IULIA PROCILLA – Albintimilium, year 69 AD

Art & Culture, Special

ROME, Year 68 AD. Nero, of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, has recently passed away and a bitter struggle for power has begun, leading to the election of three emperors by their respective legions – Otho, Galba and Vitello.

In this phase of uncertainty and disarray, in the year 69 AD, Otho’s fleet  disembarked (apparently by chance or in search of a missed loot in the clash with the troops of the prosecutor of the Maritime Alps faithful to Vitello) in the suburb of Albintimilium, the today Latte di Ventimiglia, along via Iulia Augusta and home to landing and maritime villas.

The soldiers plundered the area as if it were inhabited by enemies, killing everyone and also destroying part of the patrimony that had been an incentive to the attack.

Tacitus wrote: “It did not seem that they were in front of Italy and the homeland: they were burning down, sacked, ravaged as if it were a foreign coast and city of enemies, with very terrible results because there were no defences prepared against possible dangers. Everyone was working in the fields and the houses were open: the owners, accompanied by wives and children, came together in the security of peach and were overwhelmed by the violence of the war” (Tacitus, Historiae, Book 2, 12).

“Furious at this resistance, [Otho’s troops] turned their anger on the municipium of Albintimilium… So, the soldiers calmed their greed letting off steam on innocent victims” (Tacitus, Historiae, Book 2, 13).

Iulia Procilla, wife of Senator Giulio Grecino (put to death by the emperor Caligula in 41 AD), and mother of Gneo Giulio Agricola, died in the attack.

Tacitus describes her as a woman of rare virtue (Mater Iulia Procilla fuit, rarae castitatis), a very sweet mother towards her son who “raised lovingly in her womb, spent his childhood and adolescence in practising all the good disciplines. She kept him away from the attractions of debauchery, in addition to his good and steadfast nature, the fact that immediately as a child he had Marseille as seat and teacher of his studies, a place where the amiability of Greeks and the sobriety of the province were well mingled.  I remember that he used to narrate that from early childhood he had devoted himself to the study of philosophy with a greater ardour than a Roman and, if his mother’s wisdom would have not tempered his fiery soul full of ardour, he would have also become a senator. His noble and elevated spirit naturally tended to the beauty and lustre of a great and excellent glory with more impetus than prudence. Reason and age soon mitigated him and, very difficult, made him keep moderation by means of philosophy”.

However, Gneo Giulio Agricola was not a simple Roman but a prominent person in those times. He was born in Forum Julii (Fréjus) on June 13, 40 AD and he was an influential exponent of the Iulia family of Romolus and Aeneas, whose greatest exponent was Gaius Julius Caesar. Both grandparents had served as imperial governors and their father had been a senator.

Agricola begun his career as a military tribune in Britain, under Gaius Suetonius Paulinius, he was part of the Legio II Augusta and participated in the suppression of the Queen of Boudicca in 61 AD, and he was therefore appointed commissioner of the province of Asia in 64 AD; Tribune of the plebs in 66 and praetor in 68.

In 69 AD, the year of the 4 Emperors, while he was running to pay the last tribute to the mother in Albintimilium (Ventimiglia), having heard of the proclamation of Vespasianus as Emperor, he gave him his support.  

Agricola was one of the greatest Roman generals. We know a lot about him because Tacitus became his son-in-law after marrying his daughter Giulia Agricola in 77 AD, and wrote a book about him entitled “De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae” (Life and death of Giulio Agricola).

Gneo Giulio Agricola later became famous as governor of Britain with numerous successes.

He died in 93 AD in unclear circumstances. According to some historical sources, he was poisoned by the Emperor Domitian.

The funeral of Iulia Procilla, surely sumptuous, probably had to take place along the “Via dei Sepolcri”, as defined by the historian of Ventimiglia Girolamo Rossi, which developed outside the western walls of the city after passing through the Decuman door.

In 69 AD, Albintimilium was already an happy provincial city, which in 89 BD had obtained the Latin law and in 49 BC the Roman citizenship for its inhabitants, mostly enrolled in the Falerna tribe.  

The city, like all those of the Ligurian coast, had maybe received an important renovation with the arrangement of the via Iulia Augusta in 13-12 BC following the defeat, by the emperor Eponymous, of the alpine populations in 14 BC, which was celebrated by the famous trophy for the victory of the Augustus’ generals over 46 alpine tribes and erected in 7-6 BC by the Senate and Roman people in La Turbie. 

Albintimilium lived a period of considerable impulse and well-being, also confirmed by the goods coming from the various provinces of the Empire, which also flowed into the city through the activity of the portus Herculis Monoeci (the port of Monaco), at the time part of the municipal territories of Albintimilium. The sources cite a trade of wine amphorae from central-southern Italy to Gaul, amphorae with oil and fish sauces from Spain, Italic and Gallic sealed, Po valley lamps, Cisalpine and Iberian ceramics.

In this period of prosperity and growth, therefore, the presence of Iulia Procilla appears in the city, or rather in its “open and fertile” suburbs (the “plaeni agri” of Tacitus). Her killing took place in her possessions (preadia), which were located, according to the tradition of studies, along via Iulia Augusta in the plain of the Latte torrent, a rich western suburb of Albintimilium, home to landing places and maritime villas, the remains of which were discovered near the current Villa Eva.


Sequens annus gravi vulnere animum domumque eius adflixit. Nam classis Othoniana licenter vaga dum Intimilium (Liguriae pars est) hostiliter populatur, matrem Agricolae in praediis suis interfecit, praediaque ipsa et magnam patrimonii partem diripuit, quae causa caedis fuerat. Igitur ad sollemnia pietatis profectus Agricola, nuntio adfectati a Vespasiano imperii deprehensus ac statim in partis transgressus est.

The following year (Agricola) and his family suffered a serious mourning. In fact, Otho’s fleet, sailing here and there, sacked Ventimiglia (part of Liguria) as if it were inhabited by enemies and killing Agricola’s mother in her estates, destroying these and most of her heritage that had been an incentive for the murder. Then Agricola, who had left for the funeral honours, heard of the news of Vespasianus’ aspiration to the empire and he immediately sided with him.

Tacito, Vita di Agricola, 7