The Julii were of Alban origin, mentioned as one of the leading Alban houses, which Tullus Hostilius removed to Rome upon the destruction of Alba Longa. The Julii also existed at an early period at Bovillae, evidenced by a very ancient inscription on an altar in the theatre of that town, which speaks of their offering sacrifices according to the lege Albana, or Alban rites. Their connection with Bovillae is also implied by the sacrarium, or chapel, which the emperor Tiberius dedicated to the gens Julia in the town, and in which he placed the statue of Augustus. Some of the Julii may have settled at Bovillae after the fall of Alba Longa.
As it became the fashion in the later times of the Republic to claim a divine origin for the most distinguished of the Roman gentes, it was contended that Iulus, the mythical ancestor of the race, was the same as Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, and founder of Alba Longa. Aeneas was, in turn, the son of Venus and Anchises. In order to prove the identity of Ascanius and Iulus, recourse was had to etymology, some specimens of which the reader curious in such matters will find in Servius. Other traditions held that Iulus was the son of Aeneas by his Trojan wife, Creusa, while Ascanius was the son of Aeneas and Lavinia, daughter of Latinus.
The dictator Caesar frequently alluded to the divine origin of his race, as, for instance, in the funeral oration which he pronounced when quaestor over his aunt Julia, and in giving Venus Genetrix as the word to his soldiers at the battles of Pharsalus and Munda; and subsequent writers and poets were ready enough to fall in with a belief which flattered the pride and exalted the origin of the imperial family.
Though it would seem that the Julii first came to Rome in the reign of Tullus Hostilius, the name occurs in Roman legend as early as the time of Romulus. It was Proculus Julius who was said to have informed the sorrowing Roman people, after the strange departure of Romulus from the world, that their king had descended from heaven and appeared to him, bidding him tell the people to honor him in future as a god, under the name of Quirinus. Some modern critics have inferred from this, that a few of the Julii might have settled in Rome in the reign of the first king; but considering the entirely fabulous nature of the tale, and the circumstance that the celebrity of the Julia gens in later times would easily lead to its connection with the earliest times of Roman story, no historical argument can be drawn from the mere name occurring in this legend.
In the later Empire, the distinction between praenomen, nomen, and cognomen was gradually lost, and Julius was treated much like a personal name, which it ultimately became. The Latin form is common in many languages, but other familiar forms exist, including Giulio (Italian), Julio (Spanish), Jules (French), Júlio (Portuguese), Iuliu (Romanian) and ? (Yuliy, Bulgarian and Russian).
The Julii of the Republic used the praenominaLucius, Gaius, and Sextus. There are also instances of Vopiscus and Spurius in the early generations of the family. The earliest of the Julii appearing in legend bore the praenomen Proculus, and it is possible that this name was used by some of the early Julii, although no later examples are known. In the later Republic and imperial times, Vopiscus and Proculus were generally used as personal cognomina.
The gens was always said to have descended from and been named after a mythical personage named Iulus or Iullus, even before he was asserted to be the son of Aeneas; and it is entirely possible that Iulus was an ancient praenomen, which had fallen out of use by the early Republic, and was preserved as a cognomen by the eldest branch of the Julii. The name was later revived as a praenomen by Marcus Antonius, the triumvir, who had a son and grandson named Iulus. Classical Latin did not distinguish between the letters "I" and "J", which were both written with "I", and for this reason the name is sometimes written Julus, just as Julius is also written Iulius.
The many Julii of imperial times, who were not descended from the gens Julia, did not limit themselves to the praenomina of that family. The imperial family set the example by freely mingling the praenomina of the Julii with those of the gens Claudia, using titles and cognomina as praenomina, and regularly changing their praenomina to reflect the political winds of the empire.
Branches and cognomina
Aeneas, legendary ancestor of the Julii, with the god of the Tiber.
The family-names of the Julii in the time of the Republic are Caesar, Iulus, Mento, and Libo, of which the first three are undoubtedly patrician; but the only families which were particularly celebrated were those of Iulus and Caesar, the former at the beginning and the latter in the last century of the Republic. On coins the only names which we find are Caesar and Bursio, the latter of which does not occur in ancient writers.
Due to the activity of Julius Caesar in Gaul over many years, a number of natives of the Gallic provinces adopted Julius as their gentilicum, and have no other connection to the Republican Julii. Examples of their descendants include Julius Florus, and Gaius Julius Civilis. Other Julii are descended from the numerous freedmen, and it may have been assumed by some out of vanity and ostentation.
Iulus, also written as Iullus and Julus, was the surname of the eldest branch of the Julii to appear in Roman history. The gens claimed descent from Iulus, who was in some manner connected with Aeneas, although the traditions differed with respect to the details.
In some accounts, Iulus was the son of Aeneas and Creüsa, who came to Latium from the ruins of Troy, together with his father and others seeking a land in which to settle. In others, Ascanius was the son of Creüsa, while Iulus was the son of Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, the king of Latium with whom Aeneas made peace after landing in Italy. In still different accounts, Iulus was the son not of Aeneas, but of Ascanius.
Perhaps an indigenous origin of the name is suggested by the De Origo Gentis Romanae of Aurelius Victor, in which Iulus and Ascanius are identical. Described as the son of Jupiter, he was originally known as Jobus, and then Julus. This calls to mind the use of Jove for Jupiter, and the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology suggests that Iulus might be a diminutive of Dius, which is also the root of Jupiter. Furthermore, Livy reports that after his death Aeneas was worshiped as Jupiter Indiges, "the local Jove". This suggests the early fusion of the Aeneas story with a local cult hero, said to have been the son of Jupiter.
Irrespective of the historicity of the Iulus of Roman myth, there is little reason to doubt that Iulus was an ancient personal name, perhaps even a praenomen,[i] and that Julius is a patronymic surname built upon it. Iullus seems to be the older spelling, although Iulus was more common, and some records mistakenly substitute the more familiar Tullus or Tullius for it.
During the century and a half between the last records of the Julii Iuli and the first appearance of the Julii Caesares, we encounter a Lucius Julius Libo, consul in BC 267. His surname Chase translates as "sprinkler", deriving it from libare, and suggests that it might originally have signified the libation pourer at religious ceremonies. It is not certain whether the name was personal, or whether the consul inherited it from his father and grandfather, of whom all we know is that they were named Lucius. Some scholars have supposed that Libo was descended from the Julii Iuli, and that Lucius, the father of Sextus Julius Caesar, was his son; but the evidence is very slight.
It is uncertain which member of the Julia gens first obtained the surname of Caesar, but the first who occurs in history is Sextus Julius Caesar, praetor in BC 208. The origin of the name is equally uncertain. Spartianus, in his life of Aelius Verus, mentions four different opinions respecting its origin:
That the word signified an elephant in the language of the Moors, and was given as a surname to one of the Julii because he had killed an elephant.
That it was given to one of the Julii because he had been cut (caesus) out of his mother's womb after her death; or
Because he had been born with a great quantity of hair (caesaries) on his head; or
Because he had azure-colored (caesii) eyes of an almost supernatural kind.
Of these opinions the third, which is also given by Festus, seems to come nearest the truth. Caesar and caesaries are both probably connected with the Sanskrit kêsa, "hair", and it is quite in accordance with the Roman custom for a surname to be given to an individual from some peculiarity in his personal appearance. The second opinion, which seems to have been the most popular one with the ancient writers, arose without doubt from a false etymology. With respect to the first, which was the one adopted, says Spartianus, by the most learned men, it is impossible to disprove it absolutely, as we know next to nothing of the ancient Moorish language; but it has no inherent probability in it; and the statement of Servius is undoubtedly false, that the grandfather of the dictator obtained the surname on account of killing an elephant with his own hand in Africa, as there were several of the Julii with this name before his time.
An inquiry into the etymology of this name is of some interest, as no other name has ever obtained such celebrity -- "clarum et duraturum cum aeternitate mundi nomen." It was assumed by Augustus as the adopted son of the dictator, and was by Augustus handed down to his adopted son Tiberius. It continued to be used by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, as members either by adoption or female descent of Caesar's family; but though the family became extinct with Nero, succeeding emperors still retained it as part of their titles, and it was the practice to prefix it to their own name, as for instance, Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus. When Hadrian adopted Aelius Verus, he allowed the latter to take the title of Caesar; and from this time, though the title of Augustus continued to be confined to the reigning prince, that of Caesar was also granted to the second person in the state and the heir presumptive to the throne.
Gaius Julius Iulus, nominated dictator in 352 BC, ostensibly to carry on war against the Etruscans, but in fact to carry the election of two patricians in the consular comitia, in violation of the lex Licinia Sextia.
Julius Africanus, of the Gallic state of the Santones, was condemned by Tiberius in AD 32.
Julius Celsus, a tribune of the city cohort, was condemned to death under Tiberius, but broke his own neck in prison, in order to avoid a public execution.
Julius Canus, a Stoic philosopher, condemned to death by the emperor Caligula. He had promised to appear to his friends after his death, and fulfilled his promise by appearing to one of them in a vision.
Julius Ferox, consul suffectus from the Kalends of November in AD 100, and subsequently Curator of the Banks and Courses of the Tiber, and of the Cloaca Maxima. He is sometimes confused with the jurist Urseius Ferox.
^During the first century BC, when the revival of ancient praenomina was fashionable, the triumvir Marcus Antonius gave this name to one of his sons, no doubt with the intention of reminding the people that he was himself a descendant of the Julian gens.
^Normally the surname Silanus is associated with the Junia gens; but the combination Julius Silanus is attested by the Fasti Ostienses and multiple other inscriptions of the period.
^ abcdDictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. II, pp. 642, 643.