Agrippa Postumus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the personal name, see Postumus (praenomen).
Agrippa Postumus
P1080702 Louvre Agrippa Postumus MND1961 rwk.JPG
Full name
Birth to adoption: Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus
After adoption: Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus
House Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Father Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Mother Julia the Elder
Born 26 June 12 BC
Died 20 August AD 14 (aged 26)

Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus (26 June 12 BC – 20 August AD 14), also known as Agrippa Postumus or Postumus Agrippa or just Postumus, was a son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder. His maternal grandparents were Roman Emperor Augustus and his second wife Scribonia.[1]

Born after his father's death (hence the name), he was adopted by the emperor Augustus. For a period he was heir to the throne of Augustus, but in unclear circumstances he was arrested and exiled. Around the time of Augustus' death he was executed by his guards.

Early life and personality[edit]

Agrippa Postumus was born Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus on June 26, 12 BC, the youngest of five children. His father Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa died before he was born. Augustus adopted Postumus' two older brothers, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar. Postumus was left unadopted, so he could continue the family name.

However, upon the death of Lucius and then Gaius Caesar, Augustus finally decided to adopt both his grandson Postumus and step-son Tiberius (Postumus' stepfather) as his heirs, with Postumus first in the succession. As the designated heir, he became "Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus", while his step-father Tiberius became "Tiberius Julius Caesar". The anxiety over who would follow in Augustus' footsteps naturally set up Postumus and Tiberius in opposition.

Although there is little clear contemporary account of him, virtually all Roman historians agree that Postumus was considered a rude and brutish sort; 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.[2]


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 theorize that Postumus may have become involved in a conspiracy against Augustus.[3] Alternatively, it is speculated[by whom?] that Postumus may have had learning difficulties. Postumus was held under intense security.[4]

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.[5] Also, a conspiracy to rescue Postumus and Julia was planned and was foiled.[5]

In any case, Postumus' banishment did ensure Tiberius' priority as the heir of Augustus. Tacitus [6] reports a rumor that Augustus paid a highly covert visit to the island in 13 AD to apologize 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 [7] reports the island visit as fact, though the brief account is likely based on Tacitus' account [8] 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.[9] 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),[10] taking advantage of the confusing initial political situation upon Augustus' death.[11]

Postumus was impersonated after his death by Clemens.

In fiction[edit]

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 has Claudius believing that Postumus escaped execution by impersonating the freed slave Clemens, spending time on the run, but eventually being captured and executed by Tiberius. However, since Claudius does not meet Postumus/Clemens in person after Planasia, it is possible that Graves simply made Claudius fall for the Clemens hoax (in which case Clemens must have been privy of Claudius' promise to put secret writing on the seventh page of any book he would send Postumus).

The television adaptation by Jack Pulman retained Postumus being framed for the assault on Livilla, and the visit 4 years 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.



  1. ^ Plate, William (1867), "Agrippa, Postumus", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, p. 78 
  2. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 1.3
  3. ^ Norwood, Frances, "The Riddle of Ovid's Relegatio", Classical Philology (1963) p. 153
  4. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Caesars Life of Augustus 65
  5. ^ a b Suetonius, The Lives of Caesars Life of Augustus 19
  6. ^ Tacitus Annals 1.3
  7. ^ Cassius Dio 56.30
  8. ^ Tacitus Annals 1.1
  9. ^ Tacitus, Annals 1.5
  10. ^ Suetonius, Lives, Tiberius 22
  11. ^ Pappano, Albert, "Agrippa Postumus", Classical Philology, 1941, p. 43