Agrippina the Younger

gigatos | March 11, 2023


Iulia Agrippina († 59 in Campania), often called Agrippina the Younger (Latin: Agrippina minor) to distinguish her from her mother, was a daughter of Germanicus and the elder Agrippina and thus a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. She was the mother of Nero and wife of Emperor Claudius.

Agrippina was the seventh of at least nine children of Germanicus Iulius Caesar and Vipsania Agrippina, also called Agrippina the Elder. She was the great-granddaughter of Augustus and thus belonged to the closest circle of the imperial family. On Augustus” instructions, Agrippina”s great uncle Tiberius adopted her father Germanicus. Tiberius thus legally became her grandfather. Her siblings included Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar, who were adopted by Tiberius in 20 AD as potential heirs to the throne but were executed in 30 and 33 AD, respectively, the future emperor Caligula, and Drusilla and Iulia Livilla.

Agrippina was born in the Oppidum Ubiorum, named after the Ubians who settled there, on the site of what later became Cologne. At that time, Germanicus was the commander-in-chief of the legions fighting in Germania. Soon after Agrippina”s birth, Germanicus was recalled from the Rhine frontier by Tiberius and sent to the eastern territories, where he also occupied a high position of power before dying under unclear circumstances. Agrippina”s environment enjoyed a good reputation from birth, from which she also initially benefited. Not much is known about her life until the death of Tiberius in 37 AD. In her youth, she probably lived with her grandmother in Rome while her parents moved to the East. She received instruction in reading and writing and a basically good education. Nothing else is known about her early youth.

In her first marriage she had been married since 28 AD to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, with whom she had her only son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, later Emperor Nero, in 37 AD. After her brother Caligula had her worshiped like goddesses at the beginning of his reign along with the two sisters Drusilla and Iulia Livilla, after Drusilla”s death he suspected the other two sisters of conspiring against him along with her brother-in-law Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and sent Agrippina into exile to the rocky island of Pontia in 39 AD, from which she could not return until after his assassination in 41 AD. Her first husband died in 40 AD as a result of illness. After her return, she married in second marriage Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus, a wealthy and influential senator, who probably died in 47 AD; according to Suetonius, he was killed by Agrippina”s treachery. In 49 AD Agrippina then married her uncle Claudius as his fourth wife, for which a law had to be specially changed that forbade marriage between uncle and niece. She then succeeded in strengthening her position at court and weakening that of her opponents. Claudius hoped that the union with Agrippina, who unlike him was descended from Emperor Augustus, would give him additional dynastic legitimacy. The marriage therefore also strengthened Agrippina”s influence and prestige in the public eye, which is why she was honored with statues and inscriptions.

Agrippina”s new position did not give her a legal or institutional position, but it did give her de facto political power, which she claimed and exercised. From pictorial evidence and the historiography, which was predominantly hostile to her, it is clear that she did not conform to the traditional image of women. She sought to secure the succession to the throne for her son, although Claudius himself had a son, Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus, also called Britannicus, from his marriage to Valeria Messalina. In February of AD 50, Claudius adopted the 12-year-old Lucius, who was now Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, ahead of his younger stepbrother Britannicus in the line of succession to the throne, displacing him as the immediate successor, which had the effect of strengthening Agrippina”s future bad reputation. In addition, Claudius now bestowed the title Augusta on his wife. She was thus the first Roman emperor”s wife to be given this title during her husband”s lifetime and also had full minting rights. Therefore, Agrippina could be depicted on empire-wide coinage without naming or portraying the princeps. Her power is also reflected in the founding of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, named after her, in 50 AD, which elevated the settlement at her birthplace from an oppidum to a Colonia civium Romanorum, whose inhabitants, initially mostly veterans, had Roman citizenship.

Nero was declared of age at 14 and appointed senator and proconsul. At 16, he was married in 53 AD to his 13-year-old stepsister Claudia Octavia, daughter of Claudius and Valeria Messalina. By adopting Nero, he had officially become her brother, whom she was not allowed to marry under Roman law, so Claudia had previously been made an Octavian pro forma by adoption. In the same year that her father Claudius died, Octavia became Augusta in 54 AD. As Nero”s mother, Agrippina received support during his reign from the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, an advisor and teacher to Nero, and the philosopher Seneca, both of whom Agrippina elevated to a higher position.

According to Tacitus, Agrippina had her husband Claudius poisoned with the help of the poisoner Lucusta in order to help her son Nero to power. Initially, after the death of Claudius, she may have hoped to seize de facto power herself, as a coin with the inscription “Agrippina Augusta, wife of the deified Claudius, mother of Nero Caesar” suggests. Agrippina also now had herself portrayed as the goddess of fortune (Fortuna). In the first years she still exercised strong influence on Nero”s government, but lost it in the following years. In 59 AD, Nero had his mother murdered. This act was still associated with the so-called Caesar madness at the beginning of the 20th century. In the meantime there are also other views. After her death, the Senate declared her birthday as dies ater (“Black Day”). Seneca justified the killing of Agrippina before the senators.

As with most members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Agrippina”s image is shaped by the portrayal in ancient sources (especially Tacitus and Suetonius), which hardly allow for an objective assessment. Tacitus, according to his own account, drew on the memoirs written by her in his Annales.

Agrippina initiated various steps to make her son the successor ruler. She ordered Lucius Annaeus Seneca back to hire him as his tutor. The senator and accomplice of Livilla had previously been exiled to Corsica by Messalina.

Furthermore, Agrippina set herself the goal of winning over the loyalty and fidelity of the military. In the Praetorian Guard she appointed the soldier Afranius Burrus as commander and gradually replaced the old soldiers with new ones loyal to her father Germanicus. At events she wore a chlamys and, moreover, is said to have sat next to her husband, putting herself on an equal footing with him.

The ancient sources paint the picture of a passive Claudius. Meanwhile, he bestowed on her the title of Augusta, which he had previously denied Messalina, and advertised coins bearing her image. He adopted her son Domitius in 50 AD and gave him the name Nero. The latter was three years older than Britannicus and was married to Claudius” daughter Octavia in 53 AD.

Britannicus negated his adopted brother and is said to have once called him by his birth name, Domitius. When Agrippina learned this, she reported it to Claudius and accused Britannicus of treason. Claudius allowed her to dismiss Britannicus” tutors and hire new ones.

In late 54 AD, Britannicus was about to celebrate his 13th birthday. At that time, Claudius became ill and died shortly thereafter on the night of October 13, 54 AD as a result of poisoning, so his adopted son Nero was named ruler of the Roman Empire at the age of 16. Rumor has it that Agrippina poisoned her husband Claudius in order to deny his biological son Britannicus the right to rule.

Agrippina spent a total of six years securing the title of ruler for her son. Now she expected something in return, which promised a not inconsiderable share of power. From then on, she moved around Rome accompanied by two lictors and gave orders to the praetorians.

At first, Nero was not bothered by the fact that his mother held so much power. Coins showed them together and for the first time the portrait of a living woman was shown on the front of the coin.

Gradually, Nero”s displeasure at having to share power with his mother became unmistakable. Thus, her influence waned at the beginning of 55 AD. A major catalyst for this was Nero”s love affairs. His marriage to Octavia was orchestrated by Agrippina to secure her son”s claim to power. Nero, however, did not like the union and instead entered into a relationship with the freed Claudia Acte. According to the historian Tacitus, she consequently ordered the Praetorians to oust Nero and have him replaced by Britannicus. A few weeks later, shortly before reaching the age of 14, the latter was poisoned during a state banquet on Nero”s instructions. Officially he succumbed to his epilepsy. With the murder of his adopted brother, Nero declared his independence from Agrippina. Her portrait on the coins now appeared behind that of her son and later disappeared altogether. Furthermore, Nero demonstrated his superiority by depriving his mother of her bodyguards, assigning her a residence outside the imperial palace, and declaring her persona non grata.

A few years later he fell in love with Poppaea Sabina, eight years his senior. She was the former wife of the praetorian prefect Rufrius Crispinus, whom Agrippina had previously ousted from his position of leadership, and now wanted to become his wife, but this was legally barred to a freedwoman. Poppaea presented Nero with an ultimatum: she would leave him for her former husband if he did not put a definitive stop to his mother.

In the spring of 59 AD, he decided to kill his mother. After a failed attempt at Baiae, a resort in Naples, to sink his mother in a prepared boat, he dispatched a squad of three soldiers who ultimately killed her. Agrippina was murdered, cremated and buried without ceremony or monument. With the murder of Agrippina, Nero is the only Roman emperor to commit matricide. Matricide was later considered the main motive of those conspirators who had previously tried to overthrow Nero in 65 AD and of the rebellious legions who ousted him three years later and forced him to commit suicide.

It should be noted that Agrippina Minor gained access to imperial power three times during her 30 years of political life: the first time as Caligula”s sister, the second time as Claudius” wife, and finally as Nero”s mother. She was the only woman of Rome who publicly exercised the power of an emperor.

Agrippina the Younger made a historically significant decision by founding the first Roman-legal city in the Rhineland, today”s Cologne. As the daughter of Germanicus, she had to be present in the area around her birthplace. By founding Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, a veteran colony in the city of the Ubians, she wanted to demonstrate her power to the allied peoples. Although there were already cities named after women, these were Hellenistic kingdoms with a monarchic-dynastic structure. Thus, Agrippina”s action and the associated naming of a city after her was a completely foreign enterprise with regard to Roman ideas. Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium was the first colony in the Roman image to bear the name of a living woman.

Her action was inspired by Claudius, who gave Lugdunum, the central place of the Gallic provinces, the epithet Claudia. For Agrippina, this colony foundation meant an equality with her husband, since she accomplished the foundation in the same year of her marriage with Claudius. It was a means for Agrippina to strengthen her own position within the political power system.

Change for the city

The city, like Moguntiacum, was a governor”s seat for the Upper Germanic army district. With the founding of the colony, not only did the name change for the oppidum Ubiorum, but the city also received a Roman city law, which was exhibited in a building open to the public. In addition, the founding of the city led to a systematic settlement of disused soldiers, who at that time were still mainly recruited in Italy. This resulted in a considerable strengthening of the Italian law.

The founding of the colony also had urban consequences for the area, since a Roman colony always insisted on structural facilities such as the Capitolium, the Curia, the Basilica or a city wall. For this project, the emperor provided financial resources and the manpower of his troops.

If Agrippina the Younger had not founded a colony in the oppidum Ubiorum in 50 AD, the present city of Cologne would bear a different name.


In general, Agrippina”s reception has been largely negative to this day. A philological analysis of more recent times, however, reveals contradictions in the accounts of ancient authors, which suggests a hostile attitude toward Agrippina the Younger.

In Tacitus” depictions, it can be seen that he restricted them mainly to personalities. Thus, he used similar criteria of comparison for historical figures. Agrippina and Livia were both mothers of emperors (Livia of Tiberius, Agrippina of Nero) and wives of emperors (Livia of Augustus, Agrippina of Claudius). While they were individual characters in Tacitus” depictions, both were portrayed comparably negatively. Tacitus uses identical terms to describe Agrippina and Livia, making a connection between the two women inevitable, here to Livia”s detriment (e.g., “impotentia” (inability to restrain)). Hayden White theorized in 1973 that historians were actually artists who gave aesthetic and moral meaning to historical events. Moreover, ancient historiography was largely similar to today”s genre of the historical novel. It was only 19th-century Europe that reinvented historiography, he said. The depictions of Agrippina and other ancient figures should therefore not be received unobjectionably.

Tacitus offers an artistic, individual account, for which he deliberately selected and revised the historical source material. However, his works cannot be classified as fiction, since the text does not exist only through its own existence, but there is a historical and political context. With this deliberate and purposeful representation of Agrippina, Tacitus expresses his strong dislike for the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Fine arts: antiquity to present

Agrippina was murdered and buried in Campania. Nero was skeptical of the reactions of the inhabitants of Campania, some of whom rushed to her side after Agrippina”s death, unknowing that they were turning against their princeps. They eventually publicly consented to Nero”s official interpretation of events – Agrippina”s suicide – revealing themselves to be complicit, if not in the murder, then in its aftermath. Agrippina”s murder forced the inhabitants of Campania to declare their allegiance to her or to Nero, something many contemporaries shied away from in the midst of political turmoil.

The same problem is found in the archaeological memory of the region: in Puteoli Agrippina”s name was removed from a monument commemorating local games, while in Herculaneum a large group of statues representing her name and likeness, as well as many other inscriptions in and around the Gulf of Naples, were preserved until after her death. The inhabitants of Campania thus commemorated their Augusta, but disagreed on the orientation of this commemoration.

After her return from exile in 41 AD, Agrippina was given an above-average presence in pictorial works throughout the empire. At the beginning of Nero”s reign, depictions of her were actively promoted and subsequently inhibited, as was the case, for example, on coinage. In the Baroque period, pathetically macabre scenes between the mother and her son were often created: Nero gazes at the dead mother, who lies sprawled naked before her son and his entourage (painting by Antonio Zanchi, c. 1670). In a painting by Antonio Rizzi in 1894, a more dramatic scene is depicted: The distraught Agrippina kneels before Nero on his throne, while his advisors and Agrippina”s former confidants stand behind him. In 1878, John William Waterhouse drew the relationship in a new light, with Nero”s remorse over his mother”s murder in focus. In 1900, Jan Styka depicts Nero”s raging anger toward Agrippina. Honoré Daumier drew a caricature of the relationship in 1841, depicting Agrippina as a quarrelsome old crone. A marble relief from the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias (a place of worship honoring the Julio-Claudian imperial family) depicts a different scene: Nero in military costume next to Agrippina, who put the laurel wreath on him.


Agrippina has often been portrayed somberly in modern times. Her murder seems legitimized, as in Gerolamo Cardano”s In Praise of Nero 1562. Moreover, Agrippina is sometimes depicted as a ghost, though she can mostly be seen from a different perspective. Authors seem to have more understanding of her actions than their predecessors, which is evident in Matthew Gwinne”s Nero. A New Tragedy from 1603. Some works, on the other hand, are comedic, such as Giovanni Francesco Busenello”s

In 1992, the classical philologist Pierre Grimal published “Mémoires d”Agrippine”, an exceptional account from Agrippina”s point of view, which also provides an insight into her inner life. He deviated here from the common reception in literature, film and visual art as one of the few literary figures with a fictional diary of Agrippina, in which Agrippina is portrayed as a reflective personality yearning for the love of her son. Often the depictions are tragic-comic, often with erotic elements, also alluding to Caligula, for example in Mario Castellacci”s

Souvenir of the city of Cologne to Agrippina

Cologne kept the name “Agrippina” in her memory until late antiquity.

The city of Cologne keeps a positive memory, which is reflected in the numerous place names and in the celebrations of Carnival. She is considered the founder of Cologne and is still symbolized there by the garb of the maiden of the Cologne triumvirate in Carnival. In the sculpture program of the Cologne City Hall Tower, a figure by Heribert Calleen was dedicated to Agrippina on the first floor. In the historical memory of the people of Cologne, Agrippina continues to be held in high esteem, which is reflected in the carnival song Agrippina Agrippinensis by Karl Berbuer from 1952, as well as in the naming of streets – such as Agrippinaufer and Agrippinawerft. The soccer club SV Agrippina Germania Köln refers to her by name, as does Cologne”s oldest insurance company, Agrippina-Versicherung, founded in 1844.


  1. Agrippina die Jüngere
  2. Agrippina the Younger
  3. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals XII.66; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXI.34; Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius 44; Josephus is less sure, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.1.
  4. Werner Eck: Die iulisch-claudische Familie: Frauen neben Caligula, Claudius und Nero. In: Hildegard Temporini-Gräfin Vitzthum (Hrsg.): Die Kaiserinnen Roms. Von Livia bis Theodora. C. H. Beck, München 2002, ISBN 3-406-49513-3, S. 8–12.
  5. Eck: Agrippina, S. 13–18.
  6. Maike Vogt-Lüerssen, Agrippina die Jüngere – Die große römische Politikerin und ihre Zeit, Norderstedt 2006, ISBN 3-8334-5214-5, pp. 34–35
  7. E. Groag, A. Stein, L. Petersen – e.a. (edd.), Prosopographia Imperii Romani saeculi I, II et III (PIR), Berlin, 1933 – I 641
  8. a b Tácito, Anais XII.66; Dião Cássio, História romana LXI.34; Suetônio, Vidas dos Doze Césares, Vida de Cláudio 44; Josefo já não tem tanta certeza: Josefo, Antiguidades Judaicas XX.8.1
  9. Scramuzza (1940) pp. 91–92. ver também Tácito, Anais XII 6, 7; Suetônio. Vida de Cláudio 26.
  10. Antony A. Barret Agrippina. Sex, Power And Politics In The Early Empire. — Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996. — ISBN 0-300-07856-0
  11. Boccaccio, Giovanni. Famous Women. I Tatti Renaissance Library / Translated by Virginia Brown. — Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. — ISBN 0-674-01130-9.
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.