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

2. the daughter of Germanicus and Agrippina the elder, daughter of M. Vipsanius Agrippa. She was born between A. D. 13 and 17, at the Oppidum Ubiorum, afterwards called in honour of her Colonia Agrippina, now Cologne, land then the head-quarters of the legions commanded by her father. In A. D. 28, she married Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, a man not unlike her, and whom she lost in A. D. 40. After his death she married Crispus Passienus, who died some years afterwards; and she was accused of having poisoned him, either for the purpose of obtaining his great fortune, or for some secret motive of much higher importance. She was already known for her scandalous conduct, for her most perfidious intrigues, and for an unbounded ambition. She was accused of having committed incest with her own brother, the emperor Caius Caligula, who under the pretext of having discovered that she had lived in an adulterous intercourse with M. Aemilius Lepidus, the husband of her sister Drusilla, banished her to the island of Pontia, which was situated opposite the bay of Caieta, off the coast of Italy. Her sister Drusilla was likewise banished to Pontia, and it seems that their exile was connected with the punishment of Lepidus, who was put to death for having conspired against the emperor. Previously to her exile, Agrippina was compelled by her brother to carry to Rome the ashes of Lepidus. This happened in A. D. 39. Agrippina and her sister were released in A. D. 41, by their uncle, Claudius, immediately after his accession, although his wife, Messalina, was the mortal enemy of Agrippina. Messalina was put to death by order of Claudius in A. D. 48; and in the following year, A. D. 49, Agrippina succeeded in marrying the emperor. Claudius was her uncle, but her marriage was legalized by a senatuseonsultum, by which the marriage of a man with his brother's daughter was declared valid; this senatusconsultum was afterwards abrogated by the emperors Constantine and Constaus. In this intrigue Agrippina displayed the qualities of an accomplished courtezan, and such was the influence of her charms and superior talents over the old emperor, that, in perejudice of his own son, Britannicus, he adopted Domitius, the son of Agrippina by her first husband, Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus. (A. D. 51.) Agrippina was assisted in her secret plans by Pallas, the perfidious confidant of Claudius. By her intrigues, L. Junius Silanus, the husband of Octavia, the daughter of Claudius, was put to death, and in A. D. 53, Octavia was married to young Nero. Lollia Paullina, once the rival of Agrippina for the hand of the emperor, was accused of high treason and condemned to death; but she put an end to her own life. Domitia Lepida, the sister of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, met with a similar fate. After having thus removed those whose rivalship she dreaded, or whose virtues she envied, Agrippina resolved to get rid of her husband, and to govern the empire through her ascendency over her son Nero, his successor. A vague rumour of this reached the emperor; in a state of drunkenness, he forgot prudence, and talked about punishing his ambitious wife. Having no time to lose, Agrippina, assisted by Locusta and Xenophon, a Greek physician, poisoned the old emperor, in A. D. 54, at Sinuessa, a watering-place to which he had retired for the sake of his health. Nero was proclaimed emperor, and presented to the troops by Burrus, whom Agrippina had appointed praefectus praetorio. Narcissus, the rich freedman of Claudius, M. Junius Silanus, proconsul of Asia, the brother of L. Junius Silanus, and a great-grandson of Augustus, lost their lives at the instigation of Agrippina, who would have augmented the number of her victims, but for the opposition of Burrus and Seneca, recalled by Agrippina from his exile to conduct the education of Nero. Meanwhile, the young emperor took some steps to shake off the insupportable ascendency of his mother. The jealousy of Agrippina rose from her son's passion for Acte, and, after her, for Poppaea Sabina, the wife of M. Salvius Otho. To reconquer his affection, Agrippina employed, but in vain, most daring and most revolting means. She threatened to oppose Britannicus as a rival to the emperor ; but Britaniiieus was poisoned by Nero; and she even solicited her son to an incestuous intercourse.

At last, her death was resolved upon by Nero, who wished to repudiate Octavia and marry Poppaea, but whose plan was thwarted by his mother. Thus petty feminine intrigues became the cause of Agrippina's ruin. Nero invited her under the pretext of a reconciliation to visit him at Baiae, on the coast of Campania. She went thither by sea. In their conversation hypocrisy was displayed on both sides. She left Baiae by the same way; but the vessel was so contrived, that it was to break to pieces when out at sea. It only partly broke, and Agrippina saved herself by swimming to the shore ; her attendant Acerronia was killed. Agrippina fled to her villa near the Lucrine lake, and informed her son of her happy escape. Now, Nero charged Burrus to murder his mother; but Burrus declining it, Anicetus, the commander of the fleet, who had invented the stratagem of the ship, was compelled by Nero and Burrus to undertake the task. Anicetus went to her villa with a chosen band, and his men surprised her in her bedroom. "Ventrem feri" she cried out, after she was but slightly wounded, and immediately afterwards expired under the blows of a centurion. (A. D. 60.) (Tac. Ann. 14.8.) It was told, that Nero went to the villa, and that he admired the beauty of the dead body of his mother: this was believed by some, doubted by others. (14.9.) Agrippina left commentaries concerning her history and that of her family, which Tacitus consulted, according to his own statement. (Ib. 4.54; comp. Plin. Hist. Nat. 7.6. s. 8, Elenchus, vii. &c.)

There are several medals of Agrippina, which are distinguishable from those of her mother by the title of Augusta, which those of her mother never have. On some of her medals she is represented with her husband Claudius, in others with her son Nero. The former is the case in the one annexed. The words on each side are respectively, AGRIPPINAE AVGVSTAE, and TI. CLAVD. CAESAR. AVG. GERM. P.M. TRIB. POT. P.P.

(Tac. Ann. lib.xii. xiii. xiv.; Dio Cass. lib. lix.--xi.; Sueton. Claud. 43, 44, Nero, 5, 6.)