Agrippina obtained great power and influence in a society that



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Thesis: Agrippina was the product of a flaw in the roman imperial system; that being the undefined power and expectations placed upon the role of imperial women. Her ultimate impact was to expose such a flaw and thus allowing her legacy, as one of the most powerful imperial women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty to live on.





  • Agrippina was successful in achieving her goal of ultimate power until she failed to present herself as a metrona

    • Agrippina obtained great power and influence in a society that “offered no constitutional role to powerful and influential women. It is this achievement, to be empress in an empire that allowed only emperors, that makes her accomplishments interesting and worthy of serious study” Barrett

    • Coins during Gaius’ reign depicted her as loyal sister securitas implying security over Rome

    • Relief of Claudius and Agrippina at Aphrodisiac in which Agrippina holds wheat ears – symbolizing her connection to Demeter – goddess of fertility

    • Title of Augusta showed the level of power she had achieved – Ginsburg suggests it signified equality between the emporer and his wife

    • Also shown on the coin is an assimilation to the goddess ceres who symbolized the ideal women and values of chastity, motherhood and female fertility.

    • Agrippina begins to step beyond her justified power when she steps beyond the façade of matrona. This occurs when she attempts to mount the dais when receiving the Armenian delegation. Shown in source from Cassius Dio who states that following the incident “They laboured to prevent any business from again being committed to her hands”

    • Change of power illustrated in the change on coinage from nero and agrippina facing eachother with the writing “Agrippina Augusta, wife of the devine Claudius, Mother of Nero Caesar” which changed to nero and Agrippina facing the same direction whith the writing “Nero, sone of the devine Claudius, imperator, holder of the tribunician power, consul”

    • Legacy = “She represents an essential stage in the evolution of the imperial system, in the attempt to give a formal definition to the political role open to women of ability and energy”Barrett.

  • Many sources state that her actions were mere stepping stones in order to achieve supremacy as wife, mother and metrona, however her actions following Nero’s succession are more convincing towards a drive for power, such as her attempts to sit alongside her son on the dais

  • Evidence of façade – labeled Augusta before death – her mother was viewed as metrona

  • Agrippina knew which boundaries to push and learnt from her predecessors.

  • Livia established the first image of imperial women – metrona as well as trusted confidant of Augustus – Livia had her own clients and therefore was able to take advantage of the client/patron relationship – therefore this was not a challenge to Agrippina who used this relationship to gain power, for example through Seneca . Livia was caretaker of Agrippina after the exile of her mother.

  • Competency as matrona was determined by the status of the men she promoted and this public façade was how she was accepted by the roman population

  • Augustus introduced the traditional image of the metrona to the principate (which was paraded and endorsed by Livia, although IClaudius states otherwise) and thus to rebel against such values was to rebel against the principate, this occurred in the case of Messalina and Julia.

    • Agrippina portrayed a facade that positioned her as a metrona, giving her social acceptance shown through the promotion of her son, however small acts such as

  • Particularly on the accession of Gaius (Caligula), (senate declared Tib.Will null and void) it became apparent that the system of the principate established by Augustus did not define the line of succession, therefore leaving such a position open to competition and manipulation.

  • Women of ancient Rome obtained very little or no official power. They were expected to care for their husbands and promote their sons, thus imperial women saw this flaw in the principate as an opportunity to fulfill their role and to wield power.

  • Being the daughter of Germanicus she already held the loyalty of the army and therefore obtained a certain amount of power from the beginning.

  • She was related to five emperors thus further establishing her power within all aspects of the Roman Empire, from the senate to the provinces.

  • She was raised with a dysfunctional childhood, with her father’s death when she was 4, followed by her mother’s exile, caused by her accusations that Tiberius was responsible for ordering the poisoning of Germanicuss. It is likely that, without firm family connections, Agrippina was raised with imperial values, thus explaining her overriding ambition for power.

  • Before Nero held the throne, Agrippina’s actions may be seen not unlike those of Livia’s, her grandmother. Many ancient sources accuse of Livia of poisoning …..

  • Tacitus states “Agrippina’s seductiveness was a help” referring to her marriage to Claudius. Tacitus also puts forward the image of Agrippina as a sexual transgressor, possibly the reason for ………………

  • Augustus re-introduced the traditional role of women as child bearers and whom supported their families – therefore imperial women must externally be seen to conform to this ideaology – eg. Julia vs Livia and Agrippina vs Messalina

  • Gaius’ coins – Securitas -



Married to ahenobarbus at 13

If she was interested solely in performing her role as matrona she would not have persisted her influence following the accession of Nero – “agrippina managed for him all imperial buissinesses”- coins depict mother and son in equality – first time this was ever done


Nero could not get the praetorian guards to kill his mother thus illustrating that the guards did place the traditional matrona view upon her, but instead admired her
Claimed the power that the principate gave to her


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