Claudius asked the senate to authorize marriages between uncles and nieces, as he did not dare to assume the responsibility of going counter to public sentiment. And thus the daughter of Germanicus and the sister of Caligula became an empress.
AGRIPPINA, THE MOTHER OF NERO
It is possible, as Tacitus says, that marriage with Claudius was the height of Agrippina’s ambition, but it is also possible that it was an act of supreme self-sacrifice on the part of a woman who had been educated in the traditions of the Roman aristocracy, and who therefore considered herself merely a means to the political advancement of her relatives and her children.
I am rather inclined to accept this second explanation. When she married Claudius, Agrippina not only married an uncle who was much older than herself, and who must necessarily prove a rather difficult and disagreeable husband, but she bound up her fate with that of a weak emperor whose life was continually threatened by plots and revolts, and whose hesitations and terrors plainly portended that he would one day end by precipitating the imperial authority and government into some bizarre and terrible catastrophe. For Agrippina it meant that she was blindly staking her life and her honor, and that she would lose them both should she fail to compensate for the innumerable deficiencies of her strange husband through her own intelligence and strength of will. Every one will recognize how difficult was the task which she had undertaken.
But at the beginning fortune favored Agrippina as she boldly took up the work that lay before her. The wild pranks of Caligula and the scandals of Messalina had aroused an immeasurable disgust in Rome and Italy. Every one was out of patience. The senate as well as the people were demanding a stronger, more coherent, and respectable government, which would end the scandals, suits, and atrocious personal and family quarrels which were dividing Rome. Agrippina was the daughter of Germanicus, the granddaughter of Drusus, and she had in her veins the blood of the Claudii, with all their pride, their energy, their puritanical, conservative, and aristocratic spirit, and the moment she appeared, all hopes were centered in her. Although she was a sort of feminine Tiberius, and in the purity of her life resembled her mother and her great-grandmother Livia, Tacitus nevertheless maligns her for her relationships with Pallas and Seneca. The fact that Messalina, even with her implacable hatred, failed to bring about her downfall under the Lex de adulteriis, proves the unreliability of these statements, and Tacitus proves it himself when he says that she suffered no departure from chastity unless it helped her power (Nihil domi impudicum nisi dominationi expediret). This means that Agrippina was a lady of irreproachable life; for if there is one thing which stands out clearly