Augustus considered himself the restorer of the Rome Republic because he believed in ancestral values such as fidelity in marriage, chastity, and virtue. As part of his political endeavor to restore Rome to its former “Golden Age.” He introduces various laws such as the Julia Laws to take power over Roman citizen marriage and childbearing to induce elite power once again.
One of Augustus’ first sets of legislation was a law, part of the Leges Julia or Julian Laws, in which women were penalized if they were found guilty of adultery.
The punishment for adultery under the Julian Laws was banishment, and part of their property would be confiscated. Augustus’ beliefs were strong that he invoked the law against his daughter Julia, by banishing her to an island called Pandaria. Under the laws of adultery, women’s sexuality was challenged to maintain power over them. The Aeneid is a prime example of the mindset and motivation behind the laws. Dido kills herself and loses her kingdom over her lust for Aeneas; which symbolizes that women’s sexuality is dangerous, and can lead to adultery.
That is why August believed in setting rules to prevent women’s sexuality to cause affliction in a marriage. During that time in Rome, there was a declining population of elite Roman citizens, and this alarming August. The reasoning for the adultery laws was to also help the reproduction of elite society. Augustus believed that if there were fewer divorces this would place the role of childbearing and the repopulation of the Roma elite.
However, many elite men thought poorly of Augustus’ new laws. The laws threatened elite citizen men since they limited their social freedom. Roman men such as Gallus, Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid would write poems to express their defiance against the laws that Augustus placed. Propertius’s elegy Lifting the Law that Bachelors Must Marry, disputes Lex Julia et Papia-Poppaea by writing contrary thoughts about the laws. Propertius states “Is it for me to supply sons for our country’s triumphs? There’ll be no soldiers from my line,” in this text Propertius is expressing his dislike of his civic duty of reproducing offspring for Roman society. It also challenged the freedom that he once obtained. Studying Roman culture, it is known that men had freedom over bending rules and the double standards of what was expected of them in society vs women. Augustus is the first to impose on their freedom, not experiencing it before led to many elite men being angered and feeling wrongly victimized. Thus, experiencing their anger and defiance through poetry. Gallus, in particular, had a strong dislike for Augustus’ laws and caused enmity between himself and Augustus.
HBO’S Rome episode Utica shows a lesbian relationship between Octavia and Servilia, and incest between her and Augustus. The show is wrongfully representing the ideas and moralities Roman citizens believed in. For women, their pudicitia was something holy to them that they maintained in high regard. So the indication of Octavia’s sexuality doesn’t rightfully indicate the laws that Augustus placed during that time, as well as the norm belief of what women sexuality represented. Incest was not part of what Roman society believed in, and there were no part-taking activities such as that. HBO producers are only trying to shock viewers to keep up with provocative TV dramas to exploit female sexuality and cater to the modern US expectation.