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Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 BC-12 BC) was a Roman statesman and general, son-in-law and minister of the emperor Caesar Augustus. He is best known for winning the naval Battle of Actium against the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Agrippa was of humble birth. He was of the same age as Octavian (as the emperor was then called), and was studying with him at Apollonia when news of Julius Caesar's assassination (44 BC) arrived. By his advice Octavian at once set out for Rome. Agrippa played a conspicuous part in the war against Lucius Antonius and Fulvia, respectively brother and wife of Mark Antony, which ended in the capture of Perusia (40). Two years later he put down a rising of the Aquitanians in Gaul, and crossed the Rhine to punish the aggressions of the Germans. On his return he refused a triumph but accepted the consulship for 37 BC.


At this time Sextus Pompeius, with whom war was imminent, had command of the sea on the coasts of Italy. Agrippa's first care was to provide a safe harbour for his ships, which he accomplished by cutting through the strips of land which separated the Lacus Lucrinus from the sea, thus forming an outer harbour an inner one was also made by joining the lake Avernus to the Lucrinus (Dio Cassius xlviii. 49; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvi. 24). About this time Agrippa married Pomponia, daughter of Marcus Tullius Cicero's friend Titus Pomponius Atticus. Having been appointed naval commander-in-chief he put his crews through a course of training, until he felt in a position to meet the fleet of Pompeius. In 36 he was victorious at Mylae and Naulochus , and received the honour of a naval crown for his services. In 33 he was chosen aedile and signalized his tenure of office by effecting great improvements in the city of Rome, restoring and building aqueducts, enlarging and cleansing the Cloaca Maxima, constructing baths and porticos, and laying out gardens. He also gave a stimulus to the public exhibition of works of art. The emperor's boast that he had found the city of brick but left it of marble ("marmoream se relinquere, quam latericiam accepisset", Suetonius, Life of Augustus 29) might with greater propriety have been uttered by Agrippa.

He was again called away to take command of the fleet when the war with Antony broke out. The victory at Actium (31), which gave the mastery of Rome and the empire of the world to Octavian, was mainly due to Agrippa. As a token of signal regard Octavian bestowed upon him the hand of his niece Marcella (28). We must suppose that his wife Pomponia was either dead or divorced. In 27 Agrippa was consul for the third time, and in that year the senate also bestowed upon Octavian the imperial title of Augustus.

Probably in commemoration of the battle of Actium, Agrippa built and dedicated the building that preceded the Hadrianic Pantheon which survives in Rome. The inscription of the later building, which was built around AD 125, preserves the text of the inscription from Agrippa's building during his third consulship. The years following his third consulship, Agrippa spent in Gaul, reforming the provincial administration and taxation system, along with building an effective road system and aquaducts, a spectacular example of which can be seen near modern day Nimes.

His friendship with Augustus seems to have been clouded by the jealousy of his brother-in-law Marcellus, which was probably fomented by the intrigues of Livia, the second wife of Augustus, who feared his influence with her husband. The result was that Agrippa left Rome, ostensibly to take over the governorship of Syria -- a sort of honourable exile; but as a matter of fact he only sent his legate to the East, while he himself remained at Lesbos. On the death of Marcellus, which took place within a year, he was recalled to Rome by Augustus, who found he could not dispense with his services.

It is said that Maecenas advised Augustus to attach Agrippa still more closely to him by making him his son-in-law. He accordingly induced him to divorce Marcella and marry his daughter Julia (21 BC), the widow of Marcellus, equally celebrated for her beauty, abilities, and her shameless profligacy. In 19 Agrippa was employed in putting down a rising of the Cantabrians in Spain. He was appointed governor of Syria a second time (17 B.C.), where his just and prudent administration won him the respect and good-will of the provincials, especially the Hebrew population. Agrippa also restored effective Roman control over the Cimmerian Chersonnese (modern-day Crimea) during his governorship. His last public service was his beginning of the conquest of the upper Danubian region, which would become the Roman province of Pannonia (13 BC). He died at Campania in March of the year following his fifty-first year. Augustus honoured his memory by a magnificent funeral.

Agrippa was also known as a writer, especially on geography. Under his supervision Julius Caesar's design of having a complete survey of the empire made was carried out. From the materials at hand he constructed a circular chart, which was engraved on marble by Augustus and afterwards placed in the colonnade built by his sister Polla. Amongst his writings an autobiography, now lost, is referred to. Agrippa left several children; by Pomponia, a daughter Vipsania, who became the first wife of the emperor Tiberius; by Claudia Marcella, Vipsania Marcella; by Julia Caesaris three sons, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar and Agrippa Postumus, and two daughters, Agrippina the elder, afterwards the wife of Germanicus, and Vipsania Julia, who married Lucius Aemilius Paullus.

See also

Julio-Claudian Family Tree

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04