Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore

By Emma Southon

A biography of the most extraordinary woman in the Roman world

Monday, 2 May 2016

"Influence is rarely lasting. Such is its fate"

So I decided to start a TinyLetter. A collection of thoughts and anniversaries and interesting things that I come across as I research and go about my merry way, things that don't make it to twitter or the blog. I'll post most of the content here too, but if you want some extra Romans in your life, you can sign up at

This Week in History

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.” 
This week, on 26th April 121AD, Marcus Aurelius was born. Marcus Aurelius is best remembered for being essentially Plato's idealised philosopher king because he left behind his nice collection of Stoic philosophical sayings, called the Meditations, and we like a bit of Stoicism. Also because of that bit in Gladiator where he claims he wants to restore the republic and it's hilarious. The things he's not remembered for are my favourite bits about him, in that they make him the most interesting to me. That he was the first joint emperor with Lucius Verus for the first 8 years of his reign is genuinely interesting. That he decided to build a column in imitation of Trajan and covered it in pictures of being being trampled and beheaded to celebrate his conquest of various lands is interesting. Finally, he ended the best bit of Roman history, the Five Good Emperors, but ending their tradition of adopting the new emperor and handing the job to his sons, one of which was Commodus who immediately killed his brother and went on a rampage. So happy birthday Marcus! 

We also got the birthday of Otho this week, who managed to rule in the year of the four emperors (69AD) for a total of three months before quitting and committing suicide. He also had his wife stolen and then murdered by Nero. His life was one of ups and downs to say the least. 

Cool Things

My favourite thing of this week was the discovery of a massive 4th century coin hoard in Spain. I like coin hoards because I like to imagine the person who put all their money into pots and buried them. Were they scared? Did they expect to come back? What happened to them? This one is odd because the coins were never circulated, and there's 19 jars full of them, which means that whichever soldiers they were supposed to pay never were. And in that there's so many tiny stories within that.So many individual lives affected by this decision. What a wonderful thing. 

My second favourite cool thing is this depiction of some 2nd/3rd century Roman drinking glasses from Denmark. Firstly because they are truly beautiful and secondly because people forget that the Romans made it so far north and hung out there so long and its a nice reminder of the things we forget.

And finally, quite an old link which crossed my path: charming pictures of puppy paw prints in Roman tile from England. Much like the coin hoard, such an image drags the past into the present and makes it feel real, vivid and alive. And adorable.
Though, as a cat person, these teeny tiny cat paw prints will always be my favourite.


While I'm writing, I have quote scrawled on pot-its and stuck to my windowsill and this week's addition has been from Tacitus, who is accidentally giving me a lot to think about w/r/t women and power and such:

"Influence is rarely lasting. Such is its fate" Tacitus, Annals, 3.29.

It is next to one I took from a sociology book:

"The power of beauty is the power of the weak."

These are the thoughts shaping my thinking this week, slowly and slowly as I work out more about Agrippina and how to write her.

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