Agrippina the Younger (AD 15 - AD 59)
Our first bachelorette Aelia Paetina, is the ex-wife of the Emperor, and mother to his daughter Claudia Antonia. Her good qualities include the fact that she is harmless and would be a good step-mother to his two youngest children. Our second bachelorette is Lollia Paullina; her best qualities include the fact that she is incredibly wealthy. Turn-offs include the fact that she was once married to Claudius’s nephew and previous holder of the tile of Emperor, Caligula. Our final bachelorette and the clear favorite is Agrippina the Younger. Agrippina is 33, twice-widowed (although there are rumors that she helped her 2nd husband to the after-life!), with a young son Nero. Her only drawback is that she is Claudius’ niece, the daughter of his beloved brother Germanicus. So who will Claudius pick?
Claudius (struggling to get the words out): Agrippina, will you accept this final rose?
Agrippina (practically ripping the rose out of Claudius’ trembling hand) – I thought you’d never ask!
Let’s find out a little more about our lucky Bachelorette! Agrippina the Younger has suffered untold tragedy in her life. Orphaned at an early age after the deaths of her parenst, she was raised amidst the malevolence, suspicion and violence of the imperial court.
Rumors flew that she, along with her sisters, was raped by her brother Caligula. To silence the gossip, she was married at 13 to her second cousin, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus.
Agrippina: He was 25 years older, extremely wealthy but with a nasty temper, and a bit of a control freak. It was not a match made in heaven, but out of the union came my beautiful boy, who we named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus after his grandfather. When my husband was congratulated on the birth of son, he remarked, “I don’t think anything produced by me and Agrippina could possibly be good for the state or the people.” Can you believe that?
When Agrippina’s brother Caligula became Emperor of Rome, at first he treated Agrippina and her two sisters Livilla and Drusilla very well but there were rumors that he continued to be involved with them incestuously.
Agrippina: At first things were great between my brother Caligula and us. He made us Vestal Virgins which gave us the freedom to view public games from the upper seats in the stadium. Coins were issued depicting images of us which had never been done before. It was totally cool but after our sister Drusilla’s death, Caligula acted as if we didn’t exist anymore. We were no longer accorded the respect we were due as the Emperor’s sisters. He’d clearly lost his marbles, I mean making a horse Senator? We just couldn’t stand by any longer and let him ruin the empire. So my sister Livilla, along with our brother-in-law Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, plotted to murder Caligula. Once Caligula was dead, Lepidus would be the new Emperor. Unfortunately the plot failed, poor Lepidus was executed, and Livilla and I were sent into exile to the Pontine Islands. It was horrible, not only was I separated from my beloved boy, but he was now disinherited by Caligula.
In AD 41, Caligula was assassinated and Claudius was now Emperor. Recalled from exile, Agrippina became one of the most prominent and well-respected women in Roman society. Widowed after the death of Ahenobarbus, she married again, this time to another wealthy older man, Passienus Crispus.
Agrippina: I was so happy to be back in Rome after so long and to see my son again. Unfortunately I’d had to leave him with my former sister-in-law Domitia Lepida. I can’t stand that woman, and her daughter, well I hate to use this word because I’m a lady but she’s a bit of a slut. She’d married my uncle Claudius while I was away. Poor old thing, he has no idea what she’s been getting up to behind his back. She’s just hateful! Apparently she was so threatened by my son that she tried to have the boy strangled while he was taking a nap. Thank god, the assassins were frightened by what they thought was a snake underneath his pillow (it turned out only to be the snake’s skin). My good friend Pallus, the Imperial Treasurer, well he feels the same way as I do about Messalina. Frankly it was just a matter of time before she screwed up so much that even Uncle Claudius couldn’t ignore it. I wasn’t surprised when I’d heard that she’d married her lover Gaius Silius. Uncle had no choice but to have her executed.
Welcome to the After the Final Rose Special. I’m your host Crispianus Harrisonius; bringing you the latest news on our happy couple, Claudius and Agrippina. When we last left the couple, Agrippina and Claudius were engaged. The fact that she was his niece and that it was illegal to marry her was just a tiny hiccup on the road to their marital happiness. The Roman Senate obliged by removing that little obstacle and the couple were married 3 months after Messalina’s death. Rumor has it that the new bride is just as ruthless and ambitious as her predecessor but savvier, and determined to make sure that her son succeeds as the next Emperor.
Let’s hear from the happy couple. Claudius?
Agrippina (interrupting before Claudius can get a word in.)Thank you so much Crispianus for having us back. I think I can speak for my husband when I say that we have never been happier. They say that I’m now the most powerful woman in Rome but really I’m just happy to be a housewife, taking care of her man. I have so much do what with running the Imperial Household. It won’t run itself! The first thing that I did was to quickly get rid of anyone I thought was loyal to the memory of Messalina. I just didn’t think it was fair to me to have to deal with the memories of my predecessor. I’m afraid that mean that Messalina’s mother, who was my former sister-in-law had to go.
Crispianus – When you say had to go, don’t you mean executed?
Agrippina (laughing too hard) Oh, Crispianus, for some people, their time has come. Then we have the happy news of my son marrying Claudius’s daughter by Messalina, Claudia Octavia. The boy that she was betrothed to was just not suitable. He was having an incestuous relationship with his sister!
Crispianus (Trying not to roll his eyes at Agrippina's hypocrisy) – I’ve heard rumors that Claudius plans on adopting your son? But doesn’t he already have a son Britannicus?
Claudius (jumping in before Agrippina can stop him) we’re very close.
Agrippina: Of course it is only natural to assume that Britannicus will succeed his father after Claudius’ death. However, Tiberius adopted my brother Caligula, so I don’t see there is a problem. A little competition is good for boys.
Crispianus Harrisonius: Claudius finally gave in and adopted the boy, changing his name to Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. In AD 50, Agrippina was given the honorific title Augusta by her husband, a title which no other woman had received during the lifetime of her husband. She was only the third woman after Livia and Antonia Minor (Claudius and Germanicus’ mother) to receive the title. All was not happy in paradise however. Claudius soon began to regret his decision to marry Agrippina and to adopt Nero; he began to favor Britannicus again, preparing him to take over the throne. Rumor has it that Claudius also began to drink heavily.
Claudius (slurring his words): It’s my lot in life to marry outrageous wives and then punish them.
Agrippina (bearing a dish of mushrooms): Here darling, it’s your favorite dish. Bon Appetit!
Claudius greedily eats the mushrooms. Suddenly he grabs his throat and keels over into his plate.
Town crier: Emperor Claudius is dead at the age of 63 Long Live the Emperor Nero!
20/20 AD 54:
Crispianus Harrisonius: I’m here in Rome for the coronation of the Emperor Nero. At the age of 17, he’s too young to rule on his own. So his mother Agrippina, who as you remember received the final rose a few years ago on The Bachelor, has stepped in to help him reign. We welcome Agrippina to the show.
Agrippina: Yes, I have been helping in what ways that I can to guide my son Nero but as I’m only a woman there is only so much I can do. I’ve tried to help him by appointing advisors that I know that we can trust. I’m not allowed in the Senate, however I do watch and listen from behind a curtain. (She holds up a coin) It was so sweet of Nero to allow my portrait to appear on every coin. Of course my name is given precedence because I am his mother. Nero’s handwriting is so bad, that I have to write letters foreign dignitaries in his name. In my spare time, what little there is, I’m writing my memoirs. Did you know that at Nero’s birth, an astrologer predicted, “He will be King and he will kill his mother.” Well he almost killed me while I was in labor, the little scamp. He was in the breech position, feet first! It was painful let me tell you! No wonder I never had another child. Nero was more than a handful!
Crispianus Harrisonius - Do you care to address the rumors that you poisoned your late husband Claudius?
Agrippina (gritting her teeth) - That's silly. Every one knows that he ate a dish of bad mushrooms. It can happen to anyone. Really, people need to get a life instead of spending their time spreading vicious rumors.
20/20 AD 59:
Crispianus Harrisonius (standing in front of the Imperial Palace): But all was not well in the Imperial Household. Unfortunately for Agrippina and Rome, Nero had a little too much of his uncle Caligula and his father in him and not enough Augustus Caesar. Although he had once dreamed of being an actor and singer, now he spent most of his time seducing men and women, spending the Imperial Treasury on building projects. That would have been fine but he began to show a lack of his respect towards his mother and Agrippina wasn’t going to stand for that! When she tried to sit next to him on the Imperial dais during a public session, Nero stood up and escorted her to a seat lower than his.
A power struggle between mother and son soon began when Nero began an affair with a freed slave named Acte, of whom Agrippina disapproved. She preferred Nero’s wife Claudia Octavia, who not only came from the Imperial line, but was also docile and no rival for her husband’s affections. When she scolded him for his behavior, Nero banished her confidant Pallus. Seneca, who Agrippina had brought back from exile to tutor Nero, and Burrus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard also, encouraged his independence. Agrippina began to holding Britannicus over his head, threatening to make him Emperor instead of Nero. However, her plan backfired when Nero had Britannicus poisoned at a banquet. Nero now removed Agrippina’s Praetorian Guard, stripper of her titles, and banished her from the Imperial palace.
Still Agrippina was not down and out. There were rumors that she tried to seduce her way back into her son’s good graces. When that didn’t work, Nero decided he’d had enough of his mother and decided to remove her permanently. He had drunk from the milk of deception at her breast. Luring her with the prospect of a nautical promenade in her honor, he tried drowning her by building a self-sinking boat. When the boat collapsed as promised and sank, Agrippina simply swam to shore. When news of Agrippina’s survival reached Nero, he sent three assassins to stab her to death. Agrippina was not surprised. Her reputed words to the men were to “Smite my womb!”
Agrippina is a cautionary tale of what happens when a woman tried to step outside the Roman ideals regarding the roles of women in society. Some see her as a vicious and unnatural, a depraved sexual psychopath. After Agrippina’s death, Nero seemed haunted by the ghost of his dead mother, suffering from nightmares, and going to so far as to hire exorcists to remove her spirit from the Imperial palace.
For 20/20, this has been Crispianus Harrisonius reporting live from the Imperial Palace Rome.
Anthony Blond – A Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors, Carroll & Graf, 2000
Annelise Freisenbruch- Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire, Free Press, 2010
Shelley Klein - The Most Evil Women in History, Metro Books, 2003