Iulia Balbilla had existed if she had not left four graffiti at the statues of Memnon, in Egypt. Nothing else of her life is known, save that on 19–21 November 130, she was in the retinue of emperor Hadrian's wife, Vibia Sabina, as they visited the Valley of the Kings. One of her four epigrammes, written in a rare Aeolic dialect of Greek, she refers to her grandfathers "Balbillus the Wise" (probably Tiberius Claudius Balbillus, prefect of Egypt under emperor Nero and notorious astrologer) and "Antiochus the King" (who was last king of Commagene before its annexion by emperor Vespasian). There are speculations that Balbilla may have financed the raising of the Philopappos Monument in Athens and a heroon in Sparta that was dedicated to a distant relative.
In "Opus Gemini", Vol. IV to VI of the "Romanike" series, Balbilla has been exiled to her ancestor's capital, Samosata, due to her dedication to astrology. When Samosata falls to the invading forces of king Vologaeses of Parthia, Balbilla escapes and plots to restore her power by regaining the Opus Gemini, the last surviving sibling of the Antikythera Mechanism.
Iulia Balbilla of the "Romanike" series is a woman of high age, yet agile. She pursues her aims with aristocratic ruthlessness, trusting nobody but her closest living relatives, and travels all way across the Roman Empire to get the Opus Gemini which she claims as the heirloom of her ancestors, the House of Balbilli. Being the oldest living descendant of the royal house of Commagene, she is also high priestess of the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus, which gives her a significant power base to draw upon.
I will present and analyse Balbilla's epigrammes in future posts of this blog.