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Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Drusilla (?), Munich Glyptothek (Inv. 316)
Julia Drusilla, sister of Caligula
Augustus 27 BC14 AD
Tiberius 14 AD37 AD
Caligula 37 AD41 AD
Claudius 41 AD54 AD
Nero 54 AD68 AD
Gens Julia
Gens Claudia
Julio-Claudian family tree
Category:Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Preceded by
Roman Republic
Followed by
Year of the Four Emperors
This article is about the sister of the Roman Emperor Caligula. For the same-named daughter of Caligula, see Julia Drusilla. For others of this name see Drusilla (name). [1]

Julia Drusilla (Classical Latin: IVLIA•DRVSILLA[1]) (September 16, 16–June 10, 38) was the second daughter and fifth living child of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. Drusilla had two sisters (Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger) and three brothers (Nero, Drusus, and Caligula). She was a great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, great-niece and adoptive granddaughter of the Emperor Tiberius, sister of the Emperor Caligula, niece of the Emperor Claudius, and aunt of the Emperor Nero.



Drusilla was born in Abitarvium, modern day Koblenz, Germany. She was married in AD 31 to Marcus Julius Africanus Major, an equestrian man worthy of the imperial family . The marriage appeared to be a happy one. The marriage began with a miscarriage in 32, 33 and again in 34. In December of 38, Drusilla got a severe fever and came close to her death. It is believed to have been malaria which was common at the time. She never truly recovered, but mysteriously she got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Julia Africana. She didn't live a month into her daughter's life and died of birth defects. [2]


Drusilla was reportedly her brother's favorite. There are also rumors that she was also his lover. If true, that role likely gained her influence over Caligula. Though the activities between the brother and sister might have been seen as incest by their contemporaries, it is not known whether the two actually had any sexual relations. Drusilla herself earned a rather poor reputation because of the close bond she shared with Caligula and was even likened to a prostitute by later scholars, in an attempt to discredit Caligula.[3]

Some historians suggest that Caligula was motivated by more than mere lust or love in pursuing relations with his sisters. He might instead have deliberately patterned himself after the Hellenistic monarchs of the Ptolemaic dynasty where marriages between jointly ruling brothers and sisters had become tradition rather than sex scandals. This has also been used to explain why his despotism was apparently more evident to his contemporaries than those of his predecessors Caesar Augustus and Tiberius.

The source of many of the rumors surrounding Caligula and Drusilla may be derived from formal Roman dining habits.[3] It was customary in Patrician households for the host and hostess of a dinner (or in other words, the husband and wife in charge of the household) to hold the positions of honor at a banquet at their residence. In the case of a young bachelor being the head of the household (such as Caligula), the female position of honor was to be held by his sisters (Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla), taking turns sitting in the place of honor. Caligula apparently broke with this tradition in that rather than having his sisters take turns at the place of honor, the place was reserved exclusively for Drusilla. Caligula was thus, in a manner of speaking, publicly proclaiming that Drusilla was his wife, the female head of the household.

Death and Aftermath

She died on June 10, 38, probably of fever which was rampant in Rome at the time. Caligula was said never to have left her side, and after she had died, he would not let anyone take her body away.

Caligula never really recovered from the loss. He buried his sister with the honors of an Augusta, acted as a grieving widower, and had the Roman Senate declare her a Goddess as "Diva Drusilla", deifying her as a representation of the Roman goddess Venus or Greek goddess Aphrodite. Drusilla was consecrated as Panthea, most likely on the anniversary of the birthday of Augustus.[3]

A year later, Caligula named his only known daughter Julia Drusilla after his late favorite sister. Meanwhile, her widowed husband Marcus Amelius Lepidus reportedly became a lover to her sisters Livilla and Agrippina in an apparent attempt to gain their support in succeeding Caligula. The political conspiracy was discovered by Caligula while in Germania Superior during the fall. Lepidus was swiftly executed, while Livilla and Agrippina were exiled to the Pontine Islands.

Cultural references

  • Teresa Ann Savoy played Drusilla in the 1979 motion picture Caligula, which showed the more plausible version of Drusilla dying from the fever, though it did follow up with a highly unlikely scene of Caligula licking her corpse in mourning and then having sex with it one last time (although the latter half of the sequence got deleted from all the released versions of the film). In the trailer for the fictional remake of Caligula, she was played by Milla Jovovich.


  1. ^ E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen - e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933 - I 664
  2. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, The Life of Caligula, 36
  3. ^ a b c Susan Wood, Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), pp. 457-482

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