Ancient History Women in ancient politics

Ancient History Women in ancient politics



Ancient History Women in ancient politics

Women in ancient politics
Option 1: Cleopatra and her impact on Roman politics, 69–30 BC
Context: The expansion of Rome into Egypt
1.1 Dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt
The Ptolemies were not Egyptian. The family was Greek from Macedonia, descended from one of Alexander’s generals, Ptolemy, who had taken over Egypt on Alexander’s death in 323 BC. He had chosen perhaps the wealthiest and most secure of the areas which Alexander’s generals acquired. It had a well-established agricultural system and organization, minerals and semi-precious stones in the mountainous areas, a people used to being ruled by a god-king, and natural defences on at least three sides and the fortress at Pelusium to guard the fourth.
Maps of Ancient Egypt: http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/egypt/maps/mainmap.html
Ptolemy I reigned until 282 BC and died at the age of 85. he had established Egypt as a major power in the Mediterranean with control of Cyprus and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean coastline. Perhaps his most famous legacy is the Library of Alexandria. He had the next two Ptolemies maximize the economic potential of Egypt and systemize the farming of the land. One reason why they were accepted by the Egyptians was that they participated in the religious aspects of kingship and continued the god-Pharaoh style of ruling, to the extent that inter-marriage within the family was accepted. Ptolemy’s son, Philadelphus, married his sister, Arsinoe, and were represented in art as the gods Osiris and Isis. This is also seen in the time of Cleopatra and Antony.
However, later Ptolemies became corrupt and brutal. Ptolemy IV killed his father, Ptolemy VIII killed his nephew to become king, then married his niece, who killed his first wife, and was herself killed by the first wife’s son. Ptolemy X killed his mother to become ruler. Ptolemy XI was supported by Sulla, the Roman general who was fighting a war in the Middle East during the 80s BC. He had married his step-mother, Berenice, only to have her killed. The Egyptian people reacted violently to both this and having a ruler set up by the Romans. They dragged him from the palace and killed him. However, he left his kingdom to the Roman People in his will, making Ptolemy XII Auletes depend upon the Romans for his survival.
While Rome was not concerned to add Egypt to their Empire and the Egyptians did not like the idea of joining the Roman Empire, the Egyptians still asked the Romans to arbitrate between rival claims to the throne. This meant that Egypt’s rulers sought the support of a strong and powerful politician in Rome. They would become the client of an important patron who would, in theory and usually for money, look after their interests.
Task 1A
Research more about the dynasty of the Ptolemies at
Research the Library at Alexandria and its history.
Sometimes the powerful members of the dynasty were women: find some examples of important women among the Ptolemies.
1.2 Ptolemy Auletes 115 BC- 51 BC
Cleopatra’s father was Ptolemy XII Auletes (the Flute-player). He became ruler (pharaoh) of Egypt in 80 BC. His daughter, Berenice, was born in 76 BC, and Cleopatra in 70/69 BC. His sons, Ptolemy Xiii and Ptolemy XIV, were born in 61 BC and 59 BC.
Carving showing Ptolemy XII smashing enemies with a mace
Relief from the first pylon in the temple at Edfu
Ptolemy XII Auletes is generally considered to have been weak and corrupt, and not at all like he is represented in the reliefs of him.
Coin of Ptolemy Auletes, British Museum
The coin (Southern page 16 Illustration No. 1) from the British Museum represents him as typically Greek, following the image of Alexander the Great. In Egyptian reliefs he is seen as a typical pharaoh in keeping with the Ptolemies way of taking on the role acceptable to the Egyptians.

Further examples of coins of Ptolemy XII
Task 1B
Compare this representation with other coins of Ptolemy XII and of other members of the family:
His benefactor among the Romans was Pompey the Great who in 63 BC had won a war against Mithridates and was completing a re-organisation of the provinces of the East. Ptolemy sent Pompey a crown of gold and an invitation to visit Egypt. Pompey took the crown but did not accept the invitation.
Roman politicians had been casting a greedy eye on Egypt for some time and Ptolemy knew that he needed a wealthy and powerful patron if he was to survive. Crassus and Julius Caesar had already, in 65 BC, tried to persuade the Senate and people of Rome to add Egypt to the Empire, hoping to use the wealth of Egypt for popularity and even resources against Pompey.
In 59 BC, he persuaded Caesar by means of 6000 talents to pass a law recognizing Ptolemy as the King of Egypt. However, it did not work because in 58 BC he was forced to flee from Egypt to Rome when the Alexandrians rose against him. This was due to the heavy taxes needed to pay the bribes and his close association with Rome. His daughter Berenice IV took control in Egypt.
The economy had declined; agricultural land was abandoned by peasants rather than paying the taxes, the coinage had been devalued; necessary work had not been done on the infrastructure and the cost of living had risen a great deal.
Ptolemy stayed in Pompey’s villa in Rome and was basically Pompey’s client, owing to Pompey his position as ruler of Egypt. The Senate in 57 BC agreed that Rome’s interests were for Ptolemy to be returned as King to Egypt but no one wanted Pompey to have the glory and wealth of restoring him. In fact Crassus made sure that Pompey could not take on the task. Finally in 55 BC, with Pompey’s help, Ptolemy bribed (at a cost of 10,000 talents) the governor of Syria, Aulus Gabinius, to return him to Egypt. Declaring war on Berenice and Archelaus, King of Pontus, whom Berenice had married, Gabinius led Ptolemy back to Egypt, where he immediately had Berenice and her supporters executed. Cleopatra was now the eldest of the surviving children, although only 14 years old. She may also have met Mark Antony now, since he led the cavalry in the capture of Pelusium.
Supported now by the presence of Roman soldiers in Egypt, Ptolemy XII Auletes reigned until spring of 51 BC. It seems that Cleopatra may have ruled jointly with Ptolemy for a short period before his death, and perhaps, alone after his death until she and her 10 year old brother Ptolemy XIII were declared co-rulers of Egypt. She inherited an Egypt which was weak and dependent on Roman patrons, who were exploiting Egypt for financial and political advantages.
1.3 A note on Client Kings
The system of patron and client was well established in Rome. This system tied two people together in terms of helping each other when it was needed. They had obligations towards each other. Perhaps the most common form was the relationship between an ex-slave (freedman or woman) and their former master. The freed man or woman had certain duties to perform for the ex-master while he or she had some responsibilities towards the ex-slave. Many poorer Romans found this helpful, even to the point of getting food, hand-outs of money and jobs from their patrons. The patrons used these clients for financial or political advantages, especially at election time. The system ran right through every level of society, so that even an important politician such as Mark Antony relied on others, such as Julius Caesar, who might advance his career or provide him with opportunities.
Client Kings were similar. They were clients of the Roman state rather than individuals, although as with Ptolemy and Pompey, that was not always obvious. They were also part of the frontier areas which made them important to Rome’s security. They were expected to keep their kingdom peaceful and secure. They needed to control the activities of the peoples, especially those who might take part in piracy and robbery.
Rome’s obligation in this relationship was to support them in their kingdom – often that was keeping them in power while the Romans did not interfere too much in local politics. Auletes gained a garrison of Roman soldiers from Gabinius. In the Empire, after Augustus, financial aid might be provided, such as that to Herod. In return client kings provided resources when needed. This usually amounted to armed men, supplies, money, strategic positions, local knowledge, contacts, ad hoc payments on demand and war-indemnities. For the Romans it had the benefit of having some control without having to use soldiers and resources to police the state, while they still could exercise some influence over especially foreign policy. For the king and his subjects, it meant that Rome did not impose her rule, taxes, way of life or demands on the kingdom.
Cicero, as governor of the province of Cilicia in 51-50 BC, dealt with client kings Deiotarus and Brogitarus when Parthia threatened the province, just as Antony was to use client kings in his wars with the Parthians 20 years later. Deiotarus brought two legions to Cicero, and later sided with Pompey in the Civil War against Caesar.
These kings were often given the title of Friends and Allies of the Roman People. However, Rome considered these allies to be in a sense part of the Empire, and it was not unknown for the Romans to take over the kingdom because there was more benefit from direct rule. This had happened in Cyprus in 58 BC when Clodius annexed the island and removed Ptolemy Auletes’ brother from the throne.
Plutarch describes how the Kings of the East rushed to gain the patronage of Antony when he first came to the east after the death of Julius Caesar:
Then he left behind Lucius Censorinus in charge of Greece. He went across to Asia and took possession of the wealth there. Kings waited at his door. The wives of kings competed with one another with their gifts and using their beauty, allowed themselves to be seduced by him.
Plutarch Antony 24
According to Plutarch Antony 37, when Antony marched against the Parthians, Artavasdes, King of Armenia, provided six thousand cavalry and seven thousand infantry. And he was only one of many!
At the Battle of Actium Plutarch lists the Kings in support of Antony:
The subject kings who fought with him were Bocchus the king of Libya, Tarcondemus the King of Upper Cilicia, Archelaüs of Cappadocia, Philadelphus of Paphlagonia, Mithridates of Commagene, and Sadalas of Thrace. These kings were present. Armies were also sent by Polemon from Pontus, by Malchus from Arabia, by Herod the Jew, and also by Amyntas the King of Lycaonia and Galatia; the King of the Medes also sent an auxiliary force.
Plutarch Antony 62
These kings were looking for rewards for their help – perhaps some addition to their kingdom, perhaps support against a rival, or perhaps even just the idea that if they did not help and Antony won, they would not last long as king!

Theme: Development of Egypt under Ptolemy Auletes and Cleopatra
2.1 Julius Caesar and Civil War 49 BC- 44 BC
At the time of the birth of Cleopatra, much of the Mediterranean World was either governed by Rome or under the control of the Romans. During the 60s BC Pompey added and organized the provinces of the East and settled client kings in place. During the 50s BC Caesar added Gaul (France and Belgium). He also made two attempts to add Britain to the Empire. The result was that in 49 BC the Empire stretched from the River Rhine south to the Alps and across to the Black Sea in the north. In the East the area included lands between the Black Sea and Egypt, while much of the northern coast of Africa was Roman.
Maps of the Roman Empire at this time
Task 2A
Research the extent of the Roman Empire at this time: using the maps identify the provinces and client kingdoms.
During these two decades Rome was dominated by three politicians/generals. One of these, Publius Licinius Crassus, said to be the wealthiest man in Rome, died in 53 BC attempting a conquest of Parthia. The remaining two, Pompey and Julius Caesar, fought over the spoils of the Empire in a Civil War which started in 49 BC.
Pompey was defeated by Caesar at the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Escaping to Egypt, where he expected support, he was murdered by Pothinus and Achillas, the agents of the young king Ptolemy XIII. When Caesar arrived in Egypt, he was given Pompey’s head, Instead of leaving, as the Egyptians expected, he stayed and began the first real involvement of Rome with the Egyptians, one in particular, Cleopatra.
Although Pompey was dead, the civil war was not over, Caesar still had battles to fight in Alexandria (see Julius Caesar and Cleopatra), at Zela in Syria, at Thapsus in Africa and at Munda in Spain. Only then, on March 17th 45 BC after the victory at Munda, was the issue settled and Rome was controlled by a single man. He was given the title dictator later that year.
This was the end of over three decades of individual Romans struggling for power and using the resources of the Empire to do so. Cleopatra grew up, therefore, well aware that survival meant the support of this super power; and as the power slowly came into the hands of one man rather than the Senate or the People of Rome, it was the support of this one man she needed to survive.
2.2 The expansion of Egypt under Cleopatra: gifts of Caesar and Antony.
Cleopatra was clearly intent upon regaining as far as possible the old Ptolemaic possessions and extending Egyptian control to the Eastern Mediterranean. She focused Egyptian policy on ensuring the continued wealth of Egypt and adding to the trading opportunities.
Caesar had already returned Cyprus to Egypt.
From Antony, she got control of the important ports along the coast of Phoenicia (Lebanon) and Syria. She gained harbours in Cilicia (S. Turkey). She managed to gain control of the balsam trade in Judaea from Herod (whom she had helped when he escaped the Parthians).
In 37 BC when Antony returned to the East he handed over a number of territories. These were:
‘the kingdoms of Phoenicia, Coele Syria, Cyprus, and a large part of Cilicia; in addition he gave her the balsam-producing part of Judaea, and all that part of Arabia of the Nabataeans which slopes toward the Red sea.’
Plutarch Life of Antony 36

In 34 BC, Antony had a successful campaign in Armenia. He celebrated his triumph in Alexandria with Cleopatra as the New Isis. Antony was the New Dionysus. Within a few days, a ceremony took place in which the children were given their royal titles with Antony sitting on the throne as well. Ptolemy XV (Caesarion) was made the co-ruler with his mother and was called the King of Kings. Cleopatra was called the Queen of Kings. Alexander Helios was named Great King of the Seleucid empire (Armenia, media and Parthia). Cleopatra Selene was called Queen of Cyrenaica and Libya. Cleopatra and Antony's son, Ptolemy Philadelphos was named King of Pheonicia, Syria and Asia Minor at the age of two.
These ‘gifts’ were called the Donations of Alexandria and they caused more than a little irritation in Rome!
The extent of the Ptolemaic Kingdom
http://www.livius.org/ps-pz/ptolemies/ptolemies.htm (information and map)
http://www.explorethemed.com/PtolEgypt.asp (maps)
First he announced that Cleopatra was Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele Syria, and that Caesarion was to rule with her. Caesarion was considered to be a son of Julius Caesar, who had made Cleopatra pregnant. Secondly he said that his sons by Cleopatra were to be named Kings of Kings, and to Alexander he gave Armenia, Media and Parthia (once it was conquered); to Ptolemy he gave Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. In this meeting he displayed his sons in the dress of their kingdoms:, Alexander in the clothing of the Medes, upright crown with a tiara, and Ptolemy in boots, short cloak, and broad-brimmed hat with a diadem. Ptolemy was wearing the dress of those kings of Macedon who followed Alexander the Great; Alexander on the other hand wore the traditional costume of Medes and Armenians. When the boys had embraced their parents, one was given a guard of Armenians, the other of Macedonians. Cleopatra, at this meeting and at others later, in public wore the sacred robe of Isis, and was called the New Isis.
Plutarch Life of Antony 54
Task 2B
Read the passage above: what impression is Antony trying to create by this demonstration? How do you think Romans felt about his actions?
Silver denarius of 32 BC, with heads of Antony and Cleopatra, British Museum
Task 2C
How are Antony and Cleopatra portrayed here?
The legend around Antony says that Armenia was conquered; Cleopatra’s says she is Queen of Kings and of her sons who are kings.
What messages does this coin convey about the relationship between them and their positions in the East?

Theme: Life, character and death of Cleopatra
3.1 The family of Cleopatra

3.2 Cleopatra becomes Queen of Egypt
Ptolemy XII had made a will which indicated that he wanted his daughter, Cleopatra VII, and his son, Ptolemy XIII, to rule Egypt together. She was 18 when Ptolemy XII Auletes died in the spring of 51 BC. Cleopatra and Ptolemy were married as was the Egyptian custom. Her brother was 10 years old, and so guardians were appointed for him. These included Acjhillas, the army commander, a Greek Theodotus and an eunuch Pothinus, his financial minister. These three were clearly aiming to ensure their own position through the young king. In the context of Egyptian politics this meant the removal of Cleopatra as soon as possible, despite the fact that technically Rome was protecting her.
In 51 BC an incident occurred which showed Cleopatra’s political sense. Bibulus the governor of Syria needed support because there was a threat from the Parthians after the defeat of Crassus in 53 BC. So he sent his two sons to Egypt to arrange the return of the soldiers who had been garrisoned there by Gabinius in 55 BC. They, however, had settled down in Egypt, married and did not wish to return. They mutinied and went so far as to kill the two sons of Bibulus. Cleopatra had the ring-leaders arrested and sent to Bibulus to be dealt with by Rome. As a result no action was taken against Egypt.
In Egypt problems had arisen. Bad harvests in 50 BC resulted in food riots. She had the grain supply sent to Alexandria to ensure the population there were fed. They had killed Ptolemy XI over famine and Cleopatra was taking no chances. She also brought her younger brother more into the public eye, since up to this point she had been ruling effectively on her own. Palace politics and external pressures were making her position less secure.
At some point she left Alexandria for Upper Egypt, perhaps at the end of 49 BC. Julius Caesar in his account of the Civil War mentions that Ptolemy XIII had driven Cleopatra out of Egypt. It was now that events beyond Egypt began to affect Cleopatra and her future. She had gone to get together an army and fight her way back to the throne. Before she could do that, Civil War broke out in the Empire and eventually reached Egypt in the shape of Pompey the Great.
Cleopatra’s forces and those of Ptolemy were at Pelusium when Pompey arrived by boat from Cyprus. Ptolemy’s advisers decided to seek the favour of Caesar by killing his enemy. They persuaded Pompey to come ashore and there killed him. However, when Theodotus took the head of Pompey to Caesar he was not as pleased as Theodotus had expected. Instead he dismissed him, quite clearly angry that Pompey had been treated as he was.
It was now that Cleopatra acted, and in the most dramatic way. The story goes that she gained access to Caesar by sending him a gift of a carpet, which was rolled up with her inside it! Whatever the truth, she knew she had to speak to him directly. Ptolemy and his armies were between her and Caesar, so some secret means had to be found. She also had to act quickly; there were too many threats, not just her brother but also her sister Arsinoe and the youngest Ptolemy, and the intrigues of the court.
Cleopatra succeeded in her aim and before the end of 47 BC she was indeed the Queen of Egypt.
3.3 Cleopatra as presented in Roman and other sources
Coins and statues
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours/egypt/cleopatra_history_to_myth/cleopatra_of_egypt_from_histo.aspx (pictures of Cleopatra from coins and statues)
http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/acans/caesar/CivilWars_Cleopatra.htm (Coins of Cleopatra and representation at Dendera).
Plutarch describes Cleopatra:
Her beauty, so we are told, was not itself outstanding; it did not immediately strike those who saw her; yet being with her had an inescapable hold; when talking with her, she was persuasive, and the character which surrounded her whole manner in company had a force to it.
Plutarch Life of Antony 27
Task 3A
What qualities do you think Cleopatra had which attracted Caesar?
Do the portraits present her as attractive?
Research the comments of ancient writers about her beauty at:
Plutarch describes Cleopatra’s effect on Antony
But Dellius was sent by Antony, but when he saw Cleopatra, he understood her cunning and cleverness in conversation. Straightaway he realized that Antony was unlikely to do such a woman any harm, in fact it was more likely that she would have the greatest influence with him.
Plutarch Life of Antony 25
In this way she so completely took control of Antony, that while Fulvia his wife was waging war on his behalf with Octavian in Rome, and a Parthian army commanded by Labienus was threatening Mesopotamia, and was about to invade Syria he let himself be carried off by her to Alexandria. There, like some a young man with time on his hands for leisure, he wasted his time spending it upon amusements and pleasures.
Plutarch Life of Antony 28
Now the disastrous flaw in his character, asleep for so long, - his passion for Cleopatra- flared up again all the greater as he approached to Syria; they had imagined it had been charmed away and lulled to rest by common sense and good reasons. But at last, like the disobedient and uncontrollable horse of the soul, he rejected all the good advice for his safety and sent Fonteius Capito to bring Cleopatra to Syria.
Plutarch Life of Antony 36
He was so eager to spend the winter with her that he began the war too early in the season for campaigning, and then made such a mess of his management of the campaign. He was not in control of his own judgement, but he behaved as though influenced by some drug or magic spell; he was always looking in her direction, always thinking about how fast he could return to her rather than how best to defeat the enemy.
Plutarch Life of Antony 37
Velleius Paterculus on Cleopatra’s effect on Antony
His love for Cleopatra was now burning all the more and his vices getting greater; these vices were always fed by his love of power, by the luxury he liked and the flattery from those around him. As a result, he decided now to wage war on his own country.
Veleius Paterculus 2.82
Task 3A
Apart from Cicero’s letter (see below), the accounts of Cleopatra were all written by Romans and after her defeat and death when Octavian/Augustus had become the first Roman Emperor. Do you think this affected the way they portray Cleopatra?
How fair a picture of her do they give?
3.4 Cleopatra’s Suicide
Antony’s death
After Antony and Cleopatra were finally defeated by Octavian, Cleopatra sent Antony a message that she was dead. Antony then tried to kill himself.
Then with his infantry defeated, he retreated into the city, crying out that Cleopatra had betrayed him to men with whom he waged war for her sake. However, she, fearing his anger when so out of his mind, fled for safety into her tomb; then she sent messengers to Antony to say that she was dead. Antony believed this.
Antony had with him a faithful slave named Eros. Antony had sometime before encouraged him, if it was necessary, to kill him, and he now asked him to keep his promise. So Eros drew his sword and held it as if he was about to strike him, but then turned his face away and killed himself. He fell at his master's feet and Antony said: "Well done, Eros! Although you could not do what needed to be done, you did teach me what I must do"; then he struck himself through the belly and fell on the bed. He did not die at once from this wound. The blood stopped flowing once he lay down. He came round and begged those nearby to strike a second blow. But they fled from the room while he was lying there crying out in pain, until Diomedes the secretary came from Cleopatra with orders to bring him to her in the tomb.
Plutarch Life of Antony 76
Antony is taken to Cleopatra’s mausoleum where he is hauled up in a stretcher. He probably died soon after. Cleopatra was allowed to attend his funeral (Plutarch 82). Octavian meanwhile, according to Plutarch (79), was worried that Cleopatra would destroy the wealth she had stored in her Mausoleum. She was eventually taken prisoner but managed to arrange her suicide despite being watched. First she tried starving herself to death but Octavian threatened her children and this forced her to stop.
Cleopatra’s reasons for killing herself
Dear Antony, I buried you recently with free hands; now, however, I make my offerings for you as a prisoner, and guarded so that I cannot disfigure my body either with blows or tears; my body is now the body of a slave; I am watched so that I can be used to celebrate the triumph over you. Do not expect any more honours or libations; these are the last that Cleopatra the captive will bring. While we lived nothing could keep us apart, but in dying we must change places; you, the Roman, are buried here; I, the unfortunate woman, will be buried in Italy, gaining only enough of your country for a burial in exchange. But if there is any strength or power in the gods of Rome (for the gods of Egypt have betrayed us), do not abandon your own wife while she still lives; do not allow me to be included in the triumph over you. But hide me here and bury me with yourself, because out of all the terrible evils that have happened to me, none has been so great or so terrible as living apart from you for even this brief time.
Plutarch Life of Antony 84
Task 3B
These are Cleopatra’s words at Antony’s tomb: what do they tell us about her reasons for suicide? Do they seem believable to you?
Horace also gives us an account of her death:
But she sought a nobler way to die; she did not, like most women, fear the sword, nor did she escape on a swift ship to some secret shore where she could hide. She dared to look upon her defeated palace calmly and bravely held onto the bitter snakes so that her body might drink their black poison. Determined to die, she became even more fierce; she had no intention, although no longer a queen, to be brought in ships to Rome, and led in a proud triumph, for she was not some obscure, ordinary woman
Horace Odes 1.37
Task 3C
How does Horace portray her reasons?
After Cleoparta’s death
Octavian, although angry at the death of this woman, admired her noble spirit; and he ordered that her body should be buried with that of Antony in with all royal splendour appropriate to a Queen. Her maid-servants were also given honourable burials.
Plutarch Life of Antony 86
Task 3D
Were there any reasons why Octavian might be pleased that Cleopatra was dead?
Read Plutarch Life of Antony 81-82: how did he treat her children?

Theme: Cleopatra’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and their political significance
4.1 Caesar, Cleopatra and Caesarion
In the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, it is important to keep in mind that both of them were intelligent and determined politicians whose main aims were always to preserve themselves and their power. They would also be concerned to protect the interests of their own countries. it is important to consider this: if Caesar had felt that Cleopatra was not up to the task of helping Rome and preserving Rome’s (and his) interests in Egypt and the East, no matter what he felt about her, he would have abandoned her and found some one else. Cleopatra, also, was aware that, in 48 BC, Caesar was the source of power and without his support she was likely to be killed by her enemies. She knew he would soon leave, and she would probably never see him again.
Before he left, he and Cleopatra cruised down the Nile, despite the pressing problems in Rome and the Empire. For Cleopatra this displayed her as the Queen of Egypt beyond the city of Alexandria, and the support she had from Caesar. Shortly after Caesar left Cleopatra gave birth to her son, Caesarion, or Ptolemy Caesar. Throughout his life Cleopatra made Caesarion a very important part of her plans. In 44 BC when he was three, and Ptolemy XIV had died, she made a point of sharing the throne with him. Later in the Donations which Antony handed out to their children, Caesarion was given kingdoms and title’King of Kings’.
What was the importance of Caesarion to Cleopatra?
Indeed M. Antonius confirmed to the senate that he had been acknowledged by him and that C. Matius and C. Oppius knew this along with the rest of Caesar’s friends. Of them Oppius, on the grounds that this matter needed some explanation and defence, published a book saying that he was not Caesar’s son as Cleopatra claims.
Suetonius The Divine Julius 52
Relief portraits of Cleopatra and Caesarion from the temple of Dendera, British Museum
(Southern . P. Cleopatra page 47 Ill. 9)
Coin showing Cleopatra and Caesarion
Task 4A
How are Cleopatra and Caesarion represented?
What does this representation of Cleopatra and Caesarion tell us about their position and role in Egypt?
After Cleopatra’s death, her children and their servants were guarded closely but otherwise were treated well. As for Caesarion, however, who was said to be Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, he was sent by his mother with a very large amount of money through Ethiopia to India. Another tutor Rhodon, a man much like Theodorus, persuaded him to return, claiming that Octavian was calling him back to be King of Egypt. However, they say that, while Octavian was considering this, Areius said:
“It is not a good thing to have many Caesars.”
So he was killed by Octavian but after the death of Cleopatra.
Plutarch Life of Antony 81-82
Task 4B
Why did Octavian treat Caesarion differently from the other children?

4.2 Cleopatra in Rome 46-44 BC
When Caesar left Egypt to deal with Pharnaces, King of Pontus, whom he defeated at the battle of Zela, Cleopatra built the Caesareum near the harbour at Alexandria. In front of the building were two obelisks, now known as ‘Cleopatra’s Needles’. One of these now stands on the bank of the Thames. The Caesareum was intended to keep the name of Caesar in the minds of the Egyptians and to emphasise the succession of her son, Caesarion, supported by Rome.
In 46 BC, therefore, she went to Rome to see that her position as ruler was formally agreed by the Senate, becoming a friend and ally of the Roman People. Caesar would not always be there to protect her and she needed more friends and allies in Rome. The continued stability of Egypt depended on her ability to survive as an independent ruler.
She could have been in Rome during Caesar’s Egyptian triumph as Arsinoe was led through streets as a captive, and then sent to the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, rather than being executed as was normal for captured enemies. She stayed in one of Caesar’s houses on the banks of the Tiber. She must have met some of the important politicians in Rome: Cicero mentions her in a letter to Atticus (Letters to Atticus 15.15) and shows his dislike of her; Mark Antony undoubtedly met her again (he had helped restore her father in 55 BC); she almost certainly met Octavian.
Caesar made a great deal of her presence in Rome. He placed a statue of her in his new temple to the goddess Venus, from whom he claimed his family descended. It led to rumours that he was about to marry her and make her his co-ruler. Her presence was resented by the nobles and leading men of Rome: she was a foreigner apparently more powerful than the Romans themselves, and even worse, she was a woman.
Task 4C
Research some of the views of the Romans about foreigners and women. What view do Romans take of the East? http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/special/library.html
How might views like this affect Cleopatra’s reception at Rome?
What other aspects of Cleopatra’s character and position might the Romans dislike and why?
Read the following extracts and list the attitudes and opinions about Cleopatra in them.
Extracts from Cicero’s comments on meeting Cleopatra
‘I do not wish to be unfair to the graecula. She is clever beyond words, no denying it. … And of her fabled treasure: although her aides had promised a purely literary acknowledgment of my merits, I came and went empty handed. … I will not even touch upon her unfathomable impertinence. She seemed intent upon challenging my own undeserved reputation for caustic humor, while I was at pains to be most gracious, even condescending toward her. … This to a citizen of Rome! This to a guest in her house! This to a distinguished statesman! And from a woman! She is, by the way, a beauty in no way, shape, manner, or form. Her figure is anything other than voluptuous, and her face is marred not merely by the inbred Ptolemy hooked nose, but by a strong chin and hard features which detract from the sweetness and gentleness we prize in our women.’
Cicero to Atticus 15.15
4.3 Caesar’s assassination: Cleopatra leaves Rome
In Februrary 44 BC Caesar had accepted the title of dictator for life. The post of Dictator was one which was used occasionally at times of crisis and difficulty. It also would be held only for a few months. There were those who were concerned at the way he had virtually taken over the Republic, and thought that he had plans to make himself king. Whatever Caesar’s plans were for his future and that of Cleopatra, some decided to act before he had the chance to develop them. On the 15th March 44 BC, he was assassinated by a group of senators and other led by Marcus Brutus and Cassius in Pompey’s Theatre at a meeting of the Senate. However, the conspirators seemed to have had very few ideas about what to do next. Caesar’s supporters probably thought that the assassins would come for them soon after. Antony shut himself up in his house.
Cleopatra must have felt certain that she would be on the list to be killed. But nothing happened, and Antony was able to take control of the situation; Cleopatra may have discussed the situation with him. She was in a difficult situation; she was simply a visiting foreign Queen, whose position was unstable and who depended on Roman support and arms. If the conspirators gained the power, then they would have eliminated her and her son eventually. Octavian had been named heir to Caesar, not Caesarion which may have been what Caesar intended to do at some time.
She left Rome soon afterwards unsure of what would happen. She had gained official recognition through Caesar and a formal treaty in the Senate, although she must have been unsure about what the future held.
4.4 Antony and Octavian
http://www.vroma.org/~riley/augustus/portrait_stemma.gif : a family tree of Octavian
When Caesar was killed, Mark Antony was consul and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was his Master of the Horse (second in command to the dictator). This gave them both the important positions in dealing with the reaction to his death. Antony, with Lepidus’ help, took control of the troops, and Caesar’s will and money. He arranged a meeting of the Senate in the temple of Tellus, where the conspirators were guaranteed an amnesty and allowed to leave Rome for provinces. All of Caesar’s acts were to remain in force. Antony was praised for avoiding a civil war and in dealing with this difficult situation in a very sensible way (Plutarch Life of Antony 14). However, he discovered that Caesar had made Octavian his heir which probably surprised him, although he would not have considered the 18 year old teenager a problem. Still, he made the best of the situation with Caesar’s funeral. His announcement that Caesar had left 75 denarii to each citizen, and his speech, displaying Caesar’s bloodstained toga, created a riot which forced the conspirators to escape from Rome. Despite the fact that he was now in complete control of Rome, he continued to be careful in his treatment of the conspirators and respectful to the Senate, going so far as to abolish the office of dictator.
All the while he was building up his power and ensuring that he kept control. He provided land for Caesar’s veterans and sent Lepidus off to Spain. He is said to have forged documents from Caesar. He arranged to have the province of the two Gauls in order to keep an eye on Italy when he left to be a governor. He also kept control of the legions in Macedonia. It was becoming clear to Cicero among others that Brutus and Cassius had made a mistake in not getting rid of Antony when they killed Caesar (Cicero to Atticus 14.12).
When Octavian arrived in Rome from Apollonia, he borrowed money to pay Caesar’s legacies and arrange games when Antony refused to hand over Caesar’s property (which he had probably spent!). Antony did not allow his adoption by Caesar to be legalized. In response Octavian raised an army at his own expense from Caesar’s veterans and legions from Macedonia deserted Antony and joined him. He joined with the two consuls in their attack on Antony who was defeated twice. When both consuls died in battle, Octavian demanded the consulship although he was only nineteen, and he used his military strength to force the Senate to grant it. Instead of marching against Antony as the Senate wanted, he marched on Rome and took the consulship. He legalised his adoption and set up a court to try the assassins of Caesar. Then he made an agreement with Antony and Lepidus – which became the Second Triumvirate. Next they moved to punish the assassins in the war which resulted in the battle of Philippi in 42 BC and the deaths of Brutus and Cassius.
Now the three men divided up the world. Antony married Octavia, Octavian’s sister. He received the Eastern half of the Empire and he set off for Syria to collect tax and organize the kingdoms and provinces in preparation for an invasion of Parthia. At Tarsus he met Cleopatra.
4.5 Mark Antony in the East 42 BC
Antony arrives in the East:
At any rate, when Antony entered Ephesus, women dressed as the followers of Bacchus, with men and boys made to look like Satyrs and Pans, led him in. The city was full of ivy-wreaths and thyrsus-wands and harps and pipes and flutes while the citizens called him Dionysus bringer of Joy and Protector. And of course he was seen like that to some, but to many others he was Dionysus Eater of raw flesh and the Savage. For he stole from the well-born men their possessions and gave it as gifts to rogues and flatterers. Some indeed took the property of others who were still alive by claiming that they were dead. He gave as a gift the house of a man from Magnesia to a cook. It is said that he did this because the cook became famous on the basis of one dinner. Finally, when he was placing a second tax on the cities, Hybreas, speaking for Asia, dared to say this: "If you are able to take the tax twice in one year, you can surely provide us with two summers and two harvests.”
Plutarch Life of Antony 24
Task 4D
Why are the people of Asia unhappy with Antony’s behaviour?
How is Antony portrayed in this passage?
Antony had come east to continue with Caesar’s plan to invade and conquer Parthia. It was an issue for the Romans that in 53 BC Crassus had been defeated and the standards of Roman legions had been captured by the Parthians. When he arrived, after the disruption of the previous 8 years, the Eastern provinces were in no state to support such a campaign. He spent some time strengthening the states on the borders. One such kingdom was Egypt. Another was Judaea and Antony took time to establish Hyrcanus and Herod in control.
He had hurried back to Italy where Octavian was having trouble with Sextus Pompeius, but when he reached Brundisium, Octavian was not there. This delayed his departure for Syria for the war with Parthia. He and Octavia had gone to Greece while Ventidius was sent to Asia against the Parthians. There Ventidius won the battle of Gindarus while Antony was on his way from Greece. (Plutarch Life of Antony 33)
Ventidius however, decided not to pursue the Parthians any further, because he feared the jealousy of Antony; but he moved against those who had revolted and defeated them. He besieged Antiochus of Commagené in the city of Samosata. When Antiochus asked permission to pay a thousand talents and do as Antony commanded, Ventidius told him to send his offer to Antony. Antony himself was now quite near, and would not allow Ventidius to make peace-terms with Antiochus. He wanted at least this one achievement to be in his name, and not everything credited to Ventidius.
Plutarch Life of Antony 34
Task 4E
How does this event end? What does it tell us about Antony as a general?
Antony now revises the kingdoms of the area. Galatia was given to Amyntas and Pontus was handed over to Polemo. This again shows Antony was keen to establish safe and stable client kings in charge. He had managed to make a successful organization of the Eastern Empire. The next year (37 BC) he is again delayed by request for help from Octavian. He travels to Italy and eventually comes to an agreement at Tarentum.
On his way back to the east he decides to send the pregnant Octavia back to Rome. His treatment of Octavia is one of the factors used by Octavian against Antony. He now met Cleopatra at Antioch with the two children Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene.
However, they say that all this preparation and power, which frightened even the Indians beyond Bactria and caused all of Asia to shake with fear, was of no use to Antony because of Cleopatra. He was so eager to spend the winter with her that he began the war too early in the season for campaigning, and then made such a mess of his management of the campaign. He was not in control of his own judgement, but he behaved as though influenced by some drug or magic spell; he was always looking in her direction, always thinking about how fast he could return to her rather than how best to defeat the enemy.
Plutarch Life of Antony 37

4.6 The rivalry between Antony and Octavian
Aureus showing Antony and Octavian
41 BC Octavian’s settlement of 40,000 veterans; confiscation of land for this; Lucius Antonius and Fulvia, Antony’s wife, support the dispossessed and start the Perusine War. Lucius forced to surrender to Octavian. Fulvia dies.
40 BC Antony arrives at Brundisium and besieges the town; Octavian marries the sister-in-law of Sextus Pompeius. The forces of Octavian and Antony force the generals to make an agreement.
40 BC Treaty of Brundisium: divided the world between the three triumvirs. Lepidus received Africa; Octavian took over the west including Gaul; Antony remained in control of the East, and he married Octavia, Octavian’s sister. Antony returns East to start his war against Parthia.
39 BC Treaty of Misenum: Sextus Pompeius had taken control of Sicily and Sardinia and disrupted the corn trade to Italy. He was given Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Achaea for 5 years. Antony makes his base of operations at Athens; his commanders conduct the war against Parthia.
38 BC Octavian asks for help from Lepidus and Antony who ignore his requests at first. Antony’s commander, Ventidius, restores Roman control of Syria
37 BC Sextus defeats Octavian in a naval battle at Messana; Conference of Tarentum: Lepdius agrees to help Octavian; Antony agrees to provide ships in return for 20,000 soldiers. The Triumvirate was renewed.
Antony sent Octavia back to Rome and summoned Cleopatra to meet him at Antioch. He recognizes their children and gave her Cyrenaica, Cyprus, parts of Crete, parts of Syria and Jericho.
36 BC Sextus defeats Octavian in 2nd naval battle; Marcus Agrippa defeats Sextus in the battle of Naulochus. Sextus flees East where he is killed by one of Antony’s officers. Lepidus tries to take over Sicily but his soldiers deserted to Octavian. He was forced to retire to an Italian town but kept the role of Pontifex Maximus.
Failure of Antony’s Parthian expedition.
35 BC Octavia arrives with resources, 2000 soldiers and money; Antony sends her back to Rome. Octavian campaigns in Illyricum
34 BC Antony invades Armenia. Donations of Alexandria. Caesarion recognized as Caesar’s legitimate heir. Triumph held in Alexandria.
33 BC Legal end of Triumvirate.
32 BC Antony divorces Octavia; war declared on Cleopatra by Octavian.
While Antony was playing the young fool like this, two messages brought him down to earth: the first from Rome, that Lucius his brother and Fulvia his wife had fallen out with one another; next they had started a war with Octavian, but they had lost badly and had fled from Italy; the second message was no more pleasing, that Labienus, commanding the Parthian force, was overrunning Asia from the Euphrates and Syria as far as Lydia and Ionia. So finally, like a man woken from a deep sleep brought on by a night of heavy drinking, Antony set out to stop the Parthians, and reached Phoenicia; there, a letter arrived from Fulvia full of complaints. He turned round and headed towards Italy with two hundred ships.
Plutarch Life of Antony 30
Task 4F
This is Antony’s response to the problems: how well does he deal with them?
Read Plutarch Life of Antony 31-33: what impression of the personal rivalry between Octavian and Antony do you get?
What is Plutarch’s opinion of Antony’s successes in these passages? Do you think he is fair to Antony?
However, they say that all this preparation and power, which frightened even the Indians beyond Bactria and caused all of Asia to shake with fear, was of no use to Antony because of Cleopatra. He was so eager to spend the winter with her that he began the war too early in the season for campaigning, and then made such a mess of his management of the campaign. He was not in control of his own judgement, but he behaved as though influenced by some drug or magic spell; he was always looking in her direction, always thinking about how fast he could return to her rather than how best to defeat the enemy.
Plutarch Life of Antony 37
Task 4G
Read Plutarch Life of Antony 51: the end of his campaign and his reaction.
Octavia and Antony:
He did not deny his affair with Cleopatra; he did not, however, agree that she was his wife, and in this matter of how to describe his relationship, his reason and his love for the Egyptian were fighting it out. Everyone was working to arrange this marriage. They hoped that Octavia, who had great dignity and commonsense to add to her beauty, would stand by Antony’s side and eventually be loved by him, as was natural with such a woman. In this way, they hoped, she would bring some stability and safety for their affairs and harmony for the world.
Plutarch Life of Antony 31
Task 4H
Why did Antony agree to the marriage to Octavia?
How does Antony treat Octavia? How important was she in the agreement at Tarentum? (Plutarch Life of Antony 35).
What does the passage below tell you about Octavia? How is she contrasted with Cleopatra?
Read the rest of passage 53 and passage 54: what does Cleopatra do and why? How does Octavian react to the treatment of Octavia?
What aim do you think Plutarch has in portraying Octavia as he does? How does it affect your view of Antony?
At Rome Octavia wanted to sail to Antony. Octavian allowed her to go, so most writers say, not to please her, but so that, if she were neglected and mistreated this might give him a plausible excuse for war. On arriving in Athens, she received letters from Antony in which he told her remain there and informed her of what had happened on the expedition. Octavia, although she realized this was an excuse and was upset, nevertheless wrote to Antony in order to learn where he ordered her to send the supplies which she was bringing to him. In fact she brought a great supply of clothing for his soldiers, pack-animals, and money and gifts for the commanders and friends with him; also she had with her two thousand selected soldiers splendidly armoured to serve as praetorian cohorts. A certain friend of Antony, sent by Octavia, told Antony all of this, a friend of his who had been sent from Octavia, and he added all the compliments and praises that she deserved.
Plutarch Life of Antony 53
4.7 The relationship between Cleopatra and Antony
Cleopatra in Egypt 44-41 BC
Once Cleopatra returned to Egypt she set about organising Egypt on a sound economic basis in order to face whoever turned about to be the power in Rome.
Technically she shared the throne with Ptolemy XIV although he had barely counted in ruling Egypt so far. He might have become a focus for opposition as he grew older. As it happened he was dead by September 44 BC, and Cleopatra ruled with her infant son Caesarion. There were plenty of ancient writers willing to suggest Ptolemy XIV was killed by her.
In administration she worked effectively to maintain the food supply and develop trade. She extended her control to Jericho and Nabatea, gaining access to valuable balsam and bitumen trade. She re-issued coinage with only her own name against precedent.
Religion was very important in Egyptian life and Cleopatra used this to her advantage. She is represented as Isis; Caesarion was identified with Horus. Horus was the avenger of his father’s murder which made the connection with Caesarion and Caesar. She is displayed with other Egyptian gods in reliefs. In Greek religion she continued the identification begun by her father with Dionysus (Ptolemy XII had been called the New Dionysus), and identified herself with Aphrodite.
Cleopatra had sent 4 legions to help Dolabella against Cassius, although they arrived too late. For this act Dio Cassius says that her and Caesarion’s rule of Egypt was recognized by the triumvirs. However the legions, made up of troops left by Caesar in Egypt, decided to join Cassius. She next took herself a fleet to help Antony and Octavian ferry troops across to Greece. But storms forced them to return to Egypt, during which Cleopatra risked her life.
The meeting at Tarsus
Antony summoned Cleopatra to meet him at Tarsus to answer the accusation that she had helped the conspirators. In fact Antony needed money and resources, and he needed to be sure his client kings and queens could keep the peace as he moved forward into Parthia. Cleopatra certainly needed to ensure his support. She delayed obeying the summons, until Dellius was sent to persuade her.
So this was Antony’s character when this final disaster - his love for Cleopatra - overtook him. This love stirred up to near-madness those many passions which were up till now hidden, or kept under control. It now removed and destroyed any useful or saving qualities which could have held out against it. In this way he was captured by her.
Plutarch Life of Antony 25
She arrived in her royal barge. Plutarch (26) describes this in great detail – also how she upstaged Antony and how the people viewed it as Aphrodite meeting Dionysus (Bacchus); he describes Cleopatra’s extravagant display at dinner; he tells us that Antony could not match the splendour of the setting. His description of her charms (27) makes it understandable when he says at 28:
In this way she so completely took control of Antony, that while Fulvia his wife was waging war on his behalf with Octavian in Rome, and a Parthian army commanded by Labienus was threatening Mesopotamia (the generals of the king had appointed Labienus Parthian commander-in chief over this area), and was about to invade Syria, he let himself be carried off by her to Alexandria.
Plutrach Life of Anthony 28
Winter in Alexandria 41-40 BC
According to Plutarch, he lived a life of pleasure and luxury, playing games rather than preparing for his war. (Plutarch Life of Antony 28-29). He tells the story of the fishing trip as an example of his childish games.
In fact Antony did take certain actions to support Cleopatra:
• it was now that Arisnoe was executed;
• Serapeion, the governor of Cyprus, was removed because he had aided Cassius to make it very clear that Cleopatra was not involved in any way with the murderers of Caesar.
• A man who claimed to be Ptolemy XIII had set himself up as a rival to Cleopatra in the East. Antony had no problem removing him from the scene.
In 40 BC he returned to Italy to deal with the problem of the Perusine war. There he married Octavia and did not return to Cleopatra at this stage. He was now engaged upon the serious matter of the Parthians.
By now Cleopatra had borne two children, Alexander and Cleopatra. As with Caesarion, this gave Cleopatra and Egypt an association with a powerful faction in Rome, which is what she wanted most of all. It meant some protection from other factions who might want Egypt. The relationship was political as much as personal.
Antony in Syria 37 BC
Now the disastrous flaw in his character, asleep for so long, - his passion for Cleopatra- flared up again all the greater as he approached to Syria; they had imagined it had been charmed away and lulled to rest by common sense and good reasons. But at last, like the disobedient and uncontrollable horse of the soul, he rejected all the good advice for his safety and sent Fonteius Capito to bring Cleopatra to Syria.
Plutarch Life of Antony 36
It is at this point that Antony hands over to Cleopatra a number of territories which had belonged at some time to Egypt. (see the Expansion of Egypt section); he also recognized his two children by Cleopatra, Alexander and Cleopatra.
These acts, we are told, angered the Romans, even more than his execution of Antigonus of Judaea. However, the portrayal of Antony as bewitched by the magical charms of Cleopatra in the sources is part of the propaganda of Octavian which made it easier to make war on Antony eventually. To portray a foreign woman as the real enemy was far more acceptable to the Roman public and Senate than to attack Antony who for all his problems was still popular in Rome.
The Parthian campaign
His campaign began at Zeugma. His intention was to attack Parthia from the North and make a rapid march into Parthia in order to capture the Median capital at Phraaspa. In doing so he left his siege train following slowly behind. It was attacked by the Parthians and the commander, Statianus killed. He was now forced to retreat through hostile territory. Many of his soldiers were killed in the constant attacks, but he reached Armenia, where he left the army and himself rode onto Syria, expecting to meet Cleopatra who was to bring resources, money and clothing. She arrived in January 35 BC at Leuke Come. Cleopatra could not afford Antony to lose since she depended upon him for her support. Octavian had just defeated Sextus Pompeius and eliminated Lepidus as a rival in the West.
Antony now needed time to recover and to re-supply his army. it was at this time that Sextus Pompeius, who was now in the East, was executed, partly because he was causing trouble in Syria and with the Parthians.
Antony now broke off relations with Octavia, his wife. He stayed in Alexandria when Octavia came to Athens. (Plutarch Life of Antony 53-54). He did not immediately divorce her – that happened three years later.
Her flatterers worked hard on Antony for her; they used to complain that Antony harsh and cruel and determined to destroy a mistress who was devoted to one man, him alone. They would tell Antony that Octavia had married him for politics and for her brother, and took pleasure in having the name of wife. Cleopatra on the other hand, queen of so many men, was called Antony's lover; she did not avoid this name nor think it unworthy of her, as long as it was possible for her to see him and be with him. If he drove her away, she could not bear to live. At last they melted and unmanned Antony so much that he was afraid that Cleopatra would kill herself, and so went back to Alexandria. He delayed the campaign with the king of the Medes until the summer, although the Parthian were said to be in the middle of an internal crisis.
Plutarch Life of Antony 53
The ancient sources represent this act as the result of the weakness of Antony and the cleverness of Cleopatra who manipulates him against his interests for herself.
The Armenian campaign 34 BC
Artavasdes was king of Armenia. His forces had deserted Antony in his Parthian campaign. However, Antony tried to make an alliance with him in 34 BC in the hope he would join him against Parthia where there was a civil war at the time. Control of Armenia was vital for an invasion of Parthia. When negotiation broke down Antony invaded, taking Cleopatra with him as far as the Euphrates. he captured Artavasdes, and garrisoned Armenia leaving Canidius Crassus in charge before returning to Alexandria to celebrate his triumph.
Task 4I
Read Velleius Paterculus 2.81: what does he tell us about the Parthian campaign and Armenian campaign?
4.8 Actium 2nd September 31 BC
We have accounts of the preparations for battle of Actium and of the battle itself which are written by people who were alive at the time: Velleius Paterculus, the historian, and the poets Virgil, Propertius and Horace. However, writing during the reign of Octavian/Augustus it was not possible in these accounts to present a favourable picture of the role of Cleopatra, no matter how Antony was portrayed. Cleopatra could never be anything other than the devious and cunning Queen who controlled a weak Antony to do as she wanted. Octavian presented the war as a war against Cleopatra, not Antony. Cleopatra, with her enlarged kingdom and resources, and with her children as kings and queens of the East, or even Caesarion who would succeed her, would be too powerful for Octavian to ignore regardless of Antony. If Antony had returned to Rome as conqueror of Parthia, viewed as likely at the time, Octavian would be inferior to him or worse. Octavian conducted a propaganda war against Cleopatra in which Antonys constant un-Roman behaviour in the East provided useful material.
When Octavian was well-prepared, there was a decree to wage war against Cleopatra, and to take from Antony the authority which he had given over to the woman. And Octavian added that Antony was under some drug and was not even in control of himself; the Romans, he said, were at war with Mardion, the eunuch and Potheinus, and Iras, the hairdresser of Cleopatra, and Charmion, who was in charge of conducting the most important affairs of state.
Plutarch Life of Anthony 60
Eventually Antony realized that this was inevitable and began to turn his attention away from Parthia, as Octavian had wanted. He started to mobilize his forces to fight Octavian.
Antony received Octavian’s reply while delaying in Armenia; and immediately he ordered Canidius to take sixteen legions and march down to the sea. He himself went to Ephesus with Cleopatra. His fleet was being collected there; there were eight hundred war-ships with merchant vessels; of these Cleopatra provided two hundred war-ships, as well as twenty thousand talents, and supplies for the whole army during the war. But Antony, advised by Domitius and others, ordered Cleopatra to sail to Egypt and there anxiously wait for the result of the war. Cleopatra, however was afraid that Octavia would again bring an end to the disagreements between the two men, bribed Canidius with a great deal of money to put her case to Antony; he was to say that it was not fair to drive away from the war a woman who had contributed so much money and supplies; nor was it right for Antony to demoralise the Egyptians, who were a large part of his fleet; and besides, there was no reason to think that Cleopatra was less intelligent than any of the other kings campaigning with him; she had after all ruled a large kingdom by herself for quite a long time, and being so long with Antony, she had learned how to deal with important matters. These arguments (since it seemed that fate had decided that Octavian Caesar should succeed in all things) were successful. Then they sailed to Samos with the entire fleet and there enjoyed themselves in pleasures. All the kings, rulers, tetrarchs, peoples, and cities between Syria, the Maeotic Lake, Armenia, and Illyria had been ordered to send or bring their preparations for the war to Samos.
Plutarch Life of Anthony 56
Task 4J
Plutarch describes the first moves towards war with Octavian: what part does Cleopatra take in this?
Read Plutarch Life of Antony 58: how does Octavian use Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra as propaganda against Antony?
Then, in the year when Octavian Caesar and Messala Corvinus were consuls, the battle was fought at Actium. Long before the battle was fought, everyone was certain that Octavian would win. On Octavian’s side the soldiers and their general were eager and confident; on Antony’s everything was weak and feeble. Octavian’s rowers were strong, Antony’s were affected by their lack of supplies. The ships of Octavian were of a reasonable size, capable of speed, while Antony’s were terrible only in appearance. No one deserted to Antony, while daily there were desertions from Antony to Octavian. King Amyntas recognised the advantages of joining the better side. Dellius stuck to his previous practice: just as he had deserted from Dolabella to Cassius, then from Cassius to Antony, so he now left Antony for Octavian. The outstanding Gnaeus Domitius, who alone of Antony’s followers never greeted the queen except by her name, crossed over to Octavian Caesar endangering himself in the process. Finally, right in front of Antony and his fleet, Leucas, Patrae, and Corinth were all taken by Marcus Agrippa, and he twice defeated the enemy’s fleet before the final battle.
Vellieus Paterculus 2.84
Plutarch claims in Life of Antony 59 and 63 that desertions were the result of Cleopatra’s presence.
One of Antony’s first acts was to divorce Octavia in 32 BC. This further helped Octavian in his claim that the war he was fighting was a foreign one. Antony, on the other hand, could not say this to his soldiers who were being asked to fight Romans in another civil war.
Octavian then seized Antony’s will which was kept by the Vestal Virgins in Rome. Despite the illegal and unprecedented action, Octavian read it out in the Senate. Antony confirmed the kingdoms he had given to Cleopatra and her children. He declared Caesarion was the true son of Caesar. He also requested that when he died he should be buried in Alexandria with Cleopatra. It was understood from this that Antony might make Alexandria the capital of the Empire if he won and turn the rest of the Empire over to Cleopatra. There was no way of knowing if any of what Octavian said was true. In any case the Senate believed it.
Antony chose to wait in Greece for Octavian to come to him rather than attack Italy. Cleopatra stayed with Antony throughout the campaign. Plutarch (see passage 56 above) claims that Canidius was bribed to argue for her staying.
The Battle
Antony now had become so controlled by Cleopatra that, although he was far stronger on land, he wanted to win his victory at sea, all for the sake of Cleopatra; even though he saw that his captains had not enough men to crew the ships and were forcing travellers, mule-drivers, harvesters, and young men from Greece, already suffering much. Even doing this the ships were still short of men, and so were undermanned and badly crewed. On the other hand, Octavian’s ships were properly equipped, built to show of their height or their size, but easy to steer, fast and fully-manned.
Plutarch Life of Antony 62
Task 4K
How far does this description agree with other accounts of the forces on both sides?
Read Velleius Paterculus 2.84; Virgil Aeneid 6.75-88; Propertius 4.6.40
Antony chose to fight Octavian at sea rather than on land as his generals were suggesting (see Plutarch Life of Antony 64 for the story of the centurion and Antony.
Agrippa, Octavian’s general, had gradually gained control of the sea, capturing Methone, Patras and Corinth, cutting off supplies to Antony. Instead of controlling the situation, Antony was now the one in trouble. There were attempts to break through the blockade and attack Octavian’s camp on land. Despite some success Antony was unable to break through. (Plutarch 62-63, Velleius 2.84).
With disease spreading and supplies low, morale in Antony’s camp was getting low. He had problems with desertions and harsh punishments did not help. The longer he waited the worse it would get. Something had to be done. Cleopatra argued for a sea battle (Plutarch Life of Antony 62), while Canidius wanted to force a land battle. At this point, it was clear that the battle of Actium was unlikely to be the end of the war. Antony needed a place and time to recover and collect his forces. To escape from Actium to Egypt was an option, while his army marched overland to Egypt. In passage 64, Plutarch tells that Antony told the captains to put the sails on board, explaining that it indicated Antony had little hope of success and intended escape.
Task 4L
Velleius Paterculus 2.85 and Plutarch Life of Antony 64-68 describe the battle: how are Antony and Octavian compared as generals and leaders?
• What does Cleopatra do during and after the battle (passage 67)?
• What personal connection had Plutarch with the events around Actium?
http://www.livius.org/aa-ac/actium/actium.html for more detail.
http://ehistory.osu.edu/world/articles/ArticleView.cfm?AID=16 for a discussion of tactics
The significance of the battle
Who could in such a limited history would dare to explain what that single day provided for the world, the day which brought about the present changes in the good fortune for the state? Very many were shown mercy in the victory; no one was executed, and very few were banished and only those who could not bear the thought of pleading for mercy.
Velleius Paterculus 2.86
Task 4M
How do the poets Horace, Propertius and Virgil view the victory at Actium? Do they agree with Velleius on its effects for Rome?
What happened to Antony’s army and navy after the battle?
The war was not finished. Antony and Cleopatra could still gather the resources of Egypt and the east. As Caesar’s war had shown, defeating the main opponent did not end the struggle. Octavian still had to defeat and capture or kill them. Antony had escaped with his wealth on Cleopatra’s ship. His army had been undefeated and was supposedly on its way to Egypt. Octavian was forced to return to Italy to deal with a revolt started by the son of Lepidus. In Plutarch Antony is presented as having lost all resolve and ambition. Meanwhile, Cleopatra was making plans to escape (Plutarch Life of Antony 69).
Cleopatra took some actions: she introduced Caesarion more in public; Antyllus, Antony’s son, held his coming of age ceremony. Artavasdes was executed. There was an alliance with the Median king including the betrothal of his daughter to Alexander Helios. Eventually Octavian arrived at Pelusium which he captured from the commander, Seleucus. Cornelius Gallus arrived by sea and took the post at Paraetonium. Cleopatra and Antony were now surrounded in Alexandria. Antony won a brief cavalry victory outside Alexandria. When on 31st July BC the fleets and armies came out to fight, instead of doing so, the fleet of Antony joined Octavian’s and the army followed its example.

Sources: nature of the sources and the manipulation of Cleopatra’s image
5.1 The writers of the Augustan Age: Virgil, Propertius, Horace and Velleius Paterculus
These authors were all writing during the reign of Augustus and are, to some extent, supporting his view of events. Octavian/Augustus had to justify his actions. Presenting Cleopatra as the enemy of Rome and the ‘doomed, destructive monster’ as Horace says, would be the way he wanted it. Virgil and Horace were part of the circle of writers which Maecenas, Augustus’ political advisor, gathered around him. Both benefited from the patronage of the emperor in terms of property and livelihood and both, to some extent, repaid the favour.
Publius Virgilius Maro was born in 70 BC and died in 19 BC. The extract is from his epic poem The Aeneid, which traces the escape of Aeneas, the legendary ancestor of the Romans (specifically Julius Caesar!) from troy and his journey to Italy (Books 1-6). Books 7-12 tell the story of his settling in Italy and the wars he fights to establish his followers there. In Book 8 Aeneas is given a golden shield by his mother the goddess Venus, made by Vulcan. On it are carved scenes from future Roman history including the battle of Actium revealing Octavian/Augustus in all his glory. Some view this as propaganda for Augustus but there is much more to this work than a work celebrating the triumph of Augustus.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born in 65 BC. He made the mistake of joining the wrong side in the civil war between Brutus and Cassius and Octavian and Antony in 42 BC. As a result his family had their property confiscated. However, he was taken up and patronised by Maecenas in 38 BC and became friends with Augustus. He died in 8 BC. His Odes are short poems on all types of subjects from themes of love to politics. He does present Augustus almost as a god in some poems having saved the world from barbarians east and west.
Sextus Propertius was born around 50 BC. He wrote mostly love elegies. He tends to keep off serious themes of war and politics but there are some poems in which he has a nationalist approach and explores Augustus themes such as Book 4.6. Despite claiming not to have the inclination for it, he provides a very favourable view of Octavian at Actium!
All three poets portray Cleopatra in very much the same way which suited Octavian’s political purpose.
Horace describes Cleopatra as
‘that queen preparing some insane destruction for the capitol and planning a funeral for our empire. She had with her that disgraceful mob of diseased men; she herself was out of control, hoping for whatever she wanted, made drunk by sweet good fortune.’
He makes no mention of Antony at all describing the battle of Actium. Her defeat is a cause to bring out the wine and rejoice.
Virgil mentions Antony (victorious from the East but:
‘He brought with him Egypt and the strength of the East and furthest Bactria, but followed by his Egyptian wife (the shame of it!).’
Virgil contrasts this with:
‘Augustus Caesar led the Italians into battle with the senators and the people, and with the household gods and the great gods of Rome. He stood there well-pleased on the high stern. From his forehead there poured twin flames, and his father’s star appeared on his head.’
Virgil’s message about who was in the right in this struggle is emphasised with religious imagery. Propertius does the same in his poem Elegies 4.6 using the god Apollo to speak in favour of Octavian as the saviour of Rome. he presents Cleopatra as
‘That woman makes for the River Nile, vainly relying on her own ship in her pointless escape. One thing she did achieve: she did not die on the appointed day.
The gods had a better plan: one woman would not have made so great a triumph through the streets where previously the defeated Jugurtha had been led.’
Again, the poet provides political support for Octavian’s actions in the way Cleopatra is made out to be a disastrous enemy to Rome and her future. More than that she was a woman and a queen – and the Romans hated kings.
‘a disgrace that Roman javelins were held on the orders of a woman….
It’s a disgrace that Italian seas should suffer the presence of royal ships while you are our leader.’
(Propertius 4.6)
Included in this portrayal is the undercurrent of dislike of foreigners and of what is seen as the luxury and easy-living of the eastern peoples. Velleius (2.82) sees Antony’s behaviour as affected by his behaviour as an eastern prince:
‘As a result, he decided now to wage war on his own country. He had already ordered that he was called the new Father Liber. He wore a crown of leaves on his head, and a golden robe of saffron yellow; he held the thyrsus wand and wore the high boots, all to look like Father Liber when carried in procession on a chariot through the streets of Alexandria.’
Velleius Paterculus was born in either 19 or 20 BC. He served with Gaius Caesar (Augustus’ grandson) in the East and then with the future Emperor Tiberius in Germany. His book was written in AD 30. He took part in many of the events of the early years of the 1st century AD and was a senator himself. However, he is very uncritical of either Augustus or Tiberius. Although he was not alive at the time of the battle of Actium, he would have access to memoirs and documents which we do not have today. However, his work is a summary rather than a fully researched history and therefore contains less detail than other works. His comment on the significance of Actium is typical of his biased and sometime superficial analysis of events. Equally his claim that Octavian was merciful and executed no one is not supported by the facts.
‘In the summer when Caesar Octavian finished the war in Sicily against Pompeius Sextus so successfully, fortune was certainly generous to Caesar Octavian and to the state, but was savagely bad for the armies in the East.’
This is how he begins his short account of Actium and at once the contrast is made between Octavian and Antony which continues throughout his version showing his lack of objectivity.
Task 5A
Read Virgil Aeneid 6.688 and Propertius Elegies 4.6, lines 50-57: how is Cleopatra presented?
5.2 Plutarch
Plutarch was born in AD 46 in the Greek town of Chaeronea. His Lives of various Greek and Roman personalities is one of his works. His aim was to explore the character of famous men to provide lessons for the future. He does not approach his subjects with the intention of telling everything which happens but restricts himself to those events and incidents which reflect upon the subject of the biography. The biography of Antony is paired with that of Demetrius. In both he sees them as suffering reversals of fortune. In his view both became too involved in luxury and enjoyment. But the contrast is that Antony was harsh and cruel in his attempt to impose power on the Romans and too often let slip the chance to win victories, distracted by Cleopatra. Plutarch sees in Antony’s story a lesson concerning success and its dangers. He is concerned with the influence of character on lives and actions and so he presents ‘rounded’ character portrayals in a way which will develop that theme. He is interested in stories and sometimes emphasises those rather than the great events happening at the time. However, he does tell the story chronologically so that there is a clear and simple timeline to follow.
5.3 Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus born AD 69. He became Secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117). He may have died around AD 140. He wrote a number of works, among which are the lives of the first twelve Caesars beginning with Julius. After the life of Nero, they become much less well-documented implying that he no longer had access to documents in the Imperial Library. This may be when he was dismissed for some affair with the Empress Sabina. The short passage from his biography of Julius Caesar is not the only time he mentions Cleopatra. In section 48 and 49 he tells us about Caesar in Egypt and the reasons for his interference in the family dispute. Otherwise he, like Plutarch, is focused on the character of his subject and he tells us his stories and rumours without much critical judgement. He also does not always give us a chronological order to his biography.
Both Suetonius and Plutarch lived long after the events described. Plutarch did travel and may have visited some of the places he mentions. Suetonius is unlikely to have done so. Both are relying upon other sources and information, although Suetonius had some access to documents as librarian to Hadrian. Both follow the tradition in ancient historical writing of providing speeches which may or may not be accurate but which dramatise or characterise the event or person. Their descriptions also may contain some imaginative recreations of events. Neither were military men and their experience of these matters was limited.

Cleopatra’s reign
69 BC Birth of Cleopatra Cleopatra ; mother Cleopatra V
57 Ptolemy Auletes expelled from Egypt. Cleopatra VI queen.
56 Berenice IV Queen.
55 Gabinius restores Auletes to the throne. Berenice IV executed.
51 Death of Ptolemy Auletes. Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII become rulers. Cleopatra appears alone on coins as Queen.
49 Cleopatra forced to flee Egypt; she tries to organize an army.
48 Ptolemy murders Pompey. Caesar arrives in Egypt. Cleopatra returns to Alexandria. Caesar organizes the joint rule of Cleopatra and Ptolemy; Ptolemy’s advisors, Pothinus and Achillas, start the Alexandrine war.
47 Ptolemy XIII defeated and drowned. Cleopatra made ruler with Ptolemy XIV co-ruler. Cleopatra's head appears on coins without partner.
47 Birth of Caesarion.
46-44 Cleopatra in Rome. Statue placed in the temple of Venus Genetrix. Caesar’s Egyptian triumph.
44 Cleopatra leaves Rome.
Ptolemy XIV dies. Ptolemy XV Caesarion becomes co-ruler.
43 Cleopatra sends help to Cassius (which never reaches him); Cleopatra supports the triumvirate, Octavian Antony and Lepidus.
41 Antony and Cleopatra meet in Tarsus. Arsinoe is killed in Ephesus.
41-40 Antony spends the winter in Alexandria.
Parthian invasion.
40 Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene born.
Perusine War. Antony marries Octavia.
38 Ventidius defeats the Parthians and forces them to retreat from Syria
Antony and Octavia celebrate Panathenaic games in Athens.
Antony proclaimed Neos Dionusios in Ephesus.
Settlement of the East. Polemo given Pontus; Amyntas given Galatia; Herod given Judaea; Cleopatra given several old Ptolemaic possessions in the Levant.
37 Cleopatra joins Antony at Antioch. Antony marries Cleopatra according to Egyptian rituals.
36 Antony invades Parthia and was defeated.
35 Cleopatra joins Antony in Syria.
34 Armenia invaded and taken over.
Donations of Alexandria.
33 The triumvirate ends; Octavian and Antony prepare for war.
31 Actium
30 Antony and Cleopatra suicide

Useful websites:
coin of Antony and Cleopatra 32 BC (and more)
British Museum Cleopatra site.

Option 2: Agrippina the Younger and her influence on Roman politics, AD 41–59
Background: The Roman World
Use the maps to become familiar with the provinces and kingdoms of this period: The Roman world in AD 14: the provinces and client kings.
By the death of Augustus, Rome controlled the areas around the Mediterranean either directly or indirectly through client kings. During the Augustan period, Rome had expanded her control to include Egypt and part of North Africa and the Middle East. Illyricum and areas north and west of Italy were added also. Further efforts had been made south of Egypt and there was even talk of conquering Britain and Parthia, although that was largely propaganda. When Augustus died in AD 14, he left Tiberius, the next emperor, a very stable and well-organised empire.
The Position and Power of the Emperor in AD 14
Before Augustus took power in 30BC with the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, the Roman constitution consisted of Assemblies of the citizens (male only), magistrates elected by the Assemblies, and a Senate which advised the magistrates and which was made up of elected officials. In principle it was a mixed constitution with elements of both democracy and oligarchy. Julius Caesar had, before his assassination in March 44 BC, effectively taken over the government with the post of dictator for life, but it was to be another 14 years before the first emperor took control. Even then, much of the republican system of magistrates and Senate (if not Assemblies) remained in order for the government to work effectively.
http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/romangvt.html: this website contains a chart and information on the republican system of government:
Look at: the main magistrates and their duties: censors, Consuls, Praetors, Aediles, Quaestors, Tribunes; the role of the Senate; the Assemblies and their duties.
Augustus, however, took over a great deal of the tasks of the these bodies. Most importantly he took control of the legions and the most important provinces – Syria, Spain, Gaul and Egypt (this one being virtually a private kingdom since no senator was allowed to go there). He also had a power (imperium) which was greater than other magistrates and governors of provinces. In addition, he had the powers of a tribune in Rome, as well as rights and privileges which allowed him to make laws and control the debates in the Senate. Among other honours he was Chief Priest (Pontifex Maximus), leader of the Senate (Princeps Senatus) and given the title Father of his Country (Pater Patriae). Although in theory the constitution still carried on working, in practice the emperor made the most important decisions. The magistrates became more administrators than decision-makers and the Senate tended to agree with what Augustus wanted. By the time Tiberius took over, it was clear who was in charge. Although Tiberius found it difficult to take over from Augustus there was no real challenge to him when he became emperor in AD 14.
Context: Agrippina’s upbringing and the influence of the imperial family
1.1 Agrippina’s family: Germanicus, Agrippina the Elder and Gaius (Caligula)
Tiberius had been compelled by Augustus to adopt Germanicus as his successor. Germanicus was the son of Drusus, Tiberius’ brother, and Antonia, the daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, Augustus’ sister. Augustus’ intention was to create a family dynasty to continue as ruler of the empire.
Julio-Claudian family tree
The marriage of Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus brought together the two halves of the family of Augustus: Agrippina was the daughter of Julia, Augustus’ daughter and Germanicus the grandson of his sister. Germanicus was also a member of the Claudian family. Their children would be members of both the Julian and Claudian families. They would also be direct descendant of Augustus himself. Augustus had intended that his two grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, to succeed him, but they died in the youths. So he turned to Tiberius to hold the position until Germanicus was ready. Tiberius had a son of his own, Drusus but he made Germanicus his successor as Augustus had wanted.
Germanicus’ brother was the future Emperor Claudius, and later Claudius married one of Germanicus’ daughters, Agrippina the Younger. The cameo showing the two couples is a famous depiction of the relationship between them and the importance that relationship had for both Claudius and Agrippina the Younger. The two men are associated with weapons as victorious generals, while the women are represented in a way that suggests their importance and power. It may commemorate the marriage between Claudius and Agrippina the Younger.
View the cameo showing Claudius, Agrippina the Younger, Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder at http://ancientrome.ru/art/artworken/img.htm?id=1255 (also in A.A. Barrett illustration No 6 and page 103).
Germanicus was also the father of the next emperor Gaius (Caligula) And the grandfather of Nero. While he was alive, and perhaps even more after his death in AD 19, the Romans saw Germanicus as another Augustus. His father Drusus had been very popular. This popularity extended to him and his children, Gaius and Agrippina, benefited also. Tacitus, the Roman historian, is full of praise for his achievements in Germany, in contrast to the cautious Tiberius.
Meanwhile, as already said, Germanicus was making tax-assessments in Gaul when news reached him that Augustus had died. He was married to the elder Agrippina, the granddaughter of Augustus, and they had several children. Germanicus was the son of Drusus, brother of Tiberius, and grandson of Livia, Augustus’ wife. He was worried because his uncle and grandmother secretly hated him, which was made worse by the fact that it was unfair. Drusus, Germanicus’ father, was highly regarded by the Roman people and they believed that he would have given back their freedom, if he had become emperor. So they gave the same support to Germanicus hoping he would do the same. He had a polite and modest personality, a wonderful openness and honesty about him, very different from the proud and hypocritical words and expressions of Tiberius. The mutual enmities between the women added to this; Livia showed a stepmother’s dislike of Agrippina; Agrippina herself was too easily provoked to anger, which would have been apparent if her love and loyalty to her husband had not given her strong-willed character some worthwhile aim.
Tacitus Annals 1.33
Task 1A
How are Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder portrayed in this passage?
Suetonius (Gaius 1-7) provides a short portrait of Germanicus which agrees with Tacitus. He had, according to Suetonius, every good quality – moral excellence, courage, generosity and the ability to inspire others. But as Tacitus suggests he was disliked by the Emperor Tiberius and Livia, the wife of Augustus. Suetonius (Gaius 2) claims Tiberius arranged his death. Tacitus’ account is more complicated involving the governor of Syria, Piso, as the main agent, but he still blames Tiberius and his jealousy of Germanicus’ success. Tacitus (Annals 2.71) gives us Germanicus’ final words to his friends in which he blames Piso and his wife Plancina. Tacitus then adds: (Annals 2.72)
Then he turned to his wife. he begged her, by her memory of himself and their children, to put aside her anger, and submit to the savagery of misfortune; he told her, when she returned to the city of Rome, not to anger those in stronger positions by competing for power. This is what he said with others present. In private he said other things, where he was believed to have shown that he was afraid of trouble from Tiberius. Not much later he died. There was great grief in province and among the surrounding peoples. Foreign nations and kings mourned: he had shown such great friendliness towards his allies, clemency towards his enemies; in his looks and words, he had been respected equally; while he had kept a greatness and seriousness, suitable to his high position, he had avoided envy and pride.
Tacitus Annals 2.72
Task 1B
What concerns Germanicus about Agrippina’s character?
What do you learn from Annals 3.4 about Tiberius and Agrippina the Elder?
What does Tiberius claim about her when announcing her death? (Annals 6.25)
After Germanicus’ death in AD 19, Agrippina promoted her sons Drusus Caesar and Nero Caesar as the rightful successors to Tiberius, although Tiberius had his own son, Drusus. In AD 23, however, Drusus died (or was killed by Sejanus and Livilla, his wife). Agrippina’s efforts to make her sons the heirs seems to have annoyed Tiberius, and, with Sejanus’ persuasive help, she and her sons were gradually removed from the scene. Both Nero and Drusus Caesar were imprisoned and died before Agrippina herself, in exile, starved to death. Only Gaius survived, having been taken to live with Tiberius when he retired to the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples.
1.2 Agrippina’s Early Life: marriage, sister to the emperor and exile
Agrippina had been born on November 6th AD 15 and since her father’s death had lived with Livia, her grandmother and mother of Tiberius. In AD 28 she was 13 years old and Tiberius arranged a marriage with Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (Tacitus Annals 4.75) who was about 30 when they married. His family was very rich and very distinguished as members of one of the leading families of Rome. Domitius had two sisters, one Domitia and the other Lepida in the sources. Both play a part in Agrippina’s later life. Domitia married a man called Sallustius Crispus Passienus, who later divorced Domitia and married Agrippina. Lepida was the mother of Messalina, the wife of Claudius before Agrippina. Her son Sulla was at one time due to marry Claudius’ daughter, Antonia. He was later executed by Nero.
In AD 33 Agrippina’s sisters were also married off. Drusilla was married to Lucius Cassius Longinus and Livilla to Marcus Vinicius. Gaius meanwhile was clearly being presented as a successor with Tiberius Gemellus, Tiberius’ grandson.
In March AD 37 Tiberius died (or was killed by Macro, the praetorian prefect) and Gaius became emperor. One of his first acts was to organised the gathering of the ashes of his mother and brothers and have them buried in a ceremony in the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome. There were games in her honour, statues set up and coins minted. The family was promoted by Gaius, even Claudius who had been kept out the public eye by Augustus and Tiberius. Above all Gaius promoted his sisters. Their names were included in oaths and proposals to the Senate, and most importantly in the vow of allegiance taken to the emperor.
Sestertius showing Agrippina and her sisters
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caligula_RIC_0033.jpg (also in Barrett Ill. No 10 and p. 53)
The three sisters are represented on this coin from AD 37-8: Agrippina is Securitas, Drusilla (in the centre) is Concordia, and Livilla (on the right) is Fortuna.
Because Gaius based his claim to be emperor on his relationship to Augustus and the popularity of his father Germanicus, he was using the presentation of his family to secure his position.
This show of affection for his sisters also started rumours of incest between Gaius and them (Suetonius Gaius 24). This was to be a charge against Agrippina later with her son Nero. Whether these accusations were true or not is open to question since both Gaius and Agrippina are accused of all sorts of typical cruel and immoral behaviour in the sources in an effort to blacken their characters. These are stereotypical rumours and need to be considered carefully.
On 15th December AD 37 Agrippia gave birth to her son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, later to be the Emperor Nero.
This is an account in Suetonius’ Life of Nero. Suetonius includes some stories and hearsay which add an extra atmosphere to the birth of the child, especially in view of later events.
Nero was born at Antium nine months after the death of Tiberius, On 15th December [AD 37]. The sun was rising with the effect that its rays fell on him almost before he could be laid upon the ground. Straightaway many made dreadful predictions about him from his horoscope, and even something said by his father Domitius was seen as warning: among all the congratulations of his friends, he said that "any child born from Agrippina and himself would be cursed and and a disaster for the state. Another sign of furtue misfortune occurred on the day of his purification; Gaius Caesar [Caligula] was asked by his sister to give the infant whatever name he wanted; he looked at his uncle Claudius, who as emperor would later adopt Nero; Gaius then said that he gave him the name of ‘Claudius’. He did this as a joke but Agrippina ignored the suggestion, because at that time Claudius was treated as an object of fun in the palace.
Suetonius Nero 6
Task 1C
How likely is it that the characters said what is reported?
What does this passage tell you about Suetonius’ interests in writing the biography of Nero?
Drusilla died on 10th June AD 38 and was deified on 23rd September. Her second husband had been Marcus Lepidus. He had seemed to be a close associate of Gaius and even perhaps presented as potential successor. However, in AD 39 a plot by the governor of Germany seems have included both Lepidus and Agrippina who were lovers. When discussing her possible incest with Nero Tacitus mentions this affair:
Possibly Agrippina really planned such a great wickedness, perhaps because the consideration of a new act of lust seemed more believable in a woman who as a girl had allowed herself to be seduced by Lepidus in the hope of gaining power; this same desire had led her to lower herself so far as to become the lover of Pallas, and had trained herself for any evil act by her marriage to her uncle.
Tacitus Annals 14.2
Tacitus seems to imply it was this affair which set her on the road to immorality. The possibility is that Agrippina was looking for political support and using sexual means to gain it. Tacitus says that she did this ‘in the hope of gaining power’. Already she is being portrayed as ambitious and devious, a woman who will do anything for power. Another of her lovers at this time was said to be Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was to be closely linked to Agrippina in the future. In AD 41 he was exiled on the accession of Claudius and recalled only in AD 49 through Agrippina’s wishes.
Agrippina herself was exiled and Nero went to live with Domitia, his aunt when his father, Domitius, died late in AD 40. Claudius, her uncle, recalled her from exile on his accession in January AD 41.
1.3 Agrippina recalled: the rivalry with Messalina AD 41- 47
Although recalled from exile and reunited with her son, Agrippina had many problems. Firstly her property had been confiscated and auctioned off by Gaius. Claudius solved this by forcing Domitia to divorce Sallustius Crispus Passienus so that he could marry Agrippina. He was wealthy and powerful. He died in AD 47 among rumours that Agrippina had poisoned him to get his money. (Suetonius Nero 6)
Her most serious problem was the hatred of Messalina. Agrippina’s son, Domitius, was a serious rival for Britannicus, her son and Claudius’ son. Domitius’ connection to Augustus and Germanicus ensured his popularity.
Claudius was actually present when some young nobles performed the Troy Game on horseback. Among them were Britannicus, the emperor's son, and Lucius Domitius, soon afterwards to be adopted by Claudius and appointed his successor with the name of Nero. The obviously greater support given to Domitius was seen as a sign of the future. There was a well-known story that there had been snakes acting as guards during his childhood, a fantastic story probably modelled on stories from other lands. Nero, never one to be modest about himself, used to claim that only one snake was ever seen in his room.
Tacitus Annals 11.11
Suetonius version is more dramatic:
Once his mother returned from exile and gained some power and influence again, he became much more important. It was said Messalina, wife of Claudius, had sent men to strangle him while asleep around midday, because she saw him as a rival to Britannicus. There is also the story that the men sent to kill Nero fled, frightened by a snake which shot out from his pillow. This story arose because a snake’s skin was found in his bed by his pillow. Nevertheless his mother insisted that he have the skin put into a golden bracelet which he wore on his right arm for some time. Only when he grew to dislike the thought of his mother did he throw it away, although when his situation was at its worst, he looked for it but never found it.
Suetonius Nero 6
Task 1D
Compare the way the authors tell the story about the snake? What does it tell you about their approach to their subject matter?
The threat from Messalina, however, was real enough.
The people’s memory of Germanicus certainly added to his popularity; he was after all his last remaining male descendant; the sympathy for his mother Agrippina was increased by the violent cruelty of Messalina towards her. Messalina was always her enemy, but was even more violent towards Agrippina at this time. She was only prevented from making false charges and setting up accuser against her by a new passion which was close to madness.
Tacitus Annals 11.12
Agrippina had to be careful and keep as low as profile as possible in the face of this danger to herself and her son. At the same time she must have had ambitions for him. Whatever she aimed for she could do very little while Messalina was alive and, if we believe the sources, completely controlling Claudius. However, in AD 47 it all changed. Messalina went too far. Tacitus tells the story of her affair with Gaius Silius (it starts at Annals 11.12) and eventually the affair becomes public, so that even Claudius gets to know about it from his freedmen, Pallas and Narcissus. Suetonius is much briefer and provides little help in understanding what happened.
His next wife was Valeria Messalina, daughter of his cousin Messala Barbatus. Then he found out that, besides committing all sort of other criminal acts, she had even married Gaius Silius, with a contract signed by witnesses. He had her killed.
Suetonius Claudius 28
For Agrippina, it opened the way to achieve her ambitions for her son. The first step would be marriage to Claudius. To do that she needed the help of someone close to the emperor who could persuade him to marry her. The freedman Pallas supported her claim to be Claudius’ next wife.
Task 1E
What qualities of character does Agrippina show during this period?
Theme: The nature of the imperial court
2.1 Claudius the Emperor
In the ancient sources Claudius is often pictured as either a fool or weak or both. Most of all he is seen to be under the control of his wives and freedmen.
2.2 Freedmen
They were ex-slaves. It was common in the Roman world for masters to free their slaves, partly because it meant that the freed slave had certain duties to perform for the ex-master, and also they no longer had to be kept and fed by the owner. Often the ex-slave remained in the master’s employment, as a client to his patron. These freedmen (and women) often had skills the patron needed. It meant a change of status but not a change of job. Most wealthy Romans had freedmen and freedwomen in their households working for them, in very important roles, especially as accountants, secretaries and administrators of their businesses. For the emperor, however, this meant that his freedmen were working in the administration not just of vast estates and property but also of the empire. They were a sort of civil service, dealing with letters, petitions, requests and money from all over the empire. Claudius was not the first to have freedmen working for him – Augustus had had them in all parts of the administration. Gaius had relied on freedmen. The most powerful of his freedmen was Callistus, who continued to be used by Claudius. Because the administration of the palace and the empire became more complex and because the emperor took more of the roles of government on himself, such freedmen were essential for the smooth running of the administration. Gradually the traditional roles for the senators and magistrates were taken over by these men as the government became more and more centralised in the palace. Instead of decision being taken in the Senate as in Republican Rome, there were now taken in the rooms in the palace by the emperor and few advisors, his friends, members of his family, important officials and freedmen.
The sources give us accounts of decisions made by the emperor which are then simply agreed to by the Senate. An example of this is the way the Senate supported Claudius’ decision to marry Agrippina even though it was against the law since she was his niece. The freedman Pallas had convinced him to do this. Tacitus (AnnaIls 12. 1-7) describes how a suitable senator, Vitellius, was found (bribed according to Suetonius Claudius 26) to persuade the Senate. After his persuasive speech, Tacitus tells us this happened:
Some senators were quick to rush out of the Senate-house declaring loudly that if the emperor hesitated, they would force him to act. A mixed crowd gathered, and kept shouting that the Roman people demanded this too. Claudius delayed no more; he went to meet them in the forum to receive their congratulations; he entered the senate house and demanded a decree which declared marriages between uncles and nieces to be legal. No one else was found who wanted this sort of marriage except Alledius Severus, a Roman eques (business man); it was said by many that he was motivated by his wish to win Agrippina’s favour.
Tacitus Annals 12.7
Claudius, however, is the first emperor who is said to have been ruled by his freedmen, or at least to have relied on them too much.
I have already explained how much his freedmen and wives controlled Claudius; he behaved towards them more like a slave than an emperor. He gave them honours, army comands, freedom from penalties, and punishments depending on what each wanted or was interested in at the time. Most of the time he had had no knowledge of what he was doing.
Despite this he confirmed the order, since his freedmen said that the soldiers had done their duty because they had hurried to avenge their emperor without waiting to be told. Surely it is too much to believe that he himself signed the contract for the dowry in the marriage of Messalina and Silius just because the freedmen persuaded him that the marriage was really a fake, arranged so that they could transfer to another a certain danger which the omens said was threatening the emperor himself.
Suetonius Claudius 29
This is typical of the claims made about how easily freedmen and wives manipulated Claudius.
When he was trying to decide whom to marry, after the death of Messalina in AD 47, the freedmen were the advisors he turned to for help according to Tacitus:
Callistus supported Lollia; Pallas supported Agrippina. Aelia Paetina however, of the family of the Tuberones, had the backing of Narcissus. Claudius constantly changed his mind depending on who he was listening to at the time; so finally he called them all to a conference and told them to give their views and explain their reasons.
Tacitus Annals 12.1
Task 2A
Read Annals 12.2: what arguments do each of them put forward? Who succeeds and why?
How is Claudius presented in these passages?
Narcissus and Pallas
These two freedmen are perhaps the most influential with Claudius. They had been the ones to warn Claudius against Messalina and had made sure that Claudius executed her. They seemed to be the ones he relied on most for advice. Pallas was in charge of the finances and Narcissus was in charge of correspondence. Their power was dependent on the emperor, or whoever had influence with him. Agrippina could not succeed without the support of one or more of them, and they would need her also. Both Pallas and Narcissus had been important in the downfall of Messalina. They would expect that if Britannicus, the son of Claudius and Messalina, became emperor, he would take revenge on them. It was therefore in their interest to promote not just Agrippina, but also the young Domitius as a successor.
We are told that Pallas was Agrippina’s lover by Tacitus (Annals 12. 25, 12.65, 14.2). As before, Agrippina was prepared to use sexual attractiveness to gain her ambitions. She used Pallas to persuade Claudius to adopt Nero.
In the consulship of Caius Antistius and Marcus Suilius (AD 50), the adoption of Domitius was brought forward through the efforts of Pallas. Pallas was first obligated to Agrippina, because he had supported her marriage, and then bound to her by their adultery. He still urged Claudius to consider the interests of the State, and to provide some protection for the young Britannicus. He reminded Claudius that Augustus had had the support of his grandsons, but he still gave power to his step-sons; Tiberius too, though he had his own son, had adopted Germanicus. He urged Claudius to take on a young man to share part of his work. Claudius was won over by these arguments which he repeated in a speech before the senators. So he put Domitius, who was 3 years older, before his own son Britannicus.
Tacitus Annals 12.25
However, once Claudius was dead and Nero emperor, they very quickly lost power and positions. In fact even before Claudius’ death Narcissus lost his influence:
Lepida was charged with trying to end the life of the Emperor’s wife by magic and with disturbing the peace of Italy by too little control of her bands of slaves in Calabria. She was sentenced to death, despite the strong opposition of Narcissus. He had become more suspicious of Agrippina’s intentions. Rumour was that he said to his closest friends, “My own ruin is inevitable whether Britannicus or Nero becomes emperor; … But the plans of the stepmother aim at overthrowing the whole imperial house, resulting in a much greater disaster than if I had kept silent about the immorality of Messalina, his previous wife. As things stand, disgrace is not difficult to find with Pallas as her lover; so no one can have any doubts that she considers her reputation, her decency and even her own body, everything, cheaper than power.”
With so much worry and concern, Narcissus became ill; he went to Sinuessa to recover his strength with its gentle climate and healing waters. Then, Agrippina who had for a while decided on murder, seized on the opportunity this offered.
Tacitus Annals 12.65-6
Task 2B
What does this passage tell us about the freedmen and Agrippina?
In fact, Narcissus committed suicide at the very beginning of Nero’s reign in AD 54 (Tacitus Annals 13.1). Pallas lost influence also but his death came much later. He still had the support of Agrippina (Annals 13. 2) but we are told in that passage that Nero hated Pallas because of his arrogant nature. Once Agrippina began to lose favour with Nero, Pallas lost his post and was removed from the palace. (Annals 13.14)

You can find out more about Claudius and his freedmen from these sites.
Are the ancient sources fair to describe Claudius as controlled by his freedmen and wives?
2.3 The Senate during the reign of Claudius and Nero
Because of the centralization of administration in the palace relations with the Senate were often difficult. It was not helped by the way in which Claudius had become emperor in AD 41. He had been imposed on the Senate by the praetorian guard who had discovered him hiding after the murder of Gaius. The guard insisted on him becoming emperor as the brother of Germanicus, whose memory was still very popular and the only surviving Julio-Claudian. In any case he paid them each 150 gold pieces!
Claudius tried hard to please the Senate. He gave them back the provinces of Achaea and Macedonia. He was respectful and always made an effort to join in debates and provide opportunities for the Senate to be involved. He did try to improve its image; as censor he removed some who were not eligible or suitable and added senators. However, his decision to allow Gauls to enter the Senate probably angered some traditional senators.
There were plots against his life (see Suetonius Claudius 13). The dislike of Claudius among senators led him to give posts and tasks to others such as freedmen. His great project of draining the Fucine lake was eventually given to Narcissus to oversee. This led to problems with the senators and a number were executed in his reign: Appius Silanus, Vinicianus, Scrbonianus, Asinius gallus, Valerius Asiaticus and others. Some of these are blamed on his wives and freedmen, but Suetonius (Claudius 29) says that 35 senators and 300 equestrians were killed by Claudius.
Nero began his reign with a claim that he would restore the Senate.
Once the pretence of sadness was done with, he entered the Senate, and spoke of the authority of the senators and the support of the soldiers; he mentioned the advice and examples of good government which were there to help him. …He then described the shape of his future government, especially avoiding those things which had caused recent unpopularity. He claimed he would not judge every case, or keep accuser and accused locked in the same house, letting the power of few people control everything. In his house, he said, nothing would be for sale and there would be no opportunity for corruption; his private affairs and the affairs of the State would be kept separate. The Senate would keep its ancient duties; Italy and the public provinces should present their cases before the consuls, who would provide then with audience before the senators. He himself would see to the armies allotted to him.
He kept his promise and many matters were decided by the senate.
Tacitus Annals 13.4-5
There is a lot of evidence in Tacitus and Suetonius that Nero did perform well during his first few years. Trajan is said to have referred to them as five good years. The Senate were consulted on a number of matters and their views were treated with respect. It is often thought that this was due to the influence of Seneca and Burrus, because Nero took little interest in administration, spending more time having fun, getting drunk and causing trouble at night in Rome (Suetonius Nero 26). This changed after the death of his mother in AD 59, and the death of Burrus in AD 62, when Seneca also retired. He became less inclined to ask the Senate and after the plot of Piso in AD 65, tended to remove opposition violently.

Theme: The lives and characters of Agrippina, Claudius and Nero
Theme: The influence of Agrippina on Roman politics
Because these two themes (the lives and characters of Agrippina, Claudius and Nero, and the influence of Agrippina on politics during their reigns) are so bound up together, with one providing evidence of the other, they have been treated together for this section of the textbook.
3.1 Claudius and Agrippina
This argument won over Claudius, supported by the attractions of Agrippina herself. Under the excuse of their close family relationship, she frequently visited her uncle, and gained his affection so that she was preferred to the others, and, although she was not yet his wife, she could already use the power as if she was married to him. When she was certain he would marry her, she started still greater schemes; she wanted a marriage between Domitius, her son by Cn. Ahenobarbus, and Octavia, the emperor's daughter. However, this marriage could not be achieved without a crime, because Claudius had engaged Octavia to L. Silanus. …But nothing is difficult, it seems, in the mind of an emperor, who has no judgements and no hatreds unless they are suggested and ordered by others.
Tacitus Annals 12.3
This view of Agrippina using her sexual charms to trap Claudius is repeated by Suetonius (Claudius 26). It is a fairly stereotypical approach by Roman historians towards the portrayal of any powerful woman in Roman politics.
3.2 Agrippina’s character
Agrippina was undoubtedly ambitious and ruthless and very clever – all of which she had learnt to be living through the reigns of Tiberius and Gaius. She had seen her brothers and mother (possibly even her father) murdered by Tiberius and his agents. She had been married off to the lazy Domitius Ahenobarbus at the early age of 13 to keep her out of the way. She was probably never sure that Tiberius would not decide to make it permanent. The start of her brother’s reign had suggested that she was safe. However, whatever the truth of the plot and her involvement with Aemilius Lepidus she was exiled to the same island as her mother and sisters by Gaius, and they had never left the islands alive. Then she had to live for nearly seven years under the shadow of the increasing power of Messalina, protecting her son from all sorts of threats (including snakes if the story is believed!). She used every weapon she had to stay alive and build up support.
The sources are rarely sympathetic to her, but they do recognize she was no ordinary woman.
From this point on, the state was changed completely, and everything was subject to the control of a woman; however, this was a woman who was not motivated like Messalina; she did not play with the affairs of Rome like some toy for her personal pleasure. Rome was now enslaved by an almost masculine dominance. In public Agrippina showed a serious, often arrogant face; in private, there was no sign of immorality, unless it helped her in her search for power; she had an enormous desire for money which was excused with the reason that money was a means to power.
Tacitus Annals 12.7
There is very little information on how far she was involved in administration or financial policy of the Empire. This is because our sources are largely not interested in such subjects. However, it seems likely that an intelligent and well-educated woman such as Agrippina would be useful to Claudius and would certainly be able to offer advice and help. She had seen enough mis-management of affairs with Gaius to know what not to do. Claudius’ reign is generally thought to have been well managed and well organized. There were no financial crises and the provinces were well governed. It seems fair to assume that Agrippina had taken some credit for this state of affairs. Regardless of her skill in administration and policy, her aim was still to gain and keep power.
She was certainly ruthless towards anything which got in her way.
She intended Domitius, her son, to marry Octavia, Claudius’ daughter. However she was betrothed to L. Silanus. Tacitus (Annals 12.4) tells how she arranged, with the help of Vitellius, for him to be accused of incest with his sister, Junia Calvina. He was removed from the Senate and forced to give up his post as praetor. On the day of the marriage Silanus committed suicide, and Tacitus makes a point of the irony that the accusation of incest was found amusing when Claudius had just married his niece (Annals 12.8).
Almost immediately after this the marriage is arranged between Domitius and Octavia.
This was sensible in view of their ages, and was likely to lead to greater things. Pollio spoke to the proposal in almost the same words as Vitellius had used shortly before. So Octavia was engaged to be married, and Domitius, on top of his previous family relationship, became the emperor's prospective son-in-law, and an equal of Britannicus, through the efforts of his mother. She was helped by the cleverness of those who had accused Messalina, and who feared the vengeance of her son.
Tacitus Annals 12.9
In addition:
However, Agrippina, to be known for acts other than evil ones, got Annaeus Seneca recalled from exile; she also arranged that he had the praetorship. She thought this would please the general public, because of his fame as a writer; she also wanted him to be Domitius’ tutor and to use his advice in her efforts to win power. For Seneca was believed to be loyal to Agrippina because of her kindnesses to him, but equally he hated Claudius because he felt he had been unfairly treated by the emperor.
Tacitus Annals 12.8
Task 3A
• What do these passages tell us about Tacitus’ view of Agrippina?
• What motives does she have for her actions?
• Read the whole of Tacitus Annals 12. 1-9: how is Claudius characterised?
Images of Agrippina and Claudius on coins
Claudius and Agrippina Minor. AD 50/54. Roman Aureus
http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/sear5/s1886.html: for examples of presentations of Agrippina and Claudius
A.A.Barrett ill. 12: tetradrachma of Agrippina and Claudius
3.3 The Adoption of Domitius by Claudius: the succession to Claudius arranged
In AD 50 (Tacitus Annals 12.25) Claudius adopted Domitius into his family. As Tacitus says this strengthened his claim to be the successor over Britannicus who was three years younger. He was now given the name Nero (Tacitus Annals 12.26) and Agrippina was given the title of Augusta. Britannicus is slowly sidelined. Agrippina is now working for the succession of Nero as emperor, and she is ruthless in her ambitions. She takes a number of actions to strengthen her power or improve her standing in Rome and the Empire:
• Lollia Paulina was accused of plans damaging to the Roman state; (Tacitus Annals 12. 22);
• Calpurnia, a noble lady, was condemned;
• a colony of veteran soldiers is established at Cologne (Tacitus Annals 12. 27);
• she is seated near Claudius at the British triumph and receives honours equal to the emperor (Tacitus Annals 12. 37); ‘This indeed was an innovation, totally against Roman usual practice – that a woman should preside before the Roman standards. But Agrippina was displaying her position as an equal partner in the power gained by her ancestors.’
• In AD 51 Nero took on the toga of adulthood early, and was designated consul at the age of 19. He was declared ‘leader of the youth’ (princeps iuventutis) (Tacitus Annals 12.41); there was a deliberate contrast between the adult Nero and child Britannicus;
• gifts were given to the praetorians and games held in Nero’s name for the people.
• guards and officers supportive of Britannicus were removed, as were his tutors and advisors who appeared hostile to Nero (Tacitus Annals 12. 41);
Even so Agrippina did not dare to make a play for supreme power, if Lusius Geta and Rufius Crispinus were not removed from the command of the praetorian cohorts; she believed that they still remembered Messalina and were loyal to her children’s cause. Agrippina, therefore, constantly argued that the cohorts were split by the rivalry between the two, and that, if there was one commander, their discipline would be all the stricter,; so Burrus Afranius was given the command. He had a fine reputation as a soldier, but he was fully aware as to whom he owed his position.
Tacitus Annals 12.42
• Agrippina now had control of the Praetorian Guard and its commander. This passage also tells us that she entered the Capitol in a chariot ‘to add to her own importance and status’.
• In AD 53 Nero married Octavia.
The scheming of Agrippina, however, was pushing Claudius into acts of the most cruel kind. Artifices of the same Agrippina. She destroyed Statilius Taurus, who was famous for his wealth, because she wanted his gardens. She had Tarquinius Priscus bring a charge against him. …he accused him of extortion, but added charges dealing in magic and superstitious practices. Taurus, not wanting to put up with an undeserved dishonour from a lying accuser, committed suicide before the Senate brought in a verdict. Tarquitius was however expelled from the Senate, which the senators did, despite the efforts of Agrippina, because of their hatred of the accuser.
Tacitus Annals 12.59
Agrippina, according to the sources, had manipulated Claudius to achieve her own ambitions; she had removed, one way or another, those she felt were either rivals or threats, or were people she simply disliked. She had gained wealth and property in whatever way she could. With Claudius apparently in agreement, she had removed his own son from the succession and replaced him with Nero.
One of her most serious rivals was Domitia Lepida because:
The bitterest struggle was over who should have the most influence with Nero - his aunt or his mother. Lepida was winning over his young mind by flattery and extravagant gifts; on the other hand, Agrippina, who could give her son an empire but could not tolerate him being emperor, was harsh and menacing.
Tacitus Annals 12.64
Domitia is condemned to death, and Narcissus leaves Rome ill, leaving Agrippina a clear field for her final action to ensure her power and influence.
Task 3B
We are told by Tacitus that Agrippina’s panic was obvious to everyone: why would she panic?
• read the parts of Tacitus which lead up to the murder (Annals 12. 59,64-66).
• compare what Tacitus says with the account in Suetonius Claudius 43-45: what do they tell you about Agrippina’s motives?
• His wives could always keep him under their control. Do you think this statement from Tacitus is true of Claudius?
Research some of the representations of Agrippina on coins and statues: what do they tell you about her status and importance?
http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/sear5/s1886.html: for examples of presentations of Agrippina and Claudius
3.4 The death of Claudius
The sources tell us clearly that Agrippina murdered Claudius. Although there is some confusion about who poisoned him and when in the sources, they do not doubt that he was murdered and that Agrippina planned it. Both Tacitus and Suetonius tell basically the same story. Tacitus gives more detail about Agrippina’s planning and helpers. He also gives us some insights into her thoughts and feeling. He tells us that she was worried about the type of poison to use incase it was too quick or too slow. Then he describes her terror when the poison does not work at once, and how she reacts quickly and decisively. Suetonius gives us the events but tells us very little about Agrippina’s role other than to suggest she administered the poison herself. They do both agree on the mushroom as the food which contained the poison.
Claudius was the first member of his family to be murdered; he may not have been the one to arrange it, but he certainly knew about it. He did not hide the fact because later he used to praise mushrooms [the poison was administered to Claudius in a dish of mushroom], as "the food of the gods," in the words of the Greek proverb.
Suetonius Nero 33
Here Suetonius implies that Nero was in on the plot – something neither Tacitus nor Suetonius himself suggest in their accounts. This is typical of the inconsistency in Suetonius’ biographies – he does sometimes change his version depending on which character he is writing about.
There is always the possibility that Claudius died a natural death. By October 13th AD 54 Claudius was 64 years old. He was known for his excessive eating and drinking, especially the latter. He was not physically strong; he suffered from some disability. The sources suggest that he was probably under stress from the task of being emperor and the pressures being put on him by Agrippina. They may well have argued about Nero and Britannicus, as the sources suggest he was coming round to the idea of replacing Nero with his own son.
However, not just Tacitus and Suetonius, but Josephus, Dio Cassius and Pliny the Elder all tell the same story. This implies a general acceptance of the poisoning version and that Agrippina was to blame.
Task 3C
Read the accounts in Tacitus and Suetonius: list the similarities and differences.
3.5 The Accession of Nero and Agrippina’s role: the struggle for power
Whatever the truth about Claudius’ death, the accession of Nero was clearly the work of Agrippina. She kept the information about Claudius’ death secret until she was sure of the situation. She kept Britannicus out of the public eye and away from the Praetorian Guard. She pretended that Claudius was still alive as long as she could in order to arrange a smooth hand over of power. (Suetonius Claudius 45 and Tacitus Annals 12. 68)
Then Nero was presented to the soldiers and despite some mutterings about Britannicus, there was no real opposition from the Guard or the Senate. Nero promises gifts to the soldiers and everything went as smoothly as possible, thanks to Agrippina. Nero made this clear at once in a number of ways.
Note : The Praetorian Guard
Originally, a group of soldiers called the cohors praetoria, named after the commander’s headquarters (praetorium) would protect the general. The praetorian guard became a personal bodyguard for the generals during the Civil Wars.

In 27 BC, Augustus made them a bodyguard army at Rome and in Italy, consisting of 9 cohorts of 1,000 (or 500) men. Augustus had 9 cohorts of praetorians and three urban cohorts for the Senate. The praetorian troops had better pay and shorter length of service. Augustus actually did not station these troops in Rome proper, but outside. Most of the men in the Guard were of Italian origin.
The main function was to be the protection of the princeps. It was hoped that they would mean that people who thought of plotting against the emperor would be prevented or deterred. Part of the Guard would also follow the emperor on campaigns.
it was Sejanus who moved the Praetorian Guard to a camp just outside Rome, giving the command of the Guard considerable power and influence. The Guard, therefore, was in apposition to decide on the succession of the emperor, as they do in force with Claudius. They are also essential to Agrippina’s plan to gain Nero the succession. This is why she places Burrus in control of them once she is married to Claudius. It was essential for an emperor to have their support – Claudius gives them 150 gold pieces on his accession and he continues to reward them throughout his reign. Nero’s end is signaled when they deserted him in AD 68 (bribed by Galba).
Even so, publicly every honour was piled on Agrippina. When a tribune, whose customary job it was, asked for the password, he was given “The Best of Mothers”. The Senate also decreed her two lictors, and the office of priestess to Claudius; at the same meeting they decreed a public funeral and deification for Claudius.
Tacitus Annals 13.2
He let his mother manage everything, public and private. On the first day of his reign, he even gave to the tribune on guard-duty the password "The Best of Mothers," and afterwards he often rode with her through the streets in her litter.
Suetonius Nero 9
Task 3D
How is Agrippina’s importance to Nero and her status emphasized in these sources?
Nero & Agrippina II Aureus. Struck 54 AD, Lugdunum mint.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Coins_of_Nero: examples of coins of Nero and Agrippina.
However, Agrippina did not appear to think that she was now to take a back seat to her son. Rather she appeared to think that she was now the co-ruler of the empire. The reign had barely got underway when a crime was committed which Tacitus claims was her doing (Annals 13.1) – that was the murder of Junius Silanus, proconsul of Asia. The motive is said to be fear that he might avenge the death of his brother Lucius Silanus. Tacitus also adds that he had a claim to the throne as good as Nero’s. Agrippina appears to be working to ensure Nero is safe as emperor. A freedman was used to do the deed. Narcissus followed soon after, against Nero’s wishes according to Tacitus.
There would have been more murders, if Burrus and Seneca had not opposed them. These men were the emperor’s advisors while he was young. They were in agreement (a rare thing for those in power) and, in different ways, they were both effective with Nero. These two men guided the emperor's youth with a unity of purpose seldom found where authority is shared, and though their accomplishments were wholly different, they had equal influence. Burrus had a soldier's interests and serious character; Seneca tutored Nero in public speaking and had a friendly disposition and decency. They helped each other so that they could more easily direct the young emperor towards acceptable pleasures, if he rejected decency and goodness. For both of them there was the struggle against Agrippina; she was burning with all the desire of her criminally-gained power.
Tacitus Annals 13.2
It seems there was something of a power struggle going on within the palace for control of Nero. She had arranged that meetings were held in the palace so that she could listen in from behind a curtain. Tacitus tells us she opposed an attempt by Nero to change a law of Claudius. Her desire to share power is shown also by an incident early in the reign.
When envoys from Armenia were having an audience with Nero, she was getting ready to walk up onto the raised area and sit next to him. She would have done so, if Seneca, while everyone stood there amazed, had not told Nero to go down and greet his mother as she came up. This display of a son’s concern prevented the scandal.
Tacitus Annals 13.5
3.6 Seneca and Burrus: Nero’s watchers
Agrippina had seen to the appointment of Lucius Annaeus Seneca as Nero’s tutor soon after her marriage to Claudius. He had been exiled by Claudius early in his reign but she arranged his recall. It has already been suggested that she and he were lovers.
He was a major literary figure and philosopher, writing tragedies and Moral Letters, as well as satire in the form of a parody of the deification of Claudius. He wrote one treatise, on Clemency, specifically to Nero urging the virtue of mercy as one of the key qualities of an emperor.
It is assumed that he wrote Nero’s speeches. Tacitus (Annals 12.58) tells of two occasions when Nero delivered speeches, once for Ilium and once for Bononia at the age of 16 (also recorded in Suetonius Nero 7). One of Seneca’s duties was to train him in the writing and delivering of speeches in public (rhetoric). His speech at the funeral of Claudius was written by Seneca according to Tacitus (Annals 13.3) although Nero was probably not incapable since he had some ambitions as a writer. Suetonius (Nero 52) gives us some evidence of this and of Seneca’s influence.
Until at least AD 59 and probably AD 62 he remained Nero’s principal advisor, although his influence lessened. Along with Burrus, he helped Nero to step clear of his mother’s influence. he controlled her early efforts to remove rivals and threats and he prevented the scandal of the Armenian envoys. In addition he introduced to Nero the freedwoman Acte as a means of lessening Nero’s interest in his mother (Tacitus Annals 13.12-13).
Seneca retired in AD 62 shortly after the death of Burrus, although he was still advising Nero as late as AD 64. In AD 65 he was caught up in the plot of Piso. Whether he was involved in this plot to overthrow Nero is not known for certain. According to Tacitus, Nero took the opportunity to get rid of Seneca at this time, and so he was forced to commit suicide. (Tacitus Annals 15. 60-66).
Sextus Afranius Burrus Praetorian prefect. His appointment had been arranged by Agrippina (Tacitus Annals 12.42) in AD 51. He showed his worth to Agrippina in AD 54 when he ensured that the guard was loyal to Nero on his accession. He was clearly important to Nero’s security and to the stable nature of his government in the early years. Seneca too tried to lessen Nero’s mother’s influence and power.
In AD 55 he came under suspicion of plotting with Agrippina to overthrow Nero, although Tacitus makes it clear that the whole accusation was probably false, made up by Silana who had fallen out with Agrippina over a man called Titus Sextus Africanus. (Tacitus Annals 13.19). Tacitus says that there was one story that Seneca saved Burrus, but that other authors say that Burrus was not suspected. However, Burrus was given the job of interrogating Agrippina.who defended herself well enough to get her accusers punished. (Tacitus Annals 13.21)
Tacitus and Suetonius both suggest that Nero poisoned him in AD 62.
Neither of them appear to have been party to the plan to kill Agrippina. Suetonius does not mention them at all in connection with the plan nor when she is killed. They only appear in Tacitus’ version once the plan has failed and Nero is terrified about what Agrippina would do.
He asked what defence he had against this, if Burrus and Seneca did not have any suggestion. He had summoned both of them at once, although it is uncertain whether they knew about it beforehand. Both were silent for along time to avoid dissuading him without success, or they believed that matters had reached the point that Nero was bound to die if Agrippina were not dealt with first. Seneca was quick enough to respond first and looked back at Burrus, as though asking if the soldiers ought to be ordered to murder her. Burrus replied that the praetorians were attached to the household of the Caesars, and, in memory of Germanicus, would not dare do anything so terrible against his daughter.
Tacitus Annals 14.7
In this account they do nothing, leaving Nero to solve the problem himself! Seneca does write a speech in defence of his action for which Tacitus condemns him in these words:
‘So people did not criticise Nero, who had passed all criticism by this savage crime, but Seneca because he wrote such a confession in this speech.’ (Annals 14.11)
Nero became emperor within two months of his seventeenth birthday with little experience of government and the use of power. It is not surprising that he relied heavily on two experienced and intelligent men, and allowed them to weaken his mother’s control of him. As a seventeen year old he might well prefer to enjoy the pleasures of his role than the burdens. He might also want to get away from the controlling influence of his mother as he became older. Seneca and Burrus were only too willing to encourage him in this.
Task 3E
How important were Seneca and Burrus in Agrippina’s decline in power? Look at what Tacitus and Suetonius say about them:
These men were the emperor’s advisors while he was young. They were in agreement (a rare thing for those in power) and, in different ways, they were both effective with Nero. These two men guided the emperor's youth with a unity of purpose seldom found where authority is shared, and though their accomplishments were wholly different, they had equal influence. Burrus had a soldier's interests and serious character; Seneca tutored Nero in public speaking and had a friendly disposition and decency. They helped each other so that they could more easily direct the young emperor towards acceptable pleasures, if he rejected decency and goodness.
Tacitus Annals 13.2
He forced his tutor Seneca to commit suicide. Seneca had often asked to be allowed to retire and offered to give up his property but Nero had sworn on oath that he had no reason to suspect him and that he would rather die than harm him. He sent poison to Burrus, the Praetorian Prefect, having promised to send a medicine for his throat. He used poison, either in their food or their drink, to get rid of the old, rich freedmen who supported his adoption and his accession, and given their guidance when he was emperor.
Suetonius Nero 35
3.7 Nero as Emperor
Tacitus in Annals 13. 4-5 gives the impression that the opening of Nero’s reign was good, and that he said all the right things.
Task 3F
Read this section and list the things he intends to do and what he says he will not do.
He is intending to avoid some of the unpopular aspects of Claudius’ reign. It is fair to say that for some time he did maintain this, which even Tacitus has to admit. There were serious problems. The threat from Parthia was getting worse but he sent the best general, Corbulo, to deal with it. Eventually a lasting peace was secured. He kept a good relationship with the Senate, allowing it to make decisions. He avoided the trials and executions which had been occurring in other reigns. He was popular with the people and the soldiers, although he had not yet gained a military triumph which even Claudius had managed.
However, he was not totally safe. One problem which he could not avoid and was potentially damaging for him was what to do with Britannicus who was gradually approaching adulthood and had as good a claim to be emperor as Nero did.
At the same time he needed to avoid the impression or image that he was controlled by a woman, which in Roman terms was worse than anything.
Gradually his mother’s control over him was weakening. Tacitus Annals 13. 12
He removed Pallas who was Agrippina’s lover and supporter from his role in the government (Tacitus Annals 13. 14). He also tried to avoid her company, preferring to spend time with Acte.
Agrippina, however, became angry as women do and raged that she had a freedwoman for a rival, a slave girl for a daughter-in-law, and other things of the same sort. She could not wait until Nero regretted his action or had had enough of Acte. The worse her complaints got, the more intense became his passion, until overwhelmed by his love he stopped obeying his mother and turned to Seneca. Tacitus Annals 13. 13
This simply made her more angry it seems and she turned to Britannicus. So the two problems seemed to be one and the same.
The result of Agrippina’s anger and complaints was to make him decide to remove Britannicus from the scene before he became a real threat, and a means for Agrippina to regain power.
In his treatment of his family and others the sources are generally very critical. Read the following from Suetonius Nero 35
After Octavia he married two other women: first Poppaea Sabina who was the daughter of an ex-quaestor and previously married to a Roman eques; second Statilia Messalina, daughter of the great-granddaughter of Taurus, who had been consul twice and had held a triumph. He killed Statilia’s husband, Atticus Vestinus, while he was still consul, in order to marry her. He quickly began to despise Octavia and grew tired of living with her; when his friends complained about his attiude, he replied that she should be happy being his wife. He tried and failed to strangle her a number of times. He divorced her claiming she was infertile. However, the people were not pleased with this and rioted against it, so he banished her instead; and finally he executed her for the crime of adultery. This was so obviously shameful and false, that all denied it even when tortured. Therefore he bribed his former tutor Anicetus to be a witness and confess that he had seduced her by some trick. He married Poppaea twelve days after his divorce from Octavia and he truly loved her; but he also killed her by kicking her when she loudly complained that he had returned home late from the chariot races while she was unwell with her pregnancy. Poppaea and Nero had a daughter, Claudia Augusta, but he lost her when she was still a baby.
Suetonius Nero 35
Octavia was exiled and killed in AD 62; Poppaea died in AD 66. Tacitus tells us that it was in order to marry Poppaea that he got rid of Octavia despite the political advantages a marriage with Claudius’ daughter brought. It was also very unpopular. Tacitus also says the people rioted when he divorced her.
This section in Suetonius continues with more deaths – Antonia, daughter of Claudius, Aulus Plautius, Rufrius Crispinus, his step-son, Seneca and Burrus. These deaths all take place late in the reign when he no longer had the advice of Burrus and Seneca and was acting in a more independent manner. He was also becoming less popular especially with the Senate as he developed his own style of government. His early promises were not kept especially after the great Fire of Rome in AD 64. But all of this occurs well after the death of his mother in AD 59.
3.8 Agrippina loses power
It is clear from the coins issued in the first year of the reign how Agrippina slowly loses her position beside the emperor. At first she is on the same side of the coin facing Nero, then she is pictured behind Nero, her face just visible; finally she is on the reverse and then disappears altogether.
Agrippina became alarmed and began to threaten action and she did not care if the emperor heard what she said: that Britannicus had now grown up, and was the true and deserving successor to his father's power, which Nero, introduced by adoption, was now using to wrong his mother. She did not care about revealing all the terrible acts of this unlucky family: first her own marriage; her history as a poisoner; the fact that her stepson was alive was a success for herself and the gods. She said she would go with him to the praetorian camp; they would listen to the daughter of Germanicus; against her would be the crippled Burrus and the exiled Seneca, demanding their right to rule the world, one with a mutilated hand, the other with an educator’s language.
Tacitus Annals 13.14
Nero now becomes alarmed, and knowing his mothers ‘tendency to violence’ (Annals 13.15) he decides to act first. Tacitus says that he has already been made aware that there is some sympathy for Britannicus. But in any case: ‘Agrippina’s threats were worrying him’ (Annals 13.15). Suetonius (Nero 33) adds that Nero was jealous of his singing voice, which may be just repeating Tacitus’ story in a way that makes Nero look bad.
Both authors give a detailed account of how Nero got the poison (using the same Locusta whom his mother had used to poison Claudius). Tacitus is more detailed about the actual poisoning describing the scene dramatically including the horror of those present. He stresses that Agrippina knew nothing of what was planned and she is as shocked as anyone. The funeral is held straight away in a violent storm (a suitably dramatic context). He then adds:
However, many men forgave Nero for this, considering past feuds between brothers and empires cannot be ruled by a partnership. Several writers at the time report that, for quite a while before his death, Britannicus had been abused by Nero. In this case you can see his death as neither too early nor savage; even though the hurried death of the last of the Claudians had occurred among the sacred symbols of the table, with no time even to embrace his sister, before the eyes of his enemy, Britannicus had been corrupted by abuse before he was destroyed by poison.
Tacitus Annals 13.17
Tacitus is careful to stress that these are comments by other writers and he does not say whether he believes them or not but simply speculates about it. He leaves the reader to decide but on the basis of how corrupt Nero would become, the reader is probably expected to believe this. He does criticise Nero for the context in which the poisoning took place. However, it is also pointed out that the two were very likely to become serious rivals and Romans had enough experience of civil war to want to avoid it.
Nero then handed out gifts to make sure he was not criticized. In fact it did not affect his position or his popularity as far as we can tell. It could even be that, apart from authors who sought to blame Nero for every crime, people accepted that Britannicus had died of some epileptic attack as Nero suggested.
One thing Britannicus’ death did do was make Agrippina’s position worse.
The Silana Accusations
But his mother’s anger could not be softened by any extravagant presents; she embraced Octavia; she had secret meetings with her friends; she seized on money everywhere in addition to her natural greed; she welcomed centurions and tribunes in her home; she showed respect for the title and qualities of those nobles who still survived; all of which gave the impression that she was looking for a faction and some one to lead it. Nero knew of all this. He ordered her guard to be removed, which was there to protect first the emperor’s wife and then the emperor’s mother, along with some German troops, recently added for the same honour. He also moved her to a separate house which had once been Antonia’s, to stop her holding frequent gatherings of supporters; whenever he visited, he was surrounded by a crowd of centurions, and used to leave after a brief kiss.
Tacitus Annals 13.18
Task 3G
What actions does Agrippina now take? What are her reasons? What does this tell you about her character?
What does Nero do to weaken her power?
Left with few supporters and being watched by Nero, it was now obvious to all that Agrippina was seriously weakened. Few people came to visit her. One was Junia Silana but they had quarreled and Silana sought revenge. Involved in this plot to blacken Agrippina was Domitia, Nero’s aunt who was an enemy of Agrippina also. They were to accuse her of plotting with Rubellius Plautus, another potential rival to Nero. The idea was to tell Nero of this plot just when he was most likely to believe it. The story is told in Tacitus (Annals 13. 19-21).
This is Nero’s reaction when told:
It was late at night and Nero was still drinking when Paris entered, as he usually did at this time to add to the emperor’s pleasures. This time, however, he appeared upset and sad. Nero listened to Paris go through the story and was so panic-stricken that he was determined to kill not only his mother but also Plautus, and remove Burrus from his praetorian command, on the grounds that he was promoted by Agrippina and was now repaying her. … Nero, now in terror and eager to kill his mother, could not be put off until Burrus had promised that she would be killed if the crime was proved. However, he added that anyone, especially a parent, should be given the chance to defend themselves; there were no accusers present, only the word of one man from the house of an enemy. He urged Nero to consider the dark night, the fact that he had spent the night awake at a banquet and the whole situation likely to lead to a thoughtless and ill-considered action.
Tacitus Annals 13.20
Task 3H
What does this passage tell us about Nero’s attitude towards his mother?
What happens when Burrus investigates?
Agrippina speaks in her defence: how strong is her argument? how is she characterised? (Annals 13. 21)
What does this incident as a whole tell us about Agrippina’s position at this time?
The question of whether or not Nero and Agrippina were involved in an incestuous relationship has been debated a great deal. The ancient sources generally take it as a fact, but they tend to accept any rumour or story which reflects badly on their characters, especially Nero and Agrippina, both of whom receive little support from later historians and biographers. Dio Cassius (Book 61.11.4) questions whether there was any truth in the story, and says that Nero had a mistress who looked very like Agrippina. He also says that Nero liked to claim he had intercourse with his mother as a result of his relationship with this mistress.
Tacitus introduces the story only after he has told us that Nero has decided on murder.
The author Cluvius writes that Agrippina took her desire to keep power so far as to offer herself more often to a drunken Nero, all dressed up and ready for incest. She did this at midday when Nero was already warmed up with wine and food. Those close to both had seen passionate kisses and sensual caresses, which seemed to imply wrongdoing it was then that Seneca who looked for a woman’s help against this woman’s charms, introduced Acte to Nero. This freedwoman who was anxious because of the danger to herself and the damage to Nero’s reputation, told Nero that the incest was well known since Agrippina boasted about it. She added that the soldiers would not tolerate the rule of such a wicked emperor. Fabius Rusticus writes that it was not Agrippina, but Nero, who was eager for incest, and that the clever action of the same freedwoman prevented it. A number of other authors agree with Cluvius and general opinion follows this view. Possibly Agrippina really planned such a great wickedness, perhaps because the consideration of a new act of lust seemed more believable in a woman who as a girl had allowed herself to be seduced by Lepidus in the hope of gaining power; this same desire had led her to lower herself so far as to become the lover of Pallas, and had trained herself for any evil act by her marriage to her uncle.
Tacitus Annals 14.2
Tacitus had mentioned Acte much earlier (Annals 13.12-13) and Agrippina’s reaction to Nero’s relationship, which had been encouraged by Seneca to weaken Agrippina’s hold on Nero. However, he did not mention incest at that point (AD 55).
Suetonius (Nero 28) has a slightly different version:
No one doubted that he wanted sexual relations with his own mother, and was prevented by her enemies, afraid that this ruthless and powerful woman would become too strong with this sort of special favour. What added to this opinion was that he included among his mistresses a certain prostitute who they said looked very like Agrippina. They also say that, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, the stains on his clothes afterwards proved that he had indulged in incest with her.
Suetonius Nero 28
This is part of a section in which he is giving details of Nero’s sexual immorality; he adds this as a likely happening in keeping with the other actions of Nero.
There had been similar rumours about Agrippina and Gaius. It is importan to note that two authors have doubts about the truth of the story. Tacitus suggests how it had been attached to Agrippina’s character because of her behaviour in general. In addition, the stereotype of the ambitious and powerful woman in Roman politics, such as Livia, Agrippina the Elder, Messalin and others allows these writers to believe such actions were committed.
Nero certainly, once he realised the rumour was around when warned by Acte, started to avoid her company and be more careful.
3.9 Agrippina’s death
Suetonius Nero 34 and Tacitus Annals 14. 1-9
The two authors give accounts which differ in some details, but essentially they agree on most of the important aspects. Tacitus tells us more of the preparations and motives for the murder and also gives a more vivid and dramatic recreation of the event, along with the words of those involved in some cases. Suetonius is briefer, but does have some extra information, for example about which method of murder to use.
Dio Cassius (book 61.12-14) does mention some details which neither Suetonius nor Tacitus mention. He is certain that it was Poppaea who, worried about Agrippina’s influence (even in AD 59) persuades Nero that Agrippina is plotting against him. He also adds that Seneca was part of the planning and also in urging Nero to commit the crime.
Translation of Dio: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/62*.html
Nero no longer delayed the crime he had thought about for a long time. His daring increased with the length of his reign; he was also daily becoming more passionate in his love for Poppaea. She had no hope of Nero marrying her and divorcing Octavia while Agrippina remained alive. So she frequently complained to Nero, sometimes making fun of him, calling him a child controlled by another, with no power over the empire let alone his own freedom to act.
Tacitus Annals 14.1
He was annoyed by the way his mother questioned and criticised his every word and action but he only went so far at first as to make her disliked by giving the impression that that he would give up being emperor and go and live on the island of Rhodes. Next he took away all her privileges and her power, as well as her guard of Roman and German soldiers. He refused to let her live with him in the Palace. Then he tried everything possible to annoy her: he bribed men to bring law suits against her while she stayed in the city of Rome; then, when she went to live in the country by the sea, he got others to go past her house and interrupt her peace and quiet with noisy partying and insulting jokes. Therefore terrified by her violence and threats, he decided to get rid of her.
Suetonius Nero 43
Task 3I
What are Nero’s reasons for the murder according to these two passages?
What other reasons might Nero have had?
Read Tacitus Annals 14.11: What reasons does Nero give for his actions? Do they seem believable?

Both Tacitus and Suetonius suggest that poison was considered but the idea abandoned, although Suetonius says Nero tried it three times first. Tacitus says they even considered violence but decided against it. Suetonius mentions a false ceiling in her bedroom to fall on her but someone betrayed the plot. Finally they come up with the collapsible boat idea – or rather Anicetus, the freedman, and admiral of the fleet, does in Tacitus (Annals. 14.3). Dio (book 61 12-13) adds that Nero and Poppaea had seen the collapsible boat in a play at the theatre. The whole plot is set up for the festival of Minerva at Baiae on the Bay of Naples.
It is generally agreed that there was an informer, and Agrippina, hearing of the trap, uncertain whether to believe it, journeyed to Baiae by litter. Her fears were lessened by his attention to her; she received a friendly welcome and was seated above Nero himself. They talked a lot together – Nero was youthfully familiar or apparently discussing some serious matter. The meal lasted quite a while; as she was going he walked with her, staring into her eyes and clinging on to her breast, either to complete his pretence or the final sight of his mother about to die affected even his cruel heart.
Tacitus Annals 14.4
Despite the anxious moment the plot appears to be going perfectly, and Tacitus gives us a detailed scene of the happy couple. Suetonius follows the same story although he does not mention an informer. The next two sections described the failed attempt to drown Agrippina. There seemed to have been some confusion on the ship, and in the darkness the assassins succeed only in killing Acerronia, her maid while Agrippina had the presence of mind, despite her wound, to swim silently away. She eventually reaches her villa and assesses the situation.
Nero, on the other hand, reacts as follows:
So out of his mind with fear, he claimed she soon would be there seeking revenge; she might arm her slaves or raise troops or make her way to the senate and the people, and charge him with a shipwreck, wounding her and killing her friends; he asked what defence he had against this, if Burrus and Seneca did not have any suggestion. He had summoned both of them at once, although it is uncertain whether they knew about it beforehand. Both were silent for along time to avoid dissuading him without success, or they believed that matters had reached the point that Nero was bound to die if Agrippina were not dealt with first. Seneca was quick enough to respond first and looked back at Burrus, as though asking if the soldiers ought to be ordered to murder her. Burrus replied that the praetorians were attached to the household of the Caesars, and, in memory of Germanicus, would not dare anything so terrible against his daughter; he suggested Anicetus should fulfil his promise
Next he heard that Agerinus had arrived from Agrippina with a message; he himself then arranged for a little piece of play-acting for the accusation against Agrippina; while Agerinus was reporting his message, Nero threw a sword at the freedman’s feet, and then ordered him to be taken to prison as if caught in the act of assassination; this was so that he could pretend that his mother had plotted to kill the emperor, but in the shame of being caught had chosen to commit suicide.
Tacitus Annals 14.7
Task 3J
How is Nero portrayed in this passage? What does this passage suggest about Agrippina?
How does Suetonius describe his reaction to the news of her escape?
Tacitus tells us that people gathered when they heard of the accident and were rejoicing that Agrippina was saved until the soldiers arrived with Anicetus to complete the murder. Tacitus offers a dramatic account of the final moments of Agrippina, appropriately defiant and courageous for a woman who had for a brief moment been co-ruler of the Roman world.
There is some disagreement about what followed. Suetonius prefers to report the horrible facts:
Credible writers provide horrible facts: he could not wait to see the dead body; he held her limbs; he criticised some and praised others; being thirsty during all this he had drinks. However, he could never, not at the time nor afterwards, bear the knowledge of his crime, although the soldiers, the Senate and the people supported him with their congratulations; he often confessed that he was hunted by his mother's ghost and harrassed by the whips and burning torches of the Furies.
Suetonius Nero 34
Tacitus says ‘Everyone agrees on the facts so far. There is some disagreement over whether he inspected his mother’s dead body and praised her beauty’. (Annals 14.9)
Task 3K
What was the reaction of the soldiers, the Senate and the people to this event? Read Annals 14.10 and 14.12, and compare it with this passage.
What does this reaction tell us about how these groups felt about Agrippina?

Sources: Suetonius and Tacitus’ aims and interests
4.1 Tacitus and Suetonius: their methods
Tacitus and Suetonius had a number of sources available to them which are lost to us now. They could use:
• the daily record of Senate meetings (Acta Senatus) 003B
• letters and memoirs of fellow senators such as Pliny the Younger and Seneca
• earlier Historians: Fabius Rusticus, Cluvius, Aufidius Bassus, the Elder Seneca;
• Suetonius had access to archive material as Hadrian’s Secretary/Librarian.
They occasionally mention them by name, but most of the time they record what they think was the truth. They do not have the attitude to recording the source of their information as modern historians.
Task 4A
Read the following three passages and consider how they use their sources:
Fabius Rusticus writes that the orders were written to Caecina Tuscus, giving him command of the praetorian cohorts but that because of Seneca's influence Burrus kept the post. Pliny the Elder and Cluvius say there was no doubt about the commander’s loyalty. Fabius certainly tends to praise Seneca; Seneca’s friendship was influential in the success of Fabius’ career. Where historians agree, I will follow their views; when they differ, I will name them and record their views.
Tacitus Annals 13.20
The author Cluvius writes that Agrippina took her desire to keep power so far as to offer herself more often to a drunken Nero, all dressed up and ready for incest. She did this at midday when Nero was already warmed up with wine and food. Those close to both had seen passionate kisses and sensual caresses, which seemed to imply wrongdoing it was then that Seneca who looked for a woman’s help against this woman’s charms, introduced Acte to Nero. This freed-woman who was anxious because of the danger to herself and the damage to Nero’s reputation, told Nero that the incest was well known since Agrippina boasted about it. She added that the soldiers would not tolerate the rule of such a wicked emperor. Fabius Rusticus writes that it was not Agrippina, but Nero, who was eager for incest, and that the clever action of the same freedwoman prevented it. A number of other authors agree with Cluvius and general opinion follows this view. Possibly Agrippina really planned such a great wickedness, perhaps because the consideration of a new act of lust seemed more believable in a woman who as a girl had allowed herself to be seduced by Lepidus in the hope of gaining power; this same desire had led her to lower herself so far as to become the lover of Pallas, and had trained herself for any evil act by her marriage to her uncle.
Tacitus Annals 14.2
No one doubted that he wanted sexual relations with his own mother, and was prevented by her enemies, afraid that this ruthless and powerful woman would become too strong with this sort of special favour. What added to this opinion was that he included among his mistresses a certain prostitute who they said looked very like Agrippina. They also say that, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, the stains on his clothes afterwards proved that he had indulged in incest with her.
Suetonius Nero 28
How do the two authors differ in their approach?
Which of the two seems more reliable and why?

Sometimes they do not name the source but they say that there is some disagreement over what happened. Most of the time they do not give us their view but leave the readers to make up their own minds. Sometimes they say there are different versions simply to suggest that the story is not believable, for example Tacitus (4.19) says:
Everyone agrees on the facts so far. There is some disagreement over whether he inspected his mother’s dead body and praised her beauty – some say he did, others say he didn’t.
At another point he says:
Several writers at the time report that, for quite a while before his death, Britannicus and been abused by Nero. (Tacitus Annals 13.7)
Task 4B
What impression do you have about Tacitus’ own view of these events?
Credible writers provide horrible facts: he could not wait to see the dead body; he held her limbs; he criticised some and praised others; being thirsty during all this he had drinks.
Suetonius Nero 34
Tacitus and Suetonius do not always give us the same version of events, or one has details which the other does not include. They were probably working from the same sources. Suetonius was also likely to be using Tacitus’ works and deliberately differing by using another source of information. Tacitus is sometimes more skeptical about a story than Suetonius. At other times even Suetonius, who likes to include all the rumours and gossip, cannot believe what he has heard.
There was a well-known story that there had been snakes acting as guards during his childhood, a fantastic story probably modelled on stories from other lands. Nero, never one to be modest about himself, used to claim that only one snake was ever seen in his room.
Tacitus Annals 11.11
There is also the story that the men sent to kill Nero fled, frightened by a snake which shot out from his pillow. This story arose because a snake’s skin was found in his bed by his pillow.
Suetonius Nero 6
Surely it is too much to believe that he himself signed the contract for the dowry in the marriage of Messalina and Silius just because the freedmen persuaded him that the marriage was really a fake,arranged so that they could transfer to another a certain danger which the omens said was threatening the emperor himself.
Suetonius Claudius 29
Suetonius does, like Tacitus, include different versions where he thinks it matters, although he does not tell us who the different authors were.
There is general agreement that Claudius was poisoned, but a lot of argument about when it happened and who poisoned him. One version is that it was his food-taster, the eunuch Halotus, during a feast with the priests in the Citadel. Another view is that Agrippina herself did it at a family dinner when she gave him poisoned mushrooms, his favourite food. There are differences in the stories of what happened afterwards.
Suetonius Claudius 44
4.2 Tacitus and Suetonius: their aims
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus b. AD 70
Suetonius was writing biographies not histories. He never wrote a biography of Agrippina and includes information about her only where it helps his portrayal of the emperors. He includes stories and rumours which reflect upon his subjects. His information about Agrippina is selective and at times he contradicts himself. His portrayal, like Tacitus’, isstereotypical. She uses her woman’s charms to hook Claudius (Claudius 26); there is very limited detail about her actions in Claudius’ death (44). She is presented as having some power over Nero early in the biography (Nero 6/9). In section 28, however, it is Nero who insitgates the incest. In 34 she is described as annoying, or violent or threatening.
Suetonius does clearly do research, and his inclusion of letters from the archives is evidence of this. But a lot of time his material is not his own, but gathered from previous writers. He is interested in character not political or historical issues. He and Tacitus used the same sources and much of what he says is the same as Tacitus but not always.
Cornelius Tacitus AD 55-117
It is important to remember that Tacitus was writing a chronological history (the word Annals is from the Latin Annus meaning a year). He wrote about events year by year only occasionally for the sake of clarity avoiding the simple arrangement. For example he describes the events in Parthia which cover more than one year before going back to events in Rome in the 60s AD. He is also concerned not to put every trivial event into his work but to concentrate on what he sees as important ones. He is therefore selective about what he includes and his judgement about that may lead him to exclude information which may have been useful. He concentrates on the internal politics of the empire, focusing upon events in the Senate and the palace, and the personalities involved. He tells us very little about ordinary people’s lives, economic affairs or social issues.
He was a Senator himself and a Governor of provinces. There is an inscription which names him as governor of Asia in AD 112. He had a successful career under the Emperors Domitian and Trajan. He was married to the daughter of Agricola, the governor of Britain from AD 77-84. His experiences with Domitian, who, like Nero, is seen as a cruel tyrant, may have affected how he judged the earlier emperors and the process by which the Senate lost more and more power during the 1st century AD.
He claimed to write without prejudice or bias (Annals 1.1) and he is careful not to accept every story he finds in his sources. He also records good qualities in his characters as well as bad ones.
His comment about about Agrippina the Elder (Annals 1.33) that she is too easily provoked to anger is balanced by the statement about her love and loyalty to Germanicus and her family. When she dies, Tacitus calls the charges brought against her by Tiberius as ‘disgraceful slanders’ (Annals 6.25). He admits she was greedy for power but comments upon her masculine ambition against her feminine defects. Germanicus is said to have warned Agrippina about her anger.
He told her, when she returned to the city of Rome, not to anger those in stronger positions by competing for power. (Annals 2.72).
But Tacitus makes it clear that she acts to preserve and enhance her family.
4.3 Attitudes towards women in the sources
The portrayal of women as stereotypes rather than individuals is a feature of Tacitus’ presentation of women in his histories. His view about the role of the women of the imperial family was probably not very different from the commonly held view about women and power. He dislikes the way the women plot against each other in the efforts to manoeuvre their children as successors to the emperor. So he portrays the women as rivals and writes of them as hostile to each other.
She had always fiercely hated Lollia and had become even more of an enemy over the rivalry for the marriage with Claudius.
Tacitus Annals 12.22
First she ruined Domitia Lepida for purely feminine reasons. Lepida was the daughter of the younger Antonia, as the grandniece of Augustus, the second cousin of Agrippina, and sister of her husband Domitius Ahenobarbus, and so believed herself to be the equal of Agrippina in status. They were virtually equal in beauty, youth and wealth. Both were immoral, notorious and vicious; they rivalled each other in crime as much as in the prosperity provided for them by fortune. The bitterest struggle was over who should have the most influence with Nero.
Tacitus Annals 12.64
Similarly Junia Silana (Annals 13.19) attempts to undermine Agrippina because of a personal issue. Tacitus does not present them in detail: there is a general description of them as ‘equal in beauty, youth and wealth’ but no description of them as individuals.
Agrippina’s ambition is dominatio (power, control, domination). Seneca is recalled to help her win power (Annals 12.8). But he differentiates her from other women like Messalina:
However, this was a woman who was not motivated like Messalina; she did not play with the affairs of Rome like some toy for her personal pleasure. Rome was now enslaved by an almost masculine dominance. In public Agrippina showed a serious, often arrogant face; in private, there was no sign of immorality, unless it helped her in her search for power; she had an enormous desire for money which was excused with the reason that money was a means to power.
Tacitus Annals 12.7
However, Tacitus cannot get rid of his stereotyping of women - her reaction to Acte:
‘Agrippina, however, became angry as women do and raged… ‘(Annals 13.13)
Again when explaining how Agrippina is taken in by Nero’s pretence of friendliness before his attempt to kill her he says:
‘…because women easily believe what is enjoyable. ‘(Annals 14.4).
He makes a comparison between Agrippina and Livia, who had also made sure that her son, Tiberius, succeeded Augustus, and who had also tried to rule through her son.
‘Claudius was decreed to be a god and his funeral was conducted exactly as Augustus’ funeral. Agrippina equalled her great-grandmother Livia in the magnificence of her dress. ‘ (Annals 12.69)
Tacitus at the start of the Annals had suggested that there were rumours about Livia’s involvement in the deaths of Tiberius’ rivals. Like Agrippina, Livia had kept Augustus’ death secret until the arrangements for Tiberius’ accession were complete. There is even a murder to start the reign, that of Agrippa Postumus. This parallels Agrippina’s murder of Silanus (Annals 13.1).
For more information about women in Rome and attitudes towards women see:

Source: http://www.ocr.org.uk/Images/70022-textbook.doc

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Ancient History Women in ancient politics


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Ancient History Women in ancient politics



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Ancient History Women in ancient politics