As far as incredible women in history go, it’s hard to top Agrippina the Younger. Political, ambitious, and a savvy operator are all ways we might interpret the evidence that remains for her life. But its fair to say that our ancient sources are a little less than kind.
Special Episode – Agrippina the Younger with Dr Emma Southon
Quite the Pedigree…
As the Julio-Claudian family developed into a fully formed imperial dynasty, Agrippina the Younger emerged as an important figure in the rule of three emperors: her brother Caligula, her uncle (and later husband) Claudius, and her son Nero.
She could trace her connections back to Augustus through her mother’s line. She was also the daughter of the wildly popular Germanicus, who died too soon and under circumstances palled with suspicion. Her family connections through her father were Claudian and ultimately this meant she embodied the Julio-Claudians.
After the demise of her siblings, we can think of Agrippina as the distilled essence of the family.
But having an illustrious ancestry is not necessarily indicative of how one’s life will turn out, and in this special episode, we have the great pleasure of sitting down with Dr Emma Southon, who has written an accessible academic history of Agrippina the Younger to delve further into the life of this amazing woman.
A recent reconstruction of Agrippina the Younger as potentially the lead singer of an 80s band…
Source: Royalty_Now on pinterest
What does it take to write a historical biography?
Dr Emma Southon’s book Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore was published by Unbound in 2018. This biography of Agrippina the Younger combines historical detail, engagement with the ancient sources and a colloquial tone to make for a roaring read.
We consider the path to publication for this biography and how academics are finding ways to bring detailed critical history to a broader readership.
Looking to delve further in the life and times of Agrippina?
Here’s some sources to get you started:
- Tacitus Annals, esp Books 12-14; Agrippina the Elder’s tears as read in Agrippina the Younger’s memoirs by Tacitus Annals 4.53
- Pliny the Elder Nat. 7.6 – Agrippina’s breech birth
- Dio Cassius Roman History Books 59-62
- Suetonius’ Life of Gaius, Life of Claudius, and Life of Nero
- Barrett, A. A. 1999. Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire (Routledge)
- Barrett, A, A. 2002. Agrippina: Mother of Nero (Routledge)
- Ginsburg, J. 2005. Representing Agrippina: Constructions of Female Power in the Early Roman Empire (OUP)
- Southon, E. 2018. Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore (Unbound)
One of the most famous depictions of Agrippina on coinage is her representation with her sisters on the reverse of one of Gaius ‘Caligula’ Augustus’ issues. c. 37-41 CE.
The depiction of living women on coinage was rare and Agrippina’s appearance here is an exceptional moment in Julio-Claudian iconography.
Before things went wrong…
Nero and his mother, Agrippina the Younger depicted together on the obverse side. c. 54 CE. Source: Wikimedia Commons and Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.