Agrippina Family Background

10 October 2016

Agrippina was related to the Claudian ‘gens’, one of the oldest and most illustrious patrician families with imperial connections. Her father Germanicus had risen through the cursus honoroum to two consulships and the proconsulships of Germany and Gaul. Germanicus’s brother was the brother was the future Claudian emperor, Claudius. Agrippina’s family lineage was therefore immensely prestigious. Her mother is quoted twice by Tacitus asserting her descent from the blood of the divine Augustus.

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According to revisionist Barret, Agrippina would have learnt from her mother in her formative years a powerful sense of her important place in the scheme of things. Agrippina’s marriages illustrate particular well the importance of family background in dynastic politics, although this could be dangerous. Because of Agrippina’s ancestry the emperor Tiberius, who was also her guardian, arranged Agrippina’s first marriage to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus in 28 AD. Ahenobarbus was a descendent of famous, noble famiy, Domitii and descendent of Mark Antony.

Ahenobarbus was seen as a potential princeps if other plans failed. This marriage also secured the Julian princeps from rival contenders and produced a Julian heir with the birth of Nero. This marriage was not illustrious in terms of rank, but protected Agrippina from Claudius’s wife Messalina, who saw Agrippina as a threat due to her direct bloodline to ancestry. Agrippina’s third marriage to emperor Claudius shows the significance of family background and its relevance to revisionist historiography.

Traditionally claimed by Tacitus and Cassius Dio that Agrippina seduced her uncle Claudius as a stepping-stone to power. Whilst ancient sources are informative there is some question as to how much is fact and how much is innuendo. An alterative explanation is that it was Agrippina’s family connections that made her marriage to Claudius attractive. Babara Levick argued that it was politically expident for Claudius to marry Agrippina. As a descendant of Augustus she also reinforced his position in the senate. Aristocratic women in her family had great influence in forming her ersonality and actions. Livia was the wife of the emperor Augustus. She was a model for Agrippina as well as her mother concerning maternal drive and political involvements. According to archaeologists evidence, the SCPP, whilst Livia highly and deservedly should have the greatest influence in the senate she used it sparingly. Champlin comments that SCPP confirms the truly astonishing power of Livia which has often been abused, even though the evidence is problematic because of some uncertainties with translation over punctuation.

Although she had no constitutional power, Livia’s considerable associative power, derived from her husband and son enabled her to be a significant force in political life. Livia’s associative political power and the promotion of her son provided models for other imperial women to evaluate. Agrippina the Elder taught her daughter not to control imperial power directly. Agrippina the Elder was very active in political and military events, she has been said to have formed a ‘party’ under Tiberius.

In addition she was insubordinate and used imperative language when arguing with the emperor. Her subsequent treatment by Tiberius resulted in imprisonment and suicide and the destruction of her two elder sons in the struggle for succession. Agrippina the Elder modeled for her daughter how not to behave in negotiating the perils of the imperial court. She was regarded as the single most important influence on Agrippina the Younger.

The received traditional present Agrippina as women motivated by the dictorial feminine excess of ambition a masculine despotism. However this judgment cannot be trusted fully as he was incredibly hostile towards the senate. Barret however understood Agrippina ambitions and actions attempt to give formal definition to the political role open to imperial women. She represents an essential stage in the evolution of the imperial system building on Livia’s precedents and that of her mother.

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