallia Lug- dunensis (central France).5

It was at this time that he sought Julia Domna as his wife. When he thought of marrying for a second time, he may, from his tour of duty in Syria, have remembered meeting or hearing of the young daughter of the high priest of Emesa. His choice of the Syrian girl as his wife has been attributed to his belief in astrology. According to a 4th century writer, Severus had made inquiries about the horoscopes of marriageable women, and “when he learned that there was a woman in Syria whose horoscope pre- dicted that she would wed a king (that is, Julia), he sought her for his wife.”6

Julia and Septimius Severus were married in 187 A.D. when she was seventeen and he was forty-one or forty-two. Their first child, a son, was born in Lugdunum (Lyons) on April 4, 188. He was named Bassianus after Julia’s father. A second son, Geta, named after Severus’ father and brother, was born in Rome the follow- ing year.7

In 191 Severus went to Pannonia as governor. Here, while he was in command of three legions with his headquarters at Camun- tum on the Danube, he learned of the murder of the Emperor Commodus, of the murder of his successor, Pertinax, three months later, and of the selling of the throne to the highest bidder, Julia- nus. Severus himself was then acclaimed emperor by his troops. As he and his soldiers swiftly marched on Rome, the senators voted to take the throne from Julianus, who was killed soon after, and they proclaimed Severus as emperor. In the year 193, the date of Severus’ triumphal entry into Rome, not only did his own name appear on coins but also the name of IULIA DOMNA, and during this year the imperial name, Augusta, was given to Julia.8

Thus within six years of her marriage to Severus the prophecy of her horoscope was fulfilled; she was now married to a king.
But two other generals also aspired to the throne: Niger in the East and A1binus in Britain. On hearing that Niger’s soldiers had proclaimed their leader as emperor, Severus marched to the East and defeated Niger’s troops. Niger was killed in 194 and his wife and children were put to death. Severus continued to campaign in the East against those who had supported Niger’s cause. In 196 Julia, who had accompanied her husband to the East, was given the title, Mater Castrarum, Mother of the Camp, in recognition of her presence in her husband’s campaign. 9

Next Severus turned his attention to Albinus, whom some of the senators wanted as emperor. Marching against Albinus who had crossed from Britain to the mainland of Gaul, he defeated his army near Lugdunum (Lyons) in 197 A.D. Not only was Albinus killed, but also his wife and children, his friends, and at least twenty-nine senators who were believed to have been his sup- porters. 10

The fact that Severus chose to crush his two rivals, Niger and Albinus, instead of merely naming them as his successors, was said to have been partly due to Julia’s ambition,u But doubtless Severus himself also wanted his sons to inherit the throne. To give the appearance of legitimacy to his rule Severus adopted Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who had died in 180 A.D., as his father and claimed Aurelius’ deceased son, Commodus, as his brother. In addition, Severus gave his son Bassianus the name, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, but this son is known in history by his nickname, Caracalla. 12

A few months after Severus’ victory at Lugdunum Julia accom- panied her husband on another journey to the East and in 203 to Africa. In 204 the Ludi Saeculares, the Secular Games, were held in Rome to mark the beginning of a new age. Unlike any previous empress, Julia had a conspicuous role in the ceremoniesY But despite the honor that she received in Rome and throughout the empire, the first few years of the 3rd century were not pleasant for Julia because she had an enemy at court.
Plautianus, who like Severus was a native of north Africa, enjoyed the confidence of the emperor. He had risen to the rank of prefect of the praetorian guard, achieved great wealth and power, had statues erected to him throughout the Roman world, and arranged in 202 A.D. to have his daughter, PlautiIla, marry Bassianus (now called Antoninus or Caracalla), the older son of Severus and Julia, although neither Julia nor the bridegroom were in favor of the marriage. Julia resented Plautianus’ influence over her husband, and Plautianus, says Dio the historian:

often treated Julia Augusta in an outrageous manner; for he cordially detested her and was always abusing her violently to Severus. He used to conduct investigations into her conduct as well as gather evidence against her by torturing women of the nobility.14

Fortunately, Severus’ brother, Geta, as he lay on his deathbed in the year 204, told Severus that Plautianus was not to be trusted. Shortly thereafter, Plautianus was accused of plotting to murder the emperor and was himself put to death in 205 A.D.15 Dio reports that someone plucked a few hairs from Plautianus’ beard, carried them to Plautilla and Julia, who had known nothing of the affair, and exclaimed, “Behold your Plautianus!” thus “causing grief to the one and joy to the other.”16

Julia also had another problem. Her sons spent too much time in the pursuit of pleasure, and moreover, they hated each other. Severus tried in vain to bring his sons under control and to get them to live in harmony with each other. In 208 when Severus, Julia, and their sons went to Britain on a campaign, Severus hoped that his sons would benefit from being away from Rome and settling into the discipline of military life. He wanted them to learn to be good co-emperors. Geta was left in charge of the province under Roman control, while Severus and Caracalla marched against the barbarians. When a serious illness confined Severus to his quarters, Caracalla attempted to gain control of the army, made slanderous attacks on his brother, and tried to per- suade the physicians to hasten his father’s death.17 Severus’ last advice to his sons was to pay the soldiers well and live in peace with each other. He died at Eboracum (York) on February 4, 211, after having ruled for almost eighteen years. His body was cre- mated, and Julia and his sons took his ashes to Rome and placed them in the mausoleum of the emperors. 18

As a leader Severus had been quick to grasp a problem and to take effective, though sometimes ruthless, action. He had brought about many military reforms and administrative changes. He had also undertaken vast public works. He had replaced fallen bridges, repaired roads throughout the empire, put up new structures including the Arch of Severus, and restored many old buildingsY In this last task Julia had helped by restoring a meeting-hall for women in the Forum of Trajan and by rebuilding the Temple of Vesta.20 Her numerous journeys with her husband and the evi- dence of coins and inscriptions suggest that Sevcrus had valued her work as his empress. But now she was left alone to cope with the problem of the dissension of her two sons who were heirs to the throne.

The advisers appointed by their father recommended, in the presence of Julia, that the empire be divided, with Caracalla to have all Europe and Geta to have Asia; but Julia objected, saying: “Earth and sea, my children, you have found a way to divide…. But your mother, how could you divide her?”21 The idea was abandoned, but the hatred between the two brothers continued, with each trying to thwart what the other attempted to do. Finally, maddened by a desire for sale power, as the historian Herodian says, Caracalla resorted to a desperate scheme.22

In 212 he persuaded his mother, Julia, to invite them both to her apartment to achieve a reconciliation. When Geta entered the room, some soldiers, acting on Caracalla’s orders, rushed to attack him. Geta ran to his mother for protection, but they killed him in her arms, wounding the hand with which she tried to protect him. Caracalla then ran through the palace, shouting that he had escaped grave danger and had barely managed to save his life. Not satisfied with having tricked his mother, he forbade her to mourn for Geta and ordered her to rejoice as though at some great good fortune. Geta’s friends and supporters were killed. His name was erased from inscriptions, his portraits were mutilated, and any mention of him was regarded as treason. 23

As emperor, Caracalla spent much of his time on campaigns, travelling to the German provinces, the Balkans, and into Asia Minor and Egypt. Julia accompanied her son to the East, living for a time at Nicomedia on the Sea of Marmara and later at Antioch. When her son was with the army, all petitions and letters came to her and so, in fact, she conducted much of the business of the Empire. She also held public receptions for prominent men.24 The Emperor entrusted so much responsibility to his mother that contemporary gossips accused him of incest.25 She had her own praetorian guard and her own royal retinue.26

Carcalla spent the winter of 216 in Edessa. On April 8, 217 he was murdered, at the order of one of his generals, Macrinus. When news of the murder reached Julia in Antioch, Dio says, “She mourned now that he was dead, the very man whom she had hated while he lived; yet it was not because she wished that he were alive, but because she was vexed at having to return to private life.”27

When Macrinus at first made no change in her circumstances and sent her a kind message, her spirits revived. But her hopes for the future were dashed when Macrinus ordered her to leave Antioch. Moreover, by this time, Dio says, she “was already in a dying condition by reason of cancer of the breast that she had had for a very long time.”28 She chose to starve herself to death and died at Antioch in Mayor June of the year 217 at the age of forty-seven. Her ashes were carried to Rome. Some years later her sister, Julia Maesa, had the urn placed in “the shrine of Antoni- nus,” probably the same mausoleum that contained the ashes of her husband, Severus.29

Under Emperor Severus Alexander, Julia Domna’s grand-nephew and the last of the Severi, Julia was deified. Coins issued in honor of her deification bear the words, DIVA JULIA AUGUSTA.3o

As empress, Julia was busy fulfilling her official duties, but she also pursued her own intellectual interests. The main historical evidence for this comes from two of her contemporaries, Phi- lostratus and Dio Cassius. Philostratus speaks of her as “the philosopher Julia,” mentions “Julia’s circle of mathematicians and philosophers,” and says that he belonged to that circle.31 Dio, after describing Plautianus’ hostile behavior towards Julia, says, “For this reason she began to study philosophy and passed her days with the sophists.”32 Then, referring to the time when Julia handled official correspondence for her son and held public receptions for prominent men (in Nicomedia and Antioch in Asia Minor about 215 to 217) Dio said of Julia that “she devoted herself more and more to the study of philosophy with these men.”33

These comments of Julia’s contemporaries suggest the following questions:
A. Who were the members of Julia’s circle and what were their interests?
B. Who were the sophists of her time?
C. What philosophy did she study?
D. What philosophy did she herself seem to favor?
Though the questions are not mutually exclusive, they can provide a framework for our study. Our effort to answer them may give us a glimpse into Julia’s intellectual and philosophical life.
A. Who were the Members o f Julia’s Circle?
Philostratus speaks of “Julia’s circle of mathematicians and philosophers.” The term mathematicians, we are told, means astrologers here.34 Julia is believed to have retained her interest in astrology from the Syrian religion of her childhood, an interest that was shared by her husband. Though we lack the names of the astrologer-mathematicians in Julia’s circle, many names of other possible members have been suggested.
What some scholars have done is to work out a list of some of the most prominent intellectuals of Julia’s time and conclude that almost all of them must have belonged to Julia’s circle. In addition to Julia’s sister, Julia Maesa, and her nieces, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, the lists have included the following names:
1. The lawyer Papinian, possibly Julia’s cousin, who served as praetorian prefect under Septimius Severus and initiated important legal reforms.35

2. Ulpian, pupil of Papinian, who served as a member of the council of Septimius Severus.36

3. appian the poet, who dedicated a work on hunting to the Emperor Caracalla, saying “the great Domna had given him to the great Severus.”37

4. Athenaeus of Naucratis, author of Deipnosophistae (The Sophists at Dinner), an account of a banquet which contains a storehouse of miscellaneous information.38

5. Alexander of Aphrodisias, commentator on Aristotle, who may have owed his position as head of the Aristotelian school at Athens to the patronage of Severus and Caracalla. 39

6. Serenus Sammonicus, learned author of Rerum Reconditarum Libri who was killed, on the order of Caracalla, after the death of Geta.40

7. Galen, Greek physician and author of medical and philosophi cal works, who served as court physician in Rome from the time of Commodus through the first few years of the reign of Septimius Severus, until his death in 199 A.D.41

8. Marius Maximus, who wrote a Life ofSeptimius Severus which was used as a source for the Augustan History. 42

9. Dio Cassius, author of Roman History, who also wrote a little book on dreams and portents, foretelling Severus’ future greatness, a work for which Severus praised him.43

10. Gordian, proconsul of Africa to whom Philostratus dedicated Lives ofthe Sophists. He became emperor in 238 and is said to have “passed his days with Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Vergil.”44

11. Several sophists whom we shall mention in the next section (B).

Julia may have known many if not all of the men named in the above list. She very likely knew Papinian, Ulpian, Galen, Dio, and Gordian, but we lack the evidence for asserting with confidence that any of the ten men actually belonged to her circle.
Recalling Dio’s statement that Julia “passed her days with the sophists,” we may turn to the second question and ask:
B. Who were the Sophists?
To the student of ancient philosophy the term sophist might recall Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things,” or Gorgias’ work, On Not-Being or on Nature. 45 It might also recall Plato’s and Aristotle’s view of a sophist as one who has only apparent knowl edge, but not true wisdom.46 But in Julia’s time sophist was not a pejorative term, nor did it designate a philosophical position. It was in effect a title or honorary term, applied to the orators and teachers of rhetoric who had reached the peak of rhetorical skill. The sophists of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. were among the most popular and highly esteemed intellectuals of their time. They were honored by emperors, entrusted with prestigious government posts, and they became so wealthy that they were able to give magnificent gifts like public buildings to their communities.47 They showed in their lives how the art of persuasive speaking could be a means to success in public life. One of our main sources of information about them is Philostratus, who was a member of Julia’s circle.
In his Lives of the Sophists Philostratus distinguishes between “ancient sophistic,” founded by Gorgias of Leontini in the 5th century B.C. and “the second sophistic,” founded, he says, by Aeschines. The ancient sophistic art was a philosophical rhetoric since those who used it took positions on themes that philoso- phers treat of, like courage, justice, and how the universe has been fashioned to its present shape.48 In the second sophistic (Phi- lostratus prefers the word “second” to the word “new”), “the followers of Aeschines handled their themes with a view to elabo- rating the methods of their art.”49 That is, their topics, drawn from the history and literature of ancient Greece, were merely occasions for them to display their rhetorical skill.
Philostratus presents in his book those to whom the term sophist has been applied. Though a sophist, in his view, is not a philosopher, he begins by listing eight philosophers who seemed to be sophists because they expounded their theories with ease and fluency.so After that he discusses the real sophists, nine represent- ing the ancient sophistic (Gorgias, Protagoras, Hippias, and Pro- dicus are included in this group) and more than forty-three repre- senting the second sophistic. Though this work was probably not written until after Julia’s death, it is reasonable t9 assume that as a member of Julia’s circle who was an expert on the history of sophism, Philostratus might have shared his knowledge with her.
That he did so is evident in a letter that he is believed to have written to “Julia Augusta.” In this letter he tells her that Plato was not envious of the sophists but admired and adopted the literary form used by Gorgias, Hippias, and Protagoras. He then mentions other examples of people who have thought that the sophists should be emulated, including Aspasia the Milesian who “is said to have whetted the tongue of Pericles to imitate Gorgias.” He adds: “And Aeschines, too, the Socratic, whom you [i.e., Julia] recently discussed as writing his dialogues in a notably severe style, did not hesitate to write like Gorgias in his discourse about Thargelia.”51
Philostratus concludes his letter by saying:
Then do you too, 0 Queen, please urge Plutarch, boldest of the Greeks, not to take offense at the sophists and not to fall foul of Gorgias. If you do not succeed in persuading him, at least you know, such is your wisdom and cleverness, what name to apply to a man of that sort. I could tell you, but I can’t. 52
Because Plutarch had died half a ceritury before Julia was born, the authenticity of the letter has been questioned, but in asking Julia to speak to a dead man, Philostratus may have been deliber- ately using an ancient literary artifice.53 In any case, it is likely that Julia heard about Gorgias and other ancient sophists from Philo stratus.
In addition to suggesting what Julia may have known of the history of sophism, Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists can help us identify those sophists of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. whom Julia could have known.
Among the sophists who were known to Septimius Severus (and so perhaps also to Julia) were the following: Apollonius of Athens who, while on an embassy to Emperor Severus at Rome in 196 or 197 A.D. entered and won a declamation contest;54 Heracleides of Lycia, high priest of Lycia, who, though notable as a sophist, broke down in the midst of an extemporaneous speech in the presence of Emperor Severus;55 Aelian, a Roman who lived during the reign of Severus, spoke Greek perfectly and wrote works on history and on the nature of animals.56
A sophist who was well known to both Severus and Julia was Antipater of Hierapolis. He tutored their sons, served as Imperial Secretary to Severus and later as governor of Bithynia, a post which he lost because he was too harsh. He wrote a lament for the death of Geta which displeased Caracalla and died at the age of sixty-eight of “voluntary fasting. “57
Philostratus says that Hemocrates of Phocis was “a member of the sophistic circle” and that Heliodorus “must not be deemed unworthy of the sophistic circle.”58 In neither case does Phi- lostratus explicitly identify the “circle” as Julia’s circle, but that meaning is possible.
Of Philiscus the Thessalian, Philostratus says that at Rome “he attached himself closely to Julia’s circle of mathematicians and philosophers, and obtained from her, with the Emperor’s consent, the chair of rhetoric at Athens.”59 He held the chair of rhetoric at Athens for seven years but was deprived of the immunity from public service that holders of such chairs were often granted. When he tried to plead his case before Emperor Caracalla, he made such a bad impression that the Emperor kept interrupting him and making critical comments about his hair and his voice, but eventu- ally Philiscus did receive an exemption from public service as a reward for a declamation he gave.
We know that Philostratus himself belonged to the circle. After mentioning Julia by name, he says, in another work: “I belonged to the circle of the empress, for she was a devoted admirer of all rhetorical exercises.”6o Towards the end of Lives of the Sophists he lists himself as a sophist, but modestly limits his remarks to one sentence:
But of Philostratus of Lemnos and his ability in the law courts, in political harangues, in writing treatises, in declama- tion, and lastly of his talent for speaking extempore, it is not for me to write.61
A modern writer who has critically examined the alleged member- ship of Julia’s circle reaches these limited but certain conclusions: that there was a circle of sophists and philosophers; that Julia herself enjoyed participating in discussion; and that Philostratus the biographer and Philiscus the sophist were – at least for a time – members of this circle.62
C. What Philosophy did Julia Study?
The texts of Julia’s contemporaries do not give us a direct answer to this question. In Lives of the Sophists Philostratus stresses the rhetorical style of the men he presents. There are, however, passing references to some sophists’ interest in Plato and the Academy.63 We also know from Philostratus that it had been the custom in the time of Marcus Aurelius for the emperor to appoint not only the heads of the chairs of rhetoric for Athens and Rome, but also, directly or through a delegate, professors of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism. This custom may still have been in effect in Julia’s time.64 In any case, it points to the basic types of philosophy that a 2nd or 3rd century student might desire to know. But perhaps Julia’s main philosophical interest can be found in a work that was written at her command.
D. What Philosophy did Julia herselfseem to Favor?
Julia had commanded Philostratus to write the biography of Apollonius of Tyana. Her attention had been called to some memoirs of Apollonius written by Damis, one of his disciples, and she wanted Philostratus to edit these memoirs and present them in a good style.65 In obeying this command, Philostratus also made use of other sources. He says that he hopes that his work will honor the memory of Apollonius and “be of use to those who love learning. ” 6 6
Who was Apollonius and why should Julia and others “who love learning” be interested in him? The answer to both of these questions are implicitly contained in Philostratus’ book.
Apollonius had been regarded by some as just a magician or wizard and Philostratus’ story includes examples of seemingly magical power. Even in the report of his more ordinary activities it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction.67 But in reality Apollonius was a Neopythagorean philosopher who lived in the Ist century A.D. He was born in Tyana in Cappadocia (Turkey). As a young student he encountered the philosophy of Plato, the Peripatetics, the Stoic Chrysippus, Epicurus, and Pythagoras. At the age of sixteen he adopted the life of a Pythagorean ascetic. 68 He gave up meat and wine, condemned the sacrifice of animals to the gods, wore only garments of linen, had long hair and a long beard, lived a life of poverty and chastity, and spent five years in complete silence. He travelled to Babylon where he interviewed the Magi, to India where he conversed with the Brahmans. to Egypt and the upper Nile where he met the Gymnosophists or naked philo sophers, to Greece, Italy, and Spain. He was falsely accused of treason by the emperors Nero and Domitian but escaped punish ment. He died during the reign of Nerva (that is, between 96 and 98 A.D.).
Pythagoras, whom Apollonius regarded as his spiritual ancestor, had founded in the 6th century B.C. a religious society which cultivated learning, especially mathematics, and prescribed a strict rule of life as a means of purifying the immortal soul.69 Neo pythagoreanism was a revival of traditional Pythagorean teachings, mingled with some Platonic and mystical elements. Moderatus of Gades and Apollonius of Tyana Were its main representatives in the Ist century A.D.
Some have regarded The Life afApallanius by Philostratus as a novel or as an imaginative embellishment of a legend. But regard less of the extent to which the book is or is not historically accurate, it is of interest to us “as a record of the principles by which Julia was animated,” as a writer of our time has said.70 In the absence of any writings by Julia herself, we shall look to this work that Julia commissioned in an effort to discover the ideas that interested her: ideas that she may have held and wished to promote. Embedded in the narrative of a remarkable life, they touch on a variety of topics, among them: God, man, immortality, personal ethics, and political philosophy.
Apollonius clearly expressed his preference for the philosophy of Pythagoras. He says: ” … my own system of wisdom is that of Pythagoras, a man of Samos.”71 From Pythagoras he learned the rule of life that he follows and from him he learned to worship the gods, “to be aware of them whether they are seen or not seen.”72 He recognized God as a creator who brought all things into being because He is good.73
His mode of worship was one that Julia, as daughter of the high priest of Elagabalus, understood since each day he prayed to the sun, which he saw as the governor of the seasons and source of light and of fire. 74 He also, like Julia, allowed statues of the gods in temples. He thought such statues, whether of Apollo, Zeus, or Athena, represented the effort of the human mind to conceive ideal reality, but he sharply criticized as irreverent the Egyptian custom of representing the gods in the form of animals.75 In the view of Apollonius:
there is between man and God a certain kinship which enables him alone of the animal creation to recognize the Gods, and to speculate both about his own nature and the manner in which it participates in the divine substance…. good men have in their composition something of God. 76
He held that each person has an immortal soul; the source of the existence of this soul is “in the unbegotten. ” 7 7 Like Plato he thought of the soul as “being bound and fettered in a perishable body;” he compared life to a prison and death to an escape.78 He was aware that there are differences of opinion about the soul, but Philostratus thinks that if we are convinced of ApolIonius’ teach ing on the soul, then “cheerfully and with due knowledge of our own true nature, we may pursue our way to the goal appointed by the Fates.”79
What that way should be is clear in many texts in ApolIonius’ biography. Though no formal treatise on ethics is presented, there is repeated stress on the need for acquiring the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Apollonius thought that the man who loves wisdom is greater than the famous Colossus of Rho des.80 With regard to courage he stresses that it is not enough to possess that virtue as a quality; one must also practise it.81
Apollonius both exemplified and taught the virtue of temper ance. In the use of material goods he limited himself to basic necessities. One of the worst vices, he thought, was the vice of greed.82 He also criticized gluttony and drunkenness. He thought that to keep one’s mind clear and composed it is better to be a “reveller in sobriety,” that is, to drink water.83 He did not, however, demand complete abstinence from wine, of his com panions or of kings. He said:
… in the case of a king a philosophy that is at once moderate and indulgent makes a good mixture … ; an excess of rigor and severity … might be construed as due to pride.84
The topic of chastity is discussed when Damis, Apollonius’ disci ple, wonders whether eunuchs possess that virtue. Apollonius thinks not, since their sexual abstinence may not be due to choice. He says in effect that true chastity like any true temperance does not consist in the inability to be intemperate in one’s acts or desires, but in the free decision to keep one’s acts and desires under control.”s
In his discussion of justice he also stresses the positive meaning of virtue. The question arises: Does the mere abstention from injustice constitute justice? From the Brahmans of India Apollo nius learned that justice is something more than not being unjust. It requires one to positively do what isjust and to influence others not to be unjust.86
Apollonius was interested not only in the ethics of the individ ual but also in the ethics of society, especially in how harmony can be achieved in society and how philosophy can aid the work of the ruler. Realistically he acknowledged the existence of rivalries among the people of a city, but thought that such rivalry should be directed towards seeing who can best discharge his duties on behalf of the common good. Echoing Plato’s Republic, he says: “… to me it seems best that each man should do what he understands best and what he best can do.”!7
Apollonius regards monarchy as a good form of government if the human flock is governed by a just shepherd.88 He himself had lived under many emperors, two of whom he mentions as being opposed to philosophy and philosophers. Nero had issued a proclamation that no one should teach philosophy in Rome.89 Domitian made wisdom a penal offense and issued an edict against philosophers.9o But the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus had asked Apollonius for help. In reply to Vespasian Apollonius said that kingship cannot be taught, but he did give some general guidelines: exercise your power with moderation; let the law govern you as well as your people; reverence the gods; be a good sovereign.91 What may have interested the Empress Julia in this part of the narrative was the thought that philosophy can give guidance not only in one’s personal life, but also in the exercise of political power.92
Though the Life of Apollonius was not finished before Julia’s death, its content was known to her; it was written at her com mand and with her encouragement. As one writer says, it affords “glimpses available nowhere else into the mind of a woman who played a dominant part in a crucial period of Roman history.”93 It suggests that she herself favored a philosophy which acknowledges the existence of God (or gods), the closeness of man to the divine, the immortality of the soul, the need of acquiring the intellectual and moral virtues, and, the guidance that philosophy can give to those who exercise political power.
Though Neopythagoreanism was to be superseded by Neoplato- nism, at least some of the themes that Julia could have found and admired in Apollonius’ thought are familiar teachings of classic philosophy.

Why, then, was Julia called a philosopher? In summary, we can say: She studied and discussed philosophy and ordered the writing of a work about a Neopythagorean thinker whose ideas she thought should be better known. She was knowledgeable about the ancient sophists and about the rhetoricians of the “second sophistic” of her time. Through her “circle” she herself learned and she encouraged others to learn. The fact that she was an empress was especially significant. Some earlier rulers, such as Nero and Domitian, had banished philosophy and persecuted philosophers, but Julia Domna used her imperial power to protect philosophy and help philosophers flourish. This was no small achievement.

1- Philostratus, The Lives of the Sophists, tr. by W.C. Wright (London: William Heinemann; New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922), pp. 300·301.
2- Gerard J. Murphy, The Reign o f the Emperor L. Septimius Severns from the Evidence of the Inscriptions (Jersey City, N.J.: St. Peters College Press, 1945), pp. 103-104; Mary Gilmore Williams, “Studies in the Lives of Roman Empresses: Julia Domna,” American Journal of Archaeology vol. 6 (1902), p. 304 & p. 297; Maurice Platnauer, The Life and Reign o f the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severns (Westport, Connecticut: Green- wood Press, 1970 reprint of 1918 edition), p. 144.
3. Godfrey Turton, The Syrian Princesses: The Women Who Ruled Rome A.D. 193-235 (London: Cassell & Co., 1974), pp. 3-13; Platnauer, op. cit., p. 46.
On Julia’s name, see Anthony Birley, Septimius Severns: The African Emperor (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971), pp. 118, 297; Plat- nauer, p. 143, note 5, thinks her name might have had some association with Proserpine, daughter of the goddess Demeter.
On the sun-god Elagabalus, see Herodian of Antioch, History o f the Roman Empire from the Death ofMarcus Aurelius to the Accession of Gordian III, tr. by Edward C. Echols (Berkeley & Los Angeles: Uni- versity of Califomia Press, 1961), Bk 5, chap. 3, p. 139.
4- Turton,op. cit., pp. 4, 13.
5- Aelius Spartianus, “Severus,” II-IV in Scriptores Historiae Augustae, tr. by David Magie (London: William Heinemann; New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921), vol. 1, pp. 371-377. This work, known as Augustan History is a collection of biographies of Roman emperors seemingly by six authors: Spartianus, Capitolinus, Gallicanus, Lampridius, Pollio, Vopis- cus. The real authorship of the work has been a subject of controversy, but information given in the work is drawn from Greek and Latin writ- ings of the 3rd century. – On Severus’ early career, see also Platnauer, pp.38-44.
6- Spartianus, “Severus,” III, 9 in op. cit., vol. 1, p. 377. Spartianus repeats this story in his account of Antoninus Geta III, 1 in Augustan History, vol. 2, p. 37.
7- Turton, op. cit., pp. 4, 13-14. A question has been raised as to whether Bassianus was the son of Severus’ first wife or of Julia. Platnauer sets forth the texts on this question on pp. 48-53. It seems clear that Bassia- nus (later known as Caracalla) was Julia’s son, not her stepson.
8- Platnauer, pp. 60-69; Spartianus, “Severus,” V-VII in Augustan History, vol. 1, pp. 381-387; Herodian,History, Bk. 2, chapters 10-12, pp. 64-70;
Dio’s Roman History, tr. by E. Cary, Bk. 74, section 15 & 17; Bk. 75, sec. 1 (London: William Heinemann; New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927), vol. 9, pp. 153, 159, 163. Cassius Dio Cocceianus (usually re- ferred to simply as Dio) is one of the main sources for the history of the Severan dynasty. He lived during the reign of Septimius Severus, Cara- calla, and the three following emperors. In giving references to this work I am using the traditional book numbers from the Greek text of Boisse- vain, given on the left-hand page in the Loeb Classical library edition. For reference to names on coins, see Murphy, op. cit., p. 2 and Wil- liams, art. cit., p. 261.
9- Dio, Roman History, Bk. 75, pp. 173-201; Spartianus, “Severus.” VIII- IX in Aug. Hist. vol. 1, pp. 389-393; Spartianus, “Pescennius Niger,” in Aug. Hist., vol. 1, pp. 430-459; Birley, op. cit., chapter on “War against Niger,” pp. 172-188; Platnauer, pp. 74-98; Williams, art. cit., pp. 261- 263; Murphy, op. cit., p. 103.
10. Herodian, Bk. 3, chapters 5-8, pp. 85-93; Spartianus, “Severus,” X-XIII, pp. 395-401; Capitolinus on “Clodius Albinus,” in Augustan History, vol. 1, pp. 460-493; Dio, Bk. 75, pp. 203-217; Birley, chapter on “War against Albinus,” pp. 189-200; Platnauer, pp. 99-113.
11. Turton, op. cit., p. 51; Capitolinus, “Clodius Albinus,” IV in Augustan History,1. 1, pp. 465-467.
12. Spartianus, “Severus,” X in Aug. Hist., p. 395; Spartianus, “Geta,” I in Augustan History, vol. 2, pp. 32-33; Dio, Bk. 75, 7, p. 213; Bk. 76, 9, p. 257; Murphy, p. 102.
The name Caracalla came from a Celtic or German word for a hooded cloak that Bassianus (M. Aurelius Antoninus) often wore. See Dio, Bk. 78,3, p. 345.
13. The Secular Games were thought to have been held at intervals of 110 years, a saeculum, that is, the longest span of human life. See Herodian, Bk. 3, chap. 8, p. 93; Birley, pp. 227-230; Murphy, p. 35; Williams, p. 273; Dio, Bk. 75, 5-13, pp. 216-225.
14. Dio, Bk. 75,15, p. 233; Herodian, Bk. 3, chapters 10-12, pp. 97-102. In Williams’ interpretation, p. 268, Plautianus persuaded Severus to bring Julia to trial for adultery, an offense which in a woman of the imperial family would be eqUivalent to treason, but the empress was acquitted.
15. Dio, Bk. 76, 2-5, pp. 242-247; Herodian, Bk. 3, chapters 11-12, pp. 98-102; P1atnauer, pp. 130-133, esp. note on p. 133.
16. Dio, Bk. 76, 4, pp. 246-247. Plautilla was banished and several years later she was put to death at the command of her former husband, Caracalla. See Birley, pp. 233, 294; Williams, pp. 273-274.
17. Herodian, Bk. 3, chapters 14-15, pp. 104-107; Dio, Bk. 76, 14, p. 269.
18. Dio, Bk. 76,15, pp. 271-273; Herodian, Bk. 3, chap. 15, pp. 107-108.
19. Herodian, Bk. 3, chap. 6, p. 86; Dio, Bk. 76, 1, pp. 238-241; Murphy, pp. 
29,43-80; Platnauer, pp. 158-188; H.M.D. Parker & B.H. Warmington, A History of the Roman World from A.D. 138 to 337 (New York: Mac- millan, 1958), pp. 80-88.
20. Williams, p. 275; Joseph McCabe, The Empresses ofRome (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1911), p. 202.
21. Herodian, Bk. 4, chap. 3, pp. 113-114.
22. Ibid., chap. 4, p. 114.
23. Ibid., chapters 4-6, pp. 114-118;Dio, Bk. 77, 2, pp. 280-283; 77,12, pp. 
306-309; Spartianus, “Antoninus Caracalla,” II-IV in Augustan History, 
vol. 2, pp. 7-11; Williams, p. 281.
24. Herodian, Bk. 4, chapters 7-11, pp. 119-127; Spartianus, “Caracalla,” 
V-VI in Aug. Hist., vol. 2, pp. 13-17; Parker & Warmington, op. cit., pp. 
92-96; Dio, 77, 7 to 78,3, pp_ 293-343.
25. Herodian, Bk. 4, chap. 11, p. 123 notes that the people of Alexandria in 
jest called Julia Jocasta, the name of the woman who was both mother and wife to Oedipus. Spartianus, “Severus,” XXI, vol. 1, p. 421 had referred to Caracalla as: a man “who took his own stepmother to wife – stepmother did I say? – nay rather the mother on whose bosom he had slain Geta, her son.” Spartianus repeats the story in more detail in “Caracalla,” X, vol. 2, (of Augustan History), p. 27. 
The question of whether Julia was Caracalla’s stepmother or mother has already been mentioned (see note #7). The evidence points to the fact that Julia was Caracalla’s mother.
The charge of incest would seem to be an invention of gossips and enemies. Julia surely could not forget that Caracalla had tried to murder his father, that he had tricked her into inviting his younger brother Geta to her apartment where he had him killed in her arms, and then had ordered her to rejoice in Geta’s death. – Moreover, we are told that Caracalla became impotent. See Dio, 77, 16, p. 319; Turton, pp. 106, 118.
26. Dio, 78,23, p. 39l.
27. Ibid. For details of Caracalla’s murder, see Dio, 4-8, pp. 347-355; Hero-
dian, Bk. 4, chapters 12-13, pp. 127-130; Spartianus, “Caracalla,” VII, Aug. Hist. vol. 2, p. 19; Parker & Warmington, p. 96; Turton, pp. 128- 130.
28. Dio, 78, 23, pp. 391-395; Turton, pp. 130-13l.
29. Williams, p. 296. The Severan dynasty which appeared to end with the 
death of Julia was in fact to continue for 17 more years. Julia’s sister, Julia Maesa, who had lived in Rome during Severus’ reign and was now a widow, was determined that her family would retain control of the empire. She had two daughters, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea. Both were now widows, but each had a son. Through Julia Maesa’s influence Soaemias’ son became Emperor Elagabalus in 218, and after he and his mother were killed in 222, Julia Mamaea’s son became Emperor Severus Alexander. When Severus Alexander and his mother were murdered in 235, the Severan dynasty came to an end. See Turton, Chapters 8-12; Parker & Warmington, pp. 102-114.
30. Williams, p. 297.
31. Philostratus, The Lives o f the Sophists, p. 301; The Life o f Apollonius o f 
Tyana, tr. by F.C. Conybeare (London: William Heinemann; New York: 
Macmillan, 1912), vol. 1, Bk.l, chap. 3, p. II.
32. Dio, 75,17, p. 233.
33. Ibid., 77, 18, p. 327.
34. Seeeditor’snoteinLoebeditionofPhilostratus,LivesoftheSophists,p. 
301 ; Turton, p. 10.
35. Under the influence of Papinian, from Severus’ reign date the frrst laws 
against abortion, laws protecting minors, laws ensuring a wife’s claim on the money she brings to her husband at the time of her marriage, and laws clarifying the status of slaves. See Platnauer, pp. 181-182; Turton, p. 62. After the death of Geta, Papinian was put to death at Caracalla’s order. See Spartianus, “Caracalla,” IV in Augustan History, vol. 2, p. 11.
36. Ulpian’s writings, together with those of Papinian and the jurist Paul, comprise over half of Justinian’s Digest (533 A.D.), a codification and collection of Roman law.
37. See his Cynegetica, tr. by A.W. Mair (London: William Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1928), bk. 1, p. 3. See critical comment ofG.W. Bower- sock, Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 108.
38. See English translation by Charles B. Gulick (Cambridge: Harvard Uni- versity Press; London: William Heinemann, 1951).

136 Julia Damna
39. Alexander dedicated one of his works, De fato, to Severus and Caracalla in gratitude for his appointment. See Platnauer, p. 145.
40. See Spartianus, “Caracalla,” IV in Aug. Hist., vol. 2, pp. 10-11; Bower- sock,op. cit.,p.l07.
41. See Turton, p. 61; Bowersock, pp. 58-75, esp. 63-64.
42. Neither his work nor Septimius Severus’ autobiography which was also 
used as a source by the writers of the Augustan History, is extant. See Spartianus, “Severus,” XV in vol. 1, p. 407; Spartianus, “Geta,” II in vol. 2, p. 35; Lampridius, “Severus Alexander,” in vol. 2, p. 187.
43. See Platnauer, pp. 3-4; Dio, Bk. 72, 23, p. 119. Dio claims to have been an eye-witness of the events he describes in his Roman History (See Bk. 72, p. 109). But we have no evidence for asserting that he was a member of Julia’s circle. (In describing some of Caracalla’s undesirable qualities, Dio says: “He possessed the craftiness of his mother and the Syrians, to which race she belonged.” See Bk. 77, 10, p. 299.)
44. Capitolinus, “The Three Gordians,” in vol. 2, Augustan History, pp. 392-393; Bowersock, pp. 6-8, 106. – For scholarly guesses about the membership of Julia’s circle, see Platnauer, pp. 144·145; McCabe, op. cit., pp. 200·202; Parker & Warmington, op. cit., p. 132; J. Bidez in Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), pp. 613·614. Bowersock (p. 103) thinks the source of the lists is Victor Duruy’s Histoire de Rome, vol. 6 (1879).
45. Joseph Owens, A History ofAncient Western Philosophy (New York: Appleton·Century-Crofts, 1959), pp. 157·165; Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1948), pp.125-129.
46. Plato, Sophist, 233; Aristotle, Metaphysics IV, 2, 1004b 17-26.
47. James M. Campbell, The Influence o f the Second Sophistic on the Style o f the Sermons o f St. Basil the Great (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Uni- versity of America, 1922), pp. 14-19; W.R. Wright, Introduction to his translation of Philostratus, Lives ofthe Sophists, pp. xv·xix.
48. Philostratus, Lives ofthe Sophists, Bk. 1, p. 7; also p. 57, #18.
49. Ibid., Bk. 1, p. 7. Philostratus mentions the following examples of topics
of the sophists’ declamations: “Isocrates tries to wean the Athenians from their empire of the sea” (p. 221); “Callias tries to dissuade the Athenians from burning the dead” (p. 257); “Demosthenes, after break· ing down before Philip, defends himself from the charge of cowardice” (p.309).
50. Philostratus, Lives o f the Sophists, Bk. 1, p. 13.
51. Philostratus, Letter 73: “To Julia Augusta,” in Letters of Alciphron,
Aelian, and Philostratus, tr. by A.R. Benner & Francis H. Fobes (Cam- bridge: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1949), pp.541·545.
52. Ibid., p. 545. Plutarch had attacked the sophists in a work which is now lost. The “name to be applied” was probably some uncomplimentary term.
53. See Bowersock, op. cit., pp. 104-105 and Graham Anderson, “Putting Pressure on Plutarch: Philostratus’ Epistle 73,” Classical Philology vol. 72 (Jan. 1977), pp. 43-45. Anderson (p. 44) thinks that “the anachronism is deliberate and purposeful and … no obstacle to Philostratus’ authorship of the letter.”
54- A. Philostratus, Lives ofthe Sophists, Bk. 2, #20, pp. 255-259.
55. Ibid., #26, pp. 279-285.
56. Ibid., #31, pp. 305-307. His books are entitled Variae Historiae and De natura animalium (curious stories of animal life).
57. Ibid., #24, pp. 269-271.
58. Ibid., #25, pp. 271-279; #32, pp. 307-311.
59. Ibid., #30, pp. 301-305.
60. Philostratus, Life ofApollonius, Bk. 1, chap. 3, p. 11. This Philostratus, 
who was born on the island of Lemnos about 172 and had studied rhetoric at Athens and Rome, should not be confused with two (or three) other men of the same name. See Bowersock, pp. 2-5.
61. Philostratus,LivesoftheSophists,Bk.2,pp.313-315.
62. Bowersock, pp. 103-104.
63. Philostratus, Lives o f the Sophists, pp. 13-15, 21,61, 179.
64. Ibid., Bk. 2, #2, p. 183. As mentioned in Note #39, Alexander of 
Aphrodisias evidently owed his appointment to Severus and Caracalla. Sometimes, however, according to Lucian, the head of a philosophical school was selected by the vote of the leading Athenian citizens. See M.L. Clarke, Higher Education in the Ancient World (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1971), pp. 8-9, 78-79.
65. Philostratus, Life ofApollonius, Bk. 1, chap. 3, p. 11. Some modern writers have wondered whether Damis ever existed or was fabricated by Philostratus to give an air of authority to his work. See introduction to vol. 1 of Loeb edition of this work, pp. vii-viii; also introduction to abridged version of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius, tr. by C.P. Jones, introduced by G.W. Bowersock (Middlesex, England: Penguin Boooks, 1970), pp. 17-19. – If Damis were a fictitious invention, it would leave unanswered the question of what documents prompted Julia to issue her command to Philostratus.
66. Philostratus, Life ofApollonius, Bk. 1, chap. 3, p. 11. Philostratus also used a book by Maximum of Aegae, other treatises by Apollonius that are no longer extant, and letters of Apollonius, some of which had been preserved by the Emperor Hadrian. He also travelled to places where the sage was remembered and honored.
67. B.F. Harris, “Apollonius of Tyana: Fact and Fiction,” The Journal of Religious History, vol. 5 (1969), pp. 189-199.
68. Philostratus, Life ofApollonius, Bk. 1, chap. 7, pp. 17-19.
69. Owens,op. cit., pp. 30-33; Iamblichus, Life ofPythagoras, tr. by Thomas 
Taylor (London: John M. Watkins, 1965, reprint of 1818 ed.).
70. Turton, p. 57.
71. Philostratus, Life ofApollonius, Bk. 1, chap. 32, p. 91.