Option J: Focus of Study
Personalities in their times: Option J- Focus of Study;
- Background and rise to prominence
- Key features and developments
- ONE particular source or type of source (eg Tacitus – selected excerpts; coinage) for Agrippina the Younger
Agrippina the Younger played an influential role during the reign of two (if not three) successive emperors. As such, her presentation on official imperial media – predominately through statues and on coins, highlights the expected role and ideal image of the leading imperial female. Alternatively, due to this perception of power and influence disseminated through this media, Agrippina the Younger has garnered a negative portrayed in the literary tradition. She was primarily seen as a ruthless, controlling, domineering and violent women who killed one emperor (Claudius) and attempted to kill another (Nero). However, this representation of Agrippina the Younger needs to be mediated, and her role in the development of the power of the imperial woman needs to be addressed. Below is a list of resources related to: (i) general biographical information; (ii) the different sources narrating on Agrippina the Younger’s life and her role in imperial politics and archaeological sources; (iii) her position during the reigns of successive emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero; and (iv) limitations and drawbacks on the ancient source material.
Background and rise to prominence:
- The Britannica entry on Agrippina the Younger provides a brief account of Agrippina the Younger and some major moments in her life.
- The Women in Antiquity page also has an entry on Agrippina the Younger, talks about her representation in the literary sources and on coinage.
- See Ancient History et cetera’s entry on Agrippina the Younger for further preliminary information on the empress.
Key features and developments, and Evaluation:
- Agrippina the Younger’s entry in De Imperatoribus Romanis written by Donna Hurley is a great source for information on her position during the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero.
- The Conversation article by Dr Caillan Davenport and Dr Sushma Malik on ‘Mythbusting Ancient Rome – the Emperor Nero’ which talks of Agrippina’s rumoured incest with her son.
- Agrippina the Younger – Rome's Enigmatic Empress talks of Agrippina’s exile, her marriage to Claudius and relationship with her son.
- Graalman, D. S. 1971. ‘Agrippina the Younger,’ Masters thesis from Oklahoma State University. This thesis has chapter specifically related to her time during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.
- Kajava, M. 1998. ‘REVIEW: Agrippina, Mother of Nero,’ L'Antiquité Classique 67: 492-494. A great review that summaries the primary and most important findings of the book mentioned.
- Green, C. M. C. 1998. ‘Claudius, Kingship and Incest,’ Latomus 57.4: 765-791. Good article for the relationship between Claudius and Agrippina and why their marriage might have influenced Agrippina’s negative portrayal in the literary sources
- As a teacher (K-12), you can receive free access to six articles a month on JSTOR by registering for the site: https://support.jstor.org/hc/en-us/articles/115004760028-MyJSTOR-How-to-Register-Get-Free-Access-to-Content
Ancient Source Material: Drawbacks and Limitations:
- Keegan, P. (2010). "She is a mass of riddles": Julia Augusta Agrippina and the sources. Ancient history: resources for teachers, 37(2), 158-176.
- Keegan, P. 2004. ‘Boudica, Cartimandua, Messalina and Agrippina the Younger. Independent Women of Power and the Gendered Rhetoric of Roman History,’ Roman History 34.2: 99-148. This article provides a good analysis of the representations of Agrippina the Younger in the ancient literary sources.
- Ginsburg, J. 2006. Representing Agrippina: Constructions of Female Power in the Early Roman Empire, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. A limited preview of this book can be found on Google Book by clicking here – however, this is a very limited preview.
- Professor Tom Hillard’s presentation at the Macquarie University Ancient History & Studies of Religion Teachers Conference (Art Gallery of New South Wales) May 15th 2018, ‘Agrippina: A Historiographical Approach’. This includes a PDF version of his original PowerPoint presentation.
- L’Hoir, F. S. 1994. ‘Tacitus and Women’s Usurpation of Power,’ The Classical World 88.1: 5-25. Offers a great perspective of Tacitus’ treatment of women.
There are three main literary sources that related the life of Agrippina the Younger: Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. All three authors are hostile of Agrippina the Younger, her acts and her memory.
- Tacitus Annals 12.1-7 (includes information on the rise of Agrippina the Younger and her marriage to her uncle Claudius); 12.22-27 (includes her elevation to the rank of Augusta, the adoption of Nero by Claudius and her rise in power); 12.41-42 (the shameless promotion of her son Nero and favouring her men into positions of power); 12.64-68 (the decline of Agrippina the Younger’s influence and power and the ‘murder’ of Claudius)
- Tacitus Annals 12.69 (elevation of Nero); Annals 13.1-2, 5 (the power of Agrippina early in Nero’s reign); Annals 13.13-18 (descriptions of Agrippina’s anger and the murder of Claudius’ son, Britannicus); Annals 13.19-21 (the plot to destroy Agrippina); Annals 14.1-13 (the assassination of Agrippina).
- Suetonius Life of Caligula 24 (incest between Caligula and his three sisters, including Agrippina the Younger)
- Suetonius Life of Claudius 26 (the marriage of Claudius and Agrippina the Younger); Life of Claudius 39 (the unprecedented adoption of Nero); Life of Claudius 43-45 (Claudius regretting his marriage and his death (perhaps murder).
- Suetonius Life of Nero 9 (Agrippina’s influence in his early reign); Life of Nero 28 (incest between mother and son); Life of Nero 33 (murder of Agrippina organised by Nero).
- Cassius Dio Roman History 59.21.6-9 (Caligula’s incest with his sister and their exile).
- Cassius Dio Roman History 60.31.6-32.4 (marriage of Claudius and Agrippina and the promotion of Nero); Roman History 60.32.2-33.1 (growing and unchecked power of Agrippina); Roman History 60.33.9-35 (the murder of Claudius by Agrippina and Nero).
- Cassius Dio Roman History 61.1.1-3.3 (control of Agrippina in Nero’s early reign); Roman History 61.6.4-6 (murder of Marcus Junius Silanus organised by Agrippina); Roman History 61.7.1-2 (decline of Agrippina’s influence)
- The Gemma Claudia is a cameo of Claudius and Agrippina the Younger with (probably) Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder.
- Relief housed in the Aphrodisias Museum which shows Agrippina the Younger crowning Nero.
- The Roman Imperial Coinage database shows all the mints depicting Agrippina the Younger on imperial mints throughout the empire. This site also has information on what was depicted and written on both the obverse (heads) and reverse (tails). The database shows Agrippina the Younger’s first appearance on coinage alongside her two sisters during the reign of Caligula until her last depiction in 60 AD.
Image: Bust of Agrippina the Younger in the National Museum in Warsaw