|26 June 12 BC
20 August AD 14 (aged 25)
|Julia the Elder
Agrippa Postumus (26 June 12 BC – 20 August AD 14), also referred to as Postumus Agrippa, was a son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder. He was originally named Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus in honor of his father, who died shortly before Postumus' birth. After the deaths of his older brothers, Lucius (d. AD 2) and Gaius Caesar (d. AD 4), Postumus was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the Roman emperor Augustus. In accordance with Roman naming conventions, Postumus' name was changed to Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus. At the time Augustus considered Postumus as a potential successor, but banished him from Rome in 9AD, 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.
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, the son of Postumus' sister Agrippina the Elder. Nero, the last Julio-Claudian emperor, was a great-nephew of Postumus on the side of his mother (Caligula's sister), Agrippina the Younger.
Early life and personality
Agrippa Postumus was born on 26 June 12 BC during the early period of the Roman Empire. His father, the Roman general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, died in the same year shortly before the birth of Postumus. As a result, Agrippa's posthumous son was given the name Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus. His mother was Julia the Elder, daughter of the first Roman emperor 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 before Postumus was born. At first Augustus opted to not adopt Postumus so that Agrippa had at least one son to carry on his family name. However, the untimely deaths of Lucius (d. AD 2) and Gaius (d. AD 4) consequently led Augustus to finally adopt Postumus, as well as his stepson Tiberius by his third marriage to Livia Drusilla. Upon his adoption into the Julii Caesares, Postumus assumed the name Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus. As with Gaius and Lucius, Augustus adopted Postumus and Tiberius as his heirs.
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.
No clear consensus has ever emerged as to why in 9 AD Augustus banished Postumus to the small island of Planasia (near Elba). Tacitus suggests that Augustus' wife Livia always disliked and shunned Postumus, as he stood in the way of her son Tiberius succeeding to power after Augustus. A banishment (and eventual execution) for merely being rude and unpleasant, though, is a harsh sentence. Thus some modern historians theorise that Postumus may have become involved in a conspiracy against Augustus. Alternatively, it is 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 (8 AD) and her husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus was executed in a conspiracy against Augustus. Also, a conspiracy to rescue Postumus and Julia was planned and was foiled.
In any case, Postumus' banishment did ensure Tiberius' priority as the heir of Augustus. Tacitus reports a rumor that Augustus paid a highly covert visit to the island in 13 AD to apologise to his adopted son and to give him notice of plans to return him to Rome. Augustus allegedly travelled to Planasia with a trusted friend, Paullus Fabius Maximus, and swore him to secrecy about the matter; Maximus then told his wife, Marcia, who mentioned it to Livia. Maximus was soon found dead, and Marcia subsequently claimed she was responsible for his death. Cassius Dio's version reports the island visit as fact, though the brief account is likely based on Tacitus' account and does not mention Fabius and Marcia. It is dubious whether this tale has any veracity.
Regardless of Augustus' supposed visit, the emperor died the following year without having removed Postumus from Planasia and without including him in his will. Around Augustus' death, Postumus was executed by his guards with some accounts contradicting whether it happened before or after. Accounts are also inconsistent on who ordered the death and these existed almost from the start, when Tiberius immediately and publicly disavowed the act upon being notified of it. Some suggested that Augustus may have ordered the execution, while others place the blame on either Tiberius or Livia (with or possibly without Tiberius's knowledge), taking advantage of the confusing initial political situation upon Augustus' death.
Postumus was impersonated after his death by the former slave Clemens, who according to Cassius Dio, resembled him to a certain extent. Clemens gathered a significant band of followers to his cause, but was eventually captured and executed by Tiberius.
Robert Graves' work I, Claudius presents Postumus in a positive light, as a boyhood friend of Claudius. He suggests that, through Livia's influence, Augustus grew to dislike him, and Graves creates a fictional incident in which Postumus is framed by Livia and her granddaughter Livilla for attempted rape of the latter. Postumus tells Claudius of Livia's plans and advises him to play the fool. Graves also claims that Postumus escaped execution by impersonating the freed slave Clemens, spending time on the run, but eventually being captured and executed by Tiberius.
The television adaptation by Jack Pulman retained Postumus being framed for the assault on Livilla, and the visit later to Planasia by Augustus, but removed his fictional survival. He is killed by Sejanus on Planasia after Augustus's death. The character is portrayed by John Castle.
Agrippa Postumus was portrayed by English actor Derek Newark in the 1968 ITV historical drama The Caesars. In this series Postumus was sentenced to death by Augustus, who decided to permanently remove his only remaining grandson as an obstacle to the succession of Tiberius.
|Ancestors of Agrippa Postumus
- Plate, William (1867), "Agrippa, Postumus", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, p. 78
- Gruen (2005), 49.
- Tacitus, The Annals 1.3
- Norwood, Frances, "The Riddle of Ovid's Relegatio", Classical Philology (1963) p. 153
- Suetonius, The Lives of Caesars Life of Augustus 65
- Suetonius, The Lives of Caesars Life of Augustus 19
- Tacitus Annals 1.3
- Cassius Dio 56.30
- Tacitus Annals 1.1
- Tacitus, Annals 1.5
- Suetonius, Lives, Tiberius 22
- Pappano, Albert, "Agrippa Postumus", Classical Philology, 1941, p. 43