By Anthony A. Barrett
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Additional resources for Agrippina: Sister of Caligula, Wife of Claudius, Mother of Nero (Roman Imperial Biographies)
Livia, like Agrippina, is treated harshly by the literary sources, especially Tacitus. A number of striking parallels emerge in the careers of both. Each was a clever and ambitious woman who won the affections of a princeps and used her position to promote the prospects of her son by the weapons of intrigue and scheming, and even of murder—both are accused of eliminating rivals and husbands. It has often been observed that there was a fundamental difference between them, in that Livia did not earn a reputation for exploiting sex as a political weapon.
The custom became well established. 22 From this time we see an assault on the established tradition that had generally excluded females from the political arena. 24 Again, there is need for caution. The notion that women of high birth played a key role in late republican politics became almost formulaic among historical writers. It is consequently difficult in individual cases to determine to what extent their influence is real and to what extent it arises from rhetorical exaggeration, feeding long-held imaginary fears by drawing upon familiar stereotypes.
Lucretia was thus the victim of unintentional sexual allure and her decency would not let her come to terms with it. Agrippina’s sexual sins would by contrast seem all the greater in that she actually exploited her sexual charms to advance her own political ambitions. Balancing these idealized portraits from early Rome were others that showed the baneful effect that ambition could have on women. Tullia, daughter of King Servius Tullus, is a perfect example. She brought about the death of her husband and sister in order to marry her sister’s husband, Tarquinius Superbus, whom she persuaded to seize the throne from her father.