Friday, November 18, 2011

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 BC-12 BC), The Winner at Actium

Bust of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa from the Forum of Gabii, currently in the Louvre, Paris

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Plaster cast in Pushkin Museum after the head Ma 1208 in the Louvre

Agrippa depicted in a relief of the "Altar of Peace," the Ara Pacis, with Oriental royalty

Hadrian's Pantheon was built to replace the previous temple that had been built during Agrippa's rule. Hadrian retained the legend M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT, which means "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this"

Statue of Agrippa at the Archaeological Museum of Venice

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (c. 63 BC – 12 BC) was a Roman statesman and general. He was a close friend, son-in-law, lieutenant and defense minister to Octavian, the future Emperor Caesar Augustus. He was responsible for most of Octavian’s military victories, most notably winning the naval Battle of Actium against the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

He was the son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus, father-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather of the Emperor Nero.

Little is known of Marcus Agrippa’s beginnings. He was born in 63 b.c. to parents of a lower class, although some historians doubt this; his schooling and upbringing remain unknown. At some point in his life he became friends with Octavian (later Augustus), whose uncle, Julius Caesar, became the great Roman general and statesman. Agrippa was at Octavian’s side when the latter was informed in March 44 b.c. that Caesar had been assassinated in Rome, and Agrippa went with him to Rome to claim the throne of the Roman Empire. When Caesar’s enemies blocked Octavian, Agrippa aided his friend in forming a private army to fight them. Although the two were close during this period, no mention of Agrippa is made in any of the histories of the famous battles between Octavian and his enemies, most notably Philippi (42 b.c.). However, during the so-called War of Perusia (40 b.c.), a year-long siege of what is today Perugia, Agrippa took a leading role, and Octavian rewarded him by naming him governor of Gaul (modern France).

In 38 b.c., while still governor of Gaul, Agrippa led an army to annihilate a force of rebel tribes from Aquitane; he followed this victory by crossing the Rhine River in a punitive expedition against the German tribes, a service for which he was named consul. At the same time, Octavian had been defeated by Sextus Pompeius, the son of the famed Roman general Pompey, at the battle of Cumæ (38 b.c.). Agrippa took control of Octavian’s army in what is known as the War of the Second Triumvirate. At Naucholus on 3 September 36 b.c., Agrippa and some 300 ships met Sextus Pompeius with a navy of equal strength. Agrippa won a decisive victory, and Pompeius fled after losing more than 380 of his ships. That same year, in a second battle at Mylae (no exact date), Agrippa again defeated Pompeius’s forces; Sextus Pompeius was captured and, a year later, put to death. These victories aided Octavian in taking power, and he made peace with his enemies, most notably Mark Antony. Eventually, however, this peace broke down, and the two parties went to war. Augustus put Agrippa in charge of his fleet, and the defeat of Antony at Actium
(2 September 31 b.c.) made Octavian ruler of the entire Roman Empire. For this service Agrippa was again made a consul, and when Octavian—now called Augustus—consolidated his rule in Rome, Agrippa became the emperor’s deputy in all but name. When Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew, died, the emperor gave the hand of his widow, Julia, to his friend and closest adviser, Agrippa.

In 19 b.c., Agrippa put down a rising in Spain. The following year, he was named tribunicia potestas (tribune of the plebs), an official who oversaw the workings of the Roman Senate and had the power to veto senatorial legislation. His two sons, Gaius and Lucius, were named as possible successors to Emperor Augustus. Agrippa was sent to the eastern part of the Roman Empire to oversee the defense of the eastern provinces, and he stayed there from 17 to 13 b.c. He returned to lead the Roman armies in a bloodless suppression of a Pannonian insurrection in Illyricum. However, he became ill and returned to Rome, where he died sometime in 12 b.c. Little known today, Agrippa helped to lay firm foundations for the Roman Empire. His descendants included the “crazy” emperors Nero and Caligula!

Agrippa was also known as a writer, especially on the subject of geography. Under his supervision, Julius Caesar's dream of having a complete survey of the Empire made was carried out. He constructed a circular chart, which was later engraved on marble by Augustus, and afterwards placed in the colonnade built by his sister Polla. Amongst his writings, an autobiography, now lost, is referred to.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, along with Gaius Maecenas and Octavian, was a central person in the establishing of the Principate system of emperors, which would govern the Roman Empire up until the Crisis of the Third Century and the birth of Dominate system. His grandson Gaius is known to history as the Emperor Caligula, and his great-grandson Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus would rule as the Emperor Nero.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

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