The Roman Emperor, Nero, standing over his mother, Agrippina the Younger’s corpse. The painter intended to show Nero grief-stricken, even though in First Century AD Rome, the grapevine had it that, Nero was fed up with her domineering, meddling ways and had had her assassinated by a hired Libyan assassin.
(If you have the feeling you have seen the above pic somewhere before, I poached it from an earlier post titled,”The impressionists and their genital-envy“. Do read it. It’s all about how impressionists liked to paint bare tits and tiny dicks.)
Before I tell you about all the power moms of ancient Rome, let’s take a closer look at the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that the power moms assassinated….
Augustus : 27 BC – AD 14 (First emperor of Rome / Julius Caesar’s stepson) : Most likely poisoned by wife, Livia, so her son from an earlier marriage – Tiberius could be emperor and she could sorta run things for him. Livia Drvsilla was one of the most Machiavellian but astute women of her time, destroying her enemies while managing to retain friendly relations with those of the elite that mattered and that included the Praetorian Guard. Perhaps it was for this reason that she was the only power mom who got away with murder and died a natural death.
Tiberius : AD 14 – AD 37 (Augustus’s stepson) : Smothered to death with a sofa cushion by a Praetorian Guardsman while another impaled him with a cyanide-tipped spear up his ass. The 1st Century AD historian, Pliny the Elder, however wrote that Agrippina the Elder (granddaughter of Augustus, mother of Caligula) orchestrated the killing. She wanted her son to be Emperor so she could be the power behind the throne. She succeeded, choosing an apt method. Tiberius was known to sodomize light-skinned Tunisian boys, so the cyanide-tipped enema.
Caligula : AD 37 – AD 41 (Augustus’s great grandson) : Turned out an asshole. Stabbed to death by his Praetorian Guards, because of it. During one of his drunken binges, he made his horse, Incitatus, a Consul. Consul in those days was a position that reported directly to the Emperor, a very big deal. Let me give you a parallel….
Imagine General Kenneth Mackenzie, the guy who head’s America’s CENTCOM (United States Central Command), a military jurisdiction that covers the whole of the Middle East, including West Asia, up to Iran and Afghanistan and in the south, Egypt. Now imagine if these are conquered lands (which they essentially are) and General Mackenzie has the power of life and death over the inhabitants of this vast region. He would then be exactly what a Consul in the Roman Empire used to be and Caligula made his horse a Consul. Wouldn’t you say Caligula was an asshole?
Caligula might still have gotten away with being a jerk but this time his Power Mom, Agrippina the Elder wasn’t around to save his ass. You see, she had already been incarcerated and beaten and starved to death by one of Tiberius’s henchmen, a horrible guy called Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Let me introduce him to you…
If you have been paying attention, the term “Praetorian Guard” has popped up in the text above. The Praetorian Guard was an elite unit whose members initially served as personal bodyguards of Emperor Augustus. Over successive generations however, they gradually expanded and evolved into a powerful entity that owned vast tracts of real estate and farmland, ran businesses, poked their noses into Roman statecraft and foreign policy, assassinated emperors and chose and installed their successors. The Praetorian Guard was much like Saddam’s Republican Guard Corps, Iran’s Quds Force or Putin’s FSB. These modern day parallels didn’t target their masters though. They terrorized all others.
Roman emperors came to depend on their Praetorian Guards to keep them in power and at the same time, they feared their power. The Prefect of the Praetorian Guard in Tiberius’s reign was that guy, Sejanus.
Claudius : AD 41 – AD 54 (Mark Antony’s grandson) : Perhaps the only just and reformist emperor of ancient Rome (aside from Marcus Aurelius two centuries later). Claudius was the 1st Century equivalent of 15th Century English monarch, King Richard-III. While Dicky was known to be a great king, he was a hunchback who suffered from a spinal condition known today as scoliosis. Naturally his appearance made him a singularly unattractive man. Claudius too looked like a fucking bozo. He had a perpetually running nose and an embarrassing stutter.
The historian, Tacitus wrote that the only thing that saved Claudius from assassination was his apparent harmlessness. After Caligula was killed by the Praetorian Guard, they came looking for him. Fearing a purge, afraid that he would be murdered next, Claudius hid behind the drapes in his bedroom, but the guardsmen found him. Claudius fell to his knees, begging for his life, but amazingly, instead of killing him they bowed and proclaimed him Emperor!
Claudius, begging for his life and the Praetorian Guard, bowing and swearing allegiance
The Praetorian Guard expected Claudius to rule as a figurehead but he surprised everyone, turning out to be an astute leader and a great conqueror. Claudius was the Roman Emperor who annexed Britain and gave it it’s name – Britannia. Maybe being handicapped makes one try harder and leads your adversaries to underestimate you, to their detriment.
Being good however didn’t help Claudius in the long fucking run. Claudius was married to a power hungry siren, Agrippina the Younger, a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, great granddaughter to Augustus, granddaughter to Tiberius, daughter of Agrippina the Elder. As a pastime, Agrippina the Younger financed a lab that developed exotic poisons.
Like her mom before her, Grippy the Younger too had plans for her son, an immoral 17-year old alcoholic prick whippersnapper called Nero. Not content to wait, one moonlit night when Claudius was settling down to dinner, Agrippina fed him a deadly herb called atropa belladonna (known today as ‘nightshade’).
Exit stage up, O great Claudius. Enter stage left : all round asshole – Nero.
Nero : AD 54 – AD 68 (Claudius’s stepson) : Started of as Claudius’s great-nephew and then adopted as his stepson. Turned out to be a flaming asshole, run through with his own sword by his secretary on his orders. Why? Earlier that day, the senate had declared him ‘enemy of the state’ because he had turned out to be an asshole. And trust me, he really was an asshole. He fiddled while Rome burned to the ground on his orders.
This time, his power mom, Agrippina the Younger, wasn’t there to save his ass. She had already been murdered by him, remember?
The sentence specified being beaten to death by the Praetorian Guard, obviously Nero saw being run through as a quicker and less painful option.
You saw any of the emperors die in bed of old age? Naah, assassinations were the norm in those days.
Like in the Mafia. Except for Joseph Bonanno and Carlo Gambino, almost all mafia capos were ‘whacked’ and for the same reason – succession. But of course, they weren’t killed by Machiavellian machinations of power moms, like their 1st century ancestors were.
One particular Roman power mom always fascinated me. Large breasted and exceptionally beautiful, she rose to become one of the most powerful women in the Roman Empire.
I am not sure if this woman had large breasts. I just like women in my blog posts to have large breasts and even if they didn’t actually have large breasts historically, my blog endows them with big jugs and if my post says she had large breasts, she had large breasts, period.
While still in her teens, this woman plotted against her own brother, the Emperor Caligula and when discovered, managed to escape execution by seducing him into a ménage à trois with another sister. I like a free thinking flower girl. She married her uncle, Emperor Claudius and attempted to inveigle her way into a position of influence but Claudius was too smart. He kept her at an arms length.
Maybe not too smart. Claudius fell for the cream of poisoned mushroom soup she served one night and he croaked it. With her son, Nero, as emperor she effectively ruled as regent, with the power of life and death over every living soul in Rome.
Meet Julia Agrippina, a.k.a Agrippina the Younger, mother of Emperor Nero, widow to Emperor Claudius and great granddaughter of Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus.
Let’s back up a bit, to the first Roman Emperor. Augustus, in spite of having fucked thousands of women as Emperor, couldn’t manage to have a son and thereby an heir. A male heir was a big deal. So Augie did the next best thing – he designated his two grandsons as his heirs.
This was millenia prior to the discovery of stuff like penicillin or antibiotics, a time when going down with even a sore throat and a cough could kill you. Pasteurization and refrigeration weren’t even concepts and you could easily end up consuming putrefied meat which could bring you down with salmonella and sure death. Heck, you could die of a stomach ache.
Augustus’s grandsons didn’t survive into the double digits. They most likely died of typhoid and he was left trying to figure out a way to secure his lineage. That was when he adopted Tiberius, his third wife, Livia’s son from an earlier marriage. Tiberius would go on to be emperor during the time Jesus Christ was crucified.
Alas, in ancient Rome signing adoption papers was sometimes akin to signing your own death warrant. Historians agree that, no sooner had the ink on the adoption papers dried, Livia fed Augustus poisoned figs to have Tiberius installed.
Oh yeah, poisons were a big thing in those days. There was no forensic science then. You could poison someone and pass it off as a stomach ache and no one was the wiser. Members of the elite financed and maintained hidden laboratories, churning out ever more exotic poisons.
What separated the men from the boys was the ability to develop antidotes in case you were poisoned. You had to have the resources to pay highly qualified chemists to develop not only the poisons but also their antidotes, just in case. And you had to be rich enough to have a dungeon full of slaves to try your concoctions out on.
The chemists very lavish lives. As long as they produced potent poisons, they were rewarded handsomely, awarded vast estates and armies of Nubian slaves. But often those lavish lives were short ones. A chemist could be executed on suspicion of leaking secrets to adversaries or killed out of spite for a rival nobleman.
One of the more well known chemists of the time was a broad named Locusta. A favorite of Nero, she was executed by his successor, the moment Nero was assassinated.
Aren’t you glad you weren’t there in ancient Rome? Phew!
Ps : Looking at your depth of intellect and attention span, I gotta end this post. But watch out. There’s more about Agrippina the Younger in Part-2 that your Uncle Spunky is going to tell you all about. As soon as he gets another Stella Artois from the fridge, that is.