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Marcus Agrippa

Marcus Agrippa

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Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 BC-12 BC) was a general and admiral of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire under his friend Augustus (Octavian). Agrippa played a major role in Octavian's rise to power, defeating his rivals at the Battle of Naulochus in 36 BC and the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. He later went on to command troops in Augustus' campaigns in Hispania, Pannonia, and Crimea, and he was even considered for being Octavian's heir (even marrying his daughter Julia the Elder), although he died in 12 BC, over twenty years before Augustus.


Agrippa was born between 64–62 BC, Β] in an uncertain location. Ώ] His father was called Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa. Γ] He had an elder brother whose name was also Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa, and a sister named Vipsania Polla. His family originated in the Italian countryside, and was of humble and plebeian origins. They had not been prominent in Roman public life. Δ] According to some scholars, including Victor Gardthausen, R. E. A. Palmer and David Ridgway, Agrippa's family was originally from Pisa in Etruria. Ε] Ζ]

Agrippa was about the same age as Octavian (the future emperor Augustus), and the two were educated together and became close friends. Despite Agrippa's association with the family of Julius Caesar, his elder brother chose another side in the civil wars of the 40s BC, fighting under Cato against Caesar in Africa. When Cato's forces were defeated, Agrippa's brother was taken prisoner but freed after Octavian interceded on his behalf. Η]

It is not known whether Agrippa fought against his brother in Africa, but he probably served in Caesar's campaign of 46–45 BC against Gnaeus Pompeius, which culminated in the Battle of Munda. ⎖] Caesar regarded him highly enough to send him with Octavius in 45 BC to study in Apollonia (on the Illyrian coast) with the Macedonian legions, while Caesar consolidated his power in Rome. ⎗] In the fourth month of their stay in Apollonia the news of Julius Caesar's assassination in March 44 BC reached them. Agrippa and another friend, Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, advised Octavius to march on Rome with the troops from Macedonia, but Octavius decided to sail to Italy with a small retinue. After his arrival, he learned that Caesar had adopted him as his legal heir. ⎘] Octavius at this time took Caesar's name, but modern historians refer to him as "Octavian" during this period.

Marcus Agrippa: Augustus’ Little Known Right Hand Man Who Knew How to Limit his Ambitions

Octavian Augustus was the first actual emperor of Rome Caesar had held the dictatorship but was murdered a few years into his rule. Ambitious men in Rome were both loved and feared, as well as easily susceptible to being murdered through civil wars, assassinations or even angry mobs. Marcus Agrippa was a very intelligent man and an exceptional general who had no desire to be the first among Romans. Instead, he chose to support his childhood friend, Octavian, an equally, if not more, intelligent man, but a dreadful general.

Marcus Agrippa and Octavian grew up and learned together, despite Agrippa coming from a much poorer and lower status family. The two stayed good friends into adulthood throughout the civil wars of Caesar and Pompey, despite Agrippa’s brother siding with the Pompeian faction. Agrippa’s older brother was actually captured and subsequently pardoned when Octavian intervened to secure his safety.

Agrippa had combat experience as an officer under Caesar at the battle of Munda against members of the Pompeian faction when he was about 18 years old. He also served at the battle of Mutina when Antony was still at odds with the republic. That battle was a tactical stalemate, but the damages forced Antony to seek an alliance with Octavian rather than continue fighting.

Still a young man in his twenties, Agrippa fought as an officer under Octavian’s chosen general, Salvidienus Rufus. Though he seems to have been of similar age, Octavian trusted Salvidienus more as a general. He participated in the battle of Philippi that was largely commanded by Mark Antony with Octavian’s assistance.

Antony and Octavian had multiple feuds and one such feud was started by Antony’s relatives in Rome, Fulvia and Lucius Antonius. The two raised several legions, briefly controlled Rome, but were forced out and surrounded in the city of Perusia until starvation forced their surrender. it was a fairly minor war with the large exception that Octavian realized that his leading general, Salvidienus Rufus had sent word to Antony offering to defect to his side. This led to Salvidienus’ suicide or execution and control of Octavian’s forces fell, somewhat unofficially due to the still existing rule-laden republic, to Agrippa.

Agrippa was known as an aggressive but talented officer who had no problems leading his men from the front. Like Octavian, Agrippa rose to prominence early in his career. By Marie-Lan Nguyen / Jastrow – CC BY 2.5

Agrippa spent a few years fighting against a barbarian uprising in Gaul and even ventured across the Rhine, only the second general to do so after Caesar, and fought very successfully against the Germanic tribes in 39-38 BCE. There are few details of these battles but the campaigns were successful enough for Agrippa to be granted a triumph. Octavian summoned Agrippa back to Italy to raise a fleet to combat Sextus Pompey who had controlled Sicily for some time and threatened Italy with his large and growing fleet. Agrippa actually refused his triumph on his return, saying that it would not be right while his friend Octavian was dealing with the crisis in Sicily.

Agrippa built a large fleet and ensured that the men were well trained before setting sail for Sicily. He was given reinforcements by the two other Triumvirs Antony and Lepidus, all now allies against Sextus. After a smaller battle near Mylae, Agrippa and Sextus met near Naulochus and fought a titanic battle, with over 500 total ships.

At Naulochus Agrippa had newer ships, but with well-trained crews and a new invention, the harpax. The harpax was essentially a ballista that shot a grappling hook. This hook hit an enemy ship and could then be winched together to be boarded. The grappling hook had a long iron shaft so that the enemy crews could not reach to cut the ropes. This invention allowed Agrippa’s ships to pick and choose their targets, ensuring favorable matchups for what was a massive group of singular ship-on-ship battles. Agrippa reportedly lost only three ships while capturing or destroying over two-thirds of Sextus’ force. The battle ended all Pompeian resistance and restored control of Sicily, a major source of grain for Italy.

The Harpax invented by Agrippa. By Ramnavot – CC BY-SA 3.0

The peace between Antony and Octavian would soon erupt again in the absence of any other internal threats. Antony had control of the East, including Egypt and withholding grain, among other things, quickly led to renewed hostilities. Antony swiftly gathered an army and navy and occupied a fortified position on the northwestern coast of Greece. Knowing that Octavian would have to use vulnerable transports to cross the Adriatic and hoped to destroy them at sea. Agrippa had other plans.

Rather than attacking head on, Agrippa took a small but efficient naval force and went around Antony’s position and attacked the unfortified towns along Antony’s supply lines to Egypt. This distracted Antony enough that Octavian could land his army in Greece without worrying about his transports being attacked. Antony could do little as Agrippa tore up his supply lines, and finally, Antony’s strong defensive position turned to one of desperation and he needed to find a way to escape.

Antony had a strong position in his defended bay and hoped to bottleneck Agrippa’s and Octavian’s forces. Octavian, who actually had the final say wanted to attack, but Agrippa urged caution, knowing that they had the advantage and Antony desperately wanted to escape his bad position rather than fight a decisive action. Wisely, Octavian listened and Agrippa set the navy up in a crescent position blocking the exit from Antony’s bay.

Agrippa and Octavian secured a complete victory of Antony to secure Octavian’s long lasting rule over the Roman EMpire. By Future Perfect at Sunrise – CC BY-SA 3.0

Antony’s forces attacked with undermanned ships as the men were weakened or killed by starvation and disease. Cleopatra’s naval group waited for their moment to escape and when a gap opened they left and didn’t look back. Once Antony saw Cleopatra clear the gap he soon followed. Agrippa had thought correctly and though Antony’s abandoned navy put up quite a fight, they were eventually dispatched by Agrippa’s well trained and disciplined forces. The battle removed the last great opposition to Octavian’s power over Rome.

With Antony finally beaten, later committing suicide, Octavian finally united Rome and all her holdings and eventually declared himself “first citizen” giving himself the name of Augustus and becoming Rome’s first emperor. Agrippa was loved by his army and had proven himself both a talented fighter and skilled general as opposed to Octavian who was a poor general and was often considered standoffish, being notably disliked by a great many people. Agrippa had a clear road to taking all of Octavian Augustus’ power but chose not to act on that. It was one of the wisest moves of his whole career, as only Octavian had proven to be politically suave enough to become the sole holder of power of a population who had a history of thoroughly despising kings, who knows what may have actually happened if Agrippa had tried to take that power for himself.

By supporting his friend, Agrippa secured his place as Augustus’ most trusted right-hand man. Sources describe Agrippa as being exiled at one point, but it seems to have been a planned political move to position Agrippa in the right area during a time of crisis. At one point Agrippa was given such titles to make him the heir apparent and the man chosen to lead if something were to happen to Augustus and eventually the powers granted to Agrippa made him almost an equal to Augustus.

Agrippa’s later life (and some of the years prior to the battle of Actium against Antony) was largely devoted to repairing and building up Rome. He oversaw mundane but vitally important work such as the cleaning and repairing of sewers and the construction of new aqueducts. He designed multiple new buildings including the lost temple that would be the inspiration for the later Pantheon built under Hadrian’s rule. He wrote extensively on geography and wrote an autobiography, but these are sadly lost.

This is one of many temples designed or funded by Agrippa.By Aoudot 25 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Agrippa helped Augustus to be able to say his famous words “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it one of marble”. Agrippa would return to the battlefield to secure Roman influence in Spain and the Crimean Peninsula and died at 51 in southern Italy. Augustus would mourn his friend’s death for over a month, and would later personally see to the education of Agrippa’s children.

Book Review: Marcus Agrippa

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63–12 BC) was a Roman soldier and official whose influence on the foundation of the Roman empire was perhaps even greater than that of Augustus himself. Agrippa reorganized the Roman navy with new ships, tactics and weapons, and it was Agrippa who crushed Sextus Pompey at the 36 BC battles of Mylae and Naulochus, giving Augustus control of Italy and Sicily. Agrippa was present at every major battle Augustus fought, and in some Agrippa commanded the troops while Augustus remained incapacitated in his tent. Agrippa’s brilliant victory at Actium in 31 BC secured Augustus undisputed mastery over the Roman empire and changed Western history. Agrippa won a great victory over the Aquitani in Gaul and suppressed disturbances in Germany, being the first Roman since Caesar to invade Germany. As aedile (public works director) of Rome, Agrippa modernized the city’s water supply system, built the first Roman bath and designed the Pantheon.

With the civil war won, Augustus turned to Agrippa to solve the problems of reconstruction the reorganization of Rome’s government and political system the administration of the capital city and of the provinces the re-establishment of the imperial frontiers and the reform and reorganization of the army and navy. Agrippa contributed to solving these problems, although Roman historians credit Augustus with the achievements. Agrippa’s efforts largely made possible the establishment of the new Roman imperial order.

Ancient historians largely ignored Agrippa, and we have only Cassius Dio and Nicolaus of Damascus as ancient sources of his life. Only two modern works on Agrippa have been published (one in French, the other in English), and both date from the 1930s. Powell’s book exceeds both in scholarship, depth of research and comprehensiveness. Well written, perfectly organized and a treasury of information, it is certain to become the definitive work on one of Rome’s greatest, if forgotten, men.

Book Review: Marcus Agrippa

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63–12 BC) was a Roman soldier and official whose influence on the foundation of the Roman empire was perhaps even greater than that of Augustus himself. Agrippa reorganized the Roman navy with new ships, tactics and weapons, and it was Agrippa who crushed Sextus Pompey at the 36 BC battles of Mylae and Naulochus, giving Augustus control of Italy and Sicily. Agrippa was present at every major battle Augustus fought, and in some Agrippa commanded the troops while Augustus remained incapacitated in his tent. Agrippa’s brilliant victory at Actium in 31 BC secured Augustus undisputed mastery over the Roman empire and changed Western history. Agrippa won a great victory over the Aquitani in Gaul and suppressed disturbances in Germany, being the first Roman since Caesar to invade Germany. As aedile (public works director) of Rome, Agrippa modernized the city’s water supply system, built the first Roman bath and designed the Pantheon.

With the civil war won, Augustus turned to Agrippa to solve the problems of reconstruction the reorganization of Rome’s government and political system the administration of the capital city and of the provinces the re-establishment of the imperial frontiers and the reform and reorganization of the army and navy. Agrippa contributed to solving these problems, although Roman historians credit Augustus with the achievements. Agrippa’s efforts largely made possible the establishment of the new Roman imperial order.

Ancient historians largely ignored Agrippa, and we have only Cassius Dio and Nicolaus of Damascus as ancient sources of his life. Only two modern works on Agrippa have been published (one in French, the other in English), and both date from the 1930s. Powell’s book exceeds both in scholarship, depth of research and comprehensiveness. Well written, perfectly organized and a treasury of information, it is certain to become the definitive work on one of Rome’s greatest, if forgotten, men.


Postumus was initially named "Marcus Agrippa" [3] in honor of his father, who died shortly before his birth. After the death of his older brothers, Lucius and Gaius Caesar, Postumus was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the Emperor Augustus. A lex curiata ratified his adoption, from which Postumus assumed the filiation Augusti f., meaning "son of Augustus". Postumus was then legally the son of Augustus, as well as his biological grandson. As a consequence, Postumus was adopted into the Julia gens, and he took the name "Julius Caesar" as a result. In accordance with Roman naming conventions, Postumus' name was changed to "[Marcus] Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus". [4] [5]

Agrippa Postumus was born in 12 BC, seemingly three months after his father's death (mid-March 12 BC, Dio 54.28.3) and probably after 26 June. [6] He was born a member of the equestrian gens Vipsania. His father was Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, one of Augustus' leading generals, and his mother was Julia the Elder, the daughter of Augustus and his second wife Scribonia. [7] Postumus was the third son and last child of Agrippa and Julia his older siblings were Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, and Agrippina the Elder. His brothers, Gaius and Lucius, were both adopted by Augustus following the birth of Lucius in 17 BC. [8]

Before his brother Gaius left Rome for Asia, Gaius and Lucius were given the authority to consecrate the Temple of Mars Ultor (1 August 2 BC), and they managed the games held to celebrate the Temple's dedication. Postumus was still a schoolboy, and participated in the Lusus Troiae ("Trojan Games") with the rest of the equestrian youth. [9] At these games, according to Cassius Dio, 260 lions were slaughtered in the Circus Maximus, there was gladiatorial combat and a naval battle between the "Persians" and the "Athenians", and 36 crocodiles were slaughtered in the Circus Flaminius. [10]

Adoption Edit

At first Augustus opted not to adopt Postumus so that Agrippa would have at least one son to carry on his family name. However, the untimely deaths of principes Lucius (d. AD 2) and Gaius (d. AD 4) forced Augustus to adopt Postumus (his only remaining biological grandson) and Tiberius (the eldest son of Augustus' third wife Livia) on 26 June AD 4 to secure the succession. He agreed to adopt Tiberius on condition that Tiberius first adopt Germanicus. Upon his adoption into the Julii Caesares, Postumus assumed the name "Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus". Following the adoptions of AD 4, in the event of Augustus' death, the title of princeps would pass first to Tiberius and then from Tiberius to Germanicus. [11] [12]

It was not intended that Postumus receive the emperorship instead, he was meant to be the heir to Augustus' bloodline. Postumus would receive Augustus' name, property, and bloodline, but not the title of princeps. Indeed, Postumus was not given any special schooling or treatment following his adoption. In AD 5, he received the toga virilis at the age of 15, and his name was added to the list of aristocratic youth eligible for training as military officers. [13] This differed greatly from the honors received by his brothers, who were both conducted into the Forum by Augustus himself to commemorate their adoptions, given the title Princeps Iuventutis ("Leader of the Youth"), and promised the consulship five years in advance, to be held when they reached nineteen. [14]

In AD 6, an uprising began in the Roman province of Illyricum. Augustus sent Tiberius to crush the revolt with his army, and after a year of delayed results, he sent Germanicus in his capacity as quaestor to assist in bringing the war to a swift end. [15] The reason, Dio says, that Germanicus was chosen over Postumus is because Postumus was of an "illiberal nature". [16]

Postumus was known for being brutish, insolent, stubborn, and potentially violent. He possessed great physical strength and reportedly showed little interest in anything other than fishing. He resisted all efforts to improve his behavior, forcing Augustus to "abdicate" him from the Julii in AD 6 and banish him to a villa at Surrentum, near Pompeii. [4] [13] As an abdicated adoptee (adoptatus abdicatus) he lost the Julian name and returned to the gens Vipsania. [17] The ancient historian Velleius Paterculus had this to say of the banishment:

Hoc fere tempore Agrippa. mira pravitate animi atque ingenii in praecipitia conversus patris atque eiusdem avi sui animum alienavit sibi, moxque crescentibus in dies vitiis dignum furore suo habuit exitum.

About this time Agrippa. alienated from himself the affection of his father who was also his grandfather, falling into reckless ways by an amazing depravity of attitude and intellect and soon, as his vices increased daily, he met the end which his madness deserved.

The following year, Augustus had the Senate make Postumus' banishment permanent and had him moved to Planasia (modern Pianosa, Italy), a small island between Italy and Corsica. Augustus bolstered the natural inaccessibility of the rocky island by having an armed guard installed there. The Senate was ordered to never allow his release. [4] [18]

No consensus has emerged as to why Augustus banished Postumus in AD 7. Tacitus suggests that Augustus' wife Livia had always disliked and shunned Postumus, as he stood in the way of her son Tiberius succeeding to power after Augustus, given that Postumus was a direct biological descendant of Augustus and Tiberius was not. Some modern historians theorise that Postumus may have become involved in a conspiracy against Augustus. [19] Alternatively, it has been speculated that Postumus may have had learning difficulties. Postumus was held under intense security. [20]

Postumus' sister Julia the Younger was banished around the same time (AD 8) and her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus was executed for allegedly plotting a conspiracy against Augustus. There was later a conspiracy to rescue Julia and Postumus by Lucius Audasius and Asinius Epicadus. Audasius was an accused forger of advanced age and Asinius was half-Illyrian. According to Suetonius, Audasius and Epicadus had planned to take Julia and Postumus by force to the armies. It is unclear what their exact plan was, or even which armies Suetonius was referring to, because the conspiracy was discovered early in its planning, possibly before they had even left Rome. [21] [22]

Death of Augustus Edit

Augustus made no effort to contact Postumus until AD 14. In the summer of that year, Augustus left Rome, never to see the capital again. The main ancient sources of information about this period, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, suggest that Augustus left Rome in the company of only one trusted friend, the senator Paullus Fabius Maximus. The two left for Planasia to pay Augustus' banished grandson a highly controversial visit. [23]

Fabius and then Augustus himself died on their return, without revealing what they had been doing. [23] Tacitus reports their visit to Planasia as a rumor, although Dio reports it as fact. According to the historian Robin Lane Fox, the alleged visit has sometimes been dismissed by modern scholars. However, it has been shown that Augustus and Fabius were absent from Rome in mid-May of AD 14. At this date, Augustus' adopted grandson, Drusus the Younger, was being admitted into the Arval Brethren, and an inscription (ILS, 5026) shows that both Augustus and Fabius voted in absentia to admit him into the priesthood. [24]

There was much gossip over the outcome of their expedition. Tacitus recounts the rumor that Augustus had decided to reverse his decision and make Postumus his successor. In his account, Fabius indiscreetly told his wife what had occurred during the trip, and it cost him his life. Augustus' wife Livia, too, was said to have poisoned her husband in order to prevent Postumus becoming the successor and thus supplanting her son Tiberius. While modern historians, including Fox, agree that such stories are highly unlikely, there is evidence that Augustus' journey was historical. "It is the last act in Augustus' long marathon of finding and keeping an heir to the new Empire". [25]

Augustus died on 19 August AD 14. Despite being banished, Postumus had not legally been disinherited, and so could claim a share in Augustus' inheritance. According to Augustus' will, sealed on 3 April AD 13, Tiberius would inherit two-thirds of his estate, and Livia one-third. There is no mention of Postumus in the document. [26] Tiberius gave the eulogy at Augustus' funeral and made a show of reluctantly accepting the title of princeps. [17]

Execution Edit

At almost the same time as Augustus' death, Postumus was killed by centurion Gaius Sallustius Crispus, the great-nephew and adopted son of the historian Sallust. When Crispus reported to Tiberius that "his orders have been carried out", Tiberius threatened to bring the matter before the Senate, professing that he had given no such orders. Tiberius denied any involvement, arguing that he had been en route to Illyricum when he was recalled to Rome, and later issued a statement that it was his father who gave the order that Agrippa Postumus not survive him. It is not clear if the killing was carried out before or after Tiberius became emperor. [25] [17] [27]

Two years later, there was an attempt by Postumus' former slave Clemens to impersonate him. The attempt of Clemens to impersonate Postumus was only successful because people could not remember what he looked like, although Dio also says there was a resemblance between the two. [28] The impersonation was carried out by the same slave who had set out in AD 14 to ship Postumus away and the act was met with considerable success among the plebs. [25]

According to the historian Erich S. Gruen, various contemporary sources state that Postumus was a "vulgar young man, brutal and brutish, and of depraved character". [29] The Roman historian 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." [30]

It was common for ancient historians to portray Postumus as dim-witted and brutish. Velleius portrays Postumus as having had a deformed or perverse character, Dio records a propensity to violence ("He had an impetuous temper. ") [31] and a devotion to "servile pursuits", while Tacitus and Suetonius both describe him as fierce ("ferox"). Contemporaries were reported to have described Postumus as wild ("trux"), while Suetonius is in agreement with Dio's "servile pursuits" depiction. Historian Andrew Pettinger argues that these descriptions of Postumus reveal a moral inadequacy, not a mental disorder. [32]

Postumus is depicted in many works of art due to his relationship with the leading family of the early Roman Empire. They include:

Friendship and Loyalty

Cassius Dio writes that "This was done, not out of any rivalry or ambition on Agrippa's part to make himself equal to Augustus, but from his hearty loyalty to him. Augustus, so far from censuring him for it, honoured him the more." Indeed Augustus elevated Agrippa higher and higher, both privately and politically. Augustus suffered from poor health, and from early in his rule he established Agrippa as his heir. However, as they were the same age, Agrippa was not an ideal option as an heir. As a result, Augustus brought Agrippa officially into his family by giving Agrippa the hand of his daughter, Julia, in marriage. When the couple produced two boys, Augustus officially adopted the boys, ensuring his line of succession.

Meanwhile, he granted significant political powers and honors to Agrippa, to the point that Agrippa shared equal power with him in everything but seniority. Although he held massive political power and the loyalty of the army, Agrippa never challenged Augustus. He remained fiercely loyal, and proved himself a true friend. Cassius Dio called him "the noblest of the men of his day." In his later years, Agrippa began to suffer from illness and pain, now believed to have been gout. He carefully concealed it from his friend, not wishing to be a burden or embarrassment by way of infirmity.

Every legal and moral right [ edit | edit source ]

Agrippa is a man ruled by caution. Where others would choose to stay and have a little fun at an orgy, he thinks only of his new reputation and what it would mean to others if he disgraced himself. At the same time, however, he’s not ruled by that caution. He has led men in battle, engaged in the battle himself, and brought victory for himself and Caesar.

When he lets go of that careful control, he’s a man of passions. Love, lust, war. When he lets himself partake, he drowns himself in them. But there is one tie that holds everything in check. One tie for which he would defy even love.

He has ever been loyal to Gaius Octavian Caesar and always will be. Not even the depths of passion and love for Octavia could sway his allegiance to her brother.

The Agrippas: The End of Ancient Judea

Herod Agrippa I, named Marcus Julius Agrippa, was born around 10 BC and ruled Judea and its surrounding areas after a brief period of direct Roman rule. His first son, Herod Agrippa II, born in AD 28, ruled much of Palestine as king, though never Judea. As father and son, Agrippa I and II were men of similar characters.

Following after the reputations of Herod the Great and Antipas, the Agrippas were masterful politicians who got their way and shaped the cultures of Palestine. Unlike their predecessors, however, the Agrippas won the favor of their Jewish subjects through eloquence, insincere displays of piety, and even standing before the Roman Emperor as the voice of the Jews. The Agrippas were rulers beloved by their subjects, but were mere white-washed tombs with appalling moralities (see Matthew 23:27).

One group that the Agrippas never won over, however, was the followers of Jesus Christ. The Agrippas represented a way of life diametrically opposed to the Way of Christ. Further, Jewish morality declined in reflection of their corrupt rulers, worsening an already hostile relationship between Jews and Christians. Not only did the Agrippas destroy Judea's reputation, but Agrippa II aided the actual destruction of the nation to which Jesus had come.

Agrippa I's Youth and Rise to Power

The elder Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great, born of Herod's son, Aristobulus. At the age of six, during Tiberius' reign as emperor, Agrippa was sent to Rome for education. While there, he dwelt among the most elite of Roman society and developed important political friendships, including Claudius, who would eventually become emperor, and Drusus, Tiberius' son. He also acquired in Rome a taste for luxury and uncontrolled spending.

His mother, Berenice, lived with her son in Rome and curbed Agrippa's wasteful spending habits. Once she died, however, Agrippa lost all self-control. Without his mother's purse and oversight, Agrippa began borrowing far more than he could pay back, hosting feasts and parties with borrowed cash. He also bribed Romans whom he thought would be important players in his rise to power in Palestine.

As was inevitable, the floor collapsed under him. His creditors grew weary, Drusus&mdashhis connection to the emperor&mdashdied, and he was becoming a public embarrassment to the court. Agrippa was forced to exile himself from the wealthy city of Rome to the impoverished land of his ancestors, Idumea.

In Idumea, Agrippa married Cypros, the granddaughter of Mariamme the Hasmonean, and his new wife proved important in nurturing Agrippa through the miserable years ahead of him. Though Agrippa saw no future for himself and even considered suicide, Cypros contacted his sister, Herodias, the wife of Antipas, and secured a job for him as the "inspector of markets" (agoronomos) in the city of Tiberias.

Agrippa's new salary did not satisfy his appetites for long. After a public falling-out between Agrippa and Antipas, Agrippa fled to Antioch, seeking his younger brother, an adviser to the Roman governor, to find a job. He was given a position but quickly lost it after he was discovered accepting bribes.

Agrippa decided it was time to return to the world's source of political power, Rome. Visiting moneylenders across Palestine, Agrippa borrowed up to 500,000 drachmas 1 for his trip, which he characterized as a trip to see the elderly and ailing Emperor Tiberius, who was in his mid-seventies. Agrippa, foreseeing the impending death of the emperor, decided to win the favor of the apparent heir, twenty-four-year-old Gaius Caligula. He borrowed an astounding one million drachma to finance his pursuit of Caligula's goodwill.

Conversing one day with Caligula in a chariot, Agrippa expressed the wish that Tiberius would die so his friend could become emperor. The driver of the chariot, overhearing his foolish remark, reported it to the emperor. Showing mercy, Tiberius decided not to execute Agrippa for treason but imprisoned him instead. In less than a year, Tiberius died, reportedly smothered by Caligula with a pillow. The new emperor soon pardoned Agrippa and made him tetrarch over the land his uncle, Herod Philip, once ruled.

Agrippa I Wins over the Jews

After Agrippa had arrived in his new capitol city, Caesarea Philippi, Antipas grew suspicious of his nephew's swift rise to power. Urged by his wife, Antipas went to Rome to accuse Agrippa of treachery and take his crown. Discovering his uncle's plot, Agrippa sent his own representative to warn Caligula. As a result, Antipas was sent into exile and Agrippa given all of Antipas' land.

Having proved himself politically adroit, he was soon given a chance to win over the Jews as well. Caligula decided he was a god and deserving of worship. By imperial decree, statues began to be erected in every place of worship in the empire, including Jewish synagogues. In a show of Jewish defiance, outrage and bloodshed erupted all over Palestine.

Coincidentally, Agrippa was returning to Rome to see Caligula, unaware of what was happening at home. Once in Rome, Agrippa discovered the horrifying news, also catching wind of Caligula's decision to erect a statue of himself in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. Agrippa decided to stand up to Caligula for the sake of the Jewish people. History is not definitive about how Agrippa persuaded the emperor, but it seems most likely that he wrote a long letter explaining the Jewish faith to Caligula and providing political reasons for retracting his decree. Whatever Agrippa did, it worked. Caligula desisted, and Agrippa won the love of the Jews.

In January AD 41, after three years of Caligula growing increasingly unstable, he was assassinated. In his place arose Claudius, Agrippa's childhood friend. Agrippa journeyed to Rome when he heard of Caligula's death to pay his respects, as well as to congratulate Claudius and ensure his continued good standing with the new emperor. When Claudius met with Agrippa, the emperor more than put his mind at ease when he granted him&mdashafter 35 years of direct Roman rule&mdashrulership over the prized district of Judea.

The Jews who despised direct Roman rule welcomed Agrippa into Judea with overwhelming praise. He did not disappoint them. While in Jerusalem, Agrippa, who considered himself a Jew, followed the Judaic law precisely. On the Feast of First Fruits (Pentecost), Agrippa even carried his own basket of offerings and made sure everyone saw him do it. At the Feast of Tabernacles, Agrippa followed the tradition of Jewish kings by reading large portions of Deuteronomy, and even shed a tear when he read, "You shall appoint over you a man of your own race you shall not appoint a foreigner." However, Agrippa was all show. When not in Jerusalem, his morality and way of life was indistinguishable from any other Roman citizen's.

Agrippa soon won over the Pharisees, the most culturally and religiously influential group in Judea. Out of a desire to appease his influential friends, he persecuted the Christians at the Pharisees' request, which the Bible records in Acts 12:1-4 (note verse 3). He made James' execution a public spectacle, killing him by the sword in front of crowds. He also imprisoned Peter, whom God delivered just before Agrippa intended to consign him to a similar fate.

Just after Peter's escape, Agrippa attended athletic games in Caesarea. He dressed for them in a silver cloth that reflected light, causing him to appear as if he shined with fire. In his radiant garb, Agrippa took his seat in front of a full theater of spectators, allowing everyone to catch a glimpse of his grandeur. The crowds murmured that his aura was a sign of his divinity (Acts 12:22).

Unexpectedly, Agrippa was struck with sharp pains in his stomach and within five days died from intestinal worms (Acts 12:23). God chose a death for Agrippa that best demonstrated his character: While he appeared perfect in his outward actions and dress, his insides were corrupt and eaten away. God struck him with the foul sickness at the height of his political career. 2

Agrippa II's Youthful Reign and Corruption

Agrippa's first son, Julius Marcus Agrippa II, was born in either AD 27 or 28, and his upbringing mirrored his father's. He was born in Rome and remained in the imperial city until he had to flee with his parents to Judea for a brief time to escape his father's creditors. He returned to Rome to finish his education during his teenage years and was there when his father died in AD 44. The younger Agrippa was only 17 at the time.

He and his Herodian family desired that he take up his father's crown as king, but Claudius decided the task would be too difficult for the adolescent, placing Judea back under direct Roman rule. Instead, Agrippa was appointed as head of Temple affairs in Judea. The emperor's decision was the first in a series of events that upset Jewish nationalists, which ultimately escalated into a war against the Romans.

When his uncle, Herod of Chalcis, died in AD 48, Agrippa received the kingship of Chalcis, a town near the border of Lebanon. After Agrippa helped settle a dispute between longtime-rivals, the Samaritans and the Galileans, Claudius sent Antonius Felix to replace the existing Roman governor and awarded Agrippa additional territories. After Claudius died in AD 54, the newly crowned Emperor Nero increased Agrippa's dominion even more.

Agrippa continued his father's legacy of duplicity. Wishing to win the Pharisees' favor, the younger Agrippa consulted them about how to live a pious life as a Jew. The favor of the Pharisees was imperative, for as head of Temple affairs, he appointed the high priest and needed to have his decisions approved in order to keep peace.

Agrippa appeared to live lawfully, but he was just as corrupt as his father, turning the high priesthood into a business venture. Agrippa sold the position to the highest bidder. Following Agrippa's example, the high priests also took advantage of their positions for social and economic gain. At threshing time, they sent servants to collect the tithes that rightfully belonged to the lower priesthood, and after keeping their unlawful money, required the same workers to pay another tithe to make up for what should have been paid to the priesthood. Agrippa's moral corruption caused even the most respected of religious offices to degenerate into nothing more than a position of fraud.

Agrippa II's Encounter With Paul And Betrayal of the Jews

Around AD 61, this corrupt ruler directly encountered Christianity. In the summer of 58, Paul had traveled to Jerusalem to preach, but had been arrested by the Jews and tried before the Sanhedrin (a full account of this is found in Acts 21-25). After five days of trial, Paul was sent to Caesarea by a centurion who discovered a Jewish plot to kill the apostle. The Roman governor, Felix, heard Paul's case, and to satisfy the Jews, decided to keep him imprisoned in Caesarea. However, he made it clear to Paul that, with an adequate bribe, he could quietly "escape."

Paul, morally opposite to Agrippa, did not bribe his way out of his imprisonment but trusted in God's will. After two years, Rome replaced Felix as governor with Porcius Festus. The Jews found Festus' appointment an auspicious time to have Paul tried once again, and the apostle, knowing a trial in Jerusalem would lead to his unjust execution, appealed to Caesar, a right allowed any Roman citizen. Before sending Paul to Rome, though, Festus told Agrippa about him, and Agrippa requested a meeting with the converted former-Pharisee.

Paul testified before Agrippa, appealing to his status as a Jew and his knowledge of Jewish history and affairs. The apostle also provided a personal history, an explanation for his actions, and a brief summary of Christ and His teachings (see Acts 26). In reply, Festus accused Paul of lunacy, while Agrippa asked, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:28 ESV).

Agrippa found Paul innocent, but disparaged Christianity. He was a religious pragmatist, "believing" only what was politically, socially, or financially beneficial. Many scholars interpret his comment as mockery of Paul, an analysis consistent with his insincere and reportedly comic character.

In AD 63, the Temple at Jerusalem, which Herod the Great had begun in 20 BC , was finally finished. The many artisans who relied on the Temple construction as their source of work were now unemployed, and Roman taxes on the Judeans at this time were crippling. The civil unrest against Rome that began to flare up in AD 48 at Felix's appointment boiled over into hostile aggression, with tax riots erupting in Judea in 65. In an attempt to save the province he aspired to rule, Agrippa delivered a speech in Jerusalem that tried to justify Rome's actions and argue the futility of rebellion against Rome.

The Jews ignored Agrippa's plea, and war broke out between the Jews and the Romans. Though Agrippa was himself a Jew and part of the Hasmonean bloodline, he betrayed his people and sided with the Romans. He not only gave Rome his vocal support, but also supplied it with troops. After the Romans took the city of Jotapata, he even celebrated the victory with the Roman general Vespasian and his troops in drunken festivities for several weeks.

In AD 68, Nero was assassinated and succeeded by Galba, who himself was also killed within several months. Two men, Otho and Vitellius, vied for the imperial crown of Rome, plunging the empire into civil war. Otho committed suicide, and Vitellius was dispatched by troops loyal to Vespasian, who decided he deserved the crown. Meanwhile, his son, Titus, along with Agrippa, returned to Judea to continue the war.

In AD 70, the war ended with the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. Agrippa went from Palestine's "pious" king to the very enemy that aided in destroying and dispersing the Jewish people. Newly crowned Vespasian rewarded Agrippa with additional territories in Syria, and he ruled as king over much of the land of Palestine&mdashexcept for the one province he had desired from the beginning of his political career, Judea. Agrippa died in AD 100, ending the Herodian line in bloodshed comparable only to the dynasty's founder, Herod the Great.

The Agrippas embodied a pragmatic, two-faced philosophy that was the exact opposite of what Jesus had taught. Jesus was crucified before either man ruled, yet His followers used His teaching and God's Holy Spirit to endure the chaotic culture that the Agrippas created.

1 While it is nearly impossible to provide a modern-day equivalent to ancient currencies, one can grasp the amount borrowed by knowing well-paid workers earned about a drachma a day.

2 Acts 12:20-23 gives no mention of Herod's death occurring during athletic games, but it seems probable that the elite of Palestine, including those mentioned in Acts 12 from Tyre and Sidon, would have been at the games. There is no contradiction between the secular and biblical accounts of Agrippa's death.

Watch the video: 1805 Marcus Agrippa (July 2022).


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