Agrippina the Elder

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Agrippina the Elder

Vipsania Agrippina (* 14 BC ; † October 18, 33 AD), often called Agrippina maior for short (Agrippina the Elder) , was a member of the Julian-Claudian dynasty and mother of the Roman emperor Caligula .


Childhood and family

Coin of Caligula with portrait of Agrippina

Agrippina was the daughter of Augustus ' friend and potential successor, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Iulia , the emperor's daughter. She was probably born in Mytilene while her parents were touring the eastern provinces. After the death of her father in 12 BC And the remarriage of her mother to Tiberius , she grew up with her four siblings at the imperial court. As with all of his grandchildren, Augustus himself exerted great influence on their upbringing in accordance with the ancient Roman virtues. In a letter he praised her talents and good dispositions. While Augustus always had a good relationship with Agrippina, he banished her mother as early as 2 BC. BC, allegedly because of their immoral conduct, a fate that befell two of their children, Agrippa Postumus and Iulia , a few years later. Agrippina's two older brothers, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar , who were adopted by their imperial grandfather as his successors, died in AD 2 and 4, respectively, whereupon Augustus Tiberius, the son of his wife Livia Drusilla , adopted his nephew Germanicus had to adopt as a son.

Wife of Germanicus

On Augustus's instruction, Agrippina was married to Germanicus, the potential imperial successor, who was one year older, at the latest in AD 5. She had a total of nine children with him, of which Nero Caesar , Drusus Caesar , Gaius (later Emperor Caligula), Agrippina the Younger ( Claudius' wife and mother Nero ), Drusilla and Iulia Livilla survived childhood.

She accompanied her husband to Germania during the years 14 to 16, where she was highly regarded by the soldiers for her exemplary virtue and loyalty to Germanicus, but also for her indomitable will. When a Germanic force threatened to cross the Rhine bridge during the battle of the Pontes longi , they took command of the troops themselves and prevented the bridge from being destroyed, so that the troops of Aulus Caecina Severus could retreat to the left bank of the Rhine . After Germanicus' death, Caecina nevertheless spoke out in favor of prohibiting governors from taking their wives into the provinces. She also played a decisive role in the suppression of the mutiny of the Rhine legions after the death of Augustus, which earned her the envy of Tiberius.

After Augustus' death in AD 14, Germanicus was called back to Rome and honored with a triumph . In the year 17 he was sent to the east of the empire. Agrippina also accompanied him on this trip and gave birth to her last child, Iulia Livilla , on the island of Lesbos . In 19 AD Germanicus died under mysterious circumstances in Antioch .

Widow of Germanicus

Agrippina mourns the urn of Germanicus, Angelika Kauffmann (1793), Kunstpalast Düsseldorf

Agrippina brought Germanicus' ashes back to Rome. For the death of her husband, she blamed the governor of the province of Syria , Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso , and his wife Munatia Plancina , a friend of the Empress Livia, and ultimately, as Tacitus assumed, accused the emperor himself, the popular competitor to have done. From then on she fought for the demands of her sons. Her relationship with Tiberius remained strained, even after the emperor adopted her two eldest sons as successors after the death of his own son Drusus in 23 . He refused her permission to remarry.

In 26, the Praetorian Prefect Seianus , who was increasingly gaining power in Rome, launched an indirect attack on Agrippina, in which he led Gnaeus Domitius Afer to accuse her friend and cousin Claudia Pulchra of allegedly poisoning the emperor of witchcraft and fornication. Despite Agrippina's protest at Tiberius, Claudia was convicted and sent into exile, from which she did not return to Rome. 27 Seianus persuaded Agrippina that Tiberius wanted to poison her. She then refused all food at a feast, including those that Tiberius served her personally. Tiberius did not forgive her for this insult and kept her under house arrest for the following years. In the year 29, after Tiberius had withdrawn to Capri and Livia had died, Agrippina and her eldest son Nero Caesar were accused of conspiracy and exiled to the island of Pandataria , where their mother had already spent several years of exile. Their second son, Drusus Caesar, was imprisoned a year later. After the death of her two eldest sons, Nero 30 on Pontia and Drusus 33 in Rome, who starved to death in prison, Agrippina also died of starvation voluntarily or by forced death in 33 AD at the age of 47.

Gravestone of Agrippina

Of their sons, only Gaius Caesar, later called Caligula, survived, who succeeded Tiberius 37 after his death. He then had her urn and that of his brothers buried in the Augustus mausoleum , minted coins with her portrait and organized celebrations and circus games in her memory. According to Suetonius, her biography was written by her daughter Agrippina ( the younger one ).


Tacitus attributed a passionate disposition to Agrippina, but also moral purity and love in marriage. As a mother, she carried out her duties herself in the remote army camps on the Rhine. Several acts speak of great independence and, although unusual for Roman women , were largely viewed positively. However, her trait is said to have caused problems in some provinces.

Web links

Commons : Agrippina the Elder  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  • Dietrich Boschung : Agrippina, "Splendor of the Fatherland". To the portrait of Agrippina Maior in the Roman-Germanic Museum Cologne. In: Cologne year books. Volume 35, 2002, pp. 207-226 (especially pp. 210-212 on biography and pp. 212-220 on iconography).


  1. Elaine Fantham : Julia Augusti. The emperor's daughter , London 2006, p. 62.
  2. ^ Suetonius , Augustus 64.
  3. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 86.
  4. ^ Tacitus: Annals 1, 69 .
  5. Tacitus, Annalen 3, 33-34; see also: Anthony A. Barrett, Aulus Caecina Severus and the military woman , in: Historia 54 (2005), pp. 301-314
  6. Tacitus, Annalen 1, 40-45; 1, 69.
  7. Tacitus, Annals 2, 43, 4 and 2, 82, 1.
  8. ^ Tacitus, Annalen 4, 52, 1ff.
  9. Tacitus, Annalen 4, 23, 52-4, 68; Suetonius, Tiberius 52, 3; 53, 1-2.
  10. Bernhard Kytzler : Women of antiquity. From Aspasia to Zenobia . 1994, ISBN 3-7608-1084-5 , p. 19