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Agrippa After 30 BC

In 28 BC, Agrippa was consul for the second time. It was a crucial year. Peace had been restored to the Roman world under the domination of Octavian. Decisions had to be made about the regime would work. A long-term mode of rule had to be agreed.

It seems as though the Augustan circle decided to restore features of Republican normality. A census was held by which the Roman people were counted and placed within their social groups. The list of senators was revised. These were reforms necessary for a restitution of order and Octavian kept Agrippa at his side. The consulship had been subordinate to whatever power Octavian, either Triumvir or consul himself. But now he shared consular authority, but only with Agrippa.

Agrippa was by this time married into the family.

agrippa Louvre

Head of Agrippa: Louvre, © 2008 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine


His first wife had been Caecilia Attica, from a distinguished and very wealthy equestrian family. They had a daughter, Vipsania, who was betrothed to Livia’s son Tiberius possibly as early as her first birthday. Agrippa then married Claudia Marcella (born c. 41, married by 28 BC), Octavia’s daughter and Octavian’s niece. When games were held in 28, with Octavian ill, Agrippa presided. They were working together as partners in the regime. In 27 BC, Agrippa again was by Octavian’s side as he claimed before the senate to have restored their power. The pair of them holding successive consulships together guaranteed that whatever the restoration of Republican powers, they retained immediate and direct control.


Agrippa continued his investment in the public buildings of Rome, with a special focus on buildings related to the plebs of Rome. The Campus Martius was heavily built up by Agrippa and if the city of Rome was transformed under Augustan from a city of brick to one of marble, it was Agrippa who presided over much of that work. When Augustus’ daughter Julia came to be married to Claudius Marcellus (Agrippa’s brother-in-law), Agrippa stood in for his friend during the proceedings. When Agrippa’s house was burnt in a fire, Agrippa went to live on the Palatine hill in Augustus’ house, a building that was rapidly achieving the status of a palace (Dio, 53.26).

By 24 BC, Augustus was back in Rome.

Agrippa magnesia_altes_museum

Statue of Agrippa from Magnesia (Jona Lendering: Berlin, Altes Museum)

It was the start of a period of some turmoil in the Augustan court. Augustus’ own illness seems to have led to him marking out Agrippa as an heir. Agrippa went East to prepare the ground for a campaign against the Parthians. When Augustus himself went to lead that campaign, Agrippa went to Rome to deal with discontent there.

With Julia widowed by the death of Marcellus, Augustus was in search of a new son-in-law. Agrippa obliged. Their children provided Augustus with direct heirs.

Agrippa was by now the central figure of the regime, second only to Augustus himself. There was no attempt to hide that influence.


Statue Base for Statue of Agrippa, Athens (Andrzej Otrębski; Commons)

In Athens, a huge statue base stands at the entrance to the Acropolis on top of which would have been a grand statue of Agrippa.

Statues of Agrippa were likely widely distributed across the Roman world.

Nevertheless, Agrippa continued to take second place to his friend. This becomes notable from about 20 BC.  Agrippa had been fighting the Cantabri, a tribe already supposedly defeated by Augustus. The war was long and bitter and the soldiers mutinous. But when victory was secured, Agrippa did not write to the senate, as was customary to celebrate his victory.

Uninformed, the senate were unable to grant him a triumph. Augustus intervened, suggesting that by this time he was back in Rome, and asked for a triumph for his friend.  Agrippa refused (Dio, 54.11). It was a strange dance. Honours not claimed, granted, refused. If we see Agrippa’s behaviour as a model, then two things stand out.

  • The conventional service to Rome and commitment to the Empire.
  • The subordination of the individual to the greater good as represented by the person of the Emperor.

It is unlikely to be coincidental that Augustus had returned from the East and was celebrating his bloodless victories over the Parthians. Agrippa was anxious not to be seen as competing.

In 18 BC, Agrippa was raised up yet further through the award of tribunician power for a five year period. The two of them then presided over the Secular Games in 17 BC, which This became a measure which confirmed what was already evident as a political reality: Agrippa was a deputy to the emperor.

Agrippa continued in this role until his death in 13 BC.

Augustus held lavish funeral games for him. He gave a speech over the body, one that was copied and translated and sent round the Roman world. We even have a fragment of it preserved on papyrus from Egypt.

Even in death, Agrippa honoured and supported the plebs of Rome with gifts of money. Dio gives an odd report that the nobles were unwilling to take part in the various events to honour Agrippa. But Augustus forced them to attend (Dio, 54.29).

Agrippa’s position as the closest associate of Augustus evidently did not win him friends among the high elite of Rome. We can only guess as to why they were hostile to one of Rome’s greatest ever generals and one of the great builders of the city.

Some of it may have been related to his relatively lowly origins. But more likely they objected politically: Agrippa had been central to delivering Augustan political supremacy. He had courted the plebs who had offered crucial support to the Augustan regime. In this power politics, the status of the senatorial elite had been threatened. It seems likely that his position as Augustus’ deputy rankled: it is often easier to attack the second in command than the commander himself.  Whatever the case, Agrippa had been crucial in founding the Augustan regime.


The Augustan Circle                               Agrippa Before 30 BC                       Maecenas




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