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First published January 1, 2018
By the time she died, she had been accused of having sex with her brother, her uncle, her son and two cousins. The only reason that she wasn't accused of shagging her dad is that he died when she was so young. Had the Romans not practiced cremations, I"m pretty sure that someone would have claimed that she dug her dad's body just to fuck it for some reason.
Maiestas was essentially whatever the emperor wanted it to be in order to get rid of a troublesome senator. To make things even more fun, there were incentives for accusing people of maiestas. If you, random senator or equestrian, accused someone and they were successfully executed, you got to keep all their money and all their house as a reward.
There were also familial reasons why properly burying their murdered brother was a good move for Agrippina and Livilla: it was good pietas. Pietas was a uniquely Roman concept and is untranslatable into English. At its most base level, it meant duty to one's family and country. But this simple definition strips pietas of its depth and makes it sound a lot more optional than it was. Pietas referred to various flavours of love, religious devotion, obligation, justice, gratitude, respect, compassion and friendship. Pietas also contained a strong sense of natural law and natural justice, as in concepts which were perceived to be entirely fundamental to human behaviour.
Until Gaius [Caligula] had taken the throne and made him consul at the age of 50, Claudius had never held a political position. He wasn't even a senator for much of his life. He was the family embarrassment.
His primary skills were making hilarious bon mots, telling people how funny his own bot mots were, engaging in weird japes and being very unthreatening. He was everyone's sidekick. Passienus was famous for three things: marrying Agrippina, a couple of witty lines and being in love with a tree.
This was what the day-to-day ruling of the empire looked like. It was a constant ongoing negotiation between the Senate and the palace. The Senate was essentially a massive, complex maze of obligations, ties, alliances and grudges. It was made up of individuals, all of whom had their own family names to protect or make, their own webs of clients, patrons and obligations, their own decade-long feuds and resentments, their own ambitions.
There is a series of stories drawn from other people’s stories about men. The only way through is to be honest about that. This story is as much mine as it is Agrippina’s, because I have chosen how to present the information I have. But it is a good story about a woman who deserves her place in history. It is about a woman so important that men do everything they can to hurt her by accusing her of incest, adultery, murder and child abuse. It is about a woman who ran the Roman Empire for a lot longer than a lot of male emperors, and about how the man who controlled the world reacted to that. It is above all, at the centre of it all, about power.
Agrippina appears in the sources only when she is doing something that men think she shouldn’t be doing. Those five years when she was being good and quiet. Silence. Her entire first and second marriages. Silence …. It is only when she is overstepping the invisible boundaries of female behaviour that she gets noticed. So our sources show us an interpretation of one single facet of Agrippina as a real, living, human being. The other infinite fragments of Agrippina’s personality are lost forever. Certainly any form of vulnerability is subsumed beneath a narrative about her as a ruthless, cold woman, with a single minded determination to rule the world. I don’t deny that this is a pretty great story, but it is just a story. No one is just one story. The truth, such as truth can be found, is confusing, desperately complicated and contradictory.
Messalina [according to the male, ancient historians] is perhaps the ultimate version of what Roman men thought happened when women were released from control ….. a construction of pure Roman femininity. She didn’t plot, she didn’t plan, she just wanted to get rich and laid. Agrippina is positioned as the precise opposite of that …. She was not feminine in any way. She was not subject to her desires. She had a plan and she would subjugate anyone to achieve it …. [her] closest literary parallel – Mark Anthony’s third wife Fluvia