Family Background, Early Life and Influences

Agrippina the Younger (Julia Agrippina) was born on the 6th November AD 15, in Oppidum Ubiorum/Colonia Agrippina (modern day Cologne), at a Roman outpost on the Rhine River (now known as Germany). Agrippina lived in the Julio-Claudian era, and was the great granddaughter of the well-respected and previous Emperor Augustus and his wife, Livia. She was the daughter of Germanicus Julius Caesar and Vipsania Agrippina (Agrippina the Elder), and had three brothers, Nero Drusus, Drusus Caesar and Gaius (Caligula), and two sisters, Drusilla and Julia Livilla. Through family connections, adoptions and marriages, Agrippina had access to copious amounts of power and she was able to exert much influence.

Agrippina’s exceptionally illustrious birth is indisputable(Tacitus Annals XII.6)


One of the most influential people in Agrippina’s life were her parents. Early into Agrippina's life, her father Germanicus died from a mysterious death, and although she last saw him at age of four, and hence hardly knew him, Agrippina was always aware of his outstanding reputation. This was mainly due to her “mother who was obsessed by the notion that her family was born to rule”, as stated by Barrett. Her mother, Agrippina the Elder was an arrogant, fiery and narrow-minded woman, who had a great lust for power. On the other hand, Germanicus was a man of excellence, charm and radiance. Before his death, Germanicus was a general in the military and as a result, Agrippina grew up in military camps for the first few years of her life. Although she was at a young age, the soldiers grew loyal to her, and Agrippina soon became accustomed to the governing ways of military life.

She grew up in an appalling atmosphere of malevolence, suspicion and criminal violence(M. Grant, The Twelve Caesars)

Agrippina's ambitions and expectations were greatly influenced by her mother. Her mother's promotions for her own son, Gaius to become emperor, her lust for power, in particularly political power, and her strong desire to maintain a good relationship with the military, demonstrated to Agrippina that there is no room for incompetence and weakness. Agrippina learnt to show no mercy to those who stood in her way, and seeing as her family was always in danger by the authorities, Agrippina established a sense of paranoia which would have only increased her thirst for supremacy.

Career and Major Noteworthy Achievements

In AD 28, Agrippina married Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, and in AD 37, gave birth to a son, Nero. After her first husband's death, Agrippina went on to marry C, Sallustius Passienus Crispus as her second husband in AD 42. However in AD 47, Crispus died suddenly and Agrippina is suspected of poisoning him.

Agrippina’s Role during the Reign of Gaius
In AD 37, Agrippina’s brother, Gaius Julius Caesar became emperor. At the age of twenty-two, Agrippina became acutely aware of her brother’s ascendancy and the lack of power that she possessed. Gaius was twenty-five years old when he claimed his title, and was also appreciated more by the people. At the same time, Gaius’ reign brought about positive changes for Agrippina, as her power increased, which was shown through her appearance on coins. Gladiatorial shows were staged, sales taxes were lifted, and exiles were recalled, which increased the popularity of Gaius and his family, including Agrippina, considerably. The ashes of Agrippina’s mother and brother were brought back, and a proper burial in Augustus’ mausoleum was carried out. A cenotaph in honour of Drusus, Agrippina’s brother was assembled, and the day of ‘ill omen’ associated with her mother was reversed. Finally, all late members of Agrippina’s family, including her parents and brothers were honoured. For Agrippina, these offerings given to, and promotions of her family, built up what was already a poor image of her family name. Agrippina also had a close connection with her family, and knowing that they now rested in peace, reassured and calmed her. Towards the end of his reign, Gaius had Agrippina exiled, as he believed that she was plotting against him.

Agrippina’s Role during the Reign of Claudius
After Gaius' assassination, Agrippina's uncle, Claudius became emperor in AD 41. Agrippina was recalled her from exile and during this time, acquired peak power. At the beginning of Claudius’ reign, Agrippina’s name was not seen, as she wanted to keep her name out of the open. This was due to the fact that Messalina, Claudius’ wife felt threatened by Agrippina, because of her true Julian blood. Claudius had Messalina killed, after she married another man, and following Messalina's death, Agrippina married Claudius. Agrippina received a considerable amount of power and her actions soon secured her a powerful position. Rome gained influence over the Praetorian Guard, replacing the men with loyal soldiers, as well as provinces such as Judaea. Agrippina also gained great honours, including the unprecedented title "Augusta', which gave her the notion of an empress and equal power to rule. In AD 54, Agrippina murdered Claudius, making her son, Nero, the Emperor.

Agrippina’s Role during the Reign of Nero
Earlier in Nero’s reign, Agrippina had a great influence over him, and hence, gained a large amount of power and control. This is shown through coinage, seeing that Agrippina was shown on the same side as Nero, portraying power, as she was shown on the same side as an emperor.

Agrippina's Death

After some time into his reign, Nero became agitated and infuriated by his mother's influence and control over him. Nero longed to rule with no other dominance and planned to get rid of Agrippina. There are several historical accounts of Nero's attempts to murder his mother. Tacitus believed that although Nero planned to stab or poison Agrippina, in the end he thought it would be too suspicious and attempted to drown her instead. Nero had a faulty ship built and order Agrippina on it, however, Agrippina was aware of Nero's plot to kill her and she escaped from the ship's wreckage. Nero then ordered the Praetorian Guard to kill her, but as they were still loyal to her from the times when she lived on military camps, they refused. In a final attempt to murder his mother, Nero had a freedman, Anicetus stab her to death.