Julius Avitus was a young man who lived around the late 1st century in the Roman Empire. He was evidently an aspiring writer, but in the meantime he mainly focused on climbing the social ladder of Roman society. This meant embarking on a series of increasingly prestigious appointments in the Roman government and military. Julius Avitus achieved the political magistrate rank of quaestor, and with the position came a stationing overseas. Although the term of a quaestor did not last long, the young man apparently decided to bring his literary works with him overseas. Although he had not quite made a name for himself in the literary world, a buzz was nevertheless rising over his potential talents and hopes were high that Julius Avitus would one day publish applauded works. After serving out his term as quaestor, the hopeful writer and statesman packed his belongings back onto a ship and set sail for home. The voyage, however, ended in tragedy. What exactly happened on Julius Avitus’ journey home is unfortunately unknown, but it is clear that the young man perished at sea. As told by the prolific letter-writing lawyer and statesman, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), “it is tragic that Julius Avitus should have died, and died at sea on his way home from the province where he had been quaestor…think of his ardent love of literature and all he read and wrote: all of which has died with him, leaving nothing for posterity” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 5.21). Although there is no clarification on whether he fell overboard or if the ship sank, the statement that Julius Avitus’ writings were also lost at sea seems to point to a shipwreck being the culprit. He was survived by his mother, a brother and several sisters.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Historical Subject with Men and a Boy Near a Ship, by William Hamilton (c. 1751–1801), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.