Military Review

Mark Vipsanius Agrippa. In the shadow of Emperor Augustus

Mark Vipsanius Agrippa. In the shadow of Emperor Augustus
Andrew Keir as Agrippa (right) and Roddy McDowall as Octavian. Frame from the film "Cleopatra", 1963

Mark Vipsanius Agrippa is not well known even to people who are interested in history. When it comes to the tragic events that shook Rome to its foundation in the XNUMXst century BC. e. - the painful process of the agony of the republic and the formation of the principate, they remember first of all Pompey, Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and Octavian. Few people remember, for example, Sextus Pompey, who is often dismissively called the leader of the Sicilian pirates (which is absolutely not true).

Mark Vipsanius Agrippa also remains in the shadows, the existence of which many learned only from the famous film Cleopatra in 1963 (and soon they safely forgot about this hero). Meanwhile, there is every reason to believe that without Agrippa, Octavian would never have become Augustus - "Great Pontiff, Consul 13 times, Emperor 21 times, endowed with the power of a people's tribune 37 times, Father of the Fatherland."

Octavian Augustus, Paris, Louvre

Contemporaries rated the activities of Agrippa extremely highly. So, for example, Virgil in the VIII book of the Aeneid claims that on the shield of Aeneas, which was forged for him at the request of Venus (the mother of the hero) by the god Vulcan, there was an image of Agrippa leading ships in the battle of Cape Actions (this picture is from the future of the readers of the poem didn't bother me for some reason).

And Octavian cannot be reproached for ingratitude and the desire to erase the memory of Agrippa, attributing to himself all his merits. He even ordered to bury him in his mausoleum. It's just that human memory is selective, and for each era it saves only a few names. But the hero of today's article will be Mark Agrippa, let's try to remember the main milestones of his life, achievements and successes.


The birthplace of Mark Vipsanias Agrippa is still disputed. Some believe that Perugia was his homeland, others speak of the Italian region of Latium, others that he was born in Istria, that is, on the territory of modern Croatia. It happened in 64 or 63 BC. e.

By the way, Pliny the Elder claims that the name Agrippa was given to children born "foot first" (with a breech presentation of the fetus). Agrippa's family was quite prosperous and belonged to the class of horsemen (equites). A friend of Agrippa, Gaius Octavius ​​Furin, great-nephew of Gaius Julius Caesar, also came from a family of Equites. However, his family was Roman, not provincial, and considered more noble.

Atia Balba Caesonia, Caesar's niece and Octavian's mother

Octavius ​​and Agrippa were in the army of Caesar during the war in Spain with Gnaeus Pompey the Younger (the eldest son of Pompey Magnus) and took part in the decisive battle of this campaign (Battle of Munda, March 17, 45 BC). At that time they were both about 17 years old. But the older brother of Agrippa, Lucius, was a Pompeian and fought against Caesar in North Africa at the Battle of Taps (April 6, 46 BC). He was captured and was forgiven by Caesar at the request of Octavius.

At the end of the war, Agrippa and Octavius ​​went to study in Apollonia Illyria (this is the territory of modern Albania). The third in this company turned out to be the notorious Gaius Tsilny Maecenas, whose name would later become a household name - a representative of an ancient Etruscan family, also from the class of horsemen.


Just 4 months later, Octavius ​​received news of the assassination of Caesar, as well as that it was his dictator who appointed him as his heir. The situation in Rome was so serious that even his mother and stepfather advised Octavius ​​not to return home and not claim such a dangerous inheritance.

It is believed that it was Agrippa who convinced Octavius ​​to join the struggle for power over Rome. Friends went to their homeland, where they learned that the entire state of Caesar was in the hands of Mark Antony, who was popular among the troops, had numerous supporters and, finally, was older and more experienced than the 19-year-old Octavius ​​(at that time Antony was 39-42 years old) .

Mark Antony in a chariot drawn by lions. This sculptural composition was created by A. Strasser for demonstration at the World Exhibition in Paris (1900), now it can be seen in Vienna at the Secession Museum

But Octavius ​​announced the entry into the rights of inheritance and took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. In order to fulfill the points of Caesar's will and arrange worthy games in his honor, he had to sell the estates of his mother and stepfather.

Support for the dictator's heir was provided by Cicero, whom Octavian would later "sacrifice" at the request of Mark Antony - in accordance with the agreement on the formation of the triumvirate. Antony, in turn, will sacrifice his maternal uncle, and Lepidus his brother.

Beginning of political and military career

Agrippa actively supported his friend. He was only 20 years old when he successfully acted as an accuser for Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of Caesar's assassins.

Senators then found themselves in a difficult situation. They wanted the restoration of the republic, but the power was on the side of the pretenders - Mark Antony and Octavian, each of whom had legions loyal to them. Some of those who were on the side of Octavius, Agrippa brought from Greece, two more, thanks to skillful agitation, went over to his side from the army of Mark Antony.

The rehabilitated Sextus Pompey, appointed to command the Republican fleet, having moved from Spain to Massalia (Marseille), he waited, observing neutrality (and eventually waited for his outlaws to be declared).

And in Italy, the Mutinskaya war began, in which the Senate tried to resist both Mark Antony and Octavian, who, in turn, fought against each other. In the autumn of 44 B.C. e. Anthony, at the head of four legions, began hostilities in Cisalpine Gaul, in November he laid siege to Mutina (Modena), where the governor of this province, Decimus Brutus, was located.

But on April 21, 43 BC. e. Antony's army was defeated by the troops of Octavian and the consul Aulus Hirtius. Antony retreated to Narbonne Gaul, whose governor was his ally Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. But both consuls died in this war, and a “power vacuum” formed in Rome. Nevertheless, the senate categorically refused to appoint Octavian as the new consul.

But the senators still had to do it in August 43 BC. e. after Octavian entered Rome. In addition, the Senate decided that Mark Antony was more dangerous than his young and inexperienced competitor.

However, on November 27 of the same year, Octavian and Antony, through the mediation of Mark Lepidus, unexpectedly for everyone, agreed on an alliance for 5 years. So the Second Triumvirate was formed, and the republican lands were divided into three parts: Mark Antony received the eastern provinces, Lepidus - North Africa. Octavian - Italy (later, under an agreement concluded in Brundisium, he annexed Spain and Gaul to his possessions).

The killers of Caesar and those who sympathized with them were outlawed, many noble Romans were killed, even more fled to Sicily to Sextus Pompey (among them was even Octavian's future wife, Livia Drusilla). September 42 B.C. e. Agrippa was in the army of the triumvirs during the famous battle of Philippi, in which Brutus and Cassius were defeated. However, already in the summer of 41 BC. e. a new civil war began - the Perusian, in which Octavian's opponents were the wife of Mark Antony Fulvia and the consul Lucius Antony, brother of the triumvir. One of the commanders in the army of Octavian was the 22-year-old Agrippa.

As a result, the troops of Lucius and Fulvia, blocked in Perusia, surrendered in the spring of 40 BC. e. In the summer of that year, Mark Antony, albeit belatedly, nevertheless appeared in Italy and laid siege to Brundisium, but the veterans of the opposing armies recognized and greeted each other. This forced the triumvirs to conclude a new agreement, one of the points of which was the marriage of Mark Antony with Octavian's sister.

They say that it was Agrippa and Maecenas who organized the personal meeting of the triumvirs. Upon his return to Rome, Agrippa received the position of city praetor and the right to govern Rome in the absence of Octavian. At that time, among Octavian's close associates, Maecenas and Agrippa enjoyed the greatest influence.

However, later Maecenas withdrew from political affairs (although he retained friendly relations with Octavian and influence on him), and Agrippa became the second person in the state. In the meantime, in 39 (according to other sources - in 38) BC. e. Agrippa, who was about 25 years old, received the management of Transalpine Gaul. Here he fought with the Germans, crossed the Rhine, and resettled on the left bank of this river the tribe of Ubiy who turned to him for help. The main city of the Ubii was later called "Agrippina's Colony", now known as Cologne. In addition, Agrippa crushed the revolt of the Aquitanes. In 37 BC. e. he was elected consul - despite the fact that the age limit of 43 was set for this magistracy.

Agrippa vs. Sextus Pompey

And this time, the situation on the sea lanes of Rome again escalated. Declared by the triumvirs in 43 BC. e. outlaw Sextus Pompey moved to Sicily, which he turned into a base for a powerful fleet. Both slaves and aristocrats included in the proscription lists fled to him from Italy. The admirals of the Sicilian fleet and the captains of the ships often became former pirates, once defeated by the father of Sextus - Pompey the Great. Pompey's ill-wishers even called the chief admiral of the Sicilian fleet, the freedman Menodorus, a former pirate.

Having won a number of victories, Sextus Pompey began to call himself the son of Neptune and wear a sea-green toga. At the same time, in the eyes of the Romans, he was not a marginal and the leader of a gang of robbers, but a very respected person, the son of one of the most popular political figures - Gnaeus Pompey the Great. Many expected Sextus Pompey to return to Rome and become dictator.

Possible portrait of Sextus Pompey

Unable to resist Sextus Pompey at sea, the triumvirs in February 39 BC. e. were forced to conclude the Treaty of Mizena, according to which Pompey received not only Sicily, but also Sardinia, Corsica and Achaia in his possession, promising in return to stop accepting fugitive slaves and ensure unhindered delivery of grain to Italy. However, Pompey continued to accept fugitive slaves, and Octavian accepted one of the main employees of his rival, Menodorus, who gave him Sardinia and Corsica, three legions stationed on these islands, and ships subordinate to him.

Mark Antony retired from the fight and even advised Octavian not to accept Menodorus. However, in 38 B.C. e. Octavian began fighting in 36 BC. e. another triumvir, Lepidus, joined him. Antony gave Octavian 120 of his ships, exchanging them for 20 soldiers.

In 38 BC. e. the traitor Menodorus defeated the Sicilian fleet in a naval battle at Cum. But then Pompey managed to win the battle at Scilleus, and then a storm broke out that drowned many Roman ships. After this failure, Gaius Calvisius Sabinus, commander of the Roman fleet, was sent to administrative work in Italy. Correct the situation from Gaul in 37 BC. e. Mark Vipsanius Agrippa was summoned.

Mark Vipsanius Agrippa, marble bust, circa 25–24 AD BC e. Louvre

He began his activities with the construction of a naval base in Mizen. For this, a canal was dug, connecting the Lucrino and Avernian lakes with the sea. At that time, light ships formed the basis of the fleets of Sicily and Rome, while Pompey's crews were much better prepared, and therefore his skillfully maneuvering squadrons had an advantage during battles. Realizing this, Agrippa decided to give Pompey an "asymmetric answer": he ordered the construction of ships of a new type - large and heavy, capable of taking on board a large number of soldiers.

Already in August 36 BC. e. in the battle of Mila, the Romans lost only 5 ships, their opponents lost 30, including the flagship, and Admiral Demohar, who was on it, had to swim to another ship. Returning to Sicily, Pompey said that the battle with the new Roman ships was more like storming fortresses.

But this was not enough: Agrippa's ships received fundamentally new devices for naval combat - harpags or harpaxes (harpax). They were heavy bars with a hook at the end. They were fired with the help of ballistas and, like harpoons, got stuck in the sides of enemy ships. After that, small ships were raised above the water with the help of blocks, larger ships were pulled up and, taking advantage of the number of soldiers stationed, were boarded.

Harpax, modern reconstruction

The use of harpaxes by the Romans in the decisive naval battle near Navlakh (September 3, 36 BC) had a huge impact on the outcome of this battle. The crews of Pompey simply did not have the means to quickly kill them. Only later were special sickle-shaped blades mounted on long handles invented. In the meantime, it was only possible to row with all your might, giving reverse, which did not always help.

The defeat of the fleet of Sextus Pompey was crushing. Of the 180 ships he had left only 17, Admiral Demohar, in order not to be captured, committed suicide. One of Pompey's two land armies, commanded by Thysien Gallus, folded weapon. Pompey still had eight legions of Lucius Pliny Rufus in western Sicily at his disposal, but he had already abandoned the fight and sailed east. At first, he wanted to surrender himself under the protection of Mark Antony, but, having learned about the defeat of the army of this triumvir from the Parthians, he tried to seize part of his possessions. As a result, he was defeated, surrendered, and in 35 BC. e. executed by order of the governor of Asia, Mark Titius.

Agrippa for the victory in the battle of Navlach was awarded the "marine crown", in which he was depicted on coins.

Agrippa on a Roman bronze coin

In the next article, we will continue and finish the story of Mark Vipsanias Agrippa.

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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 30 November 2022 06: 10
    Quiet, calm narration of affairs far past .. No revelations, no blood flows ..
    1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
      Kote Pan Kokhanka 30 November 2022 11: 46
      Quote: parusnik
      Quiet, calm narration of affairs far past .. No revelations, no blood flows ..

      Good day Alexey!
      About "flows of blood." The naval battle at Navlakh is considered one of the bloodiest in the history of the ancient fleet. In which 180 ships from Pompey and 120 from Octavian took part. Nearly 100 people on both sides. A. Shtenzel writes about 000 legionnaires, sailors and rowers.
      Losses were comparable.
      1. parusnik
        parusnik 30 November 2022 17: 11
        About "flows of blood."
        Especially no one cuts, does not strangle .. No, everyday, palace life. smile And a battle is a battle. For example: "Swede, Russian - stabs, cuts, cuts. Drum beat, clicks, rattle, Thunder of cannons, stomping, neighing, groaning, And death and hell from all sides." (c)
      2. ecolog
        ecolog 2 December 2022 01: 35
        300 snouts per ship? Wouldn't it be too much for a coaster made of ropes and boards? The number of ships and their fantastic capacity, the number of personnel, are also confusing. A rowing boat for 300 snouts is a sickly galley of Peter the Great, that is, 80% of the l / s on it are rowers, plus a few sailors (put and steer the sail) and a platoon of marines. At Peter’s, the soldiers were rowing, they were even happy to walk to the Swede as a pedestrian, but who’s here? hardly legionnaires. And where does so much forest come from for ships of this size ...
        1. Alexander Salenko
          Alexander Salenko 3 December 2022 07: 39
          Well, for example, a standard Greek trireme has almost 200 rowers, and precisely because the vessel is made of boards and ropes. you can make a lot of these vessels, by the way, the rope is not such a cheap thing, but there is a lot of wood at hand, there are Italian pine pines, do you remember the name of the Italian Pinocchio? And to them, in addition, cypresses, cedars and other woody vegetation. And Peter's galleys are exactly the same cheap vessels, do you think the Romans were dumber than the people of Peter's times? And when asked where so much forest came from, well, estimate that 80% of modern France was covered with forests, I’m sure that it was no worse with forests in Italy.
    2. astra wild2
      astra wild2 30 November 2022 12: 14
      "no blood flow"
      Alexei, if you don’t have enough blood, then.
      "Orchestra "W" is waiting for you"
      1. parusnik
        parusnik 30 November 2022 17: 13
        Sorry, smiley, forgot to put.
  2. Catfish
    Catfish 30 November 2022 07: 54
    All the good days! smile

    I wonder what kind of "golden cats" under the feet of the lions?

    They are not in this photo.
    1. know
      know 30 November 2022 08: 25
      Kittens of a lioness walking to the left? [ laughing
      Probably some kind of temporary promotion.
      1. Catfish
        Catfish 30 November 2022 08: 42
        There are two lionesses.
        There are many photos of this sculpture, but there are no kittens anywhere. request

        1. know
          know 30 November 2022 11: 55
          I'm writing - probably some kind of temporary action. Devoted to Children's Day, for example - I looked: it exists in Austria and is celebrated on September 20th.
          1. Catfish
            Catfish 1 December 2022 10: 54
            I'm writing - probably some kind of temporary action.

            It's possible, I'm not arguing. smile
        2. astra wild2
          astra wild2 30 November 2022 12: 21
          Good afternoon, Uncle Kostya. "There are no kittens anywhere" in this case - interference in the "creative process"?
          1. Catfish
            Catfish 1 December 2022 10: 56
            Good afternoon, Vera. smile
            - interference in the "creative process"?

            And who knows ... Alexey is most likely right
            some kind of temporary action. Devoted to Children's Day, for example - I looked: it exists in Austria and is celebrated on September 20th.
  3. know
    know 30 November 2022 08: 16
    Octavian cannot be reproached with ingratitude and the desire to erase the memory of Agrippa, attributing to himself all his merits. He even ordered to bury him in his mausoleum

    Here, in my opinion, the situation is twofold. On the one hand, Octavian declares: everyone, see how much I love and appreciate my dear and unforgettable comrade Agrippa! But at the same time, perhaps, he thinks: people will go to the grave of the popular Agrippa in Rome - it will turn out that they are going to my grave!
    1. Xenofont
      Xenofont 30 November 2022 18: 03
      The mausoleum, of course, is somewhat neglected, it is very difficult to find it, because it is located in the park and is all overgrown with creeping plants. But the impression is made by the scale and some kind of gloom. Somehow the authorities did not bother to refresh him.
  4. paul3390
    paul3390 30 November 2022 09: 23
    Well - how much Octavian valued Agrippa can be seen from the biography .. During his illness, he handed over the imperial ring to him, and not to the official heir Marcellus. Then he married his niece Marcellus, and adopted their children, Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar, and appointed them as his heirs after the death of Marcellus .. After the divorce, he generally married his daughter Julia ..
  5. north 2
    north 2 30 November 2022 11: 06
    the fact that the monument to Mark Antony was left in Vienna after the Paris exhibition is not an accident.
    Windbona, this is the ancient Roman Vienna, or modern Vienna on the site of the ancient Roman Windbona. True, then, instead of Mark Antony, Marcus Aurelius should have been sitting in the chariot ... By the way, looking at this monument you catch yourself thinking that you seemed to feel in St. Petersburg, looking at the monument to Alexander the Third by the sculptor Trubetskov. First of all, both in the monument to Mark Anthony and in the monument to Alexander III, much attention is drawn to who rolls the Emperors. And Anthony's lions and Alexander's horse without aggressive grace, without impulse, completely submissive ... although curbing a lion and a horse is, let's say, a big difference ...
    And both Emperors are also similar. Both are depicted in a simple way. without ceremonial gloss, with big bellies, without imperious gestures ...
    From the details of the chariot of Mark Antony, the spring springs of the suspension catches the eye, although for the chariots of the then army, the wicker bottom of the chariot served as springs from leather belts. This army of Mark Antony copied from the Syrians. And to enchain the wheels with iron or cast them completely from bronze, the Romans copied from the Celts.
    By the way, even then there were sabotage in the "garages" where the chariots were stored. Saboteurs penetrated the "garages" and replaced the wooden bushings of the chariot wheels with bushings made of wax of exactly the same color. During the attack, the wax melted, the wheels wedged, the chariot turned over and the crew and horses perished ...
  6. Kote Pan Kokhanka
    Kote Pan Kokhanka 30 November 2022 12: 00
    At that time, light ships formed the basis of the fleets of Sicily and Rome,

    The traditional mistake of the authors describing the naval battles of the era of Octavian Augustus.
    The basis of the Roman fleet was typical: triremes and quinqueremes. There were also six-row ships (2+2+2).
    A feature of Agripa's fleet were more quinqueremes with high superstructures (towers) and sheathed with wooden armor against rams.
    By the way, admirals have not yet been invented, so Pompey's fleet was headed by a freedman.
    Otherwise, I liked the work, although it echoes the previous ones from Valery's cycle. Thank you!
    1. know
      know 30 November 2022 12: 13
      Perhaps you are referring to the recent article on Sextus Pompey? Well, how to write about Agrippa without mentioning the battle of Navlach? Moreover, not everyone, probably, read the article about Sextus Pompey. By the way, this episode is written here in much less detail and "in other words."
      1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
        Kote Pan Kokhanka 30 November 2022 18: 54
        Quote: vet
        Perhaps you are referring to the recent article on Sextus Pompey? Well, how to write about Agrippa without mentioning the battle of Navlach? Moreover, not everyone, probably, read the article about Sextus Pompey. By the way, this episode is written here in much less detail and "in other words."

        I do not argue!
    2. astra wild2
      astra wild2 30 November 2022 13: 13
      "admirals have not yet been invented", which, however, did not prevent the then naval commanders from winning major victories
  7. Senior seaman
    Senior seaman 30 November 2022 12: 37
    But Octavius ​​announced the entry into the rights of inheritance and took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian.

    I read that during his lifetime he never called himself Octavian (former Octavius). So later historians christened him, who had to somehow distinguish all these emperors, as one who bore the city name Gaius Julius Caesar))))
    1. Alexander Salenko
      Alexander Salenko 3 December 2022 07: 44
      A good part of the emperors were Gaius and Julius and Caesar, and then Drusus, Nero and Germanicus.
  8. bandabas
    bandabas 30 November 2022 12: 42
    Of course it's interesting. But the passage of 2 millennia... Fairy tales are remade even in five to ten years. You don't have to look far for examples.
    1. Alexander Salenko
      Alexander Salenko 3 December 2022 07: 46
      The big is seen from a distance, I see no problem in historical research. You can lie with the size of the army, but the ships were counted for sure and the bases for them were reconstructed, for example in Carthage, in this sense, he was lucky for the researchers due to death.
  9. astra wild2
    astra wild2 30 November 2022 13: 02
    Valery, good afternoon. Do not be offended that Vyacheslav Olegovich "seduced" everyone with spears ..
    This, moderators or admins, no matter who, too lazy to make a schedule so that there are no "overlaps".
    I don't have enough anger for them.
  10. Prometey
    Prometey 30 November 2022 15: 11
    Does anyone know Lepidus - one of the persons of the third triumvirate? Although Octavian and Mark Antony can still be named, but the third one - Lepida - is not only all))
  11. Xenofont
    Xenofont 30 November 2022 16: 02
    For me, the Flu is the Pantheon in Rome. I have visited it twice and both times it was like frost on the skin! Amazing feeling! Something has accumulated there for two thousand years, because even after the victory of Christianity, the Pantheon remained a temple.
  12. Tuzik
    Tuzik 1 December 2022 23: 13
    Thank you!, I haven’t read it yet, I’ll pull it with pleasure, I watched feature films and TV shows about these guys
  13. faterdom
    faterdom 2 December 2022 00: 54
    A very interesting character. It's a shame, but lost among the stars of world history, which in these decades was more than ever in bulk. Here, whatever the name - so all have become common nouns, and even the highest titles. And on the way to Galilee, the son of God was also preparing.
  14. ecolog
    ecolog 2 December 2022 01: 45
    Agrippa, if not for Agrippa, then oh... who would argue, but... Putting capable people in the right positions is one of the main talents of any successful leader. "cadres decide everything" (c). It is somehow not disclosed here that Actavian not only promoted Kent, but wisely saw talent in his comrade. Moreover, we are talking about Rome, not the safest place, the elites slaughtered each other selflessly. I liked the phrase from the series Rome (in the correct translation): "When Sulla entered the city, houses could be painted with blood." and not by anyone's blood, please note.
  15. Alexander Salenko
    Alexander Salenko 3 December 2022 07: 32
    I would not say that Agrippa remained in the shadows, dear author. Those who are interested in ancient history still know about him, they could read from the same Snisarenko. And for the majority, Octavian is in style: they heard something like that.