Agrippina: The Mother of Nero by Anthony A. Barrett: A Book Review

Agrippina: The Mother of Nero
Author: Anthony A. Barrett
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Routledge
Release Date: 2002
Pages: 352
Source: My School Library
Synopsis: In this dynamic new biography - the first on Agrippina in English - Professor Barrett uses the latest archaeological, numismatic and historical evidence to provide a close and detailed study of her life and career. He shows how Agrippina's political contribution to her time seems in fact to have been positive, and that when she is judged by her achievements she demands admiration. Revealing the true figure behind the propaganda and the political machinations of which she was capable, he assesses the impact of her marriage to the emperor Claudius, on the country and her family. Finally, he exposed her one real failing - her relationship with her son, the monster of her own making to whom, in horrific and violent circumstances, she would eventually fall victim. 

      My Review: Agrippina has been one of the most maligned and powerful women in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. She was the great-granddaughter of Augustus, the great-niece of Tiberius, sister of Caligula, niece and wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero. Because of her family connections, it is no wonder why she has been viewed as both immensely powerful and disliked. In this biography of Agrippina, she is portrayed as a politically adept and shrewd woman. She was a proud woman and a political ally to her husband, Claudius. Her only real flaw, Mr. Barrett argues, was having Nero for a son, for he would bring about her downfall.

   Agrippina was the daughter of Agrippina the Younger and Germanicus. When she was a teenager, she married Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, with whom she bore a son, Nero. When Caligula became emperor, she and her sisters were granted the honor of Vestal Virgins. However, despite Agrippina’s status, she was later accused, along with her lover, Lepidus, and her sister, Livilla, for plotting to kill Caligula. Agrippina and Livilla banished into exile.

  After Caligula’s death, Agrippina’s exile ended. She married Passenius, a wealthy and powerful man. After his death, she became the last wife of her uncle, Claudius. As his wife, she became Claudius’s political partner. She was given the honorary title of Augusta. Claudius even named a Roman colony after Agrippina. She even influenced Claudius to adopt Nero and choose him over his own son Britannicus as his successor. She persuaded Nero to marry Claudius's daughter, Octavia. This made Nero’s status as heir secure. The only obstacle in her way for Nero to become Emperor was Claudius himself.

  It was said that Agrippina may have poisoned Claudius with a deadly mushroom, but this is not proven. He may have died of natural causes. However, she quickly installed Nero as emperor, in case Britannicus made his claim to the throne. By having her son as emperor, Agrippina was the most powerful woman in the Roman empire. Her relationship with her eventually deteriorated. Nero, Mr. Barrett states, was a vain man, who never liked to be criticized. Agrippina criticized him and never made him forget that she made him Emperor. She became a burden to her son that he later had murdered.

  Overall, this was a very sympathetic biography of Agrippina. Instead of her being portrayed as the monster she has been described in ancient sources, she was a wise woman. Mr. Barrett does show the negative aspects of her character. In the biography, she can be seen as a proud and power-hungry woman. She always wants to be admired for her political achievements. She can be a domineering mother to Nero, which brought about her downfall. Still, she was a determined and tactful Empress. Agrippina: Mother of Nero read like a soap opera and it proves that the truth is often more fascinating than fiction. The biography can be a bit hard to follow and is dry at times. Still, there is enough political intrigue, drama, and backstabbing that it fascinates the reader. Mr. Barrett proves to us that Agrippina is a misunderstood historical figure who does not deserve the hatred that history has passed down to us.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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