[Photographed by Luis García, Source: Wikimedia Commons]
When she was in her late teens she married Germanicus, her second cousin and a general in the Roman army, and potential heir to the empire.** Their loyalty and affection for each other, combined with the fact that six of her children survived to adulthood, cemented her in the eyes of the populace as the ideal matron, wife, and mother.
When Germanicus went on campaign, Agrippina did something quite contrary to what was expected of a Roman matron: she went with him. This was something unheard of. A general’s wife didn’t go with him on campaign. Agrippina, however, went anyway and earned a reputation as an effective diplomat.
Tragedy struck when the couple visited the governor of Syria and Germanicus died under suspicious circumstances. Some, Agrippina included, believed he had been assassinated, possibly on Tiberius’s orders. She returned to Rome to live with her step-grandmother Livia and her mother-in-law Antonia Minor.
She involved herself in politics, which led to tension between her and the Emperor, but also brought her significant, though indirect, political power. In 29, around the time of Livia’s death, Tiberius had her and two of her sons arrested, exiled, and imprisoned. She died of starvation in 33, though the question whether or not this was voluntary was left open and unanswered by Roman historians.
Tiberius had the Senate declare her birth date a day of ill omen. It was only when Tiberius died and Caligula, Agrippina’s only remaining son, took power that her name was cleared.
*He had two other daughters from a previous marriage: Vipsania Agrippina and Vipsania Marcella Agrippina. Technically Agrippina the Elder’s name was also Vipsania Agrippina. This doesn’t make things confusing at all. Not at all.
**Once Tiberius adopted Germanicus this marriage made her Tiberius’s daughter-in-law in addition to already being his former sister-in-law (as he had previously been married to her half-sister) and step-daughter. Not confusing at all.