The ''gens Julia'' or ''Iulia'' was one of the most ancient patrician families at Ancient Rome. Members of the ''gens'' attained the highest dignities of the state in the earliest times of the Republic. The first of the family to obtain the consulship was Gaius Julius Iulus in 489 BC. The gens is perhaps best known, however, for Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, and grand uncle of the emperor Augustus, through whom the name was passed to the so-called Julio-Claudian dynasty of the 1st century AD. The ''nomen Julius'' became very common in imperial times, as the descendants of persons enrolled as citizens under the early emperors began to make their mark in history.〔''Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology'', William Smith, Editor.〕
The Julii were without doubt of Alban origin, and it is 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, as we learn from 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; and 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. It is not impossible that some of the Julii may have settled at Bovillae after the fall of Alba Longa.〔Dionysius of Halicarnassus, ''Romaike Archaiologia'', iii. 29.〕〔Publius Cornelius Tacitus, ''Annales'', xi. 24.〕〔Barthold Georg Niebuhr, ''History of Rome'', vol. i. note 1240, vol. ii. note 421.〕
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.〔Servius, ''ad Virg. Aen.'' i. 267.〕〔Titus Livius, ''Ab Urbe Condita''. i. 3.〕
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.〔Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, ''De Vita Caesarum'', ''Caesar'', 6.〕
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.〔〔Titus Livius, ''Ab Urbe Condita''. i. 16.〕〔Publius Ovidius Naso, ''Fasti'', ii. 499 ''ff.''〕
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 ''Юлий'' (Russian).
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