Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

gigatos | November 10, 2021


Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (born around 63 B.C. – died in March 12 B.C.), formerly francised as Marcus Agrippa, was a Roman general and politician of the first century B.C.; educated at the side of the young Caius Octavius Thurinus, the future emperor Augustus, his personal career was to be the same as that of the grand-nephew and now adopted son of Julius Caesar, as early as 44 B.C. C. that of the grand-nephew and now adopted son of Julius Caesar: faithful lieutenant, builder, man of war, son-in-law, and heir apparent to the Empire, Agrippa was his closest friend in all military and political battles.

Present at Octavian”s side from the death of Caesar in 44 BC, Agrippa allowed by his military victories (battle of Nauloque in 36 BC against Sextus Pompey, battle of Actium in 31 BC against Mark Antony) the affirmation of Octavian”s political authority, in a context of deep troubles, as well as accompanying the installation of the principate and the end of the civil wars of the Roman Republic. During the first fifteen years of the principate, he participated, on the initiative of Augustus, in the new conquests of the Empire, in Hispania (20 and 19 BC) and on the Danube in particular (13 and 12 BC). After the death of Marcellus, he was one of the presumed heirs of the Empire, until the birth of his sons. He is also a learned diplomat during the wars.

Agrippa was, with Maecenas, one of the very close advisors of Augustus. He was consul in 37 BC, at the time of the renewal of the second triumvirate, then in 28 and 27 BC at the same time as Octavian who had become emperor. To avoid monopolizing the consular office year after year, he received the same exceptional imperium as the emperor, the tribunitian power and ensured the co-regency with Augustus (receiving in turn an exceptional imperium in the East and in the West), however he remained subordinate to him.

He built on the Field of Mars the first thermal baths in Rome, private property that he bequeathed to the Roman people: the Thermae Agrippae. Near these baths, he built the first version of a temple dedicated to all the divinities, the Pantheon of Rome, during his third consulate in 27. He also built, on behalf of Augustus, other temples, aqueducts, notably the Aqua Julia and the Aqua Virgo in Rome, theaters and porticoes, and numerous roads both in the city and in the provinces, notably in Gaul.

Part of the matrimonial strategies of Augustus in order to ensure a dynastic continuity to his new regime, he married in third marriage the daughter of Augustus, Julia, in the year 21 BC, to whom he gave 5 children, among whom Caius and Lucius Caesar, adopted by Augustus and made Princes of Youth and heirs of the Empire before their premature death. Becoming the son-in-law of the emperor Augustus, whose niece Claudia Marcella the Elder he had married before, he is the first father-in-law of the future emperor Tiberius, to whom he gives in marriage his daughter Vipsania Agrippina then his other daughter Agrippina the Elder, and finally by his granddaughter Agrippina the Young; He is thus at the same time the maternal grandfather of emperor Caligula, the maternal great-grandfather of emperor Nero, as well as the father-in-law of general Germanicus, heir presumptive of the Empire until his death and elder brother of emperor Claudius, who also married Agrippina the Younger, granddaughter of Agrippa.

Birth and family

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, commonly called simply Agrippa, was born between March 64 and March 62 BC, probably in the year 63 BC like Octavian, or the following year. The day of his birth is perhaps included between October 23, even November 1, and November 23. He could have been born in Istria or in Asisium in Umbria or in Arpino in Italy, but this remains very uncertain.

His people are unknown in the Roman political landscape before him. He is the son of a named Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa, probably of a relatively modest Italian equestrian family having recently received the Roman citizenship. It is perhaps about a Marse family having received the citizenship in the aftermath of the social war of the beginning of the century. We know nothing about his mother. These origins make of him a homo novus, a new man, the first of his family to reach the highest political offices of the Roman Republic.

He has an elder brother who bears the first name of Lucius and he has a sister who is called Vipsania Polla. The family does not seem to be influential in the Roman society.

A faithful supporter of Octavian: from childhood friend to general-in-chief

He is of the same age as Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. Educated together, they met perhaps during the courses of some rhetoric masters, of which Apollodorus of Pergamon, and the two young men are bound since their youth and their adolescence by a deep friendship.

In spite of the links of the family with that of Julius Caesar, his brother took the opposite side during the civil war of 49 B.C. and fought with Cato against Caesar in Africa. When Cato”s troops were defeated, Agrippa”s brother was taken prisoner but was freed by Octavian who interceded on his behalf. No one knows if the two brothers fought in Africa, but the young Marcus Agrippa probably joined Caesar”s troops during the campaign of 46 and 45 BC against Sextus Pompey, like his friend Octavian. They probably both participated in the battle of Munda.

Caesar sends thereafter the two friends to study together in Apollonia of Illyria, where are located the Macedonian legions in anticipation of great military expeditions planned by Caesar against the Dacians and the Parthians, while he consolidates his power in Rome. Agrippa and Octavian, during their stay, would have met the astrologer Theogenes, who would have predicted to Agrippa a brilliant career, before prostrating himself before the exceptional destiny of Octavian.

The two friends had been in Apollonia for six months when they learned of the assassination of Caesar perpetrated at the ides of March 44 BC. Agrippa and Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, another friend, advise Octavian to march on Rome with the support of the legions of Macedonia to eliminate the murderers of Caesar, but this one decides to join Rome discreetly by boat, following the cautious advice of his family, in company of his two friends. Their advice is not only dictated by their youthful ardor, but perhaps also by political ambitions, seeking to take advantage of the civil wars to rise in the social hierarchy at the expense of the Roman aristocracy, many members of which are involved in the assassination of Caesar.

Octavian then learns that Caesar has designated him as his adopted son. Far from being passive spectators, Agrippa and Salvidienus then pushed him to accept the inheritance against the opinion of his maternal family. Octavian was accompanied to Rome by Agrippa and some friends to solemnly claim Caesar”s inheritance from the magistrates in charge of the wills: he then received three quarters of Caesar”s fortune, which Antony refused to return to him, and especially his patronymic. Octavian then takes the name of “Caesar”, but he is called “Octavian” by modern historians during this period.

Faced with the irruption of the young man on the political scene, Mark Antony embodies for a time the will to preserve the legality of the Roman Republic. He succeeded, in spite of the climate of tension, in a compromise with the conspirators who had assassinated Caesar. It is at first a great success for Antony who succeeds by this gesture to appease the veterans, to conciliate the majority of the Senate and appears in the eyes of the conspirators as their privileged interlocutor and protector, guarantee of the civil peace. However, the arrival of Octavian calls into question the decisions of Mark Antony concerning the Caesaricides and their partisans: the young Caesar wishes to take revenge and to punish the conspirators. Mark Antony is then in an uncomfortable position and although he is able to slow down the process of ratification of the adoption of Octavian, he must quickly clarify his political position for fear of losing his supports to Octavian. Mark Antony joined together the tribal comices on the 2 in order to promulgate agrarian laws favorable to the veterans and making it possible to ensure his position at the end of his mandate of consul and to place his principal partisans at the head of key provinces. He tries in particular to ensure for himself the control of the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul, then governed by Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, one of the conspirators of March 44, to take his place at January 1, 43.

During the summer and the autumn 44, the situation of Mark Antoine becomes more and more perilous. Cicero, feeling that it is possible to remove Antony by supporting Octavian, enters then in scene. He begins in September 44 a series of speeches against Antony, the Philippics, in order to turn the Senate against him. At the same time, Octavian works on his side to accelerate the rupture between the Senate and Antoine. The latter left Rome in October to gain Brindes and to join the Macedonian legions having crossed the Adriatic. Octavian, Agrippa and their friends realize that they need the support of the legions and make propaganda near the soldiers. Antony is very badly received in Brundus. Agrippa then helps Octavian to raise new troops in Campania, among the veterans of Caesar in particular.

In November, while Octavian secured the support of a large part of Caesar”s veterans, two of the Macedonian legions initially loyal to Antony, the Legio I Martia and Legio V Macedonica, joined him in Etruria. It was supposed in an uncertain way that Agrippa had been one of the negotiators having worked so that the legions of Macedonia are gained with their cause. Octavian is, it seems, for the first time, accompanied by Maecenas, whose diplomatic talents supplement those, military, of Agrippa.

Not being able to remain longer in Rome, his mandate of consul coming to an end, Mark Antony gathered the Senate in an unofficial way on November 28 in the evening in order to make sure that his provisions taken in June were well promulgated. The following day, Mark Antony, who had gathered his troops, reviewed them at Tibur and then headed north. It is the beginning of the War of Modena.

On January 1, 43, Caius Vibius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius begin their mandates of consuls according to the wishes left by Caesar on his will. As of the beginning of their mandate are launched debates which divide the senators on the attitude to be adopted vis-a-vis the actions of Marc Antoine, debates during which Cicero pronounces the Vth Philippic. On January 3, the Senate entrusts to the consuls the mission to carry help to Decimus Junius Brutus, besieged in Modena by Antony, with the command of the armies, and associates Octavian to them, which has a proprétorian imperium and for which it is the occasion to intervene directly in all legality. It is the first war during which Agrippa seconds Octavian, in particular at the time of the battles of Forum Gallorum and the seat of Modena. It is perhaps in the same year 43 BC that Agrippa”s political career begins at the same time, by being elected tribune of the plebs (it is thus necessary to suppose that he was quaestor before), which opens the doors of the Senate to him.

Octavian, strong of his new legions and assisted by Agrippa, defeated Antony in the north of Italy at the sides and after the victory of Modena of the consular troops in front of Mark Antony, during which the two consuls died, Octavian, haloed with glories, marched on Rome. He demands the consulship for the following year and chooses to break with Cicero and makes a pact with Mark Antony, who had become a “public enemy” and who had fled to Gaul where he soon found himself with the most important army in the West, and Lepidus in 43 BC: this is the beginning of the “triumvirate to restore the Republic”. Octavian and his coconsul Quintus Pedius had the assassins of Caesar tried in absentia. Agrippa was entrusted with the case of Caius Cassius Longinus.

In 42 BC, Agrippa took part in the battle of Philippi alongside Octavian and Mark Antony, according to Pliny the Elder. He probably commanded part of the troops of the young Caesar, the latter being ill. At the end of the battle, 50 000 Roman citizens perished and Octavian inflicted numerous tortures on the captive entourage of the Caesaricides Brutus and Cassius, who died in battle.

After their return to Rome, he plays a great role in the conflict which began in 41 B.C. and which opposes Octavian to Fulvia Antonia, wife of Mark Antony, and Lucius Antonius, his brother. Antony was then in Egypt.

Ventidius Bassus, Asinius Pollio and Munatius Plancus, with thirteen legions under their orders, tried to make raise the siege laid by the forces of the young Caesar, but did not succeed in breaking the siege, running up against the maneuvers of Salviedinus and Agrippa, which inflicted to them bitter defeats all around Perugia. The three generals then abandoned Lucius Antonius and Fulvie to their fate and withdrew, having great difficulties to get along between them and facing the discontent of their soldiers, whose interests are that the policy of distribution of grounds carried out by Octavian continues.

The fall of Perugia consecrated Octavian”s domination over the western provinces, notably Gaul, but did not put an end to the unrest in Italy. Several cities in the Apennines continued to resist. Munatius Plancus remained for a time in Spoleto before joining Antony in Greece. Agrippa managed to return to Octavian”s camp two legions left by Plancus. In Campania, Tiberius Claudius Nero was still in rebellion.

After the war of Perugia and the departure of Octavian for Gaul, Agrippa was urban prefect in Rome, a new stage in his political career as a young magistrate of the Republic. He had to face the growing discontent of the Romans who were tired of the maritime blockade imposed by the son of Pompey the Great, Sextus Pompey, who opposed the triumvirs. The latter is master of Sicily, and sends his admiral to seize Sardinia, then makes ravage the Etruscan coasts and takes foot in Corsica. Agrippa is then in the obligation to defend the peninsula against a front opened by the sea.

In July 40 BC, while Agrippa was presiding over the Apollinarian Games as urban praetor, Sextus Pompey launched raids to plunder the Italian coast.

Agrippa is then part of the intermediaries who negotiate peace between Antony and Octavian. During the negotiations leading to the peace of Brundus, he learns that Salvidienus was about to betray Octavian and to rally Antony. The latter having signed the peace with Octavian, he denounced Salvidienus, who would have proposed to him to desert and join him during his march on Italy. He was arrested, accused of high treason in front of the Senate, then died executed or committed suicide. Agrippa then became Octavian”s chief general, a position he held until his death.

The triumvirs appointed the consuls for the coming year, 39: Caius Calvisius Sabinus and Lucius Marcius Censorinus. They had been the only two senators who tried to defend Julius Caesar when his assassins stabbed him on March 15, 44 B.C. and their consulship under the triumvirate is considered as a recognition of their loyalty. To seal this new pact, Antony, now widowed, married Octavia, Octavian”s sister. The reconciliation was celebrated throughout the Empire, which hoped to enter a new era of peace.

Military leader and winner of civil wars

In 39 or 38 BC, or even both years, Octavian appointed Agrippa governor of transalpine Gaul to replace Salvidienus. Since the Roman conquest of Caesar, Gaul was left to itself during the civil wars. He curbed the rise in power of the Aquitanians, brought the Belgians to heel, fought the Germanic tribes, especially the Suevi, and became the second Roman general to cross the Rhine after Julius Caesar.

During this period or soon after, he married Caecilia Pomponia Attica, the daughter of Titus Pomponius Atticus, a friend of the late Cicero, perhaps as early as 43-42 BC but more likely around 37 BC. The couple had a daughter around 36 BC, Vipsania Agrippina.

Although not having reached the required age of 43 years, he was recalled to Rome by Octavian to ensure the consulship in 37 B.C. Octavian had just undergone several humiliating naval defeats in front of Sextus Pompey and needed his friend to plan a future strategy. Agrippa refuses the triumph awarded by the Senate on request of Octavian in spite of his exploits in Gaul, considering that it is not judicious to celebrate his victories whereas the party of Octavian lives a period of disorders. Agrippa seeks perhaps also to spare the susceptibility of his friend Octavian, to whom he owes his political rise, and does not wish to accentuate the contrast between his military successes and the setbacks of Octavian. This recall of Agrippa to Rome to fight Pompey is perhaps “the most intelligent measure taken by the heir of Caesar during this conflict”.

Henceforth consul, he must lead the war against Sextus Pompey, at the sides of Lucius Caninius Gallus, who abdicates and is replaced by Titus Statilius Taurus, who will command a fleet sent by Mark Antony to the help of Octavian.

While Sextus Pompey controlled the Italian coast, Agrippa”s first objective was to find a safe harbor for his fleet. In his previous campaign, Agrippa had been unable to find naval bases in Italy near Sicily. Agrippa showed great “organizational and building skills” by “undertaking gigantic works”: he succeeded in building a naval base in Campania from scratch, by digging a channel in the tongue of land separating the sea from Lake Lucrin to form an outer harbor, and another between Lake Lucrin and Lake Avernus to serve as an inner harbor. The new port complex was named Portus Julius in honor of Octavian. It completes its device by occupying the island of Stromboli. For the newly built fleet, Octavian and Agrippa freed 20,000 slaves, taking up the process of Sextus Pompey in Sicily, which they reproached him for until then.

Agrippa is the author of several technical improvements such as larger boats and an improved harpax.

The campaign against Sextus Pompey, planned in 37 BC, was postponed for a year. Agrippa”s work takes time and Octavian is busy renewing the second triumvirate with Mark Antony at the time of the pact of Taranto. Agrippa defines the strategy and makes his first steps in naval tactics.

This victory allows Octavian to land three legions in Sicily, with Lucius Cornificius at their head, but his fleet is severely beaten by that of Sextus Pompey. The young triumvir is wounded and he must abandon his legions to their fate. Agrippa sends three other legions to their rescue, from Mylae, and Cornificius succeeds in joining them. Agrippa seizes Tyndaris, very close. That has a strong impact on the Pompeian army, Sextus Pompey not being able to defer the ultimate combat any more.

He also renovated the streets, cleaned the sewers, the Cloaca Maxima, built baths and porticoes and laid out gardens. He also gave an impulse to art exhibitions while sumptuous shows were organized. He put in place, on the spina of the Circus Maximus, seven dolphins acting as lap-counters.

Mark Antony has a strong maritime superiority, being probably at the head of five hundred fighting ships, to which one should perhaps add two hundred Egyptian ships. The two triumvirs seek a naval confrontation, rather than to oppose their legions which all claim the Divine Julius. Octavian and Agrippa have a fleet lower in number, three to four hundred ships, but more handy, in particular the liburnas, and especially hardened at the time of the confrontation against Sextus Pompey.

The fleet, henceforth permanent, is initially based with Forum Julii, then it will be redeployed on the Italian coasts, with Misène and Ravenne, Agrippa playing surely an important role at the time of this redeployment of the imperial naval device.

If one places these events during the political crisis of 23 B.C., it is unlikely that the emperor, in the grip of the establishment of a new political regime, synonymous with upheaval, would have “exiled” a man to lead the bulk of the Roman troops. It is more probably a prudent political decision and Augustus would have mandated Agrippa to lead the Eastern legions with the possibility of using them if the establishment of the principate required a fast military support. Augustus must indeed face a plot in 2322 BC after his illness.

While Augustus had set up his succession, with a dedicated and efficient co-manager and a promising young heir, the latter, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, died suddenly in 23 B.C. Augustus delivered the eulogy for his son-in-law and Marcellus was the first member of the imperial family to be laid to rest in Augustus” mausoleum.

The emperor, remained in Rome, meets more and more hostility on behalf of the Roman aristocracy, its influence on the policy being too obvious. He chooses then, as five years before during his departure for Hispania, to move away from Rome. He has for objective to join Agrippa in the East, and makes a first stage in Sicily. But the consular elections for the year 21 B.C. bring strong disorders to Rome, two candidates seeking to impose themselves by the force.

The co-emperor and heir of Augustus

It is said that Mécène would then have advised Augustus, preoccupied by his succession and by the troubles in Rome, to get closer to Agrippa by making him his son-in-law. Maecenas would have pointed out to Augustus that he had made Agrippa so powerful that it was necessary either to eliminate him or to bind him. Augustus had only one daughter, from his three marriages (with Clodia Pulchra, Scribonia then Livia). He would thus have incited Agrippa to get rid of Marcella and to marry his daughter Julia, the widow of Marcellus, praised for her beauty, her capacities and an unscrupulous debauchery. Agrippa left Mytilene before the end of the winter of 2221 B.C. to marry Julia in Rome.

Augustus continues as for him his voyage in the East, leaving the care with Agrippa, whose marriage with the daughter of Augustus gives him a sufficient legitimacy, to face the disorders in Rome.

The new couple had a villa built on the right bank of the Tiber, near Trastevere, where many paintings have been found which testify to the interest of Agrippa and his wife in works of art. A bridge was also built to join the villa to the rest of the city: Agrippa”s bridge.

Agrippa, who has the same age as the emperor and thus the age to be the father of his wife, is surely for Augustus an intermediary and a protector of the children to be born of the new couple. The birth of Caius and Lucius Julius Caesar Vipsanianus in 20 and 17 B.C. fills with joy the emperor who adopts them, these last ones becoming his heirs. Between them, Agrippa and Julia also have a daughter: Vipsania Julia Agrippina, born in 19 BC.

In 20 BC, Agrippa left Rome for a perilous mission in the West. Agrippa went first to the Rhine, where he repelled Germanic incursions and founded a city on the site of present-day Cologne, on the right bank of the Rhine, by displacing a tribe allied to Rome, the Ubians.

He laid the foundations for the organization of the province of Gaul, reforming the provincial administration, the tax system and building an important network of aqueducts. He undertook, by order of Augustus, the construction of the network of Roman roads in Gaul. Lugdunum was at the heart of the road network that he created in Gaul, the city becoming the capital of Gaul under his leadership. The colony of Nemausus founded by Augustus under the direction of Agrippa a few years earlier, became the seat of a monetary workshop and many monuments were built there.

Then, he left to fight the Cantabrians in Hispania to put an end to repeated revolts. In the north of the Iberian Peninsula, in the land of the Asturians, Cantabrians and Galicians, the populations of this mountainous region are fiercely attached to their independence, and the armies of Augustus are engaged in a war of conquest for two decades. The Asturians were subdued but the Cantabrians continued to resist.

Agrippa obtains, by terror, a definitive success in 19 BC: he makes massacre the majority of the men in age to carry weapons, enslaves a great part of the remainder of the Cantabrian population and installs the survivors in the plains instead of the mountains.

As in Gaul previously, he sketched out the administrative organization of the province, founding cities of veterans and developing the road network. He built a theater in Merida which was inaugurated between 16 and 15 BC.

Agrippa was then considered the emperor”s “colleague”. Agrippa”s portrait appears next to that of Augustus on coins issued at the end of the first century B.C. in the Roman colony of Nemausus, which shows his very high political position and his immense prestige due to his major role in the victory of Actium.

On his return to Rome, he declined the triumph granted to him by the Senate, not wanting to cast any shadow on the emperor. Henceforth colleague of the emperor and heir, he no longer reports to the Senate but only to the emperor.

In 18 B.C., Augustus sees his powers renewed and insists that Agrippa also receives the exceptional imperium as well as the tribunitian power for five years, which he himself received only in 23 B.C

In 17 BC, Augustus decides to celebrate the secular Games, to exalt the new golden century. The emperor and Agrippa are then the presidents of the college of priest of which the ceremony falls: the Quindecemviri sacris faciundis. The emperor and Agrippa sacrifice several animals to the Fates, to Juno, to Diane and to Apollo. Agrippa offers several chariot races to the people. It is during these games that Lucius is born, which coincides with the new golden age as Horace sings it and Augustus adopts him with his elder brother Caius.

A few weeks after the end of the Games and the birth of Lucius, Agrippa leaves Rome for the East in company of his wife, which contravenes the rules for a military leader. However, that reinforces the prestige of the son-in-law of Augustus. Numerous dedications are addressed in the Greek cities they travel. His mission was the same as during his previous visit to the East: to ensure the restoration of the finances of the cities of the Eastern part of the Empire.

At the end of 15 BC, in Greece, the second daughter of the couple, Agrippina, was born. His first daughter, Vipsania Agrippina, who married Tiberius, gave Agrippa a grandson, Julius Caesar Drusus, born between 15 and 13 BC.

In 14 B.C., while on his way to Asia Minor, Herod I the Great, king of Judea and ally of Rome, came to see him and invited him to go to Jerusalem. He installed veterans in the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Felix Berytus (Beirut).

Back in Ionia, where Herod joined him, Nicholas of Damascus was sent to Agrippa to plead the cause of the Jews living in the Hellenized cities. Agrippa”s prudent administration earned him the respect and goodwill of the provincials, especially the Jews.

Agrippa then prepares a campaign against Scribonius, an alleged heir of the worst enemy of the first decades of this century, Mithridates VI of Pontus, who fought against Rome from 88 to 63 BC during the Mithridatic wars. This pretender tries to impose himself in the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosphorus. Agrippa restored Rome”s power over the inhabitants of the Crimea by sending Polemon I of Pontus, an ally of Rome. Agrippa receives great honors and even a triumph, which he declines again, for having defeated an heir of Mithridate VI and recovered the Roman eagles captured by the latter, via Polemon, which has a great repercussion in Rome. The Cimmerian wheat supplies again Greece and Anatolia.

In 13 BC, Augustus and Agrippa, having respectively governed the West and the East for a few years, returned to Rome to have their imperium and tribunitian power renewed for five years.

In the autumn, once his powers had been renewed, Agrippa left Rome for Pannonia, the last direct access to Italy for Rome”s enemies since the Alpine arc had been subdued by Augustus. In addition, the Pannonians had recently made incursions into Istria. This Pannonian campaign is perhaps part of a more general plan which must be coupled with the offensive planned the following year by Drusus in Germania. Initially, Agrippa intervened in the region of the high Danube, in the valleys of Save and Drava.

However, during the winter of 13-12 B.C., his health deteriorated and he had to leave the Pannonian mountains to retire in Campania.

He died in Campania between the 19th and 24th of March 12 B.C. at the age of 50.

According to Pliny the Elder, Agrippa had been suffering for years from violent attacks of gout as well as rheumatism, as shown by the numerous dedications to Health during his stay in Gaul. Agrippa, weakened, would not have resisted the rigors of the winter in the Pannonian mountains or would have been carried away by an epidemic affecting Italy in the first months of the year 12 BC, following the example of Lepidus, according to the modern historians.

Augustus honored his friend by organizing a grandiose funeral, in conformity with those which he envisaged for himself. He pronounced the eulogy in front of the temple of the Divine Julius and mourned for more than a month. He will adopt the children of Agrippa and will take care himself of their education. Although he had built his final resting place, Agrippa had the honor of resting in the emperor”s own mausoleum, thus becoming a full member of the imperial family.

The Roman aristocracy shows the deep contempt which it had for Agrippa, considered by it as a parvenu, or homo novus, by refusing to attend the funeral games given in his honor. The plebs, on the other hand, paid massive tribute to the emperor”s son-in-law, for his edifying work which greatly contributed to the well-being of all Romans, notably by improving the water supply of the city.

He bequeathed a portico which was completed by his sister, the Vipsania portico, on the Champ de Mars. At the request of Augustus and according to the wish of Agrippa, a map of the world is displayed on its walls, offered to the public, in painting or mosaic. This orbis terrarum would represent the world as it is known with the limits of the Empire and this map would have been drawn up from the indications left by Agrippa.

Agrippa gives via his will the major part of his goods to the emperor, including his team of slaves to maintain the supply network. His thermal baths are bequeathed to the Roman people, as well as the parks and gardens that he laid out. Augustus distributed 100 silver denarii to the citizens benefiting from the distribution of wheat in the name of his son-in-law.

His posthumous son, born at the end of the year, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Posthumus, is named in his honor.

Wives and offspring

With his first wife, Caecilia Pomponia Attica, he has a daughter: Vipsania Agrippina, who will be the first wife of Tiberius. They have together a son, Julius Caesar Drusus, born during Agrippa”s lifetime. Tiberius divorces after the death of the latter to marry his widow, Julia, the daughter of Augustus, and despite his sincere attachment to Vipsania. She was remarried to Caius Asinius Gallus in 11 BC, with whom she had at least six sons.

From his second wife, Claudia Marcella the Elder, he also had a daughter, Vipsania Marcella, wife of the senator Quintus Haterius, or of the general Publius Varus Quinctilius or of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

From his last union with Julia, daughter of Augustus, 5 children were born, all of whom met a tragic fate:

Faithful friend and hard worker

Agrippa was “in turn a general, an admiral, an architect, a minister of public works, a man of letters, an administrator and a geographer. He was one of the main architects of the foundation of the Empire and, as a worthy heir to Caesar in the field of military art, appears as one of the greatest men of war of his time.

The ancient authors praise the merits of Agrippa, notably Dion Cassius and Horace.

“He was a man of eminent courage. Tires, vigils, dangers could not overcome him. He knew perfectly well how to obey, but only to one, and he was also eager to command others. He never allowed himself to be delayed and immediately moved from decision to action.

– Velleius Paterculus, Roman History, translation by Després, 1825, book II, 79.

Jean-Michel Roddaz notes that “few authors have, in so few words, given such a good definition of the second of Augustus. No one indeed has perhaps better understood, better analyzed this contained ambition and this unconditional loyalty to the service of only one “.

Moreover, in the first rank of which Dion Cassius, they often oppose the personalities of the two closest advisers of Augustus: Agrippa and Mécène.

The first one is of modest origin, a soldier taken out of the rank following military exploits, a homo novus. It is the victories won for Octavian, as well as their friendship since childhood, which enable him to climb the ladder of the cursus honorum. However, even arrived at the supreme magistracy and with the capacity with the Prince, it affects a great simplicity of life which points out the austerity of the traditional Roman virtues. His origin and his conduct earned him the contempt of the old Roman nobility, whereas the ancient authors make of Agrippa a convinced partisan of the restoration of the traditional republic, always in opposition to Maecenas.

The latter is described as being diametrically opposed, coming from an old Etruscan family, loving luxury, leading a great life and supporting a monarchic regime.

The rivalry or the disagreement between the two friends of Augustus, that all seems to oppose, is surely very exaggerated. Octavian would not have repeatedly entrusted the reins of Italy and Rome to the hands of two men who hated each other. And concerning the supposed republican ideas of Agrippa, it is to be noted that he supports on the contrary all along his life Augustus during the institution of the principate, being consul twice in a row at the side of Augustus during the years 2827 B.C., at a turning point of the Roman history, or by becoming his son-in-law and heir until his death.

An example of an emperor”s servant

Agrippa will show throughout his life a very great political sense, in the shade of Augustus, by sparing the susceptibility of his friend and emperor. If he allows him by his naval victories to become master of the West then of all the Empire, he will always remain in the second plan, refusing by three times the triumphs which one awards to him. If he accepts to be eclipsed by Augustus, it is surely because it is obvious to him that he will never be able to reach the position of Augustus himself. During his youth, Agrippa learns two things: the importance of the army and the strength of the Roman tradition. The army is his road to power, but as a member of an Italian equestrian family and not a senator, he cannot claim supreme power.

His image “often appears to us, in many texts, as stereotyped, shaped by the official “propaganda”; Agrippa must serve as an example for future generations, because he symbolizes loyalty and moderation, devotion to the cause of the State”. Such is the case with this excerpt from Dion Cassius:

“Agrippa, the man, without question, the most commendable of his century, and who used the friendship of Augustus only to render, and with the prince himself and the State, the greatest services. Indeed, as much he prevailed on the others, as much he liked to efface himself in front of Augustus: because, at the same time as he made concur all his prudence, all his spirit with the interests of the prince, he devoted to the beneficence all the credit, all the power which he enjoyed near him. It was there especially what made that it was never importunate with Augustus, nor odious with his fellow-citizens: if it contributed to the consolidation of the monarchy in the hand of Augustus, as a true partisan of an absolute government, it was attached the people by its benefactions, as a man who has the most popular feelings.

– Dion Cassius, Roman History, translation by Étienne Gros, 1855, book LIV, 29.

Jean-Michel Roddaz concludes that “the almost unanimous praise which emerges from the ancient historiography when it leans on the personality of Marcus Agrippa, rests certainly on a bottom of historical truth”. Moreover, his death before the second part of the reign of Augustus and at the height of his career, in the middle of the golden age of the establishment of the Empire, “perhaps preserved Agrippa from the criticisms of History and left to posterity the care of commemorating his virtues, by reserving for him the praises of glory”.


Agrippa is a character in :

On the screen

In the television series I Claudius Emperor, an adaptation of BBC Two”s I, Claudius broadcast in 1976, Agrippa is portrayed as an elderly man, whereas he was only 39 years old at the time of the historical events recounted in the first episode (24 and 23 BC).

In the Spanish peplum Los cántabros, directed in 1980 by Paul Naschy, Agrippa is the main character.

The British-Italian series Imperium: Augustus, broadcast on Rai 1 in 2003, begins with the announcement of Agrippa”s death. In it, Augustus tells his daughter Julia, Agrippa”s widow, how he became the famous Roman emperor, and bitterly misses his friend and heir. In flashbacks, we see Agrippa at Augustus” side, notably during the battle of Munda and the victory of Actium.

In the second season of the HBO, BBC Two and Rai 2 series Rome, broadcast in 2007, we see the early years of Octavian”s career, with Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa accompanying him, between 44 and 30 BC. In the series, Agrippa is played by the Irish actor Allen Leech.

In 2016, he appeared in the episode From Actium to Alexandria of the YouTube channel Confessions of History. In it, the role of Agrippa is played by French actor Florian Velasco.

He also appears in several films about Cleopatra. He is generally presented as an old man.

Finally, Agrippa is one of the secondary characters in the television series Domina, broadcast in 2021 on Sky Atlantic, which describes the rise of the empress Livia. In the series, Agrippa is played by the British actor Ben Batt.

External links


  1. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
  2. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
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