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O’Keefe 1
Agrippina: Mother, Seductress, Regent
With the rise of the Women’s Movement, scholarship changed significantly in relation to
how historians analyzed Ancient Rome and Roman women.1 Unweaving women from the
literary traditions of ancient historians is no easy task but is one worth pursuing. One such
women who has been tainted by this literary tradition was Agrippina the Younger, the wife of the
emperor Claudius and the mother of the emperor Nero. Because of her place within the JulioClaudian family and the fact that she was a woman, she has been tainted significantly by literary
tradition. It is clear that, Agrippina is a creation of this literary tradition as a way to make the
emperors of the time (Claudius and Nero) look like evil and/or weak emperors. By analyzing the
texts and imagery that surrounds Agrippina, it is clear that Agrippina was a woman who had
legitimate power that came from her family lineage and her marriage to the emperor. She was a
woman that appeared to be liked by the public and even the senate who awarded her honors and
privileges that were not commonly given to anyone, let alone a woman. It is also clear that she
was a woman who embraced more masculine characteristics. By looking back at past women
who held powerful positions, people of the modern era can see that women who act outside of
common gender barriers is nothing new for society.
Many common literary troupes were used by ancient authors to discuss women and
Agrippina the Younger was no exception. To unweave women from these troupes a post-source
analysis is extremely beneficial. One important historian who did this was Judith Ginsburg. A
post-source analysis is, “recognizing that a number of literary and rhetorical features of the
historian’s narrative make it extremely problematic to take the picture of Agrippina that emerges
In the introduction to Studying Gender in Classical Antiquity Lin Foxhall wrote, “Once upon a time the
O’Keefe 2
as an accurate reflection of the historical woman.”2 This post-source analysis makes it easier to
see women without the clouded imagery that the ancient authors used. It is meant to remove the
biases of the ancient authors.
One common troupe existent for women was describing women as the seductress or the
unchaste woman. Agrippina was a woman who married the emperor Claudius and between
ancient authors there was significant discussion relating to how she achieved this influential
position. Agrippina used her unchaste ways as a way to gain this position of power. “But it was
Agrippina, daughter of his brother Germanicus, who hooked him. She had a niece’s privilege of
kissing and caressing Claudius, and exercised it with a noticeable effect on his passions.”3
Tacitus had a similar account of how Agrippina married Claudius. Tacitus wrote that,
“Agrippina, emphasized that the son whom she would bring with her was Germanicus’ grandson,
eminently deserving of imperial rank; let the emperor ally himself with a noble race and unite
two branches of the Claudian house…Agrippina’s seductiveness was a help.”4 She was a
woman who was willing to give anything to gain her place of power. 5 At lease according to
these authors.
Because Agrippina was the niece of Claudius, their marriage was initially not accepted.
However, they worked to change the rules to make the marriage of an uncle and niece legal.6
Once this marriage was made Tacitus believed that, “From this moment the country was
Judith Ginsburg Representing Agrippina: Constructions of Female Power in the Early Roman Empire
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 9.
3 Gaius Suetonius Tranquills, “The Twelve Caesars,” trans. by Robert Graves and revised by J.B. Rives
(New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 196.
4 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals of Imperial Rome,” ed. by Betty Radice and trans. by Michael Grant (New
York: Penguin Books, 1988), 252-253.
5 J.V.P.D Baldson, an ancient studies historian from the 1960’s, utilized texts like this from Suetonius and
Tacitus and then interpreted it on face value, taking the ancient authors at their word. J.V.P.D. Baldson,
Roman Women Their History and Habits (New York: The John Day Company, 1962).
6 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 196.
O’Keefe 3
transformed. Complete obedience was accorded to a woman…Her private life was unchaste.”7
Agrippina was a woman who did not act like a proper woman should, according to him. Instead
she was an unchaste and manipulative woman. She would do anything, even sleep with multiple
men to attain the power that she believed she deserved.8 Agrippina was a woman who allowed
her passions to drive her to do things that she absolutely should not be partaking in. By stating
that the country was being controlled by a woman, and an unchaste woman at that, Tacitus made
a political critique of the time and of his time as well.9 Tacitus partakes in a long literary
tradition of utilizing women as a symbol for a time of trouble and turmoil.10 The seductress
woman Agrippina, is less about who she was as a woman and more about the time period with
which she was living.
Another way ancient authors discussed Agrippina was through the power and influence
that she displayed during her time in the imperial family.11 Cassius Dio wrote that, “He
[Claudius] also brought back those whom Gaius had unjustly exiled, including the latter’s sisters
Agrippina and Julia, and restored to them their property.”12 Agrippina and Liva were important
enough to bring back from exile and also restore to them their own property. The way Cassius
Dio wrote it, this property was also given directly given to her as well, and not to a male relative.
Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 255
Tacitus wrote, “And once more there is unfaithfulness. Agrippina’s love is Pallas. That is the final proof
that there is nothing she will not sacrifice to imperial ambition – neither decency, not honour, nor
chastity.” Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 281.
9 Tacitus’ biases relate to the fact “that Tacitus’ very subject matter constitutes a commentary on current
politics, though the recovery of his opinions is not easy, since his language and presentation are often
clouded by ambiguity and doublespeak.” W.J. Dominki, J. Garthwaite and P.A. Roche, editor, Writing
Politics in Imperial Rome (Leiden, The Netherlands: IDC Publisher, 2009), 429.
10 Dixon wrote that Roman women were used as literary characters, “the presumptive feminine
defectiveness became a literary commonplace.” Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women: Sources,
Genres and Real Life (London: General Duckworth & Co., 2001), 82.
11 Ginsburg wrote that, “Agrippina the Younger exerted a fascination for ancient writers, and the
enthusiasm to tell her story did not wane among modern scholars. She wielded considerable authority in
the tradition, depicted as a women of political ascendancy, virtually in control of public affairs as wife of
one emperor and mother of another.” Ginsburg Representing Agrippina, 4.
12 Dio Cassius, “Roman History Books LVI-LX,” trans. by Earnest Cary (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Loeb
Classical Library, 1924) 375.
O’Keefe 4
One reason that Agrippina seemed to have legitimate power on her own stems from the very fact
that she is a direct descendant of the emperor Augustus.13 This direct line to the emperor
Augustus was one that no man had, all of the Augustan lineage was tied to women as male
relatives never survived.14 This connection to the Augustan lineage was threating to men of the
time. Agrippina however, had more power than is often expressed. Revealing her power
however, Tacitus wrote that, “Lucius had an eye for future despots. Using his post as censor to
cloak his servile fabrications, he sought Agrippina’s favor by involving himself in her
projects.”15 People sought her influence and power directly.
With her power, public backing for Agrippina was revealed by the ancient authors as
well. Agrippina brought people back from exile and Tacitus wrote, “Released from their chains,
they offered to Agrippina, conspicuously seated on another dais nearby, the same homage and
gratitude as they had given the emperor.”16 People treated Agrippina in the same they would the
emperor, according the Tacitus, which was a suspicious action for these people of Rome. Tacitus
also wrote that “publically, Agrippina received honour after honour.”17 Again she was important
and influential during her time. She also participated in the patron system and they were
responding to her directly in that way.18 Having a female patron was not nearly as crazy for the
time as Tacitus may have believed. But this patronage helps to confirm her legitimacy.
Tacitus wrote that, “But what upset Tiberius most was the popular enthusiasm for Agrippina. The glory
of her country, they called her – the only true descendant of Augustus, the unmatched model of
traditional behavior.” Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 120-121.
14 James and Dillon wrote that in Julio-Claudian Rome is the period “we first observe the practice of
identifying children related through their mothers to powerful men of earlier generations by naming them
after their maternal grandfathers rather than their fathers.” Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon. A
Companion to Women in the Ancient World (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012) 374.
Agrippina displayed this important role of the mother of the time.
15 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 253.
16 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 267.
17 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 285.
18 Dixon believed that, “It was deemed very suitable to the status and femininity of a prosperous woman to
confer benefits on social inferiors but some kinds of favors could be willfully misrepresented in hostile
O’Keefe 5
The third way the ancient authors discussed Agrippina was scrutinizing her for her male
characteristics. When looking at so called “male characteristics” utilizing the post-feminist
analysis of Lin Foxhall is incredibly valuable. Foxhall believed that gender was shaped by many
different things like “social factors such as age, sexual identities, status/class, wealth and
race/ethnicity.”19 This is helpful when understanding the marriage of Agrippina and Claudius.
Once Agrippina and Claudius were married, Agrippina was said to be controlling the country,
which should have been something only men did.20 From the moment Agrippina was in this
position of power she acted in a masculine way, not like a women.21 Another baffling event was
when Agrippina went to the senate house, “Agrippina objected to this as a reversal of Claudius’
legislation. Yet it was carried – although the meeting was convened in the Palatine, and a door
built at the back so that she could stand behind a curtain unseen, and listen.”22 She was a woman
acting like a man which was unnatural.23
When Nero originally became emperor, he “turned over all his public and private affairs
to Agrippina’s management.”24 This made her one of the most powerful people in Rome, or at
the very least, the most powerful woman in Rome.25 This obviously shows very male
contexts as intrusion into a masculine sphere or even as compromising the woman’s sexual
representation.” Dixon, Reading Roman Women, 90.
19 Foxhall, Studying Gender, 11.
20 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 255.
21 Foxhall wrote that, “The realization dawned that gender was nuanced and variegated, and that it shaped
and was shaped by other social factors… The idea was dawning that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were not essential
or fixed categories, but that our sources told us about old men and young men, married women and
virgins, slave women and queens.” Foxhall, Studying Gender, 11. There is so much more to gender than
their assumed “innate” categories.
22 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 286.
23 However, Vivante wrote that, “women’s central decision-making role in the elite Roman family, and the
role of the elite Roman family as a major political institution, are important. Various authors attest that
many women of leading families exercised influence on the Roman state even during earlier republican
times.” Bella Vivante, Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations A Reference Guide (Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1999), 269.
24 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 211.
25 Barrett wrote that, “The early days of Nero’s reign represented the acme of Agrippina’s achievement.
She was not arguably the most powerful person in Rome.” Anthony A. Barrett, Agrippina: Sex, Power,
and Politics in the Early Empire (Great Britain: Yale University Press, 1996), 150.
O’Keefe 6
characteristics having her act in a regent-like role.26 Men were supposed to be the ones in power
and thus there is something incredibly wrong when a woman is in power. This mention of
Agrippina is a classic literary trigger of something wrong in an ancient society. It may also be the
foreshadowing of what is soon to come with Nero’s reign.
The fourth and final method used to describe Agrippina was identifying Agrippina as a
crazy woman. The first mentioning of Agrippina as a crazy woman is in Tacitus, “First, however,
out of feminine jealousy she destroyed Deomitia Lepida, who regarded herself as Agrippina’s
equal in nobility…”27 Agrippina was not just overcome by jealousy, no, she was overcome by
“feminine jealous.” These authors have to see Agrippina as a crazy woman who was controlled
by these feminine qualities to create the literary troupes they attempt to portray. Later Tacitus
also wrote that, “Agrippina, however, displayed feminine rage at having an ex-slave as her rival
and a servant girl as her daughter-in-law, and so on.”28 She was being controlled by jealousy and
rage, both traits that are not innately gendered. However, Tacitus decided that he needed to make
it clear that she was a woman with these traits and it immediately delegitimizes her.
Suetonius had similar descriptions of Agrippina as a crazy woman but not in the same
way as Tacitus. Suetonius mentioned that, “In his last years Claudius made it pretty plain that he
repented of having married Agrippina and adopted Nero.”29 If Claudius repented having married
Agrippina, she was clearly a crazy woman who manipulated her way into power. Not only did
Claudius feel repentant because of her, but Nero eventually decided to kill her. “In the end her
threats and violent behavior terrified him into deciding that she must die.”30 For Nero to hate his
James and Dillon wrote, “Because Nero as a mere teenager when he acceded to the throne, Agrippina
initially assumed a regent-like role, unprecedented for a woman.” James and Dillon, Women in the
Ancient World, 419.
27 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 280-281.
28 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 289.
29 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 204.
30 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 226.
O’Keefe 7
mother enough to want to kill her, there must be something wrong with her, after all, she was his
mother. Suetonius does not specifically add “feminine” to emotions but explained events that
were proof of her craziness.
After examining the literary troupes utilized when discussing Agrippina, it is next
important to examine the biases of each author. Who were they writing for and why? Declouding the biases of the ancient authors allows for a more realistic depiction of Agrippina.
Tacitus wrote for the political purpose of critiquing the principate of his time with the actions of
past Roman leaders.31 Obviously in order to do this he needed a safe platform to discuss these
critiques. Dominki, Garthwaire, and Roche wrote that, “By its very nature ancient history was
intended to influence in some way the political behavior of the historian’s audience. The literary
form therefore could not help but to constitute a commentary on current politics…”32 Because of
his intent to critique his present time period he pointed out all of the problems existent with the
people of the past.33 Understanding these biases is important to unweave Agrippina from his
story. Women in power were always seen as a time of trouble in past history, thus Tacitus
attempted to compare the problems of the present time with the problems of the past. He is in a
time of struggle and Agrippina, as the mother of the evil Nero, can represent that struggle in his
Suetonius’ bias was very different than Tacitus’. Suetonius wrote bibliographies for each
emperor in the Julio-Claudian line and the following six emperors after that. Power and Gibson
W.J. Dominki, J. Garthwaite and P.A. Roche, ed. Writing Politics in Imperial Rome (Leiden, The
Netherlands: IDC Publisher, 2009), 429.
32 Dominki, Garthwaite, and Roche, Writing Politics, 431.
33 Dominki, Garthwaite and Roche also wrote that, “It has, therefore, long since been noted that Tacitus’
very subject matter constitutes a commentary on current politics, though the recovery of his opinions is
not easy, since his language and presentation are often clouded by ambiguity and doublespeak.” Dominki,
Garthwaite, and Roche, Writing Politics, 429.
34 Diminki, Garthwaite and Roche, “While frequently at odds with historical reality, the historical memory
of Tacitus and Nero reassert it with greater zeal against the written word (and spoken) word.” Dominki,
Garthwaite, and Roche, Writing Politics, 439.
O’Keefe 8
wrote that, “In Suetonius, practically all the action and discussion of Life is controlled by the
biography’s subject: it is he alone who is the focus of almost every detail and category, and who
almost always commands the verb of the sentence…”35 Because Suetonius wrote bibliographies,
his intentions were to make the emperors the subject of the story. Everything that happens,
tended to make the emperor look good or blameless for events. Thus Agrippina, was tainted by
the mere fact that she was a woman involved in two emperor’s lives. She was often the one to
blame when something bad occurred.
After examining the troupes ancient authors used to discuss women and Agrippina and
then understanding the biases of each authors, a better picture of who the real Agrippina was can
hopefully be achieved. By looking at the four methods used to discuss Agrippina, Agrippina as a
seductress, Agrippina’s influence and power, Agrippina with male characteristics, and finally
Agrippina as being a crazy woman, a better understanding of who Agrippina was outside of these
creations can be achieved. She was extremely connected to the emperors that she ruled with,
Claudius and Nero. Because of this the mere mention of her was a critique of their reign. When it
came to Claudius, negative imagery was used as a way to make him look weak and easily
controlled by women. According to Suetonius, “Claudius fell so deeply under the influence of
these freedman and wives that he seemed to be their servant rather than their emperor.”36 It has
also been previously introduced that after Claudius married Agrippina the country was controlled
by a woman.37 There is a clear critique by both of these authors of the kind of emperor Claudius
was. He was a man who was controlled by his wives. What kind of man allows himself to be
Tristan Power and Roy K. Gibson, ed. Suetonius the Biographer: Studies in Roman Lives (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2014), 4.
36 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 197.
37 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 255.
O’Keefe 9
controlled by a woman? Agrippina was painted as a woman who ceased power because it
portrayed Claudius’ lack of control.
The authors also made it very clear that Agrippina set out to kill Claudius.38 Tacitus
wrote that, “Agrippina had long decided on murder. Now she saw her opportunity. Her agents
were ready. But she needed advice about poisons.”39 Suetonius also added that, “Most people
think that Claudius was poisoned, but when and by whom is disputed…others [believed] that
Agrippina did so herself at a family banquet, poisoning a dish of mushrooms, his favorite
food.”40 It is unclear whether Agrippina in fact poisoned her husband Claudius. However, what
is clear is that Tacitus and Suetonius want their readers to believe that Agrippina poisoned and
killed him. There is a level of judgment from our authors about an emperor being killed by a
woman, and by his wife no less. The fact that he can be killed in this way continues the judgment
that our authors have on Claudius as an emperor and ruler.
There appeared to be more negative opinions presented when it came to the emperor
Nero. The manner of the connection between Nero and his mother was deeply disputed by these
authors. Suetonius stated that, “The passion he [Nero] felt for his mother Agrippina was
notorious, but her enemies would not let him consummate it, fearing that, if he did, she would
become even more powerful and ruthless than hitherto.”41 There was significant concern here
when it came to the influence Agrippina had on Nero. Nero had passion, seemingly sexual
passion for his mother. Incest was frowned upon during this time as it continues to be today.
Nero was such a bad emperor that he allowed his own mother to influence his sexual urges.
Ginsburg wrote that, “The historian’s account makes it clear from the outset that Agrippina was
responsible for the emperor’s demise: she is said to have been thrown into a particular panic by a remark
Claudius had tossed off when drunk, to the effect that he was fated to suffer, then punish, the disgraces of
his wives.” Ginsburg, Representing Agrippina, 30.
39 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 281.
40 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 205.
41 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 222-223.
O’Keefe 10
Agrippina had some legitimate power when it came to the beginning of Nero’s reign due
to Nero’s young age.42 However, the ancient authors wanted to paint this influence as waning
after a few years and that this made her fearful. Tacitus wrote that, “Agrippina now changed her
tactics, and indulgently offered the privacy of her own bedroom for the relaxations natural to
Nero’s age and position.”43 She feared her loss of influence over him so she decided to offer him
her bed. This presents a different side then Suetonius’ incest metaphor. Agrippina was so drunk
with power that she would do anything to keep Nero in her grasp. This also critiques Nero and
the fact that he was influenced by unnatural urges for an unchaste woman. This was a twofold
critique, Agrippina as the power hungry woman and Nero as the persuadable emperor.
Another fact that becomes incredibly clear from these literary depictions of Agrippina is
the fact that she had legitimate power. Suetonius and Tacitus both attempted to make the power
Agrippina held into something bad and evil. But despite this goal, the authors conveyed that she
had real influence and power. She was not a woman who fit into the stereotypical idea of a
woman. Instead she was a woman who embraced more masculine characteristics, and the authors
critique her for this. As a woman, her biology meant that she should act a specific way.44 Tacitus
critiqued the fact that Agrippina sat before the senate, “they offered to Agrippina, conspicuously
seated on another dais nearby, the same homage and gratitude as they had given the emperor.
That a woman should sit before Roman standard was an unprecedented novelty. She was
asserting her partnership in the empire her ancestors had won.”45 The fact that Agrippina, as a
woman, sat before the senate is incredibly revealing. This line portrays that Agrippina had
Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 211.
Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 289.
44 Foxhall wrote that, “The crux of the argument focuses on the extent to which gendered behavior is
‘innate’ in humans, and behaving in ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ ways is built into our biological fabric.”
Foxhall, Studying Gender, 2.
45 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 267-268.
O’Keefe 11
legitimate power, or at least influence, in the eyes of the senate, enough that they would allow
her to sit with them. They would not have done this lightly.
This influence and legitimate power continues in the eyes of the public and with other
influential people. Agrippina brought back Seneca from exile as a popular opinion move.46
According to Tacitus, Agrippina believed that, “Seneca’s advice could serve their plans for
supremacy; and he was believed to be devoted to her – in gratitude for her favors – but hostile to
Claudius whose unfairness he represented.”47 Agrippina was backed by popular figures of the
time. The homage Seneca gave to Agrippina can be drawn from the fact that she pulled him out
of exile. However, there were other instances of Agrippina’s popular opinion. Even Tacitus
admitted that Agrippina was given “honour after honour.”48 People believed her to be important
enough to honor her and make sure they recognized her, which is, after all, the main reason to
give someone honor or pay homage to them.
Another important fact that proves Agrippina’s power is the fact that Nero appointed
Agrippina to play a regent-like role when he turned all his affairs over to her due to his young
age.49 Even though this was offered as a kind of critique for Nero, it proves that Agrippina had
legitimate public and senatorial backing. It is inconceivable that Agrippina would be accepted as
a ruler, even a temporary one, if she was not liked. If she was not respected it would be much
more likely that the senate would demand Nero to appoint someone else to manage his private
and public affairs. Another idea that is presented as negative but reveals Agrippina’s power is the
fear of Agrippina and Nero becoming lovers.50 This seems to be a simple critique of incest,
Tacitus wrote, “So she now secured the recall of Lucius Annaeus Seneca from exile and his appointment
to a praetorship. She judged that owing to his literary eminence this would be popular.” Tacitus, “Tacitus
The Annals,” 255.
47 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 255.
48 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 285.
49 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 211.
50 Suetonius, “The Twelve Caesars,” 222-223.
O’Keefe 12
however, it also recognizes Agrippina’s power. Agrippina had enough power and influence over
the country and her son that for them to sleep together was to be feared by her enemies. Two
powerful people becoming lovers would be worth fearing.
She also received legitimacy by being the daughter of Germanicus and also the greatgranddaughter of Augustus. It is clear that Agrippina used her lineage as a reason to marry
Claudius in the first place. She utilized the fact that she was Germanicus’ daughter and would
bring her son, his grandson, into the marriage as well.51 Because of her lineage Agrippina was
given power and influence. She was the daughter of the wonderful and loved Germanicus and the
great-granddaughter of the emperor and God Augustus, why not like her?52 Her connection to the
house of the Caesars gave her an advantage. Tacitus wrote, “let the emperor all himself with a
noble race and unite two branches of the Claudian house, rather than allow this lady of proved
capacity for child-bearing, still young, to transfer the glorious name of the Caesars to another
family.”53 Even though she was a female the Caesar name was relevant and important to her
power and influence as they specifically helped to fuel her ambitions.54
Another revelation from these methods of description is that Agrippina embraced
masculine characteristics which reveals the fluidity of gender. There are many times where
Agrippina is described as having these male characteristics. This was obviously meant to be a
critique of Agrippina and is supposed to be a negative trait. However, it reveals something about
the society of the time. Barrett wrote that, “Agrippina could have felt well satisfied with her
achievements in 49. She had married the emperor, betrothed her son to his daughter, arranged the
recall of an influential ally and the expulsion of more than one potential rival. But she was not
Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 252.
Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 121.
53 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 252-253.
54 Barrett wrote that, “In fact it was mainly the awareness of her decedent from Augustus that would fuel
the political ambitions of Agrippina. The prospect of her becoming, by virtue of this descent, ruler in her
own right was never a serious one. This was not possible for a woman.” Barrett, Agrippina, 16.
O’Keefe 13
one to rest on her laurels, and the following year saw her achieve new heights.”55 She was a
woman who wanted to achieve great power and this is contrary to what women of the time were
supposed to want. Women were meant to be at home and take care of the private sphere.
Another important fact is that Agrippina had the loyalty of ex-soldiers. Tacitus stated
that, “Agrippina now advertised her power to the provincials. She had a settlement of ex-soldiers
established at the capital of the Ubii and named after her.”56 This legion of ex-solider gave her
legitimate military power and military power gave her political power. Legions equaled power.
She was interested in power and money, which was an incredibly masculine mindset. According
to Tacitus, “Her private life was chaste – unless power was to be gained. Her passion to acquire
money was unbounded. She wanted it as a stepping-stone to supremacy.”57 The understanding of
biological characteristics tied to ones gender is an idea that many people believe. However, it
does not seem to be that cut and dry in 2015 and also does not seem that way in ancient Rome
either. Foxhall explained that, “Part of the reason for this is that gender relations and gendered
behavior were metaphorical vehicles for expressing relationships of power and domination.”58
For a woman who had the lineage that Agrippina the Younger had, her manipulation of the
gender binary would be intimidating to many.
Suetonius and Tacitus seemed to do everything they possibly could to delegitimize
Agrippina. However, they do provide enough information about who she was and the power she
did have. Agrippina was, “honored with the title of Augusta.”59 This would not have been a title
given to just anyone. What it does express is that Agrippina had real and true power in her time.
Barrett, Agrippina, 108.
Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 263.
57 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 255.
58 Foxhall, Studying Gender, 37.
59 Tacitus, “Tacitus The Annals,” 263.
O’Keefe 14
It shows that “‘man’ and ‘woman’ were not essential or fixed categories…”60 The ancient
authors, and many historians after them, did not understand this notion of moveable gender
categories. Just because you were a woman does not mean you will innately act in one way.
Agrippina exemplifies how movable these gender categories have been throughout history. It is a
new idea in scholarship, but its concept has existed for many years before now.
Agrippina the Younger was an ancient woman who has long been clouded in negative
imagery, both by ancient authors and also modern authors. Agrippina lived outside the fixed
gender binary by working to gain power and influence. She portrays how truly powerful women
could be and are. By reanalyzing Agrippina, present historians can also reanalyze gender
categories and understand it in a more complex manner. People of 2015 are not that different
from the people of ancient Rome and complexifying Agrippina reveals this fact. There is much
to be learned from studying influential women of the past like Agrippina the Younger.
Foxhall, Studying Gender, 11.
O’Keefe 15
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Company, 1962.
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