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Digital Subscriptions > BBC History Revealed > March 2019 > Agrippina the Younger

Agrippina the Younger

Agrippina the Younger is often defined by her male relatives, but, as Emma Southon argues, the matriarch, wife – and murderer – made her name in her own right

ROME'S FIRST LADY

Julia Agrippina is best remembered now as the tyrannical mother of mad emperor Nero, or as the overbearing and murderous wife of the emperor Claudius. Rarely she is remembered as the sister of another emperor Gaius (Caligula). She is almost never, however, remembered as a woman in her own right, free from the distorting lens of her male relatives.

For real power, Agrippina went further and achieved more than was expected of Roman women
SIPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

But during her lifetime, Julia Agrippina, more commonly known as Agrippina the Younger, made unique and extraordinary inroads into the spaces of Roman political and social power, to the extent that she ruled for several years as her husband’s equal in power. She was the first true empress of Rome, although you’ll struggle to hear anyone refer to her as such.

Born into the Roman ruling family of the first century the Julio-Claudians, Agrippina was destined to be at the centre of Roman power, but more likely as a woman, just to the side. Her mother, Vipsania Agrippina (Agrippina the Elder) was the granddaughter of the deified first emperor Augustus, while her father Germanicus was both the adopted son of the emperor Tiberius and biological grandson of Mark Antony Tey were for a time Rome’s most beloved couple. Before Agrippina was 20, though, both her parents were dead and it was widely believed that Tiberius had murdered them both.

Agrippina was exiled for plotting to kill her brother, but she was to return
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About BBC History Revealed

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has haunted history for centuries. Did Richard III really steal the throne by murdering his nephews? Plus: We uncover the story of Rome’s first lady – Agrippina the Younger, the naval battle of Boston Harbor as well as the top 10 cats that made history.