Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Dafato Team | Jul 1, 2022

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Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (born around 63 B.C. - died in March 12 B.C.), formerly francised as Marcus Agrippa, was a Roman general and politician of the first century B.C.; educated at the side of the young Caius Octavius Thurinus, the future emperor Augustus, his personal career was to be the same as that of the grand-nephew and now adopted son of Julius Caesar, as early as 44 B.C. C. that of the grand-nephew and now adopted son of Julius Caesar: faithful lieutenant, builder, man of war, son-in-law, and heir apparent to the Empire, Agrippa was his closest friend in all military and political battles.

Present at Octavian's side from the death of Caesar in 44 BC, Agrippa allowed by his military victories (battle of Nauloque in 36 BC against Sextus Pompey, battle of Actium in 31 BC against Mark Antony) the assertion of Octavian's political authority, in a context of deep unrest, as well as accompanying the installation of the principate and the end of the civil wars of the Roman Republic. During the first fifteen years of the principate, he participated, on the initiative of Augustus, in the new conquests of the Empire, in Hispania (20 and 19 BC) and on the Danube in particular (13 and 12 BC). After the death of Marcellus, he was one of the presumed heirs of the Empire, until the birth of his sons. He is also a learned diplomat during the wars.

Agrippa was, with Maecenas, one of the very close advisors of Augustus. He was consul in 37 BC, at the time of the renewal of the second triumvirate, then in 28 and 27 BC at the same time as Octavian who had become emperor. To avoid monopolizing the consular office year after year, he received the same exceptional imperium as the emperor, the tribunitian power and ensured the co-regency with Augustus (receiving in turn an exceptional imperium in the East and in the West), however he remained subordinate to him.

He built on the Field of Mars the first thermal baths in Rome, private property that he bequeathed to the Roman people: the Thermae Agrippae. Near these baths, he built the first version of a temple dedicated to all the divinities, the Pantheon of Rome, during his third consulate in 27. He also built, on behalf of Augustus, other temples, aqueducts, notably the Aqua Julia and the Aqua Virgo in Rome, theaters and porticoes, and numerous roads both in the city and in the provinces, notably in Gaul.

Part of the matrimonial strategies of Augustus in order to ensure a dynastic continuity to his new regime, he married in third marriage the daughter of Augustus, Julia, in the year 21 BC, with whom he had 5 children, among whom Caius and Lucius Caesar, adopted by Augustus and made Princes of Youth and heirs of the Empire before their premature death. Becoming the son-in-law of the emperor Augustus, whose niece Claudia Marcella the Elder he had married before, he is the first father-in-law of the future emperor Tiberius, to whom he gives in marriage his daughter Vipsania Agrippina then his other daughter Agrippina the Elder, and finally by his granddaughter Agrippina the Young; He is thus at the same time the maternal grandfather of emperor Caligula, the maternal great-grandfather of emperor Nero, as well as the father-in-law of general Germanicus, heir presumptive of the Empire until his death and elder brother of emperor Claudius, who also married Agrippina the Younger, granddaughter of Agrippa.

Birth and family

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, commonly called simply Agrippa, was born between March 64 and March 62 BC, probably in the year 63 BC like Octavian, or the following year. The day of his birth is perhaps included between October 23, even November 1, and November 23. He could have been born in Istria or in Asisium in Umbria or in Arpino in Italy, but this remains very uncertain.

His people are unknown in the Roman political landscape before him. He is the son of a named Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa, probably of a relatively modest Italian equestrian family having recently received the Roman citizenship. It is perhaps about a Marse family having received the citizenship in the aftermath of the social war of the beginning of the century. We know nothing about his mother. These origins make of him a homo novus, a new man, the first of his family to reach the highest political offices of the Roman Republic.

He has an elder brother who bears the first name of Lucius and he has a sister who is called Vipsania Polla. The family does not seem to be influential in the Roman society.

A faithful supporter of Octavian: from childhood friend to general-in-chief

He is of the same age as Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. Educated together, they met perhaps during the courses of some rhetoric masters, of which Apollodorus of Pergamon, and the two young men are bound since their youth and their adolescence by a deep friendship.

In spite of the links of the family with that of Julius Caesar, his brother took the opposite side during the civil war of 49 B.C. and fought with Cato against Caesar in Africa. When Cato's troops were defeated, Agrippa's brother was taken prisoner but was freed by Octavian who interceded on his behalf. No one knows if the two brothers fought in Africa, but the young Marcus Agrippa probably joined Caesar's troops during the campaign of 46 and 45 BC against Sextus Pompey, like his friend Octavian. They probably both participated in the battle of Munda.

Caesar sends thereafter the two friends to study together in Apollonia of Illyria, where are located the Macedonian legions in anticipation of great military expeditions planned by Caesar against the Dacians and the Parthians, while he consolidates his power in Rome. Agrippa and Octavian, during their stay, would have met the astrologer Theogenes, who would have predicted to Agrippa a brilliant career, before prostrating himself before the exceptional destiny of Octavian.

The two friends had been in Apollonia for six months when they learned of the assassination of Caesar perpetrated at the ides of March 44 BC. Agrippa and Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, another friend, advise Octavian to march on Rome with the support of the legions of Macedonia to eliminate the murderers of Caesar, but this one decides to join Rome discreetly by boat, following the cautious advice of his family, in company of his two friends. Their advice is not only dictated by their youthful ardor, but perhaps also by political ambitions, seeking to take advantage of the civil wars to rise in the social hierarchy at the expense of the Roman aristocracy, many members of which are involved in the assassination of Caesar.

Octavian then learns that Caesar has designated him as his adopted son. Far from being passive spectators, Agrippa and Salvidienus then pushed him to accept the inheritance against the opinion of his maternal family. Octavian was accompanied to Rome by Agrippa and some friends to solemnly claim Caesar's inheritance from the magistrates in charge of the wills: he then received three quarters of Caesar's fortune, which Antony refused to return to him, and above all his surname. Octavian then takes the name of "Caesar", but he is called "Octavian" by modern historians during this period.

Faced with the irruption of the young man on the political scene, Mark Antony embodies for a time the will to preserve the legality of the Roman Republic. He succeeded, in spite of the climate of tension, in a compromise with the conspirators who had assassinated Caesar. It is at first a great success for Antony who succeeds by this gesture to appease the veterans, to conciliate the majority of the Senate and appears in the eyes of the conspirators as their privileged interlocutor and protector, guarantee of the civil peace. However, the arrival of Octavian calls into question the decisions of Mark Antony concerning the Caesaricides and their partisans: the young Caesar wishes to take revenge and to punish the conspirators. Mark Antony is then in an uncomfortable position and although he is able to slow down the process of ratification of the adoption of Octavian, he must quickly clarify his political position for fear of losing his supports to Octavian. Mark Antony joined together the tribal comices on the 2 in order to promulgate agrarian laws favorable to the veterans and making it possible to ensure his position at the end of his mandate of consul and to place his principal partisans at the head of key provinces. He tries in particular to ensure for himself the control of the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul, then governed by Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, one of the conspirators of March 44, to take his place at January 1, 43.

During the summer and the autumn 44, the situation of Mark Antony becomes more and more perilous. Cicero, feeling that it is possible to remove Antony by supporting Octavian, enters then in scene. He begins in September 44 a series of speeches against Antony, the Philippics, in order to turn the Senate against him. At the same time, Octavian works on his side to accelerate the rupture between the Senate and Antoine. The latter left Rome in October to gain Brindes and to join the Macedonian legions having crossed the Adriatic. Octavian, Agrippa and their friends realize that they need the support of the legions and make propaganda near the soldiers. Antony is very badly received in Brundus. Agrippa then helps Octavian to raise new troops in Campania, among the veterans of Caesar in particular.

In November, while Octavian secured the support of a large part of Caesar's veterans, two of the Macedonian legions initially loyal to Antony, the Legio I Martia and Legio V Macedonica, joined him in Etruria. It was supposed in an uncertain way that Agrippa had been one of the negotiators having worked so that the legions of Macedonia are gained with their cause. Octavian is, it seems, for the first time, accompanied by Maecenas, whose diplomatic talents supplement those, military, of Agrippa.

Not being able to remain longer in Rome, his mandate of consul coming to an end, Mark Antony gathered the Senate in an unofficial way on November 28 in the evening in order to make sure that his provisions taken in June were well promulgated. The following day, Mark Antony, who had gathered his troops, reviewed them at Tibur and then headed north. It is the beginning of the War of Modena.

On January 1, 43, Caius Vibius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius begin their mandates of consuls according to the wishes left by Caesar on his will. As of the beginning of their mandate are launched debates which divide the senators on the attitude to be adopted vis-a-vis the actions of Marc Antoine, debates during which Cicero pronounces the Vth Philippic. On January 3, the Senate entrusts to the consuls the mission to carry help to Decimus Junius Brutus, besieged in Modena by Antony, with the command of the armies, and associates Octavian to them, which has a imperium proprétorien and for which it is the occasion to intervene directly in all legality. It is the first war during which Agrippa seconds Octavian, in particular at the time of the battles of Forum Gallorum and the seat of Modena. It is perhaps in the same year 43 BC that Agrippa's political career begins at the same time, by being elected tribune of the plebs (it is thus necessary to suppose that he was quaestor before), which opens the doors of the Senate to him.

Octavian, strong of his new legions and assisted by Agrippa, defeated Antony in the north of Italy at the sides and after the victory of Modena of the consular troops in front of Mark Antony, during which the two consuls died, Octavian, haloed with glories, marched on Rome. He demands the consulship for the following year and chooses to break with Cicero and makes a pact with Mark Antony, who had become a "public enemy" and who had fled to Gaul where he soon found himself with the most important army in the West, and Lepidus in 43 BC: this is the beginning of the "triumvirate to restore the Republic". Octavian and his coconsul Quintus Pedius had the assassins of Caesar tried in absentia. Agrippa was entrusted with the case of Caius Cassius Longinus.

In 42 BC, Agrippa took part in the battle of Philippi alongside Octavian and Mark Antony, according to Pliny the Elder. He probably commanded part of the troops of the young Caesar, the latter being ill. At the end of the battle, 50 000 Roman citizens perished and Octavian inflicted numerous tortures on the captive entourage of the Caesaricides Brutus and Cassius, who died in battle.

After their return to Rome, he plays a great role in the conflict which began in 41 B.C. and which opposes Octavian to Fulvia Antonia, wife of Mark Antony, and Lucius Antonius, his brother. Antony was then in Egypt.

Agrippa raises three or four legions of Etrurian veterans and seizes Sutrium which occupies a strategic position on the via Cassia in the north of Rome, signing at twenty-three years a first victory of a long list, and thus relieving Salvidienus which risked to be surrounded.

However, it is at this time Salvidienus which is the general in chief of Octavian and his most experienced man of war.on his side, Salvidienus seizes Sentinum then Nursia. The two men joined together then force Lucius Antonius to lock himself in Perugia. Octavian, following the example of Julius Caesar around Alesia, made build a solid network of fortifications around the city, to at the same time prevent any exit and to discourage the attacks of the lieutenants of Antoine.

Ventidius Bassus, Asinius Pollio and Munatius Plancus, with thirteen legions under their orders, tried to make raise the siege laid by the forces of the young Caesar, but did not succeed in breaking the siege, running up against the maneuvers of Salviedinus and Agrippa, which inflicted to them bitter defeats all around Perugia. The three generals then abandoned Lucius Antonius and Fulvie to their fate and withdrew, having great difficulties to get along between them and facing the discontent of their soldiers, whose interests are that the policy of distribution of grounds carried out by Octavian continues.

The fall of Perugia consecrated Octavian's domination over the western provinces, notably Gaul, but did not put an end to the unrest in Italy. Several cities in the Apennines continued to resist. Munatius Plancus remained for a time in Spoleto before joining Antony in Greece. Agrippa managed to return to Octavian's camp two legions left by Plancus. In Campania, Tiberius Claudius Nero was still in rebellion.

After the war of Perugia and the departure of Octavian for Gaul, Agrippa was urban prefect in Rome, a new stage in his political career as a young magistrate of the Republic. He had to face the growing discontent of the Romans who were tired of the maritime blockade imposed by the son of Pompey the Great, Sextus Pompey, who opposed the triumvirs. The latter is master of Sicily, and sends his admiral to seize Sardinia, then makes ravage the Etruscan coasts and takes foot in Corsica. Agrippa is then in the obligation to defend the peninsula against a front opened by the sea.

In July 40 BC, while Agrippa was presiding over the Apollinarian Games as urban praetor, Sextus Pompey launched raids to plunder the Italian coast.

The weakness of the triumvirate is revealed when, in August 40 BC, Mark Antony and Sextus Pompey penetrate simultaneously but in an uncoordinated way on the Italian territory. Agrippa left to meet Pompey and forced him to withdraw. Agrippa liberates Sipontum in Apulia, then in the hands of Antony's men, which constitutes the first act of the end of the conflict. He cannot however walk more directly against Antoine, not being able to persuade his men to fight one of the heirs of Caesar. Only Octavian would be able to convince his soldiers, but fallen sick on the way from Gaul, he delays to join Agrippa, and diplomacy is finally privileged. The veterans then take the initiative to avoid a conflict between Octavian and Antoine in Italy by showing themselves hostile to a war between Caesarians. The opportune death of Fulvie comes to arrange the situation. The triumvirs agree then again on their respective competences at the time of an interview organized in September 40 in the town of Brindisi in Apulia.

Agrippa is then part of the intermediaries who negotiate peace between Antony and Octavian. During the negotiations leading to the peace of Brundus, he learns that Salvidienus was about to betray Octavian and to rally Antony. The latter having signed the peace with Octavian, he denounced Salvidienus, who would have proposed to him to desert and join him during his march on Italy. He was arrested, accused of high treason in front of the Senate, then died executed or committed suicide. Agrippa then became Octavian's chief general, a position he held until his death.

The triumvirs appointed the consuls for the coming year, 39: Caius Calvisius Sabinus and Lucius Marcius Censorinus. They had been the only two senators who tried to defend Julius Caesar when his assassins stabbed him on March 15, 44 B.C. and their consulship under the triumvirate is considered as a recognition of their loyalty. To seal this new pact, Antony, now widowed, married Octavia, Octavian's sister. The reconciliation was celebrated throughout the Empire, which hoped to enter a new era of peace.

Military leader and winner of civil wars

In 39 or 38 BC, or even both years, Octavian appointed Agrippa governor of transalpine Gaul to replace Salvidienus. Since the Roman conquest of Caesar, Gaul was left to itself during the civil wars. He curbed the rise in power of the Aquitanians, brought the Belgians to heel, fought the Germanic tribes, especially the Suevi, and became the second Roman general to cross the Rhine after Julius Caesar.

During this period or soon after, he married Caecilia Pomponia Attica, the daughter of Titus Pomponius Atticus, a friend of the late Cicero, perhaps as early as 43-42 BC but more likely around 37 BC. The couple had a daughter around 36 BC, Vipsania Agrippina.

Although not having reached the required age of 43 years, he was recalled to Rome by Octavian to ensure the consulship in 37 B.C. Octavian had just undergone several humiliating naval defeats in front of Sextus Pompey and needed his friend to plan a future strategy. Agrippa refuses the triumph awarded by the Senate on request of Octavian in spite of his exploits in Gaul, considering that it is not judicious to celebrate his victories whereas the party of Octavian lives a period of disorders. Agrippa seeks perhaps also to spare the susceptibility of his friend Octavian, to whom he owes his political rise, and does not wish to accentuate the contrast between his military successes and the setbacks of Octavian. This recall of Agrippa to Rome to fight Pompey is perhaps "the most intelligent measure taken by the heir of Caesar during this conflict".

Henceforth consul, he must lead the war against Sextus Pompey, at the sides of Lucius Caninius Gallus, who abdicates and is replaced by Titus Statilius Taurus, who will command a fleet sent by Mark Antony to the help of Octavian.

While Sextus Pompey controlled the Italian coast, Agrippa's first objective was to find a safe harbor for his fleet. In his previous campaign, Agrippa had been unable to find naval bases in Italy near Sicily. Agrippa showed great "organizational and building skills" by "undertaking gigantic works": he succeeded in building a naval base in Campania from scratch, by digging a channel in the tongue of land separating the sea from Lake Lucrin to form an outer harbor, and another between Lake Lucrin and Lake Avernus to serve as an inner harbor. The new port complex was named Portus Julius in honor of Octavian. It completes its device by occupying the island of Stromboli. For the newly built fleet, Octavian and Agrippa freed 20,000 slaves, taking up the process of Sextus Pompey in Sicily, which they reproached him for until then.

Agrippa is the author of several technical improvements such as larger boats and an improved harpax.

The campaign against Sextus Pompey, planned in 37 BC, was postponed for a year. Agrippa's work takes time and Octavian is busy renewing the second triumvirate with Mark Antony at the time of the pact of Taranto. Agrippa defines the strategy and makes his first steps in naval tactics.

In 36 BC, Octavian and Agrippa launched the naval offensive from Italy against Sextus Pompey, while Lepidus, from Africa, landed with numerous troops at the extreme west of the island. Agrippa's fleet was severely damaged by storms and had to withdraw. Octavian was discouraged, but Agrippa convinced him not to give up. Agrippa tried a second offensive alone. Agrippa finally managed to settle in the Lipari Islands, tried to attract the Pompeian fleet and then decided to take the initiative. Thanks to its training and its superior technology, the fleet of Agrippa gains a decisive victory in Mylae, in the northeast of Sicily, on August 2.

This victory allows Octavian to land three legions in Sicily, with Lucius Cornificius at their head, but his fleet is severely beaten by that of Sextus Pompey. The young triumvir is wounded and he must abandon his legions to their fate. Agrippa sends three other legions to their rescue, from Mylae, and Cornificius succeeds in joining them. Agrippa seizes Tyndaris, very close. That has a strong impact on the Pompeian army, Sextus Pompey not being able any more to defer the ultimate combat.

It is a naval battle in Nauloque, in September, which seals the destiny of Sextus Pompey, which loses the quasi-totality of its fleet vis-a-vis Agrippa, which masters from now on the naval war and the use of an improved harpax (grapple launched by ballista). Only seventeen ships managed to escape, including that of Sextus Pompey.

Lepidus joined then Agrippa who besieged Messina and eight enemy legions, and it is Lepidus who received the capitulation of the Pompeian lieutenant, seeing these eight legions joining his own. He entrenched himself with the arrival of Octavian and required Sicily for him in addition to Africa. The troops of Lepidus do not want to fight Octavian, not more than those which recently capitulated, and Lepidus is forced to give himself up to Octavian, who forces him to the retreat, preserving nevertheless the title of pontifex maximus, which he will put on only at his death.

Seeing his power strengthened, Octavian returned to Rome as master of the West where he celebrated his ovation. Agrippa received an unprecedented honor: a golden crown decorated with the prows of a ship. Dion Cassius notes that "it is a decoration never received by anyone and never again awarded after him".

In the summer of 35 BC, Agrippa left with Octavian for the Dinarian Alps, in the western Balkans. On the way, they subdued part of the Iapydes. Then Octavian pacified the Dalmatian coast.

Octavian, by fighting sometimes in person, and leading the armies in Dalmatie, so close to Italy, passes for the defender of Rome and takes a new scale, that of a military. Taurus and Agrippa, who took part in the military campaigns of Octavian, faded away to leave him all the glory and not to carry shade to the new master of the Occident, while bringing him punctually assistance.

At the head of the fleet, Agrippa led the first operations of the second Dalmatian campaign in 34 BC, defending the Caesarian colonies against the Dalmatians. Several naval successes then land allow to recover signs lost by Aulus Gabinius in 47 BC. Agrippa returned to Rome in the autumn.

For the first time in the history of Rome, the fleet is not demobilized after a confrontation but is preserved, maintained and reused for the following campaigns, in particular for this campaign in Dalmatia. Octavian enriched the fleet with ships called "liburnes", delivered by the Dalmatians and the Illyrians, which will be marvelous at Actium.

Agrippa then embarked on the development and embellishment of the city of Rome, and for this, he agreed to be elected mayor in 33 BC when he had already reached the consulship, taking a step back in his political career, an extraordinary fact: Agrippa aedilis post primum consulatum.

He distinguished himself in his functions by his considerable work to improve the facilities and living conditions of the city of Rome: first of all, he was concerned with the extension of the water distribution network to provide more citizens, in particular by repairing at his own expense the Aqua Appia, the Anio Vetus and the Aqua Marcia and by building a new aqueduct, the Aqua Julia, named after his friend Octavian.

Agrippa set up a team of over 200 slaves to maintain the aqueducts, reservoirs and fountains. This team assisted him in the renovation and construction of the aqueducts in Rome until his death, and then returned to the emperor. The water supply system was outdated and neglected before his edility because of the civil wars. Agrippa provided the city with numerous supply points, allowing almost every house to have a cistern, pipe or fountain. Ancient authors such as Strabo or Pliny the Elder marveled at the large number of ponds and fountains, as well as their maintenance, and saw this as a benefit of Agrippa. We can then speak of "Rome as a true city of fountains".

He also renovated the streets, cleaned the sewers, the Cloaca Maxima, built baths and porticoes and laid out gardens. He also gave an impulse for art exhibitions while sumptuous shows were organized. He put in place, on the spina of the Circus Maximus, seven dolphins acting as lap-counters.

It is rare that a former consul exercises the minor function of edile but the success of Agrippa in this function causes a rupture with the tradition. Octavian, who became emperor Augustus, declared about Rome: "I found a city made of bricks and left it made of marble", following the immense services rendered to the city by Agrippa during his reign. Pliny the Elder speaks of a memorabilis aedilitas. This action is also part of Octavian's propaganda, who had to win the support of the people. Agrippa accompanies these renovations of sumptuous celebrations during the public festivals. It is an operation of seduction, mobilization and conditioning of the Roman plebs.

At the same time, Agrippa expels from Rome the astrologers and the magicians. Often coming from the East, they were accused of undermining the foundations of the traditional Roman religion and of representing a "fifth column" supporting the interests of Mark Antony by predicting his future victory at the dawn of the last civil war of the Roman Republic.

In 32 B.C., Atticus, Agrippa's father-in-law, suffering from a serious illness, summoned his friends, including his biographer Cornelius Nepos and his son-in-law, to tell them that he was going to let himself die. He died on March 31 and his funeral, on his request, was modest. Agrippa probably inherits a part of the immense fortune of Atticus.

Agrippa was again called to leave Rome to lead the fleet when the war against Mark Antony and Cleopatra broke out, resuming his role as general of Octavian. He regained the command of the fleet at the head of which he had worked wonders against Sextus Pompey.

Mark Antony has a strong maritime superiority, being probably at the head of five hundred fighting ships, to which one should perhaps add two hundred Egyptian ships. The two triumvirs seek a naval confrontation, rather than to oppose their legions which all claim the Divine Julius. Octavian and Agrippa have a fleet lower in number, three to four hundred ships, but more handy, in particular the liburnas, and especially hardened at the time of the confrontation against Sextus Pompey.

Agrippa thwarted the traps set by Mark Antony by attacking his supplies at first. Mark Antony's lines of communication and supply extend from Greece to Egypt while his fleet is deployed between the south-west of the Peloponnese and Epirus. Agrippa thus attacked Methone, a strategic city in the south-west of the Peloponnese, which he seized. He then moved north, conducting raids against the Greek coasts and seized Corcyra, the present island of Corfu, at the north-western end of the enemy fleet. The Octavians used Corfu as a naval base.

Octavian embarks his troops and lands in Epirus with his legions before joining the promontory of Actium. Mark Antony was surprised and moved his troops and his fleet on the site chosen by his adversary. Meanwhile, Agrippa, with the octavian fleet, continued to harass the enemy lines, seized the islands of Leucade, Ithaca, Cephalonia and Patras, and threatened Corinth. Agrippa destroyed the fleet of an ally of Mark Antony on the site of Patras.

Dion Cassius relates that on the way to Actium, Agrippa crosses the fleet of a lieutenant of Mark Antony, Caius Sosius, which carries out a surprise attack on a squadron of an ally of Octavian. The unexpected arrival of Agrippa allows to win the victory. Agrippa managed to lock up Antony's fleet in the gulf of Ambracia. Antony can choose to withdraw with his ground forces but would lose in this case his fleet, necessary to maintain the connection with the remainder of the East.

According to Dion Cassius, while the battle is imminent, Octavian learns that Mark Antony and Cleopatra plan to force his naval blockade which closes the access to the Ionian Sea and to escape. He estimates that by letting the admirals ships pass, he could catch up with them with his light ships, thus causing the surrender of the enemy fleet noting the cowardice of its leaders. Agrippa refutes that the enemy ships, larger, can exceed the Octavian fleet by forcing the pace and that it is better to dare an immediate attack, the fleet of Mark Antony having been damaged by a storm. Octavian follows the advice of his friend.

On September 2, 31 BC, the battle of Actium takes place. Cleopatra and Mark Antony succeeded in forcing the blockade, but abandoned a large part of their fleet there. Agrippa and Octavian continued to block the entrance to the gulf, the battle not yet seeming decisive. After some hesitations, the fleet and especially the Antonian legions, which were undoubtedly to withdraw, gave themselves up to Octavian, having misinterpreted the escape of their leaders. The battle of Actium becomes then a decisive victory, due mainly to the merit of Agrippa, and gives to Octavian the power over Rome and the Empire.

A talented administrator in Rome: great works

Following the victory of Actium, Octavian prepared a campaign against Egypt: however, all the legions of Antony present at Actium joined his own. He decided to demobilize half of his army which returned to Italy, and sent Agrippa back to Rome to face the discontent of the veterans who had not yet received rewards. In the absence of Octavian, Agrippa and Maecenas exercised the interim in Rome and in Italy. However, neither one nor the other exerts a magistracy, being both simple privatus. The prestige of the companions of Octavian is enough to establish their authority. The two men can use the seal of Octavian and open the letters which it addresses to the Senate.

Agrippa had great difficulty in containing the discontent of the veterans and called upon Octavian to intervene. The latter disembarked in the middle of winter in Brindes to join Rome, having to postpone his campaign against Egypt. Octavian had proscribed people and former supporters of Antony expelled from Italy to give land to the veterans, and refounded the colony of Carthage.

The fleet, henceforth permanent, is initially based with Forum Julii, then it will be redeployed on the Italian coasts, with Misène and Ravenne, Agrippa playing surely an important role at the time of this redeployment of the imperial naval device.

Octavian deposed his triumviral powers, which had been given to him to restore the Republic, and then assumed a sixth consulship, choosing Agrippa as his colleague. This gives the illusion that the republican institutions are working again, through the respect of collegiality of the supreme magistracy. In addition, the choice of Agrippa allows Octavian to have a colleague who does not overshadow him, and the consular couple is renewed in 27 BC.

That year, the Senate awarded the title of Augustus to Octavian, thus giving birth to the principate. The two consuls purged the senatorial lists to return to a Senate of 600 members.

In reward of his actions, Agrippa receives a particular decoration: a blue sea standard. He was probably elevated to the patriciate and recovered the domain of Mark Antony on the Palatine mount, which he shared with another close friend of the emperor, Valerius Messalla, both being installed near the imperial residence.

Augustus gives to Agrippa, who is unknown if he is widowed or divorced from Attica, the hand of his niece Claudia Marcella the Elder in 28 BC. Together, they have a daughter, Vipsania Marcella, who is born around 27 BC.

Augustus left Rome in the summer of 27 BC for Gaul and then to conduct military campaigns in Hispania for three years, leaving the City once again to Agrippa and Maecenas.

Agrippa launched major works in Rome and continued the work begun a few years earlier during his edict of 33 B.C. He launched construction sites on the Field of Mars, which was not very urbanized at the time, having been devoted until then to military training and civic activities. Agrippa then pursued three goals:

Agrippa amassed a large fortune after the civil wars, having recovered many properties from outlaws and supporters of Antony, including land on the Field of Mars, and also inherited from his wealthy father-in-law Atticus. He recovered large properties in Sicily after the defeat of Sextus Pompey as well as in Egypt with that of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII.

Moreover, he also possessed numerous mines and factories that facilitated his projects, as well as an abundant workforce and highly qualified people among his numerous slaves and freedmen. In addition, he had architects and technicians from his entourage, including Vitruvius.

First of all, Agrippa set about completing Julius Caesar's projects, replacing the wooden enclosure around the Saepta, renamed Saepta Julia, which housed the meetings of the comices, with marble walls surrounded by a portico. He completed the whole with a rectangular building with colonnades, decorated with numerous sculptures, and which became a privileged place frequented by the Romans. He also built public open baths, bringing many innovations for this type of building: the Baths of Agrippa. He also built a pond and supplied it, his baths and more generally the Champ de Mars district by constructing a new aqueduct, the Aqua Virgo, which was inaugurated in 19 B.C.

In commemoration of the battle of Actium, Agrippa built and dedicated the building which was to serve as the "Pantheon" until its destruction in 80 AD. The emperor Hadrian used Agrippa's model for his own Pantheon, the one we can still see today in Rome. An inscription on this new building built in 125 preserves the text of the one that was present on Agrippa's building during his third consulate in 27 BC. Not far from the Pantheon, he had a basilica built, called "of Neptune", to celebrate the naval victories of Augustus against Sextus Pompey and Mark Antony, to which Agrippa had contributed so much.

His residence on Mount Palatine, formerly that of Mark Antony, was destroyed by fire in 26 or 25 B.C., and he was invited by the Prince to move into the imperial residence.

In 25 BC, the nephew of the emperor, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, married the daughter of Augustus, Julia, Agrippa officiating in Augustus' absence. Augustus fell ill in Hispania and was then worried about his succession: he then conferred great honors on his nephew, who became the heir of the emperor in the eyes of the people.

In 23 BC, back from Hispania, Augustus was dying, and he decided to hand over his seal authenticating the official acts to Agrippa in the presence of all the magistrates and the main senators and knights of the City. On the other hand, he gives his military and financial documents, as well as his archives, to his coconsul Cnaeus Cornelius Piso, a former republican just rallied. If the emperor died, Agrippa, in a private capacity, inherited the fortune of the Prince and his clientele, while the Senate and the Roman people officially recovered his powers through Piso. However, it is well Agrippa which would recover a strong position following these provisions taken by the emperor, which he could have transmitted to Marcellus when the latter and the people would have been ready.

Finally, the emperor recovered to the surprise of all. The ancient authors allege that the friendship of Agrippa with Augustus seems to have been darkened by jealousy towards his brother-in-law Marcellus, probably at the instigation of Livia, the third wife of Augustus. One commonly explains the departure of Agrippa from Rome under the motive of this jealousy rather than under that of the governorship of the Eastern provinces, considered as an honorable exile. However, Augustus was to go in these provinces, but still convalescent, he sends his closest collaborator, Agrippa, who receives an imperium higher than any other in the East.

However, Agrippa sends his legate to Syria while he himself remains in Lesbos and exercises his power by proxy. He wrote his memoirs as well as a geographical commentary, lost works.

He would also have been charged with a secret mission, that to negotiate with the Parthians about the return of the eagles of the Roman legions which they had seized with Carrhes. Indeed, shortly after his arrival in the East, arrive in Rome of the ambassadors of the king of the Parthians, Phraatès IV. Augustus decides to release the son of the king, Phraates V, provided that the insignia of Crassus and the prisoners of the war of 53 BC are returned to the Roman State.

If one places these events during the political crisis of 23 B.C., it is unlikely that the emperor, in the grip of the establishment of a new political regime, synonymous with upheaval, would have "exiled" a man to lead the bulk of the Roman troops. It is more probably a prudent political decision and Augustus would have mandated Agrippa to lead the Eastern legions with the possibility of using them if the establishment of the principate required a fast military support. Augustus must indeed face a plot in 23

While Augustus had set up his succession, with a dedicated and efficient co-manager and a promising young heir, the latter, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, died suddenly in 23 B.C. Augustus delivered the eulogy for his son-in-law and Marcellus was the first member of the imperial family to be laid to rest in Augustus' mausoleum.

The emperor, remained in Rome, meets more and more hostility on behalf of the Roman aristocracy, its influence on the policy being too obvious. He chooses then, as five years before during his departure for Hispania, to move away from Rome. He has for objective to join Agrippa in the East, and makes a first stage in Sicily. But the consular elections for the year 21 B.C. bring strong disorders to Rome, two candidates seeking to impose themselves by the force.

The co-emperor and heir of Augustus

It is said that Mécène would then have advised Augustus, preoccupied by his succession and by the troubles in Rome, to get closer to Agrippa by making him his son-in-law. Maecenas would have pointed out to Augustus that he had made Agrippa so powerful that it was necessary either to eliminate him or to bind him. Augustus had only one daughter, from his three marriages (with Clodia Pulchra, Scribonia then Livia). He would thus have incited Agrippa to get rid of Marcella and to marry his daughter Julia, the widow of Marcellus, praised for her beauty, her capacities and an unscrupulous debauchery. Agrippa leaves Mytilene before the end of winter 22

Augustus continues as for him his voyage in the East, leaving the care with Agrippa, whose marriage with the daughter of Augustus gives him a sufficient legitimacy, to face the disorders in Rome.

The new couple had a villa built on the right bank of the Tiber, near Trastevere, where many paintings have been found which testify to the interest of Agrippa and his wife in works of art. A bridge was also built to join the villa to the rest of the city: Agrippa's bridge.

Agrippa, who has the same age as the emperor and thus the age to be the father of his wife, is surely for Augustus an intermediary and a protector of the children to be born of the new couple. The birth of Caius and Lucius Julius Caesar Vipsanianus in 20 and 17 B.C. fills with joy the emperor who adopts them, these last ones becoming his heirs. Between them, Agrippa and Julia also have a daughter: Vipsania Julia Agrippina, born in 19 BC.

In 20 BC, Agrippa left Rome for a perilous mission in the West. Agrippa went first to the Rhine, where he repelled Germanic incursions and founded a city on the site of present-day Cologne, on the right bank of the Rhine, by displacing a tribe allied to Rome, the Ubians.

He laid the foundations for the organization of the province of Gaul, reforming the provincial administration, the tax system and building an important network of aqueducts. He undertook, by order of Augustus, the construction of the network of Roman roads in Gaul. Lugdunum was at the heart of the road network that he created in Gaul, the city becoming the capital of Gaul under his leadership. The colony of Nemausus founded by Augustus under the direction of Agrippa a few years earlier, became the seat of a monetary workshop and many monuments were built there.

Then, he left to fight the Cantabrians in Hispania to put an end to repeated revolts. In the north of the Iberian Peninsula, in the land of the Asturians, Cantabrians and Galicians, the populations of this mountainous region are fiercely attached to their independence, and the armies of Augustus are engaged in a war of conquest for two decades. The Asturians were subdued but the Cantabrians continued to resist.

Agrippa obtains, by terror, a definitive success in 19 BC: he makes massacre the majority of the men in age to carry weapons, enslaves a great part of the remainder of the Cantabrian population and installs the survivors in the plains instead of the mountains.

As in Gaul previously, he sketched out the administrative organization of the province, founding cities of veterans and developing the road network. He built a theater in Merida which was inaugurated between 16 and 15 BC.

Agrippa was then considered the emperor's "colleague". Agrippa's portrait appears next to that of Augustus on coins issued at the end of the first century B.C. in the Roman colony of Nemausus, which shows his very high political position and his immense prestige due to his major role in the victory of Actium.

On his return to Rome, he declined the triumph granted to him by the Senate, not wanting to cast any shadow on the emperor. Henceforth colleague of the emperor and heir, he no longer reports to the Senate but only to the emperor.

In 18 B.C., Augustus saw his powers renewed and insisted that Agrippa also receive the exceptional imperium as well as the tribunitian power for five years, which he himself had received only in 23 B.C. for the first time.

In 17 BC, Augustus decides to celebrate the secular Games, to exalt the new golden century. The emperor and Agrippa are then the presidents of the college of priest of which the ceremony falls: the Quindecemviri sacris faciundis. The emperor and Agrippa sacrifice several animals to the Fates, to Juno, to Diane and to Apollo. Agrippa offers several chariot races to the people. It is during these games that Lucius is born, which coincides with the new golden age as Horace sings it and Augustus adopts him with his elder brother Caius.

A few weeks after the end of the Games and the birth of Lucius, Agrippa leaves Rome for the East in company of his wife, which contravenes the rules for a military leader. However, that reinforces the prestige of the son-in-law of Augustus. Numerous dedications are addressed in the Greek cities they travel. His mission was the same as during his previous visit to the East: to ensure the restoration of the finances of the cities of the Eastern part of the Empire.

At the end of 15 BC, in Greece, the second daughter of the couple, Agrippina, was born. His first daughter, Vipsania Agrippina, who married Tiberius, gave Agrippa a grandson, Julius Caesar Drusus, born between 15 and 13 BC.

In 14 B.C., while on his way to Asia Minor, Herod I the Great, king of Judea and ally of Rome, came to see him and invited him to go to Jerusalem. He installed veterans in the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Felix Berytus (Beirut).

Back in Ionia, where Herod joined him, Nicholas of Damascus was sent to Agrippa to plead the cause of the Jews living in the Hellenized cities. Agrippa's prudent administration earned him the respect and goodwill of the provincials, especially the Jews.

Agrippa then prepares a campaign against Scribonius, an alleged heir of the worst enemy of the first decades of this century, Mithridates VI of Pontus, who fought against Rome from 88 to 63 BC during the Mithridatic Wars. This pretender tries to impose himself in the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosphorus. Agrippa restored Rome's power over the inhabitants of the Crimea by sending Polemon I of Pontus, an ally of Rome. Agrippa receives great honors and even a triumph, which he declines again, for having defeated an heir of Mithridate VI and recovered the Roman eagles captured by the latter, via Polemon, which has a great repercussion in Rome. The Cimmerian wheat supplies again Greece and Anatolia.

In 13 BC, Augustus and Agrippa, having respectively governed the West and the East for a few years, returned to Rome to have their imperium and tribunitian power renewed for five years.

In the autumn, once his powers had been renewed, Agrippa left Rome for Pannonia, the last direct access to Italy for Rome's enemies since the Alpine arc had been subdued by Augustus. In addition, the Pannonians had recently made incursions into Istria. This Pannonian campaign is perhaps part of a more general plan which must be coupled with the offensive planned the following year by Drusus in Germania. Initially, Agrippa intervened in the region of the high Danube, in the valleys of Save and Drava.

However, during the winter of 13-12 B.C., his health deteriorated and he had to leave the Pannonian mountains to retire to Campania.

He died in Campania between the 19th and 24th of March 12 B.C. at the age of 50.

According to Pliny the Elder, Agrippa had been suffering for years from violent attacks of gout as well as rheumatism, as shown by the numerous dedications to Health during his stay in Gaul. Agrippa, weakened, would not have resisted the rigors of the winter in the Pannonian mountains or would have been carried away by an epidemic affecting Italy in the first months of the year 12 BC, following the example of Lepidus, according to the modern historians.

Augustus honored his friend by organizing a grandiose funeral, in conformity with those which he envisaged for himself. He pronounced the eulogy in front of the temple of the Divine Julius and mourned for more than a month. He will adopt the children of Agrippa and will take care himself of their education. Although he had built his final resting place, Agrippa had the honor of resting in the emperor's own mausoleum, thus becoming a full member of the imperial family.

The Roman aristocracy shows the deep contempt which it had for Agrippa, considered by it as a parvenu, or homo novus, by refusing to attend the funeral games given in his honor. The plebs, on the other hand, paid massive tribute to the emperor's son-in-law, for his edifying work which greatly contributed to the well-being of all Romans, notably by improving the city's water supply.

He bequeathed a portico which was completed by his sister, the Vipsania portico, on the Champ de Mars. At the request of Augustus and according to the wish of Agrippa, a map of the world is displayed on its walls, offered to the public, in painting or mosaic. This orbis terrarum would represent the world as it is known with the limits of the Empire and this map would have been drawn up from the indications left by Agrippa.

Agrippa gives via his will the major part of his goods to the emperor, including his team of slaves to maintain the supply network. His thermal baths are bequeathed to the Roman people, as well as the parks and gardens that he laid out. Augustus distributed 100 silver denarii to the citizens benefiting from wheat distribution in the name of his son-in-law.

His posthumous son, born at the end of the year, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Posthumus, is named in his honor.

Wives and offspring

With his first wife, Caecilia Pomponia Attica, he has two daughters:

From his second wife, Claudia Marcella the Elder, he also has two daughters,

From his last union with Julia, daughter of Augustus, 5 children were born, all of whom met a tragic fate

Faithful friend and hard worker

Agrippa was "in turn a general, an admiral, an architect, a minister of public works, a man of letters, an administrator and a geographer. He was one of the main architects of the foundation of the Empire and, as a worthy heir to Caesar in the field of military art, appears as one of the greatest men of war of his time.

The ancient authors praise the merits of Agrippa, notably Dion Cassius and Horace.

"He was a man of eminent courage. Tires, vigils, dangers could not overcome him. He knew perfectly well how to obey, but only to one, and he was also eager to command others. He never allowed himself to be delayed and immediately moved from decision to action.

- Velleius Paterculus, Roman History, translation by Després, 1825, book II, 79.

Jean-Michel Roddaz notes that "few authors have, in so few words, given such a good definition of the second of Augustus. No one indeed has perhaps better understood, better analyzed this contained ambition and this unconditional loyalty to the service of only one ".

Moreover, in the first rank of which Dion Cassius, they often oppose the personalities of the two closest advisers of Augustus: Agrippa and Mécène.

The first one is of modest origin, a soldier taken out of the rank following military exploits, a homo novus. It is the victories won for Octavian, as well as their friendship since childhood, which enable him to climb the ladder of the cursus honorum. However, even arrived at the supreme magistracy and with the capacity with the Prince, it affects a great simplicity of life which points out the austerity of the traditional Roman virtues. His origin and his conduct earned him the contempt of the old Roman nobility, whereas the ancient authors make of Agrippa a convinced partisan of the restoration of the traditional republic, always in opposition to Maecenas.

The latter is described as being diametrically opposed, coming from an old Etruscan family, loving luxury, leading a great life and supporting a monarchic regime.

The rivalry or the disagreement between the two friends of Augustus, that all seems to oppose, is surely very exaggerated. Octavian would not have repeatedly entrusted the reins of Italy and Rome to the hands of two men who hated each other. And concerning the supposed republican ideas of Agrippa, it is to be noted that he supports on the contrary all along his life Augustus at the time of the institution of the principate, being consul twice in a row at Augustus' side during the years 28

An example of an emperor's servant

Agrippa will show throughout his life a very great political sense, in the shade of Augustus, by sparing the susceptibility of his friend and emperor. If he allows him by his naval victories to become master of the West then of all the Empire, he will always remain in the second plan, refusing by three times the triumphs which one awards to him. If he accepts to be eclipsed by Augustus, it is surely because it is obvious to him that he will never be able to reach the position of Augustus himself. During his youth, Agrippa learns two things: the importance of the army and the strength of the Roman tradition. The army is his road to power, but as a member of an Italian equestrian family and not a senator, he cannot claim supreme power.

His image "often appears to us, in many texts, as stereotyped, shaped by the official "propaganda"; Agrippa must serve as an example for future generations, because he symbolizes loyalty and moderation, devotion to the cause of the State". Such is the case with this excerpt from Dion Cassius:

"Agrippa, the man, without question, the most commendable of his century, and who used the friendship of Augustus only to render, and with the prince himself and the State, the greatest services. Indeed, as much he prevailed on the others, as much he liked to efface himself in front of Augustus: because, at the same time as he made concur all his prudence, all his spirit with the interests of the prince, he devoted to the beneficence all the credit, all the power which he enjoyed near him. It was there especially what made that it was never importunate with Augustus, nor odious with his fellow-citizens: if it contributed to the consolidation of the monarchy in the hand of Augustus, as a true partisan of an absolute government, it was attached the people by its benefactions, as a man who has the most popular feelings.

- Dion Cassius, Roman History, translation by Étienne Gros, 1855, book LIV, 29.

Jean-Michel Roddaz concludes that "the almost unanimous praise which emerges from the ancient historiography when it leans on the personality of Marcus Agrippa, rests certainly on a bottom of historical truth". Moreover, his death before the second part of the reign of Augustus and at the height of his career, in the middle of the golden age of the establishment of the Empire, "perhaps preserved Agrippa from the criticisms of History and left to posterity the care of commemorating his virtues, by reserving for him the praises of glory".


Agrippa is a character in :

On the screen

In the television series I Claudius Emperor, an adaptation of BBC Two's I, Claudius broadcast in 1976, Agrippa is portrayed as an elderly man, whereas he was only 39 years old at the time of the historical events recounted in the first episode (24 and 23 BC).

In the Spanish peplum Los cántabros, directed in 1980 by Paul Naschy, Agrippa is the main character.

The British-Italian series Imperium: Augustus, broadcast on Rai 1 in 2003, begins with the announcement of Agrippa's death. In it, Augustus tells his daughter Julia, Agrippa's widow, how he became the famous Roman emperor, and bitterly misses his friend and heir. In flashbacks, we see Agrippa at Augustus' side, notably during the battle of Munda and the victory of Actium.

In the second season of the HBO, BBC Two and Rai 2 series Rome, broadcast in 2007, we see the early years of Octavian's career, with Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa accompanying him, between 44 and 30 BC. In the series, Agrippa is played by the Irish actor Allen Leech.

In 2016, he appeared in the episode From Actium to Alexandria of the YouTube channel Confessions of History. In it, the role of Agrippa is played by French actor Florian Velasco.

He also appears in several films about Cleopatra. He is generally presented as an old man.

Finally, Agrippa is one of the secondary characters in the television series Domina, broadcast in 2021 on Sky Atlantic, which describes the rise of the empress Livia. In the series, Agrippa is played by the British actor Ben Batt.


  1. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
  2. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
  3. Pline l'Ancien indique qu'il est mort dans sa cinquante-et-unième année : ainsi, la naissance d'Agrippa se situerait entre mars 64 et mars 62 av. J.-C.
  4. ^ He discarded his nomen Vipsanius and was called simply Marcus Agrippa for most of his public career and in official inscriptions, possibly to mask his lowborn origin. Reinhold Marcus Agrippa pp. 6–8
  5. Vell. Pat., II 96.1, 127.1.
  6. Dião Cássio[3] data a morte de Agripa no final de março de 12 a.C. enquanto Plínio[4] afirma que ele teria morrido "em seu quinquagésimo-primeiro ano". Dependendo da interpretação da frase de Plínio, Agripa poderia ter 51 anos completos ou a completar, o que colocaria a sua data de nascimento entre março de 64 e março de 62 a.C.. Um calendário de Chipre ou da Síria inclui um mês em homenagem a Agripa começando em 1 de novembro, o que pode ser uma referência ao mês de seu nascimento[5].

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