Agrippina the Elder- Enemy of the State or First Lady of Roman Politics?

By: The Scribe on Monday, March 14, 2011

Although many people tend to concentrate on the men in Roman politics, the women also had an important role to play in many cases. One example of this is Agrippina the Elder, who lived from 14 BCE to 33 CE. She was the granddaughter of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, who was emperor of Rome from 27 BCE to 14 CE. Her links to the Caesars of Rome did not end with Augustus, however.

A bust of Agrippina the ElderAgrippina was married to Germanicus, a general in the armies of the Roman Empire. She was also his maternal second cousin. She bore him nine children, although only six lived past childhood. Two of the best known would have to be her son Caligula, who later went on to rule the Empire, and her daughter, the Empress Agrippina the Younger. Many of her children still had important roles to play in the political life of Rome.

Her husband was a popular military leader and was adored by the common citizens in Rome. While Augustus was in power, everything looked good for Agrippina and her husband. She accompanied him on his military campaigns, which was something quite unusual for the time. It was far more normal for a Roman wife to stay at home with the children while her husband was off on campaign. This was something that earned her a reputation for being a very devoted and heroic wife. She also earned the reputation for being a skilled diplomat as well.

Because her husband was a favorite of Augustus, Germanicus was even considered by Augustus as the heir to the empire. If that had taken place, things would likely have turned out very differently for Agrippina. Unfortunately, her husband was passed over for the position and Tiberius was made Emperor instead of Germanicus.

Her husband died during a trip to the Middle East in 19 CE. Agrippina accused Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the man who was then governor of Syria, of poisoning her husband and returned to Italy with his ashes. She continued to be active in the political life of Rome and, over time, Tiberius began to suspect her of disloyalty to him. She was arrested, along with two of her sons, in 29 CE and was banished to the island of Pandataria, which is now known as Ventotene. There, she was flogged by a centurion and lost an eye in the process.

Agrippina eventually starved herself to death in 33 CE. Of her three sons, Drusus also died of starvation while imprisoned, and her son Nero died after his trial in 29 CE. Reports state that he was either murdered or that he committed suicide. Caligula, her remaining son, succeeded Tiberius as emperor of Rome. A cinerary urn for Agrippina the Elder

Although Tiberius tried to slander her name and reputation, he did not succeed. She was known for many positive things such as her courage and her devotion to her husband and her children. She also made it far more easy for women to wield power in Roman politics and showed them that women could indeed have a role in making policies that helped to shape the Roman Empire as a whole.


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