AGRIPPINA II (the younger)
Wife of Claudius and mother of Nero.
Julia Agrippina was born 6th November 15 AD. She was a great granddaughter of Emperor Augustus, great niece and adoptive granddaughter of Emperor Tiberius, sister to Emperor Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius and mother of Emperor Nero.
Agrippina was the first daughter and fourth living child of Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus. She was the namesake of her mother. The elder Agrippina is remembered as a modest and heroic matron who was the second daughter and fourth child of Julia the Elder and statesman Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. The father of Julia the Elder was Emperor Augustus. Augustus' daughter was his only natural child, the product of his second marriage to Scribonia, a descendant of general Pompey and dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla.
Agrippina's father Germanicus was a popular general and politician. His mother was Antonia Minor and his father was general Nero Claudius Drusus. Antonia Minor was a daughter to Octavia Minor from her second marriage to triumvir Mark Antony. Octavia Minor was the second eldest sister and full-blooded sister of Augustus. Germanicus' father Nero Claudius Drusus was the second son of Empress Livia Drusilla from her first marriage to praetor Tiberius Nero, and thus was Emperor Tiberius' younger brother and Augustus' stepson. In 9 AD, Augustus ordered and forced Tiberius to adopt Germanicus as his son and heir. Germanicus was a favourite of his great-uncle Augustus, who hoped that Germanicus would succeed his adopted son and heir Tiberius.
Agrippina was born at Oppidum Ubiorum, a Roman outpost on the Rhine River (modern Cologne, Germany). She travelled with her parents throughout the empire until 18 AD, when she and her siblings returned to Rome (apart from Caligula) to live with their paternal grandmother. Her parents travelled to Syria to complete official duties. One year later in October, Germanicus died suddenly in Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey).
Germanicus' death caused much public grief in Rome and her mother returned to Rome with his ashes. Agrippina was raised between her mother and great grandmother Livia, who were two notable influential and powerful figures, and lived on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Tiberius became the head of the family.
After her thirteenth birthday in 28 AD, Tiberius arranged for her to marry Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. Tiberius ordered the marriage to be celebrated in Rome. Domitius came from a distinguished family. From his paternal side he descended from men of consular rank. Through his mother Antonia Major, he was related to the imperial family. Antonia Major was the elder sister to Antonia Minor and was another daughter to Octavia Minor and Mark Antony (Augustus being her maternal uncle). Domitius was her father's first maternal cousin and her mother's second maternal cousin. He was a wealthy man with a despicable and dishonest character. Domitius was consul in 32 AD. Agrippina and Domitius lived between Antium (modern Anzio) and Rome. Not much is known about the relationship between them.
Tiberius died on March 16th, 37 AD and her only surviving brother Caligula became the new emperor. Agrippina, as sister of the emperor, began to gain some influence.
Agrippina with her younger sisters Julia Drusilla and Julia Livilla received various honours from their brother.
Around the time that Tiberius died, Agrippina became pregnant and Domitius acknowledged the paternity of the child. On December 15th, 37 AD, Agrippina gave birth to a son - her first child, and the first born to Domitius. Agrippina and Domitius named him Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, after Domitius' late father. This child would grow up to be the future Emperor Nero. This son was Agrippina's only natural child.
Caligula and his sisters were accused of having incestuous relationships. Allegedly, during large banquets Caligula would commit incest with his sisters and also Caligula allowed his friends to sleep with his sisters in the palace. On June 10th, 38 AD, Drusilla died, and following her death Caligula's relationship with Agrippina and Livilla changed. Caligula showed no extreme love nor respect towards them.
In 39 AD, Agrippina and Livilla, with their maternal cousin and Drusilla's widower Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, were involved in a failed plot to murder Caligula and make Lepidus the new emperor. Lepidus, Agrippina and Livilla were lovers. Not much is known concerning this plot and the reasons behind it. At the trial of Lepidus, Caligula felt no compunction about denouncing them as adultresses, producing handwritten letters discussing how they were going to kill him.
Lepidus was executed. Agrippina and Livilla were exiled by their brother to the Pontine Islands. Caligula sold their furniture, jewellery, slaves and freedmen and forced them to dive for sponges to make a living.
In January 40 AD, Domitius died of edema (dropsy) at Pyrgi. Lucius (the future Nero) had gone to live with his second paternal aunt Domitia Lepida after Caligula had taken his inheritance away from him. On January 24th, 41 AD, Caligula, his wife, and his daughter were murdered. Her paternal uncle Claudius became the new emperor of Rome.
Claudius ordered Agrippina and Livilla to return from exile. Livilla returned to her husband, while Agrippina was reunited with her estranged son. After the death of her first husband, Agrippina tried to make shameless advances to the future emperor Galba, who showed no interest in her and was devoted to his wife.
Claudius also had Lucius' inheritance reinstated and arranged for Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus and Domitia (Lucius' first paternal aunt) to divorce so that Crispus could marry Agrippina. When Agrippina returned, she had nothing to return to. Agrippina married Crispus as her second husband and he became a step father to Lucius. Crispus was a prominent, influential, witty, wealthy and powerful man, who served twice as consul. He was the adopted grandson and biological great, great nephew of the historian Sallust.
In the first years of Claudius' reign, Claudius was married to the infamous Empress Valeria Messalina. Although Agrippina was very influential, she kept a very low profile and stayed away from the imperial palace and the court of the emperor. Messalina was Agrippina's second paternal cousin.
When Agrippina returned from exile, Messalina realised that Agrippina's son was a threat to her son's position and sent assassins to strangle Lucius during his siesta. The assassins left in terror, when a snake allegedly darted from beneath Nero's pillow.
In 47 AD, Crispus died, and at his funeral, the rumour spread around that Agrippina poisoned Crispus to gain his estate. After being widowed a second time, Agrippina was left very wealthy. Later that year at the Secular Games, at the performance of the Troy Pageant, Messalina attended the event with her son Britannicus. Agrippina was also present with Lucius. Agrippina and Lucius received greater applause from the audience than Messalina and Britannicus did. Many people began to show pity and sympathy to Agrippina, due to the unfortunate circumstances in her life.
In 48, after the death of Messalina, Claudius considered remarrying for the fourth time. Around this time, Agrippina became the mistress to one of Claudius' advisers, former Greek Freedman Pallas. At that time Claudius' advisers were discussing which noble woman Claudius should marry.
Pallas advised Claudius that he should marry Agrippina. Pallas stated to the emperor, that her son was the grandson to his late brother Germanicus; by marrying her Claudius would ally the two branches of the Claudian house and imperial family. For Agrippina's seduction, it was a help that she had the niece's privilege of kissing and caressing her paternal uncle. Claudius was seduced by her passions.
Agrippina and Claudius married on New Year's Day in 49 AD. This marriage caused widespread disapproval because it was considered incestuous. However, this was a part of Agrippina's plan to make her son Emperor. She eliminated her rival and distant relative Lollia Paulina, who was another possible wife for Claudius. In 49 AD, Agrippina charged Paulina with black magic. Paulina did not receive a hearing. Her property was confiscated, she left Italy and on orders, she committed suicide.
Before her marriage to Claudius, her maternal second cousin praetor, Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus was betrothed to Claudius' daughter Claudia Octavia. This betrothal was broken off in 48 AD, when Agrippina scheming with consul Lucius Vitellius falsely charged Silanus with open affection towards his sister Junia Calvina. Agrippina did this hopefully to secure Octavia to marry her son. Consequently Claudius broke off the engagement and forced Silanus to resign from public office. Silanus committed suicide on the day that Agrippina married her uncle and Calvina was exiled from Italy in early 49 AD.
On the day that Agrippina married Claudius as her third husband, she became an Empress and the most powerful woman in the Roman Empire. She also was a step mother to Claudia Antonia (Claudius' daughter and only child from his second marriage to Aelia Paetina) and to the young Claudia Octavia and Britannicus, Claudius' children with Messalina. Agrippina removed or eliminated anyone from the palace or the imperial court whom she thought was loyal and dedicated to memory of the late Messalina. She also eliminated or removed anyone who she considered was a potential threat to her position and the future of her son (one of her victims was Lucius' second paternal aunt and Messalina's mother Domitia Lepida).
In 50 AD, Agrippina was granted the honorific title of Augusta (a title which no other imperial woman had ever received in the lifetime of her husband). Also that year, Claudius had founded a Roman colony and called the colony Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis or Agrippinensium, after Agrippina who was born there (modern Cologne). The colony that was named after Agrippina, was the only Roman Colony to be named after a Roman Woman.
Agrippina successfully manipulated and influenced Claudius into adopting her son and having him become his successor. Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in 50 AD was adopted by his great maternal uncle and stepfather. Lucius' name was changed to Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus and he became Claudius' adopted son, heir and recognised successor. Agrippina and Claudius betrothed Nero to Octavia and Agrippina arranged for Seneca the Younger to return from exile to tutor the future emperor. Claudius chose to adopt Agrippina's son because of his Julian lineage. Agrippina deprived Britannicus of his heritage and further isolated him from his father and succession for the throne. In 51 AD Agrippina ordered the execution of Britannicus' tutor Sosibius, because he confronted Agrippina and was outraged by Claudius' adoption of Nero and his choice of Nero to succeed him, instead of his natural son Britannicus.
Nero and Octavia married on June 9th, 53 AD. Claudius later repented of marrying Agrippina and adopting her son Nero, began to favour Britannicus, and started preparing him for the throne. This was the motive that is claimed that Agrippina needed to eliminate Claudius. Ancient sources credited her poisoning Claudius on October 13th, 54 AD with a plate of poison mushrooms at a banquet, thus enabling Nero to quickly take the throne as emperor. Accounts vary wildly with regard to this private incident and it is quite possible Claudius died of natural causes.
Agrippina was named a priestess of the cult of the deified Claudius. She was allowed to visit senate meetings, watch and hear the meetings behind a curtain. This evidently shows that she had real power.
In the first months of Nero's reign Agrippina controlled her son and the empire. She lost control over Nero when he began to have an affair with freedwoman Claudia Acte, which Agrippina strongly disapproved of and violently scolded him for. Agrippina began to support Britannicus in her attempt to make him emperor. Britannicus was secretly poisoned on Nero's orders during a banquet in February 55 AD. The power struggle between Agrippina and her son had begun.
In 55 AD Agrippina was forced out of the palace by her son to live in imperial residence. Nero deprived his mother of all honours, powers and even removed her Roman and German bodyguards. Nero even threatened his mother he would abdicate the throne and would go to live on the Greek Island of Rhodes. Pallas also was dismissed from the court. The fall of Pallas and the opposition of Burrus and Seneca, contributed to Agrippina's loss of authority.
Towards 57 AD, Agrippina was expelled from the Palace and went to live in a riverside estate in Misenum.
The circumstance that surround Agrippina's death are uncertain due to historical contradictions and anti-Nero bias. The version given by Tacitus claims that Nero considered poisoning or stabbing her, but felt these methods were too difficult and suspicious, so he settled on building a self-sinking boat. Though aware of the plot, Agrippina embarked on this boat and was nearly crushed by a collapsing lead ceiling only to be saved by the side of a sofa breaking the ceiling's fall. The crew then sank the boat, but Agrippina swam to shore, to be met by crowds of admirers. News of Agrippina's survival reached Nero so he sent three assassins to stab her. She died 23rd March 59 AD.