A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

1. the youngest daughter of M. Vipsanius Agrippa and of Julia, the daughter of Augustus, was born some time before B. C. 12. She married Caesar Germanicus, the son of Drusus Nero Germanicus, by whom she had nine children. Agrippina was gifted with great powers of mind, a noble character, and all the moral and physical qualities that constituted the model of a Roman matron : her love for her husband was sincere and lasting, her chastity was spotless, her fertility was a virtue in the eyes of the Romans, and her attachment to her children was an eminent feature of her character. She yielded to one dangerous passion, ambition. Augustus shewed her particular attention and attachment. (Sueton. Calig. 8.)

At the death of Augustus in A. D. 14, she was on the Lower Rhine with Germanicus, who com manded the legions there. Her husband was the idol of the army, and the legions on the Rhine, dissatisfied with the accession of Tiberius, manifested their intention of proclaiming Germanicus master of the state. Tiberius hated and dreaded Germanicus, and he shewed as much antipathy to Agrippina, as he had love to her elder sister, his first wife. In this perilous situation, Germanicus and Agrippina saved themselves by their prompt energy; he quelled the outbreak and pursued the war against the Germans. In the ensuing year his lieutenant Caecina, after having made an invasion into Germany, returned to the Rhine. The campaign was not inglorious for the Romans, but they were worn out by hardships, and perhaps harassed on their march by some bands of Germans. Thus the rumour was spread that the main body of the Germans was approaching to invade Gaul. Germanicus was absent, and it was proposed to destroy the bridge over the Rhine. (Comp. Strab. iv. p.194.) If this had been done, the retreat of Caecina's army would have been cut off, but it was saved by the firm opposition of Agrippina to such a cowardly measure. When the troops approached, she went to the bridge, acting as a general, and receiving the soldiers as they crossed it; the wounded among them were presented by her with clothes, and they received from her own hands everything necessary for the cure of their wounds. (Tac. Ann. 1.69.) Germanicus having been recalled by Tiberius, she accompanied her husband to Asia (A. D. 17), and after his death, or rather murder [GERMANICUS], she returned to Italy. She stayed some days at the island of Corcyra to recover from her grief, and then landed at Brundusium, accompanied by two of her children, and holding in her arms the urn with the ashes of her husband. At the news of her arrival, the port, the walls, and even the roofs of the houses were occupied by crowds of people who were anxious to see and salute her. She was solemnly received by the officers of two Praetorian cohorts, which Tiberius had sent to Brundusium for the purpose of accompanying her to Rome; the urn containing the ashes of Germanicus was borne by tribunes and centurions, and the funeral procession was received on its march by the magistrates of Calabria, Apulia, and Campania ; by Drusus, the son of Tiberius; Claudius, the brother of Germanicus; by the other childre of Germanicus; and at last, in the environs of Rome, by the consuls, the senate, and crowds of the Roman people. (Tac. Ann. iii, 1, &c.)


During some years Tiberius disguised his hatred of Agrippina; but she soon became exposed to secret accusations and intrigues. She asked the emperor's permission to choose another husband, but Tiberius neither refused nor consented to the proposition. Sejanus, who exercised an unbounded influence over Tiberius, then a prey to mental disorders, persuaded Agrippina that time emperor intended to poison her. Alarmed at such a report, she refused to eat an apple which the emperor offered her from his table, and Tiberius in his turn complained of Agrippina regarding him as a poisoner. According to Suetonius. all this was an intrigue preconcerted between the emperor and Sejanus, who, as it seems, had formed the plan of leading Agrippina into false steps. Tiberius was extremely suspicious of Agrippina, and shewed his hostile feelings by allusive words, or neglectful silence. There were no evidences of ambitious plans formed by Agrippina, but the rumour having been spread that she would fly to the army, he banished her to the island of Pandataria (A. D. 30) where her mother Julia had died in exile. Her sons Nero and Drusus were likewise banished and both died an unnatural death. She lived three years on that barren island; at last she refused to take any food, and died most probably by voluntary starvation. Her death took place precisely two years after and on the same date as the murder of Sejanus, that is in A. D. 33. Tacitus and Suetonius tell us, that Tiberius boasted that he had not strangled her. (Sueton. Tib. 53; Tac. Ann. 6.25.) The ashes of Agrippina and those of her son Nero were afterwards brought to Rome by order of her son, the emperor Caligula, who struck various medals in honour of his mother. In the one figured below, the head of Caligula is on one side and that of his mother on the other. The words on each side are respectively, C. CAESAR. AVG. GER. P.M. TR. POT., and AGRIPPINA. MAT. C. CAES. AVG. GERM.

(Tac. Ann. i.--vi.; Sueton. Octav. 64, Tib.. l.c., Calig. l.c.; Dion. Cass. 57.5, 6, 58.22.)