Agrippa Postumus (Latin: Agrippa Julius Augusti f. Divi n. Caesar; 12 BC – AD 14), also referred to as Postumus Agrippa, was the youngest son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder, daughter and only biological child of the Roman Emperor Augustus. At first Augustus considered Postumus as a potential successor and adopted him as his heir, but banished him from Rome in AD 6 for reasons that remain unknown. This, in effect (though not in law), cancelled his adoption and virtually assured Tiberius' position as Augustus' sole heir. Postumus was ultimately executed by his own guards shortly after Augustus' death in AD 14.
|Born||c. July 12 BC|
|Died||c. August AD 14 (aged 25)|
|Mother||Julia the Elder|
Postumus was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the first imperial family of the Roman Empire. His maternal grandparents were Augustus and Scribonia, Augustus' second wife. He was also a maternal uncle of the emperor Caligula, who was the son of Postumus' sister Agrippina the Elder, and a great-uncle of Nero, the last Julio-Claudian emperor, whose mother Agrippina the Younger was Caligula's sister.
Although his birth name is not fully known, Postumus was probably named "Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus" in honor of his father, who died shortly before his birth. After the death of his older brothers, Lucius and Gaius Caesar, Postumus was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the Emperor Augustus. A lex curiata ratified his adoption, from which Postumus assumed the filiation Augusti f., meaning "son of Augustus". Postumus was then legally the son of Augustus, as well as his biological grandson. As a consequence, Postumus was adopted out of the Vipsanii and into the Julii, and he adopted the name "Julius Caesar" as a result. In accordance with Roman naming conventions, Postumus' name was changed to "[Marcus] Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus".
Early life and family
Agrippa Postumus was born in 12 BC a few weeks after his father's death and probably after 26 June. He was born a member of the equestrian gens Vipsania. His father was Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, one of Augustus' leading generals, and his mother was Julia the Elder, the daughter of Augustus and his second wife Scribonia. Postumus was the third son and last child of Agrippa and Julia; his older siblings were Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, and Agrippina the Elder. His brothers, Gaius and Lucius, were both adopted by Augustus following the birth of Lucius in 17 BC.
Before his brother Gaius left Rome for Asia, Gaius and Lucius were given the authority to consecrate the Temple of Mars Ultor (1 August 2 BC), and they managed the games held to celebrate the Temple's dedication. Postumus was still a schoolboy, and participated in the Lusus Troiae ("Trojan Games") with the rest of the equestrian youth. At these games, According to Cassius Dio, 260 lions were slaughtered in the Circus Maximus, there was gladiatorial combat and a naval battle between the "Persians" and the "Athenians", and 36 crocodiles were slaughtered in the Circus Flaminius.
At first Augustus opted not to adopt Postumus so that Agrippa had at least one son to carry on his family name. However, the untimely deaths of principes Lucius (d. AD 2) and Gaius (d. AD 4) forced Augustus to adopt Postumus (his only remaining biological grandson) and Tiberius (the eldest son of Augustus' third wife Livia) on 26 June AD 4 to secure the succession. He agreed to adopt Tiberius on condition that Tiberius first adopt Germanicus. Upon his adoption into the Julii Caesares, Postumus assumed the name "Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus". Following the adoptions of AD 4, in the event of Augustus' death, the title of princeps would pass first to Tiberius and then from Tiberius to Germanicus.
It was not intended that Postumus receive the emperorship; instead, he was meant to be the heir to Augustus' bloodline. Postumus would receive Augustus' name, property, and bloodline, but not the title of princeps. Indeed, Postumus was not given any special schooling or treatment following his adoption. In AD 5, he received the toga virilis at 15, and his name was added to the list of aristocratic youth eligible for training as military officers. This differed greatly from the honors received by his brothers, who were both conducted into the Forum by Augustus himself to commemorate their adoptions, given the title Princeps Iuventutis ("Leader of the Youth"), and promised the consulship five years in advance, to be held when they reached nineteen.
That year, in AD 6, an uprising began in the Roman province of Illyricum. Augustus sent Tiberius to crush the revolt with his army, and after a year of delayed results, he sent Germanicus in his capacity as quaestor to assist in bringing the war to a swift end. The reason, Dio says, that Germanicus was chosen over Postumus is because Postumus was of an "illiberal nature".
Postumus was known for being brutish, insolent, stubborn, and potentially violent. He possessed great physical strength and showed little interest in anything other than fishing. He resisted all efforts to improve his behavior, forcing Augustus to "abdicate" him from the Julii in AD 6 and banish him to a villa at Surrentum, near Pompeii. As an abdicated adoptee (adoptatus abdicatus) he lost the Julian name and returned to the gens Vipsania. The ancient historian Velleius Paterculus had this to say of the banishment:
Hoc fere tempore Agrippa... mira pravitate animi atque ingenii in praecipitia conversus patris atque eiusdem avi sui animum alienavit sibi, moxque crescentibus in dies vitiis dignum furore suo habuit exitum.
About this time Agrippa...alienated from himself the affection of his father who was also his grandfather, falling into reckless ways by an amazing depravity of attitude and intellect; and soon, as his vices increased daily, he met the end which his madness deserved.
|—Velleius Paterculus 2.112.7||—Pettinger 2012, p. 103|
The following year, Augustus had the Senate make Postumus' banishment permanent and had him moved to Planasia (modern Pianosa, Italy), a small island between Italy and Corsica. Augustus bolstered the natural inaccessibility of the rocky island by having an armed guard installed there. The Senate was ordered to never allow his release.
No consensus has emerged as to why Augustus banished Postumus in AD 7. Tacitus suggests that Augustus' wife Livia had always disliked and shunned Postumus, as he stood in the way of her son Tiberius succeeding to power after Augustus, given that Postumus was a direct biological descendant of Augustus and Tiberius was not. Some modern historians theorise that Postumus may have become involved in a conspiracy against Augustus. Alternatively, it has been speculated that Postumus may have had learning difficulties. Postumus was held under intense security.
Postumus' sister Julia the Younger was banished around the same time (AD 8) and her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus was executed for allegedly plotting a conspiracy against Augustus. There was later a conspiracy to rescue Julia and Postumus by Lucius Audasius and Asinius Epicadus. Audasius was an accused forger of advanced age and Asinius was half-Illyrian. According to Suetonius, Audasius and Epicadus had planned to take Julia and Postumus by force to the armies. It is unclear what their exact plan was, or even which armies Suetonius was referring to, because the conspiracy was discovered early in its planning: possibly before they had even left Rome.
Death of Augustus
Augustus made no effort to contact Postumus until AD 14. In the summer of that year, Augustus left Rome, never to see the capital again. Our main ancient sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, suggest that he left Rome in the company of only one trusted friend, the senator Paullus Fabius Maximus. The two left for Planasia to pay Augustus' banished grandson a highly controversial visit.
Fabius and then Augustus himself died on their return, without revealing what they had been doing. Tacitus reports their visit to Planasia as a rumor, although Dio reports it as fact. According to the historian Robin Lane Fox, the visit has sometimes been dismissed by modern scholars. However, it has been shown that Augustus and Fabius were absent from Rome in mid-May of AD 14. At this date, Augustus' adopted grandson, Drusus the Younger, was being admitted into the Arval Brethren, and an inscription (ILS, 5026) shows that both Augustus and Fabius voted in absentia to admit him into the priesthood.
There was much gossip over the outcome of their expedition. Tacitus recounts the rumor that Augustus had decided to reverse his decision and make Postumus his successor. In his account, Fabius indiscreetly told his wife what had occurred during the trip, and it cost him his life. Augustus' wife Livia, too, was said to have poisoned her husband in order to prevent Postumus becoming the successor and thus supplanting her son Tiberius. While modern historians, including Fox, agree that such stories are highly unlikely, there is evidence that Augustus' journey was historical. "It is the last act in Augustus' long marathon of finding and keeping an heir to the new Empire".
Accession of Tiberius
Augustus died on 19 August AD 14. Despite being banished, Postumus had not legally been disinherited, and so could claim a share in Augustus' inheritance. According to Augustus' will, sealed on 3 April AD 13, Tiberius would inherit two-thirds of his estate, and Livia one-third. There is no mention of Postumus in the document. Tiberius gave the eulogy at Augustus' funeral and made a show of reluctantly accepting the title of princeps.
At almost the same time as Augustus' death, Postumus was killed by centurion Gaius Sallustius Crispus, the great-nephew and adopted son of the historian Sallust. When Crispus reported to Tiberius that "his orders have been carried out", Tiberius threatened to bring the matter before the Senate, professing that he had given no such orders. Tiberius denied any involvement, arguing that he had been en route to Illyricum when he was recalled to Rome, and later issued a statement that it was his father who gave the order that Agrippa Postumus not survive him. It is not clear if the killing was carried out before or after Tiberius became emperor.
Two years later, there was an attempt by Postumus' former slave Clemens to impersonate him. The attempt of Clemens to impersonate Postumus was only successful because people could not remember what he looked like, although Dio also says there was a resemblance between the two. The impersonation was carried out by the same slave who had set out in AD 14 to ship Postumus away and the act was met with considerable success among the plebs.
According to the historian Erich S. Gruen, various contemporary sources state that Postumus was a "vulgar young man, brutal and brutish, and of depraved character". The Roman historian Tacitus defended him, but his praise was slight: "[He was] the young, physically tough, indeed brutish, Agrippa Postumus. Though devoid of every good quality, he had been involved in no scandal."
It was common for ancient historians to portray Postumus as dim-witted and brutish. Velleius portrays Postumus as having had a deformed or perverse character, Dio records a propensity to violence ("He had an impetuous temper...") and a devotion to "servile pursuits", while Tacitus and Suetonius both describe him as fierce ("ferox"). Contemporaries were reported to have described Postumus as wild ("trux"), while Suetonius is in agreement with Dio's "servile pursuits" depiction. Historian Andrew Pettinger argues that these descriptions of Postumus reveal a moral inadequacy, not a mental disorder.
Postumus is depicted in many works of art due to his relationship with the leading family of the early Roman Empire. They include:
- I, Claudius (1934), a novel by Robert Graves, presents Postumus in a positive light, as a boyhood friend of the narrator, Claudius. It creates a fictional incident in which Postumus is framed by Livia and her granddaughter Livilla for the attempted rape of Livilla, as a means of all but guaranteeing Tiberius' succession to the emperorship. Postumus is banished to Planasia but escapes execution when Augustus arranges for his impersonation of his freed slave Clemens, who is later executed by Crispus, unwittingly in Postumus' stead. The real Postumus spends time on the run, but is eventually captured and executed by Tiberius.
- In The Caesars (1968), a television series by Philip Mackie, Postumus was played by Derek Newark. Here Postumus is sentenced to death by Augustus, who decides to permanently remove his only remaining grandson as an obstacle to the succession of Tiberius.
- In I, Claudius (1976), a television series by Jack Pulman based on Graves' novels, Postumus was played by John Castle. This retains the story from the novel of Postumus being framed for the assault on Livilla, and the later visit to Planasia by Augustus, but removes his fictional survival and shifts the events concerning his banishment to after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. He is killed by Sejanus on Planasia after Augustus' death.
- Mudd 2012, p. 115: "The elder Agrippa died, in the summer of 12 BC, while Julia was pregnant with their fifth child. The boy was very likely born sometime after June 26 of the following year. When his grandfather adopted him, on the same date in AD 4, the youth had not yet assumed the toga virilis; therefore, he was probably less than 15 years of age."
- Koortbojian 2013, p. 161
- Vagi 1999, p. 111
- Pettinger 2012, p. 47
- Smith 1873, p. 78
- Powell 2015, pp. 159–160
- Mudd 2012, p. 115
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, LV.10
- Mudd 2012, pp. 115-116
- Pettinger 2012, p. 235
- Mudd 2012, p. 116
- Levick 2012, p. 16
- Cassius Dio, Roman History LV.31
- Cassius Dio, Roman History LV.32
- Powell 2015, p. 193
- Mudd 2012, pp. 116-117
- Norwood 1963, p. 153
- Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Augustus 65
- Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Augustus 19
- Pettinger 2012, pp. 138–141
- Fox 2006, p. 471
- Fox 2006, pp. 471-472
- Fox 2006, p. 472
- Levick 1976, p. 45
- Levick 1976, p. 46
- Cassius Dio, Roman History LVII.16
- Gruen (2005), 49.
- Tacitus, The Annals 1.3
- Swan 2004, p. 209
- Pettinger 2012, p. 50
- Gibson 2015, p. 262
- Dumont 2009, p. 365
- Terrace 1981, p. 94
- Alston 1998, p. 21
- Alston, Richard (1998), Aspects of Roman History AD 14–117, Routledge, ISBN 0-203-20095-0
- Dumont, Hervé (2009), L'Antiquité au cinéma: Vérités, légendes et manipulations (in French), Nouveau monde éditions, ISBN 9782847364767
- Gibson, A. G. G. (2015), Robert Graves and the Classical Tradition, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780191057977
- Koortbojian, Michael (2013), The Divinization of Caesar and Augustus, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521192156
- Levick, Barbara (1976), Tiberius the Politician, Routledge, ISBN 0-203-16513-6
- Levick, Barbara (2012), Claudius, Routledge, ISBN 9781135107710
- Fox, Robin Lane (2006), The Classical World: An Epic History From Homer to Hadrian, Basic Books, ISBN 9780465024964
- Mudd, Mary (2012), I, Livia: The Counterfeit Criminal. the Story of a Much Maligned Woman, Trafford Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4120-4606-0
- Norwood, Frances (1963), "The Riddle of Ovid's Relegatio", Classical Philology, 58
- Pettinger, Andrew (2012), The Republic in Danger: Drusus Libo and the Succession of Tiberius, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199601745
- Powell, Lindsay (2015), Marcus Agrippa: Right-hand Man of Caesar Augustus, Pen & Sword Military, ISBN 9781848846173
- Swan, Michael Peter (2004), The Augustan Succession: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Roman History, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-516774-0
- Terrace, Vincent (1981), Television: 1970-1980, A.S. Barnes, ISBN 9780498025396
- Vagi, David L. (1999), Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, C. 82 B.C.--A.D. 480: History, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, ISBN 1-57958-316-4
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1873). "Agrippa Postumus". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. p. 78.