Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Fiona Forsyth, Author of The Third Daughter

21 February 2022

Special Guest Post by Fiona Forsyth, Author of The Third Daughter

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Rome, 68 BCE: Julius Caesar begins his controversial career in government. At the same time, a third daughter, Tertulla, is born to the Junius family on the Palatine Hill. Tertulla grows up under the guidance of her brother, Marcus Brutus, and her mother Servilia. When Tertulla discovers that her mother is Caesar's mistress, she begins to wonder who her father might be.Frustratingly, she has 
more questions than answers.

Writing “The Third Daughter”

Roman women are an interesting bunch.

When I was down the rabbit-hole of research, I came across a list of women who lived to great ages in Rome. Livia was there, poisoning people cheerfully (allegedly) up the age of 87, and here was Cicero’s ex-wife Terentia, living until the age of 101, and even marrying Sallust (allegedly) which must been one of the more cheerless relationships around. In this list I also came across a woman called Junia Tertia, and she was defined by two things: her family and her death in 22CE.

She was named Junia after her father (Decimus Junius Silanus) and Tertia - the third one - to distinguish her from her sisters Junia, and Junilla. All over Rome, when a family had a third daughter, they ran out of naming options. There must have been a lot of Tertias, a lot of “Oh no, not another girl” children, always in third place. 

This Tertia seems to have risen above her inauspicious start though - look at what the historian Tacitus takes time out from Emperor-bashing to write about her:

In the sixty-fourth year after Philippi died Junia, niece of Cato, wife of Cassius, sister of Brutus. Her will was the subject of popular gossip because although she was rich and made bequests to many, she left nothing to the Emperor Tiberius. He graciously made no matter of this and allowed all the usual rites to be held, along with a speech from the Speakers’ Platform. The funeral images of twenty illustrious families were in the processions, and Brutus and Cassius, because their images were not present, outshone them.” (Translated and abridged from the original by me)

Sixty-four years after the Battle of Philippi, the battle in which her husband died, Junia must have been nearing the age of 90 or more. We don’t know exactly when she was born, but it was probably in the late 70s to early 60s BCE, making her about 26-30 years old when her husband died. She never remarried, in an age where women nearly always did, and that alone is worth noting.

Tacitus is clearly awed by her relations - she was niece to Cato the Younger, the great enemy of Caesar and the grumpiest man in Rome, famous for not wearing a tunic under his toga. Her brother was Brutus, yes, that Brutus, the one who lead the gang of Liberators who assassinated Caesar. Her husband was Cassius, who also was high-up in that conspiracy. 

And yet, Tacitus does not mention someone particularly important: Junia’s mother was Servilia, Julius Caesar’s mistress. That brought me up. Here was a list of anti-Caesar, Republic-loving Romans, but was it possible that their womenfolk may not have been entirely supportive? What did Servilia think when her son and son-in-law killed her lover of (possibly) twenty years? And did Servilia’s daughter agree that Cassius and Brutus had been right to do what they did?

Next, I focused on the fact that Tacitus says that Junia had been rich when she died. How had she managed to hang on to her wealth through the troubled years after Caesar’s death? These years were dominated by the rather nasty and self-elected Triumvirate of Mark Antony, Lepidus (or “who?” as he is better known) and Gaius “My mum gave me a note to excuse me from battle” Octavian (later the emperor Augustus).

The three had notoriously grabbed land and money wherever they could, killing friends and relations to get rich. Junia’s husband had been proscribed, meaning that his wealth was confiscated by the Triumvirate. Had Junia Tertia managed to save some of her wealth? Or had her mother and her two sisters, safely married to men who were in with the Triumvirate, supported her? 

Next came the question of Junia’s will. Not many people snubbed the Emperor Tiberius, even in their last wills, and this is certainly why Tacitus, who is hostile to the Emperor, mentions her. I decided that she must have been feisty. And a funeral oration from the Speakers’ Platform, bang in the middle of Rome? How many women were allowed that? 

Finally, Junia was related to everyone who was anyone, mainly through her mother. Her funeral procession would have been an event. Actors were often hired to wear lifelike masks of distinguished ancestors at Roman funeral, but Junia’s family did not dare have people pretending to be Brutus and Cassius in her procession. Even in 22CE, they did not want to be associated with Caesar’s assassins.

This paragraph by Tacitus started off my interest in Junia, third daughter of Servilia and Decimus Junius Silanus. Each person on this earth has their own set of experiences which informs their lives and makes each of them unique. I reckoned that, given the information in that paragraph, Junia must have been extraordinary as well.

Junia Tertia appears in very few other sources that I could find, but the most poignant was from Cicero. He was writing to his friend Atticus in May 44 BCE, when he expresses his sadness about Tertulla (he sweetly uses this pet name, which means “Little Tertia”). It appears that less than two months after the Ides of March in which her brother and husband killed her mother’s lover, Junia miscarried. 

Given that Cassius left Italy in July or August and we have no information that would lead us to believe that she went with him, this was almost certainly Junia’s last chance of having a child by her husband. There is no evidence that she had a child with Cassius before then. Of course, lack of evidence does not mean that she had no children at all: but her sisters’ children can be traced. Surely if Junia and Cassius had any children who lived to maturity, it would have been mentioned. Cassius’ son who was probably by a marriage prior to Junia is assumed to have died early when he drops out of the sources after 44 BCE.

Out of these scraps, these probable and possible “facts”, The Third Daughter was born. My version of Junia Tertia is arrogant, sometimes careless of others, tough and loyal to her family. But she never knows if she is valued. You see – she is the third daughter.

Fiona Forsyth

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About the Author

Fiona Forsyth studied Classics at Oxford before teaching for twenty-five years at The Manchester Grammar School. She is currently living in Qatar, where she writes poetry and historical novels. Find out more at Fiona's website and find her on Twitter @for_fi

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