halfway through my body of work, I experienced a crisis of confidence and attempted to start a new work based on ancient perosonalities in modern contexts. agrippina’s modern twist is that, instead of a cornucopia, she holds an esky of the pax romana.
(Top to bottom) Livia Augusta, Julia the Elder, Agrippina the Younger
Livia was the wife and advisor of Augustus. She was born in 58 BC and her father had fought against Augustus, then known as Octavian, during the civil wars that erupted after the assassination of Julius Caesar. A general pardon was issued when Augustus was victorious and she was introduced to him in 39 BC. Despite her being married and 6 months pregnant with her second child, Augustus immediately divorced his own wife Scribonia and either persuaded or forced Livia’s husband - Tiberius Claudius Nero - to divorce her and they were married in January 38 BC, mere months after their first meeting and remained so for 51 years. The untimely deaths of Augustus’ nephew Marcellus and grandsons Gauis and Lucius - obstacles to Tiberius’ accession - are often attributed to Livia. Tacitus and Cassius Dio even suggest that she played a role in the death of Augustus in AD 14. Upon her son’s accession her influence began to weaken. In AD 29 at 87 years of age she fell ill and died. She was stripped of all honours granted to her during her lifetime and her will was left unfulfilled. Her ashes were placed alongside Augustus’ in the Mausoleum of Augustus without the pomp or ceremony befitting her status. It was not until AD 42, during the reign of her grandson Claudius, that her honours were restored to her, she was deified (becoming Diva Augusta - the Divine Augusta) and her statue was erected alongside her husband’s in the Temple of Augustus. Her turbulent and eventful life is well documented by the historians of the time. A dignified, proud and intelligent woman, she deeply influenced Augustus’ policies throughout his reign and helped him establish his dynasty.
Julia the Elder, known by her contemporaries as Julia Augusta Filia, was the daughter and only biological child of the emperor Augustus. Her mother was Augustus’ first wife, Scribonia, whom he divorced for Livia on the day that Julia was born. Julia and her father were never close and it is documented that he often called her his “cancer”. Her first marriage took place in 25 BC when she was just 14 years old. She was married to Marcellus, her cousin and Augustus’ heir. Upon his death in 23 BC, Julia was remarried to her father’s best friend Marcus Agrippa who was 25 years her senior. Their marriage took place in 21 BC and resulted in 5 children. Augustus arranged the marriage after being advised by one Maecenas that Agrippa’s power had grown to such levels that he must either be slain or brought into the family. Of their 5 children, 3 died during Julia’s lifetime; two of them - Lucius and Gaius died during Augustus’s reign and one - Agrippa Postumus - was exiled by Augustus and killed at the beginning of Tiberius’ reign. Her daughter Agrippina the Elder was the mother of the future emperor Caligula and the grandmother of the future emperor Nero. Upon Agrippa’s death in 12 BC Julia was married once again, this time to her step brother and future emperor Tiberius. The couple deeply disliked each other, lived separately and had no children. In 2 BC Augustus brought charges of adultery and treason against her and she was exiled to Pandateria alongside her mother Scribonia. She spent 5 years there and upon any mention of her or her mother Augustus would recite the Illiad; “Never to have married, and childless to have died!”. Julia’s death came about soon after Augustus’ death, with no sons or her father to protect her she was left wholly at the mercy of Tiberius. She starved to death in exile in AD 14. Her ashes were prevented from being buried alongside her family in the Mausoleum of Augustus by Augustus’ will.
One of the most prominent and well remembered women of the Julio-Claudian family, Agrippina the Younger was the great grand daughter of Augustus, the sister of Caligula, the wife and niece of Claudius and the mother of Nero. She was born to Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus in AD 14. At 13 years old, in 28 AD Agrippina married her first husband, a distant relative to the Julio-Claudian family, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus to whom she bore her only biological child, the future emperor Nero. Upon Tiberius’ death in 37 AD, her only surviving brother - Caligula - became emperor. Caligula gave his sisters unprecedented privileges. The sources suggest that he sexually assaulted Drusilla and Livilla, but details of his relationship with Agrippina are obscure. As Caligula’s reign deteriorated in to a reign of terror, his surviving sisters became the focus of his attacks. In 39 AD Livilla, Agrippina and a man named Marcus Lepidus were accused of treason. Accused of plotting Caligula’s murder Livilla and Agrippina were exiled to the Pontine Islands. After Caligula’s assassination and Claudius’ accession in 41 AD, Livilla and Agrippina returned to Rome. In 49 AD Agrippina married Claudius in a bid to place her son on the throne. She successfully convinced Claudius to name Nero as joint heir to his own son Britannicus and the sources of the period suggest that it was she who poisoned him in 54 AD to hurry Nero’s accession. During the early parts of Nero’s reign Agrippina exercised genuine power in the government of Rome. This lead to a power struggle, which culminated in several assassination attempts on Nero’s part. Cassius Dio claims that his final attempt was a self-sinking boat which automatically collapsed in open water with Agrippina aboard it. She, however, managed to swim to shore where assassins sent by Nero awaited her, her final words were “smite my womb”, wishing for it to be the first part of her body to be destroyed as it had let her give birth to such an “abominable son”, she died aged 43 in AD 59. The guilt of his mother’s murder stayed with Nero till the end of his own life and is attributed as one of the contributing factors for his downward spiral into the complete savage cruelty and depravity with which he ruled Rome during the remainder of his reign.
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, (born 63 bc?—died March, 12 bc, Campania [Italy]), powerful deputy of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. He was chiefly responsible for the victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 bc, and during Augustus’ reign he suppressed rebellions, founded colonies, and administered various parts of the Roman Empire. Of modest birth but not a modest man, Agrippa was disliked by the Roman aristocracy. In his own interest he scrupulously maintained a subordinate role in relation to Augustus, but he felt himself inferior to no one else.
Virtually nothing is known of his early life until he is found as the companion of Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) at Apollonia, in Illyria, at the time of Julius Caesar’s murder in 44. Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar, returned with Agrippa to Italy to make his political claim as Caesar’s heir. In 43 Agrippa is thought to have held the office of tribune of the plebs; presumably in this capacity he prosecuted the tyrannicide Cassius, then absent in the East.
In the struggle for power after Julius Caesar’s death, Agrippa served as one of Octavian’s key military commanders. In 41–40 he fought against Mark Antony’s brother Lucius. In 40 he held the post of praetor urbanus (magistrate mainly in charge of administration of justice at Rome) and was a major figure in negotiating a settlement between Octavian and Antony at Brundisium. During the next two years he was away on campaigns in Aquitania and on the Rhine River. When he returned to Italy, he conspicuously refused to celebrate a triumph for his successes in the north, but in 37 he held the office of consul. In the spring of 37 Octavian and Antony came to an agreement at Tarentum, and it must have been then that Antony arranged the marriage of Agrippa to the daughter of Titus Atticus, a wealthy friend of Cicero.
Octavian’s efforts to resist at sea the son of the republican general Gnaeus Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, had not met with success. Agrippa therefore took charge of the operations. He constructed a fine harbour at Puteoli in the Bay of Naples and then won, in 36, two decisive naval victories (at Mylae and Naulochus), ending the threat from Pompeius. For this achievement Agrippa was awarded a golden crown. In 35–34 Octavian waged a vigorous campaign in Dalmatia, and in this Agrippa had a distinguished military role. In 33 Agrippa served as curule aedile (magistrate of public buildings and works) at Rome, even though it was a much lower post than the consulate that he had already held. He used the opportunity to win favour for Octavian by spending his own funds lavishly on building baths, cleaning sewers, and improving the water supply. When Octavian and Antony finally came into direct conflict at the Battle of Actium in 31, Agrippa commanded the fleet and was primarily responsible for Octavian’s victory.
During Octavian’s absence from Rome after Actium, Agrippa managed affairs in the city together with Maecenas, the great patron of poets. In 29–28 Agrippa and Octavian jointly conducted a census and carried out a purge of the Senate; in 28 and 27 Agrippa held the consulate again, both times with Octavian (from 27, Augustus) as his colleague. In 23, a year of constitutional crisis, Augustus fell ill and presented his signet ring to Agrippa, who seemed thus to be designated the emperor’s successor. Agrippa took Augustus’ daughter Julia as his wife after divorcing a niece of Augustus (Marcella the Elder), who had replaced Atticus’ daughter as his wife some four or five years previously.
Agrippa went immediately to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, from which he administered affairs in the East. The nature of Agrippa’s constitutional power (imperium) at this time is controversial. It has been argued whether the Senate in 23 gave him an imperium greater than that of any other provincial governor in the East (imperium majus). After Augustus’ death Roman historians claimed that Agrippa’s sojourn at Mytilene was a kind of exile as a result of Augustus’ preference for his own nephew Marcellus. This appears implausible. Agrippa was soon back in Rome to act on behalf of the emperor, who himself left for the East in 22. Before Augustus’ return, in 19, Agrippa had left for Gaul and Spain. In Spain he finally subdued the recalcitrant Cantabrians.
Returning to Rome in 18, Agrippa received the power of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), which Augustus also possessed. Perhaps, too, he received an imperium majus, if he had not been granted it in 23. He participated in Augustus’ celebration of the Secular Games at Rome in 17, after which he returned to the East as vicegerent of the emperor. In 15 he accepted an invitation from Herod I the Great to visit Judaea; while in the East, he established colonies of veterans at Berytus and Heliopolis, in Lebanon. He next settled an uprising in the Bosporan kingdom on the Black Sea and set up the cultivated dynast Polemo as king. Herod led a fleet to support Agrippa in the Bosporan affair, and, when it was over, the two traveled together along the coast of western Asia Minor.
In 13 Agrippa’s tribunicia potestas was renewed, and at this time without doubt he received (or had renewed) a grant of imperium majus. Troubles in Pannonia required his presence, but the rigours of the winter of 13–12 caused a fatal illness; he died in March of 12 bc. Augustus delivered a funeral oration in honour of his colleague; a fragment of that oration, in Greek translation, has recently come to light.
Agrippa deserved the honours Augustus heaped upon him. It is conceivable that without Agrippa, Octavian would never have become emperor. Rome remembered him for his generosity in attending to aqueducts, sewers, and baths; and in the mid-20s he completed the celebrated Pantheon. One of Agrippa’s five children by Julia, Agrippina the Elder, was the mother of one emperor (Caligula) and the grandmother of another (Nero). Agrippa’s autobiography is lost, but an extensive geographical commentary that he wrote influenced the extant works of the geographer Strabo and of Pliny the Elder.
The illness of Augustus in 23 BC brought the problem of succession to the forefront of political issues and the public. To ensure stability, he needed to designate an heir to his unique position in Roman society and government. This was to be achieved in small, undramatic, and incremental ways that did not stir senatorial fears of monarchy. If someone was to succeed his unofficial position of power, they were going to have to earn it through their own publicly proven merits.
After the death of Marcellus in 23 BC, Augustus married his daughter to Agrippa. This union produced five children, three sons and two daughters: Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar, Vipsania Julia, Agrippina the Elder, and Postumus Agrippa, so named because he was born after Marcus Agrippa died. Shortly after the Second Settlement, Agrippa was granted a five-year term of administering the eastern half of the Empire with the imperium of a proconsul and the same tribunicia potestas granted to Augustus (although not trumping Augustus’ authority), his seat of governance stationed at Samos in the eastern Aegean. Although this granting of power would have shown Augustus’ favor for Agrippa, it was also a measure to please members of his Caesarian party by allowing one of their members to share a considerable amount of power with him.
On 19 August AD 14, Augustus died while visiting the place of his birth father’s death at Nola. Both Tacitus and Cassius Dio wrote that Livia had been rumored to have brought about Augustus’ death by poisoning fresh figs, and although this element features in many modern works of historical fiction pertaining to Augustus’ life, some historians view it as likely to have been a salacious fabrication made by those who had favoured Postumus as heir, or other of Tiberius’ political enemies; Livia had long been the target of similar rumors of poisoning on the behalf of her son, most or all of which are unlikely to have been true. Alternatively, it is possible that Livia did supply a poisoned fig (she did cultivate a variety of fig named for her that Augustus is said to have enjoyed), but did so as a means of assisted suicide rather than murder. Augustus’ health had been in decline in the months immediately before his death and, having at last reluctantly settled on Tiberius as his choice of heir, he had made significant preparations for a smooth transition in power. It is likely that Augustus was not expected to return alive from Nola, but it seems that his health improved once there; it has therefore been speculated that, having committed all political process to accepting Tiberius, Augustus and Livia conspired to end the princep’s life at the anticipated time in order to not endanger that transition.
Augustus’ famous last words were, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit” referring to the play-acting and regal authority that he had put on as emperor. Publicly, though, his last words were, “Behold, I found Rome of clay, and leave her to you of marble.” An enormous funerary procession of mourners traveled with Augustus’ body from Nola to Rome, and on the day of his burial all public and private businesses closed for the day. Tiberius and his son Drusus delivered the eulogy while standing atop two rostra. Coffin-bound, Augustus’ body was cremated on a pyre close to his mausoleum. It was proclaimed that Augustus joined the company of the gods as a member of the Roman pantheon. In 410, during the Sack of Rome, the mausoleum was despoiled by the Goths and his ashes scattered.