How did Nero kill his wives

Agrippina the younger

The death of the emperor in 37 brought a turning point for Agrippina. The brother who remained three to four years older was chosen as his successor. Caligula honored his three sisters, next to Agrippa these were Drusilla and Livilla (18-42). He even had coins minted with them in the form of goddesses. On December 15, 37, Agrippina gave birth to a son: Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, better known as the later Emperor Nero (reign 54-68). The relationship with her brother must have changed fundamentally in the period that followed.

In 39, she participated in a conspiracy against Caligula, but it was exposed. Her sister Drusilla's husband, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (6-39), with whom she had a relationship, was eliminated along with other parties involved. Nothing has come down to us in this connection about her own husband. He died at the beginning of the year 40. Apparently he had been sick a long time before. Agrippina was forced to bring the ashes of "her" Lepidus to Rome, just as her mother had once transported the ashes of Germanicus from Syria. In the latter case, however, voluntarily.

As a result of the conspiracy, Agrippina was exiled to the Pontic Islands and her goods were confiscated. On this point, too, she seemed to meet the same fate as her mother, but surprisingly it turned out differently. Caligula was killed on January 24, 1941. Unexpectedly, the Praetorians elected Claudius as emperor (reign 41-54). Agrippina was his niece. He let the exiles return and furnished them with their property. In search of a socially influential husband, she married the Senator C. Sallustius Crispus Passienus (died 47/48), who held the consulate for the second time in 44, but died soon afterwards. It remains unclear whether Agrippina may have murdered him, as was later recorded. In any case, she inherited a large fortune and was a widow at that point in time in 48, when Claudius was free for a new bond after the execution of his wife Messalina (around 20-48). In the aristocracy, a campaign for the vacant position of the emperor's wife began, whereby Agrippina herself was a power factor that should not be underestimated, since, unlike Claudius, she was in direct family line to the founder of the principate. She was a representative of the most powerful families in Rome and as such an independent center of power. The advisors around Claudius had to weigh this up. Agrippina herself was hungry for power and willing to assert the family claim. She prevailed and became empress, whereby the prohibition of a marriage between uncle and niece was no obstacle. This regulation was quickly eliminated by a Senate resolution.

The marriage between Claudius and Agrippina took place at the beginning of the year 49. With that she had arrived at the switching center of power; However, it was not enough for her to be the Emperor's wife and to let her influence work over Claudius; her hunger for power went beyond that. As can be seen from the coinage of the time, she wanted to create a position in which she could exercise power directly - even though she was formally only the wife of the emperor. She had no constitutional competences and could never acquire such competences, since the position of an empress in the legal sense did not exist and women were excluded from politics. Nevertheless, she gained a position of political power: She was the first woman to receive the honorable part of the name during her husband's lifetime Augusta and was thereby particularly emphasized. Outwardly, too, she emphasized her position through sumptuous clothing. Her portrait on coins reveals her influence on the emperor and the senate. Through the imperial freedman Pallas (died 62), who was the advocate for her marriage to Claudius and a close imperial advisor, she had access to state finances, and she increased her own fortune through trials and murders. On official occasions she was always - apparently on an equal footing - to be found at Claudius's side. In fact, she also increased her influence: She got her son Domitius Ahernobarbus (Nero) adopted by Claudius. Claudius had his own son from his marriage to Messalina named Britannicus (41-55), who was initially intended as heir and successor; now the older Nero was placed at his side. Agrippina did not stop there.

She also tried to gain influence in the provinces. On her initiative, the central place of the Ubier was raised in legal status to a colonia in the year 50. Claudius's wife thus became the "city founder" of Cologne. At that time, such a foundation meant the settlement of Roman citizens, mostly veterans of the legions; as a result of the resulting cultural transfer, the local upper class in Cologne had long since adopted Roman customs and was part of it Cologne became an image of Rome abroad with a city council, two mayors and other magistrates. All of this was laid down in a city law that was officially enacted for Cologne. However, the reasons for the distinction of its native city are not in one to seek emotional connection, but instead placed herself on an equal footing with the emperor, who had previously elevated his native city of Lyon to Colonia.Both cities were more cultic and administrative r center point. In addition, Agrippina demonstrated her assertiveness in the province by elevating Cologne to Colonia.

At the height of her power, she paved the way for her son to rule. Claudius publicly highlighted him over his own son. Agrippina pursued the plan to rule over her son in the realm. In the meantime she had created a network in the imperial family and in the military that made her appear unassailable. Potential adversaries were eliminated, including her husband Claudius, who - poisoned by Agrippina - died on October 13, 1954. But the success was short-lived; soon her star began to decline. In 55 there was a break with her son, Emperor Nero. The first solution to the soldiers had optima mater (the best of all mothers or the most excellent mother) and thus makes it clear to whom Nero owed the power. In fact, she initially reigned for the 17-year-old. But he soon emancipated himself from his mother and her environment. A limit had long been crossed because in Roman society a direct exercise of power seemed inconceivable for women. When Agrippina tried to stop this development, she did the opposite. Step by step, Nero withdrew her privileges such as her own bodyguard or the residence in the imperial palace. Many opponents now dared to take cover.

In 59 Agrippina came to a violent end. Nero decided to have his mother removed, which initially failed. After a reconciliation ceremony with her son, a prepared ship was supposed to take her to her villa in Baiae, today's Bacoli, and sink on the open sea on the way there. The fictitious shipwreck happened late near the shore, so that Agrippina was injured and was able to save herself to the coast. Thereupon Nero ordered the open murder, which was carried out by naval soldiers. Her body was cremated and buried on her estate. The memory of Agrippina was officially erased, and her birthday was declared an unlucky day. And yet her impact, especially in the city she founded, continues unabated to this day.


Cassius Dio; Ῥùìáúêὴ ἱóôïñßá.
Iosephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae.
Pliny, Naturalis Historia.
Suetonius, De Vitis Caesarum.
Tacitus, Annales.


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