Agrippina Family Background

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Family Relations and Background:
Agrippina was related to the Claudian ‘gens’, one of the oldest and most illustrious patrician families with imperial connections. Her father Germanicus had risen through the cursus honoroum to two consulships and the proconsulships of Germany and Gaul. Germanicus’s brother was the brother was the future Claudian emperor, Claudius. Agrippina’s family lineage was therefore immensely prestigious. Her mother is quoted twice by Tacitus asserting her descent from the blood of the divine Augustus. According to revisionist Barret, Agrippina would have learnt from her mother in her formative years a powerful sense of her important place in the scheme of things.

Agrippina’s marriages illustrate particular well the importance of family background in dynastic politics, although this could be dangerous. Because of Agrippina’s ancestry the emperor Tiberius, who was also her guardian, arranged Agrippina’s first marriage to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus in 28 AD. Ahenobarbus was a descendent of famous, noble famiy, Domitii and descendent of Mark Antony. Ahenobarbus was seen as a potential princeps if other plans failed. This marriage also secured the Julian princeps from rival contenders and produced a Julian heir with the birth of Nero. This marriage was not illustrious in terms of rank, but protected Agrippina from Claudius’s wife Messalina, who saw Agrippina as a threat due to her direct bloodline to ancestry.

Agrippina’s third marriage to emperor Claudius shows the significance of family background and its relevance to revisionist historiography. Traditionally claimed by Tacitus and Cassius Dio that Agrippina seduced her uncle Claudius as a stepping-stone to power. Whilst ancient sources are informative there is some question as to how much is fact and how much is innuendo. An alterative explanation is that it was Agrippina’s family connections that made her marriage to Claudius attractive. Babara Levick argued that it was politically...
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