XVI

THE MURDER OF NERO’S MOTHER

Nero had a new love. He continued to keep the loyal Acte as his mistress, but now he was thinking seriously about taking another wife. Her name was Poppaea Sabina. She was the beautiful wife of his best friend, Marcus Salvius Otho, who was a similar age to Nero and had shared his youthful days of wine, women, and song prior to the death of Claudius. Plutarch says that to keep Sabina for himself, in A.D. 58, at Seneca’s suggestion Nero sent Otho to become governor of the province of Lusitania, which covered much of present-day Portugal, and kept Sabina at Rome to warm his bed.¹

Although Sabina’s father had been executed in the reign of Tiberius for being an enthusiastic supporter of Sejanus, and her mother had been punished as an adulteress, Sabina came from a noble bloodline; Triumphs had been awarded to generals who had been her forebears. The ambitious Sabina was anxious for Nero to divorce Claudius’s daughter Octavia and then make her his second wife. If Nero was not prepared to marry her, she said, then he should send her back to Otho.² But Nero knew that his mother would violently oppose any divorce. Agrippina was determined that the political marriage between Nero and Octavia, which bound the imperial Julian and Claudian families together, should last.

Through her spies, Agrippina came to hear about her son’s passionate affair with his best friend’s wife. Girding her courage and determination, Agrippina returned to Rome and tried to convince Nero that he did not need to marry Sabina. Various stories would be told about the methods Agrippina used to sway her son away from Sabina. Tacitus says that all the historians of the day but one wrote that Agrippina several times went to Nero’s dining room in the middle of the day, when he was enjoying lunch and was “flushed with wine,” and attempted to seduce him, lavishing “wanton kisses and caresses on him” to bring him back under her control.³

Nero at first resisted his mother’s attentions, but then seemed to be weakening. Seneca, warned of this, prepared to counter his former lover’s attempt to hijack Nero’s affections. The next time Agrippina made an appearance when Nero was lunching, Seneca hurried Acte into the room. Bravely and publicly, Acte warned Nero against incest, assuring him that the soldiers of Rome would not tolerate an emperor who stooped to such behavior. This succeeded in scaring Nero, and after this episode he would not permit his mother to be alone with him. Tacitus was to say that the general belief was that Agrippina certainly would have gone through with such an act had Nero succumbed to her charms. With her background, from bedding her brother-in-law to making her uncle her husband, Tacitus and many others believed, having sex with her own son would have been totally in character.

Foiled for now, Agrippina again withdrew to her country estates. Despite this, Nero despaired that no matter where she lived, with her “overwatchful, overcritical eye,” she would be a formidable adversary who would oppose him no matter what he wanted to do. He began to think about how he could remove her from the scene, encouraged, according to Dio, by Seneca—as “many trustworthy men have stated.” Murder seemed the only option.

The murder of Britannicus had served as Nero’s apprenticeship in homicide. That, too, had been driven by Nero’s fear of his mother. Now, driven to distraction by Agrippina, he would perfect the art of the assassin with matricide. He first considered poison, but then realized that of all people, his mother would have learned to take the most stringent precautions against poison over the years—her servants were incredibly loyal, and it was said that she regularly took antidotes against various poisons.

According to Dio, in early A.D. 59 Nero was attending a public spectacle in the crowded amphitheater, when he had an idea. Before his eyes, a ship automatically split open, disgorged animals that were to be hunted down, then closed again. Back at the Palatium, Nero sent for the commander of the Roman battle fleet based at Misenum, southwest of Rome. The admiral, a freedman named Anicetus, had served as Nero’s tutor immediately prior to Seneca’s appointment to that position. Seamanship or naval experience were not always qualities required of commanders of Rome’s battle fleets; their appointments were often merely rewards for service.

Nero told Anicetus about the collapsible ship he had seen. Then he asked if Anicetus could build a ship that would sail like any other but that could be made to fall apart at sea in an instant. When the admiral replied that it should be entirely possible, and asked what it was to be used for, Nero confided that he wished to be rid of his mother. Anicetus understood immediately, as Nero knew he would—for Anicetus had never forgiven Agrippina for removing him from the prestigious post of Nero’s tutor and replacing him with Seneca.

“No place is more prone to accidents than the sea,” said Anicetus. “And who would suggest that an offense committed by wind and waves was a crime?”

Nero now had his murder accomplice. Promised significant rewards by the emperor and sworn to total secrecy, Anicetus hurried back to Misenum to have a collapsible ship constructed. Nero told him he wanted the vessel ready by March 19, when he would be celebrating the five-day Festival of Minerva at Baiae in Campania, on the western coast of Italy. In the meantime, Nero pretended to make up with his mother, sending her notes in which he said that children should be more tolerant of the irritability of their parents, and then inviting her to join him at Baiae to celebrate the Festival of Minerva between March 19 and 23. At first suspicious of Nero’s motives, Agrippina, anxious to regain her influence over her son and hoping he was sincere, finally, after ignoring several letters from him, agreed to come to Baiae for the Festival of Minerva.

In the third week of March, Nero went down to Baiae, which was on the Bay of Naples. He took up residence at a charming seaside villa there owned by the senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a relative of the Piso condemned for the murder of Nero’s grandfather Germanicus. At the same time, Nero’s mother came up from Anzio aboard a trireme of the Tyrrhenian Fleet. Mastered by a navarchus (naval captain) named Herculeius, this particular warship with three banks of oars was the usual mode of transport of Agrippina, the “queen mother,” when she took to the water. The trireme, a light, fast warship that would equate with a destroyer today, employed some 170 barefoot freedmen oarsmen and 15 deckhands. Its crew also included 40 soldiers of Rome’s marine corps. Accompanying Agrippina on the journey to Baiae aboard the trireme were her lady-in-waiting, Acerronia Pola; her friend and chaperone, Crepereius Gallus; her freedmen, Agerinus and Mnester; and a number of personal slaves.

On the morning of March 19, when the trireme carrying Agrippina tied up at one of the stone jetties of Baiae, where many villas of wealthy Romans extended into the sea, Nero was there, waiting to greet his mother. Behind him spread his entourage, which included the chief secretary Seneca, the Praetorian prefect Burrus, and the prefect of the fleet Anicetus—who had come from nearby Misenum—as well as numerous freedmen and slaves, and officers and men of the Praetorian Guard and German Guard.

When forty-three-year-old Agrippina stepped ashore, twenty-one-year-old Nero came forward, beaming, extending his arms. Mother and son embraced. Nero then conducted Agrippina to waiting litters. With his mother in one litter and himself in another, and surrounded by servants and guards, the emperor led the way around the cove. Midway between Baiae and Cape Misenum there was an estate called Bauli, which originally had been owned by Quintus Hortensius, a consul in 69 B.C. Behind high walls, the expansive Bauli villa spread beside the water like a modern-day holiday resort.

Here, Agrippina and her party were to spend the five days of the festival. Here, too, drawn up on the sands of the beach, was a handsome little ship, commanded by Volusius Proculus, an officer from the Roman Navy’s Tyrrhenian Fleet.¹ Richly decorated with gold and jewels, the brand-new ship had a cabin in the stern draped with silk and fitted with a luxurious couch. This beautiful vessel, said Nero, was his gift to his mother. Before Nero parted from Agrippina, he invited her to join him for dinner at his villa at Baiae that night, and she accepted. Nero was then conveyed back to Baiae.

During the afternoon, while she was making herself comfortable at the Bauli villa, word reached Agrippina via her staff that there was a plot against her life, involving a ship. Looking out the open windows of her quarters to the sparkling waters of the Bay of Naples, she could see the ship that Nero had presented to her being readied to take her back around the bay to Baiae for her dinner engagement. Although she was in doubt whether she should believe the rumor, to be on the safe side she gave credence to the warning and issued instructions for her litter to be prepared for the hour-long trek to Baiae.

Late in the afternoon, leaving her freedmen Agerinus and Mnester in charge at Bauli, Agrippina was carried around the cove in her litter, arriving at the emperor’s Baiae villa accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, Acerronia Pola, and her chaperone, Crepereius Gallus. Nero graciously received his mother, using soothing words to allay any fears she had. Once she had removed her footwear and had her feet washed by slaves, as was the Roman custom prior to dining, she was conveyed across the dining room in slippers by her son and placed in the place of honor on the dining couch beside him.

It was the first time in a year or more that Agrippina had eaten with her son, and the festive occasion was enjoyed by all present at the dinner table, which included Seneca, Burrus, Anicetus, and Agrippina’s two companions. Nero prolonged the banquet, first with lively conversation, and then with more serious remarks. It was not until the water clock denoted the seventh hour, signifying that midnight had arrived, that Agrippina rose to leave. Nero took her hand and escorted her down to the Baiae jetty. In the light of blazing torches, the little ship, Nero’s gift to his mother, sat waiting there, having followed her around the bay that afternoon. Nero urged her to use the ship for a swift return to Bauli.

Agrippina, thrilled that her relationship with Nero seemed to once again be on a stable footing, had drunk quite a lot of wine, and her guard was down. Her earlier fears and suspicions having by this time dissipated, she told her companions to board the ship. Nero now emotionally bade his mother farewell, clinging to her for a time, then kissing her on the eyes and on the breasts. “Strength and good health to you, Mother,” he said. “For you I live, and because of you I rule.”¹¹

Tacitus was to suggest that either this show of affection was an act or Nero was genuinely emotional because he anticipated that this would be the last sight he would have of his mother while she still lived and breathed.¹² Agrippina now turned, and climbed the gangway to the ship. The crewmen scuttled about, the gangway was hauled in, lines were cast off, and the ship slid out into the night, its oars rising and falling rhythmically. Nero stood waving until the ship pulled away and disappeared into the darkness, then traipsed back to his villa. Even though it was now into the early hours of the morning and his companions went to their beds, Nero sat up in his quarters, alone, waiting.

It was a stunningly beautiful night. The heavens glittered with starlight, and the sea was tranquil. As the ship slid across the water, following the shoreline around the bay, Agrippina lounged on the couch in the little stern cabin on the main deck. She was in high spirits. Recalling the wonderful dinner with her boy, she was awash with delight at Nero’s “repentance” and at the prospect of once more exercising control over him, and the empire.¹³ Her lady-in-waiting, Acerronia, lolled at her feet, hiding yawns, while her friend and chaperone, Gallus, stood alertly at the entrance to the cabin. None of them seemed to suspect a thing. The ship’s captain, Volusius, now gave a signal to several of his crew who were in on the Anicetus plot.

Without warning, the ceiling of the ship’s cabin, which had been deliberately loaded with lead, collapsed on the occupants. Agrippina’s chaperone, Gallus, was killed instantly. Agrippina herself managed to duck just in time. The arms of her couch saved both her and lady-in-waiting Acerronia from the same fate as Gallus. For a moment there was silence. And then Acerronia came crawling out from under the debris. “Help the mother of the emperor!” she wailed.¹

Crewmen who had been brought into the plot by their skipper, hearing the woman’s cries in the darkness, took Acerronia to be the emperor’s mother and set about her with oars and anything else they could lay their hands on. Mercilessly, they battered Acerronia to death. In the middle of this murderous mayhem, the lever that was supposed to make the ship fall apart failed to work when the captain, Volusius, pulled it. So members of the conspiracy all rushed to one side of the ship in an attempt to capsize it. Other crewmen, the majority of whom were not party to the plot, rushed to the other side to counter them and save the ship. In this chaos, Agrippina dragged herself from the wreckage of the cabin. A crewman spotted her and swung at her with an oar, striking her a painful blow to the shoulder. But in the confusion and the darkness, the emperor’s mother was able to slip over the side and into the water, undetected.

Most Romans could not swim, but Agrippina was an exception. Despite her limited swimming skills and her injured shoulder, she made her way toward land. As she swam through the night, she came on six-oared fishing boats standing offshore. Fishermen hauled her from the water and into one of the boats, then rowed her to the beach. As she was staggering through the doorway of the Bauli villa and falling into the arms of astonished servants, the fishermen were running through the district calling out to all the residents that the emperor’s mother had just been saved from a terrible boating accident.

Once Agrippina had composed herself, she pondered hard on what to do next. The collapse of the stern section of the ship that Nero had just presented to her was beyond coincidence. Yet it seems she could not bring herself to publicly accuse her son of engineering an attempt on her life. She instructed her freedman Agerinus to hurry to the emperor at Baiae and inform him that by the grace of heaven she had survived a terrible disaster. But, she said, Agerinus was to tell the emperor that he should not trouble himself to come to her, but instead let her rest. As her man mounted a horse and rode away on his mission to Nero, Agrippina quietly lamented the death of her friend Acerronia, and ordered her now wide-awake servants to search for Acerronia’s last will and testament. At the same time, uncertain about her own future, she had her own will sealed. As she applied ointment to her wounded shoulder and drank a bracing medicine, she pretended that all was well in her world.

At the villa at Baiae, Nero had been spending a sleepless night sitting in his bedchamber, waiting for news from the bay. Finally, in the last hours of darkness, a hall porter came to him to say that Agrippina’s freedman Agerinus had just arrived at the villa and was requesting an urgent audience with the emperor. Nero’s heart must have been beating fast as he demanded to know what news Agerinus had brought of his mother. There had been a tragic boating accident, Agerinus had told the emperor’s servant, an accident that had killed two friends of the emperor’s mother. But Agrippina herself had survived with just a minor injury. Nero looked at the servant with widening eyes. He was temporarily paralyzed by fear, says Tacitus. Once he overcome his shock, he sent for Seneca, Burrus, and the admiral Anicetus. The admiral was, of course, a party to the murder plot, and Tacitus was to suspect that both Seneca and Burrus were already also “part of the secret.”¹

In a panic, Nero told the three bleary-eyed officials what had happened. Then he shrieked, “My mother will show herself here any moment! Eager for vengeance! She’ll either arm the slaves or stir up the soldiers. Or she’ll rush to the Senate and the people. She’ll charge me with the wreck of the ship, with wounding her, with the murder of her friends! What should I do?” Wide-eyed, young Nero looked at his chief secretary, who was several paces in advance of Burrus, who in turn was in front of a shuddering Anicetus. “Seneca? Burrus? Think of something,” Nero pleaded.¹

Neither Seneca nor Burrus replied. After a long pause, Seneca turned to Burrus, raising his eyebrows. The Praetorian colonel knew what was in Seneca’s mind, and shook his head—his soldiers would not finish what Nero had begun by drawing their swords against Agrippina. “The Praetorians are attached to the entire Caesar family,” he said. “Remembering Germanicus, they wouldn’t dare touch his child. It’s up to Anicetus to keep his promise.”¹

With narrowing eyes, Nero looked at Anicetus. The admiral gulped and then, knowing that he had failed the emperor, quickly volunteered to put things right. “I will finish it, Caesar.”

Beaming, Nero hurried across the room to his former tutor and embraced him, clapping him on the back. “This day will give me my empire, and a freedman will be the creator of this mighty achievement. Go, with all speed. And take those men with you who are the most willing to carry out your orders.”¹

Anicetus then hurried away to complete his mission, intent on making it appear as if Agrippina had committed suicide. Nero was left looking at Seneca and Burrus. There was still the problem of his mother’s freedman Agerinus, who was waiting in another part of the villa to see the emperor and deliver the message from his mistress. Too many people knew that Agerinus had come to Baiae, and why. Whether what followed was Nero’s idea we are not told. It is quite likely that Seneca or Burrus came up with the plan. As a result of the suggestion of one or the other, Burrus strode to one of the German Guards standing at the door, slid the surprised man’s sword from its sheath, then handed the sword to Nero. The emperor then sent for his mother’s servant.

Freedman Agerinus was ushered into the emperor’s presence. He found Nero standing at the end of the room with his hands behind his back. The German Guard’s sword was in Nero’s left hand, trailing down his leg, out of Agerinus’s sight. After bowing deeply, Agerinus hurried forward and proceeded to gush his message. He was halfway through it when Nero suddenly produced the sword. He held it out. Agerinus looked at the sword in sudden fear. Nero let the sword drop. It clanged onto the tiled floor in front of Agerinus and lay there. The freedman had stopped in midsentence. Totally puzzled now, he looked at the sword, then at Nero.

“Guards!” Nero called. “This man has been caught in the middle of a criminal act. Put him in irons!”¹

The German Guards at the door strode forward and grabbed hold of the astonished Agerinus. They dragged him, protesting his innocence, from the room. Charged with making an attempt on the emperor’s life, his fate would be immediate execution. Nero’s intent was to claim to the Senate and the world that his mother had sent her man to murder him and that after Agerinus had been caught red-handed, Agrippina had taken her own life. As Seneca was to write in one of his plays, “The best way to get away with a crime is with another crime.”² Just one last thing was required for the fiction to be complete: the murder of Agrippina.

When Anicetus left the imperial villa after vowing to Nero that he would finish off Agrippina, he went directly to the Baiae jetty where the trireme that had brought her up from Anzio was tied up. The warship’s captain, Herculeius, was a freedman, as were all the marines serving on the ship. Freedmen, being former slaves, were not Roman citizens, and did not feel the same attachment to the family of the Caesars that the citizen soldiers of the Praetorian Guard and the legions did. Marines were actually on the lowest rung of the Roman military. They were even paid less and served a year longer, with twenty-six-year enlistments, than did noncitizen foreigners of the Roman Army’s auxiliary infantry and cavalry. With promises of rich rewards, Anicetus quickly convinced the navarchus Herculeius and the centurion Obaritus, commander of the ship’s contingent of marines, to join him in ending the life of the emperor’s mother.

The trireme’s forty marines marched with the three officers from Baiae around the cove to Bauli Villa. On their way, they passed hundreds of anxious civilians, many of them on the beach milling about uncertainly with burning torches after having heard that the emperor’s mother had been involved in a boating accident on the bay. A number of people outside the walls of the sprawling Bauli Villa, anxiously awaiting news of Agrippina, quickly dispersed as the marines marched up to the complex. The outer gates had been closed and locked, but the marines soon forced them open.

As marines came through the shattered gates with flaming torches in hand, a large number of Agrippina’s slaves stood bunched in their path, unarmed but determined not to let the troops pass. They were quickly dragged away, as riot police might drag away passive protesters today. Anicetus, Herculeius, and the centurion Obaritus forced their way into the house, with chosen marines close on their heels. Several of Agrippina’s staff members, including her freedman Mnester, stood with folded arms in front of a particular door, signifying that their mistress lay beyond it. Mnester and his companions were roughly pushed aside. The door was flung open. Inside the room, a triclinium (dining room), a single oil lamp flickered, revealing Agrippina reclining on a dining couch facing the window, with a view of the beach and bay beyond. A servant girl sat on the couch beside her mistress. As Anicetus, Herculeius, and Obaritus came through the doorway, the girl suddenly looked fearful and came to her feet.

Agrippina reached out to the girl. “Are you too going to desert me?” Then Agrippina turned, to see the three sour-faced officers. “If you have come to visit me,” she said to them, “take back word that I have recovered.” Then she noticed that Herculeius the trireme captain had a wooden baton in his hand, the kind used on ships for repelling boarders. “But if you’re here to commit a crime, I refuse to believe that my son has anything to do with it. He could not have ordered the murder of his own mother.”²¹

As the three men closed around her couch without a word, the servant girl fled from the room. Behind Agrippina, Herculeius raised his club, and crashed it down on her skull. But it was not a killer blow. Dazed but still conscious, Agrippina glared defiantly at her assassins. The centurion Obaritus deliberately drew his gladius from the sheath on his left hip.

Agrippina ripped open her dress, exposing her midriff. “Strike here, strike my womb!” she cried, daring the centurion to strike the womb from which his emperor had come.²²

Obaritus had no compunction about what he had come to do. He accepted Agrippina’s invitation and plunged his sword into the emperor’s mother. According to Seneca, who should have been in possession of all the gory details, she died a slow death.²³ Tacitus writes that the centurion had to put his sword into her not once, but time and time again.² Once this killing frenzy was at an end, Seneca was to write, Agrippina’s body had been mutilated by the numerous sword thrusts.² Agrippina the Younger, daughter of the legendary Germanicus Caesar, the same Agrippina the Younger whose earliest memories may have included riding through the streets of Rome in a golden chariot on her father’s glorious Triumph day, died a bloody, seedy death there on the couch at the Bauli villa.

Tacitus was to relate a story that many years earlier, when Nero was quite young, Agrippina had consulted astrologers about her son’s future. This was the occasion on which these same astrologers had told her that Nero must not claim the throne until after midday. The astrologers had warned Agrippina that her son would indeed become emperor, but he also would kill his mother. “Let him kill me,” she had allegedly responded, “as long as he becomes emperor.”²

A messenger hurried around the bay from Anicetus to Baiae Villa, to inform the emperor that his mother was dead. Tacitus says that once he received this news, Nero spent the remaining hours of the night in stupefied silence, waiting, terrified and almost in disbelief, for the dawn. Already he was racked with guilt. And he was in terror of what the Roman people would think when they heard about the bloody death of his mother, the daughter and last surviving child of Germanicus, and what they might do about it.

Some classical authors would write that Nero actually looked at his mother’s dead body and praised her beauty. Two hundred years later, Dio would repeat that story in his account of Nero’s rule, adding that Nero remarked, “I didn’t know that I had such a beautiful mother.”² Suetonius, writing seventy years after the event, gave a similar account.² But the histories of both Dio and Suetonius were fervently biased against Nero, and both authors could on occasion take the most sensational routes with their writings. As for the more sober and reliable Tacitus, he reports that some authors of the day related that same story, “while others deny it.”²

With Tacitus relating that it took many sword thrusts to complete the murder, and as Seneca, who must be considered the most authoritative source of all, describes Agrippina’s body being mutilated by the centurion’s sword, there can have been no beautiful body to admire, destroying the credibility of the stories of Suetonius and Dio. Besides, it seems highly unlikely that Nero would so closely associate himself with the murder by viewing his mother’s body—that would have meant having the corpse brought to him at Baiae, or, alternatively, he would have gone to the beachside villa at Bauli, scene of the murder. Both acts would have been provocative in the highly charged climate of public concern for the welfare of Agrippina in the district following the boating “accident.” Tellingly, no author, not even Dio or Suetonius, talks of the body being brought to Baiae nor of Nero going to Bauli to view it, which seems to effectively scotch that story.

That same night, Mnester, Agrippina’s surviving freedman, had his mistress’s body carried, on the dining couch on which she had died, up to the promontory of Cape Misenum. She was cremated on the couch, at a spot close to the Marian Villa where Julius Caesar had spent time and where Tiberius had died, and a sepulchre was later built on the spot. Tacitus says that the mournful sounds of a funeral trumpet were heard wafting down from the heights in the early hours of the morning. Once Mnester’s mistress had been consumed by the flames, the faithful servant fell on a sword and killed himself.

As the sun began to rise on the morning of March 20, all the tribunes and centurions at the Baiae villa came to Nero, at the prompting of their prefect Burrus, and, shaking his hand, congratulated him on escaping “his mother’s daring crime.”³ Nero’s friends Seneca, Burrus, and others went to the nearby temples to offer thanks for the young emperor’s deliverance, and as the news spread, people throughout surrounding Campania did the same. But Nero was in shock. Suetonius would say that Nero was unable, then or later, to free his conscience of the guilt of his mother’s murder.³¹All through the morning of March 20, he wept uncontrollably. He seemed, says Tacitus, almost angry³²—whether angry with himself, with his mother’s killers, with his mother, or with the gods, we can only guess. Pulling himself together in the afternoon, he departed the scene, removing himself and his court to Neopolis, today’s city of Naples.

At Naples, the cunning and composed Seneca wrote a long letter to the Senate, which would go to Rome in Nero’s name, to explain away the murder of the emperor’s revered mother. Agerinus, so Seneca’s letter to the Senate claimed, had been sent by Agrippina to murder the emperor, and when the assassination attempt failed, she had paid the ultimate penalty for her folly. Seneca went into great detail, raking up Agrippina’s old crimes and misdemeanors stretching back to the reign of Claudius, describing the men and women destroyed by Agrippina when she was Claudius’s empress, and attributing all the imperial oppression of that period to her. In a statement designed to cause the disaffection of the military in particular, she had even, said the letter, opposed the cash bequests—the “donatives,” as they were called—that Claudius had left to all soldiers and every Roman citizen in his will.

Seneca’s letter was hurried to Rome, to be read to the Senate in the emperor’s name to disguise the crime and excuse his part in it. Many senators suspected the truth of what had happened at Bauli. Who would be so stupid, Tacitus would ask in his Annals, as to believe that Agrippina’s ship had caved in by accident, or that she had sent a lone assassin to Nero’s villa in the belief that he could possibly get by the emperor’s numerous guards?³³ But knowing that the Praetorian Guard was firmly behind Nero, not a single senator had the courage to speak out against him. The person they did feel safe enough to criticize, says Tacitus, was Seneca, for applying his literary talent to the creation of such a lying document to cover up such a heinous crime.³

Despite their suspicions about the true cause of Agrippina’s death, the senators fell over themselves in their haste to fawn on the emperor. They decreed thanksgivings to the gods for their having allowed Nero to survive the fictional assassination attempt. They voted the creation of statues to celebrate the event. And they heaped ignominy on Agrippina’s memory—destroying her statues and all record of her achievements, even declaring that her birthday should be included on the official list of days considered inauspicious.

Such was the fate of the daughter of Germanicus who, only days before, had been much loved by the ordinary people and considered by Romans to be above reproach and beyond punishment. By the time that the assassination of Agrippina’s name had also been completed, the only thing she was permitted to share with her father was a murderous end. With one exception: in her case, the identity of her murderers was clear.

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