Intrigue and Mystery
August 20, 14: Agrippa Postumus is killed. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus was born in 12 BC. He was the son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder. His mother’s parents were Emperor Augustus and his second wife, Scribonia. Postumus’s father died before he was born (which is why he was named Postumus) and Augustus adopted the two older brothers Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar leaving Postumus to carry on the family name. After the two older brothers died, Augustus adopted Postumus and Tiberius (Augustus’s step-son and Postumus’s stepfather) as his heirs. Postumus was first in succession.
After the adoptions, Postumus’s name changed to Marcus Julius Caesar Agrippa Postumus while Tiberius added Julius Caesar to his name. The two were in competition for the seat of power. All Roman historians agree that Postumus was both rude and brutish. Tacitus does sweeten his description of the young man, but damns with faint praise. There is no consensus among contemporaries as to the cause, but Postumus was exiled in 9 AD for some reason. His sister, Julia the Younger, was banished around the same time with her husband. There is speculation that the three were involved in a plot against Augustus which was foiled. There is some speculation that Postumus may have had some learning difficulties which got him into trouble. It is also suggested that Livia, mother of Tiberius, may have been involved since Postumus stood in the way of her son’s access to the throne.
In any case, he was banished and held under intense scrutiny at Planasia, a small island of the Tuscan Archipelago and part of the Elba island municipality. There are further stories of a highly covert visit to the island by Augustus in 13 AD when he arrived to apologize to his son and make clear that the younger man was headed back to Rome and a seat of power. Augustus was accompanied by a trusted friend, Paullus Fabius Maximus, who was sworn to secrecy. Instead, Maximus told his wife, Marcia, who was a friend of Livia and passed the news on to her. Maximus was found dead with Marcia claiming responsibility. But this may just be legend.
Augustus died in 14 AD and Postumus was still on Planasia. Postumus was not mentioned in the will. On this day, the guards killed the young man. Some accounts have the young man killed before Augustus died. There are conflicting reports about who ordered the killing. Some speculate that Augustus himself many have ordered it. Tiberius immediately disavowed any knowledge of the deed when he was informed of his brother’s death. This is not enough to clear his name. He or his mother, with or without his knowledge may have ordered the death. But during this confusing time, Postumus was gone and Tiberius gained the throne.
Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government. – Jeremy Bentham
More things in politics happen by accident or exhaustion than happen by conspiracy. – Jeff Greenfield
People love conspiracy theories. – Neil Armstrong
I love a great conspiracy story. Who doesn’t? – Homaro Cantu
Also on this day: Boom Record – In 1882, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture premieres.
Floyd’s Bluff – in 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition suffered its only fatality.
Disgruntled Worker – In 1986, Patrick Sherrill kills 14 at the Edmond post office.
Thar She Blows – In 1910, the Big Blowup took place.