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Top 7 Famous Roman Mothers


A good Roman matron was chaste, honorable, and fertile. There was an entire class called the proletariat that was based on the fertility of the mother, since the class name comes from the Latin for 'offspring': proles. Evidence of the importance of woman's procreative power comes from the early Empire, when Augustus rewarded freeborn women who had produced three or more children (ius trium liberorum) by granting them exemption from male guardianship. Four children were necessary for the emancipation of the freedwoman. [For more on freedwomen vs free women, see From Slave to Freeborn; for more on the ius, see Augustus and Marriage Legislation.] Clearly mothers, especially prolific ones, were important. Roman mothers might have ambitions for themselves or for their sons or for themselves through their sons, since, far more than was true of their Greek counterparts, they could wield political power. Occasionally, a Roman matron put another cause, like Rome itself, above all else.

1. Cornelia - Mother of the Gracchi

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, by Noel Halle, 1779 (Musee Fabre)
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
After her husband died, Cornelia, known as the "mother of the Gracchi," devoted her life to the upbringing of her children (Tiberius and Gaius) to serve Rome.

2. Veturia - Mother of Coriolanus

When Coriolanus was about to lead the Volsci against Rome, his mother, Veturia, went to her son to plead her country's cause. She even offered to become a hostage, if need be.

3. Helena - Mother of Constantine the Great

St. Helena
Presumably unmarried, Helena and Constantius I Chlorus had a son who became the Emperor Constantine. Upon her son's elevation to the purple, Helena received the title "Augusta," and may have converted to Christianity for her son's sake. [She may also have been Christian before her son and persuaded him to convert.] Constantine's mother's famous visit to the East may have been motivated less by religion than by her son's need to appease the natives, who had been angered by Constantine's murder of his wife and son. Helena is also known as St. Helena.

4. Livia Drusilla - Mother of Tiberius

Livia, wife of Augustus  2nd quarter of the 1st century AD. Marble
CC Flickr User thisisbossi
The wife of Augustus, Livia, behaved in a decorous, Roman, matronly manner. Unfortunately, she never bore children to Augustus, but she had offspring from a previous marriage. She was given more power than earlier women and was ultimately deified by her grandson Claudius. She served as advisor to her son Tiberius, when Augustus died, but their relationship was estranged, and he refused to return to Rome for her funeral.

5. Julia Soaemias - Mother of Elagabalus

Julia Soaemias
© Trustees of the British Museum, produced by Natalia Bauer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Julia Soaemias married Sextus Varius Marcellus, by whom she had numerous children, including Avitus. She helped Avitus overthrow Macrinus in order to become the emperor of Rome. We don't know him as Emperor Avitus, but as Elagabalus. Julia Soaemias, given the title Julia Soaemias Augusta, helped in the imperial administration. She tried to protect her son when he lost favor, but failed, and so she was killed along with him.

6. Agrippina the Younger - Mother of Nero

Agrippina the Younger
© Trustees of the British Museum, produced by Natalia Bauer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Agrippina the Younger, great-granddaughter of Augustus, married her uncle Claudius in A.D. 49. She persuaded him to adopt her son Nero in 50. Nero was her son by a previous marriage, and so he was Claudius' stepson. Claudius had a son of his own, but he gave Nero the status she desired for him. When Nero succeeded to the throne, following the death of his poisoned, adoptive father, he found his mother overbearing, so he plotted to kill her. Eventually, he succeeded.

7. Octavia - Mother and Stepmother to Antony's Brood

In Duces Romanorum, Rose Williams shows why Octavia (69 - 11 B.C.), sister of Augustus and wife of Mark Antony, belongs on this list. This passage shows how saintly this good woman was:

Although marriage with a foreign woman was not legal and he had a wife, Octavia, Antony married Cleopatra. Octavian was very angry with Antony because of his sister; this was one of many causes of his war against Antony. After the death of Antony in Egypt, Octavia reared with kindness and love the five children of her marriages with Marcellus and Antony and the children of Antony from his marriages with Fulvia and Cleopatra.

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