Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (15 AD-68 AD) Roman emperor epitomized the decadence, destruction and debauchery of Ancient Rome, but his mother Agrippina took her desire to keep power so far that she offered herself to her drunken son. It is said that Agrippina was so far driven by her desire to hold onto power that on more than one occasion at the midpoint of the day, when Nero was flushed with wine and feasting, she appeared before her inebriated son all dressed up and ready for incestuous relations. The Roman people who loved to speculate about their emperors and their sex lives began noticing the salacious kisses and the sweet talk and one story or rumor that was told, involves Nero and his mother being carried through Rome in a litter (a portable couch concealed by curtains), only for the emperor to emerge with suspicious stains on his clothes. People started to whisper that the pair had been doing more than reviewing imperial legislation behind the curtains, because Nero and Agrippina were clearly in the habit of showing one another considerable affection while they were out in public. They had been seen sharing passionate kisses and sensual caresses, which seemed to imply wrongdoing.
Seneca a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist who had influence on Nero because he was his tutor, figured that the best way to counter the female charms of Agrippina was to enlist the aid of a freedwoman named Acte. She was to report to the emperor that the incest was common knowledge, since his mother boasted of it, and that his soldiers would not accept the sovereignty of a depraved emperor. Acte’s influence, however, soon faded as she was replaced by the love of Nero’s life, the notorious, amber-haired Sabina Poppaea.
Nero was only a teenager when he came to power, just seventeen years old. Having been under the influence of his mother all his life, he now saw an opportunity to do what he wanted instead. Within the first year of his reign he had made it obvious to her that she was not going to be sharing his power. When Nero became emperor at the age of 17, Agrippina his mother acted as regent. Agrippina was a unique woman in Roman history, being the sister of Caligula and the wife of Claudius she continued to exert imperial influence on Nero who did not want to share power with anyone. Agrippina and Nero began to quarrel openly about his affair with the ex-slave-girl Acte, so Nero forced Agrippina to move out of the palace, took her bodyguard away and slapped a lawsuit on her. Despite her distance from Court, Agrippina did not stop trying to interfere with things. Being the daughter of Germanicus was a big deal and this ensured she was not to be ignored.
The Romans were always very clear about the correct place of women. In Roman law, women were treated as minors and given male guardians to look after them. Women were forbidden from the places and positions of power and had no access to public life officially. However, Agrippina refused to comply with these standards.
The mad Emperor Nero failed to poison his mother several times, because she was so untrusting that she actually began taking antidotes to poisons. This is when the diabolical Nero decided to make her death look like an accident. In 59 AD, Nero devised his third plot against the life of his mother. Nero lovingly invited his mother to a dinner to celebrate with him the festival of Minerva at his own villa at Baiae in the bay of Naples, in pretense that they would reconcile certain unnatural animosities existing between them. Agrippina gladly accepted the invitation to celebrate with her son, and dissolve all discord between them, but this required Agrippina to travel over in her own private ship. Nero met his mother affectionately at the landing, and tenderly led her unsuspecting to a villa, where everything was set up to entertain her during her visit. The sumptuous dinner went wonderfully, with Agrippina side by side with her son who showed her all the love a son could. Unfortunately, whilst the banquet was in full course an accident caused Agrippina’s ship to be rammed by another and so her return home required her to borrow a ship lent her by Nero her son.
Agrippina boarded the new vessel on a brilliant starlit night with a calm tranquil sea. The ship was beautifully adorned with statues, sumptuous fabrics and painted in expensive Pompeii red and Agrippina got on the ship with her faithful servant-friend Acerronia, as Nero waved her a loving goodbye from the shore. The roof over her quarters had been weighted with lead and rigged to drop and crush her while she was asleep in the night. The roof fell killing Agrippina’s servant, but the empress and her companion Acerronia were protected by the projecting sides of the couch, which happened to be strong enough to support the weight of the collapsed lead roof. Agrippina and Acerronia jumped overboard and Acerronia shouted for help and in the confusion was mistaken by the sailors for Agrippina and was dutifully dispatched by an oar on the head. Agrippina on the other hand, though she was hurt on her shoulder managed to make her way back to shore in silence. Nero’s plot only succeeded in sinking the boat, as Agrippina managed to swim ashore, which exasperated Nero so he sent an assassin to finish the job.
Agrippina managed to make her way back to her villa where she sent a message to the emperor that she was well in spite of the accident. Annoyed that his plot had failed, Nero chose to finish her off by sending the commander of the navy with some of his men. The men surrounded her villa, entered and while one beat her with a stick on the head, another stabbed her in the stomach. Nero claimed that his mother had been plotting against him, but that fooled nobody, as this was a crime that caused revulsion in the Roman world, for the mother was that most sacred of icons within the Roman family. When Nero arrived on the scene, he dispassionately observed his mother’s corpse and he exclaimed that he had never fully realized how beautiful she was.