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Agrippina the Elder

Granddaughter of Augustus and wife of Germanicus

During the early days of the Roman Empire, people of patrician or senatorial rank were married for political reasons. Often, a marriage was broken up because a man was ordered to divorce his wife and marry a woman who would provide a more useful alliance between powerful families. It was for this reason that Octavian, later to become Rome’s first emperor Augustus, was told to divorce his wife Scribonia and marry Livia Drusilla. There appeared to be no hard feelings between the old and the new husbands at this arrangement. In fact, T. Claudius Nero gave his ex - wife a large dowry and enjoyed himself thoroughly at her wedding to Octavian, behaving more like a father than a former husband! The making and breaking up of marriages for political reasons made for some complicated family trees during this period.

It turns out that Octavian, now the Emperor Augustus, had a daughter named Julia by his first wife. She was wedded in a political marriage to Augustus' faithful friend and loyal general, Agrippa. Their daughter was Agrippina the Elder.

Agrippina was married to Germanicus, who was descended from the Claudians, Livia's side of the family. He was a popular military commander and well - loved by the people in Rome. A goodly amount of his popularity was because he made successful raids into German territory. Though he was taking a chance with Roman legions and some said that the military adventures were foolhardy, the fact that they succeeded brought enormous glory to Germanicus, who actually earned the name "Germanicus" because of these raids.

It was probably because of this popularity that both he and Agrippina became entangled in a political web partly of their own creation. The old emperor Augustus had decided to Adopt Tiberius, the son of Livia and T. Claudius Nero. One of the conditions of this adoption was that Tiberius adopt Germanicus as his own son.

In A. D. 19, Germanicus died in the Eastern city of Antioch. Historians have been debating ever since whether it was due to natural causes or murder. In any case, Agrippina was firmly convinced that Tiberius, who had become emperor in A. D. 14, was jealous of Germanicus' popularity and had had him poisoned. Agrippina was herself a very highly respected member of Roman high society and her opinions, if voiced publicly, could be dangerous. Certainly, the reclusive and somewhat sullen Tiberius was nowhere near the popular figure the dead Germanicus had been.

Agrippina scandalized all Rome when she refused to eat or drink at a banquet given by the emperor. From that time on, Tiberius sought an excuse to be rid of her. Finally, in A. D. 29, Agrippina and her two teenage sons were accused of plotting to overthrow Tiberius. They were tried and condemned to exile.

Agrippina's son Nero committed suicide soon after the trial. Her son Drusus died of starvation while imprisoned in Rome a few years later. Agrippina was exiled to the island of Pandateria where she too died of starvation in A. D. 33. Though the official story was that she committed suicide, she was probably starved to death on the orders of the aging emperor Tiberius.


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