Bad Mothers in History: Agrippina

To celebrate Mother’s Day here in the United States (and in many other countries) but to keep with our strange theme, what better way then to tell the story of a particularly terrible mother from history?  Most history buffs have heard of Nero – the infamous Roman emperor who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned.  His mother was Agrippina the Younger, sister of Caligula and the fourth wife of Claudius.  Nero was not Claudius’ son, but the older man adopted the boy upon marrying his mother.

Nerón_y_AgripinaDespite being overbearing and very hard on her son, Agrippina clearly stood behind her son, at least early on.  Having been raised in the imperial household, Agrippina was a very politically astute woman and used this knowledge to help her son be named as his step-father’s heir.  However, during her time as Empress, Agrippina had grown used to a certain level of power and influence that her son would not allow once he was secure in his authority.  Feuds between mother and son grew more and more vicious and public.

There are a variety of sources about the strange road this feud took that sometimes contradict each other, but what is clear is that Nero tried repeatedly to have his mother killed.  She was poisoned by her son on at least 3 different occasions, all of which failed when she took an antidote.  He then had a false ceiling rigged in her bedroom that was designed to collapse on top of her as she slept.  Agrippina, however, has informed of the plot and escaped.  He tried yet again, arranging to have a boat she was on to sink, but again she escaped by swimming to shore.  Having tried and failed to assassinate his mother FIVE times, Nero finally gave up doing the deed by devious means and simply had her stabbed with a dagger and then passed off her death as a suicide.

Featured Image: “Agrippina Minor.” By Anonymous (Rome) – Own work (BurgererSF), CC0.
Image 1. “Nero and Agrippina.” By Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Suetonius, “Nero.” The Twelve Caesars.”

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