A night of brilliant starlight with the calm of a tranquil sea was
granted by heaven, seemingly, to convict the crime. The vessel had
not gone far, Agrippina having with her two of her intimate attendants,
one of whom, Crepereius Gallus, stood near the helm, while Acerronia,
reclining at Agrippina’s feet as she reposed herself, spoke joyfully
of her son’s repentance and of the recovery of the mother’s influence,
when at a given signal the ceiling of the place, which was loaded
with a quantity of lead, fell in, and Crepereius was crushed and instantly
killed. Agrippina and Acerronia were protected by the projecting sides
of the couch, which happened to be too strong to yield under the weight.
But this was not followed by the breaking up of the vessel; for all
were bewildered, and those too, who were in the plot, were hindered
by the unconscious majority. The crew then thought it best to throw
the vessel on one side and so sink it, but they could not themselves
promptly unite to face the emergency, and others, by counteracting
the attempt, gave an opportunity of a gentler fall into the sea. Acerronia,
however, thoughtlessly exclaiming that she was Agrippina, and imploring
help for the emperor’s mother, was despatched with poles and oars,
and such naval implements as chance offered. Agrippina was silent
and was thus the less recognized; still, she received a wound in her
shoulder. She swam, then met with some small boats which conveyed
her to the Lucrine lake, and so entered her house.

There she reflected how for this very purpose she had been invited
by a lying letter and treated with conspicuous honour, how also it
was near the shore, not from being driven by winds or dashed on rocks,
that the vessel had in its upper part collapsed, like a mechanism
anything but nautical. She pondered too the death of Acerronia; she
looked at her own wound, and saw that her only safeguard against treachery
was to ignore it. Then she sent her freedman Agerinus to tell her
son how by heaven’s favour and his good fortune she had escaped a
terrible disaster; that she begged him, alarmed, as he might be, by
his mother’s peril, to put off the duty of a visit, as for the present
she needed repose. Meanwhile, pretending that she felt secure, she
applied remedies to her wound, and fomentations to her person. She
then ordered search to be made for the will of Acerronia, and her
property to be sealed, in this alone throwing off disguise.

Nero, meantime, as he waited for tidings of the consummation of the
deed, received information that she had escaped with the injury of
a slight wound, after having so far encountered the peril that there
could be no question as to its author. Then, paralysed with terror
and protesting that she would show herself the next moment eager for
vengeance, either arming the slaves or stirring up the soldiery, or
hastening to the Senate and the people, to charge him with the wreck,
with her wound, and with the destruction of her friends, he asked
what resource he had against all this, unless something could be at
once devised by Burrus and Seneca. He had instantly summoned both
of them, and possibly they were already in the secret. There was a
long silence on their part; they feared they might remonstrate in
vain, or believed the crisis to be such that Nero must perish, unless
Agrippina were at once crushed. Thereupon Seneca was so far the more
prompt as to glance back on Burrus, as if to ask him whether the bloody
deed must be required of the soldiers. Burrus replied “that the praetorians
were attached to the whole family of the Caesars, and remembering
Germanicus would not dare a savage deed on his offspring. It was for
Anicetus to accomplish his promise.”

Anicetus, without a pause, claimed for himself the consummation of
the crime. At those words, Nero declared that that day gave him empire,
and that a freedman was the author of this mighty boon. “Go,” he said,
“with all speed and take with you the men readiest to execute your
orders.” He himself, when he had heard of the arrival of Agrippina’s
messenger, Agerinus, contrived a theatrical mode of accusation, and,
while the man was repeating his message, threw down a sword at his
feet, then ordered him to be put in irons, as a detected criminal,
so that he might invent a story how his mother had plotted the emperor’s
destruction and in the shame of discovered guilt had by her own choice
sought death.

Meantime, Agrippina’s peril being universally known and taken to be
an accidental occurrence, everybody, the moment he heard of it, hurried
down to the beach. Some climbed projecting piers; some the nearest
vessels; others, as far as their stature allowed, went into the sea;
some, again, stood with outstretched arms, while the whole shore rung
with wailings, with prayers and cries, as different questions were
asked and uncertain answers given. A vast multitude streamed to the
spot with torches, and as soon as all knew that she was safe, they
at once prepared to wish her joy, till the sight of an armed and threatening
force scared them away. Anicetus then surrounded the house with a
guard, and having burst open the gates, dragged off the slaves who
met him, till he came to the door of her chamber, where a few still
stood, after the rest had fled in terror at the attack. A small lamp
was in the room, and one slave-girl with Agrippina, who grew more
and more anxious, as no messenger came from her son, not even Agerinus,
while the appearance of the shore was changed, a solitude one moment,
then sudden bustle and tokens of the worst catastrophe. As the girl
rose to depart, she exclaimed, “Do you too forsake me?” and looking
round saw Anicetus, who had with him the captain of the trireme, Herculeius,
and Obaritus, a centurion of marines. “If,” said she, “you have come
to see me, take back word that I have recovered, but if you are here
to do a crime, I believe nothing about my son; he has not ordered
his mother’s murder.”

The assassins closed in round her couch, and the captain of the trireme
first struck her head violently with a club. Then, as the centurion
bared his sword for the fatal deed, presenting her person, she exclaimed,
“Smite my womb,” and with many wounds she was slain.

So far our accounts agree. That Nero gazed on his mother after her
death and praised her beauty, some have related, while others deny
it. Her body was burnt that same night on a dining couch, with a mean
funeral; nor, as long as Nero was in power, was the earth raised into
a mound, or even decently closed. Subsequently, she received from
the solicitude of her domestics, a humble sepulchre on the road to
Misenum, near the country house of Caesar the Dictator, which from
a great height commands a view of the bay beneath. As soon as the
funeral pile was lighted, one of her freedmen, surnamed Mnester, ran
himself through with a sword, either from love of his mistress or
from the fear of destruction.

Many years before Agrippina had anticipated this end for herself and
had spurned the thought. For when she consulted the astrologers about
Nero, they replied that he would be emperor and kill his mother. “Let
him kill her,” she said, “provided he is emperor.”

But the emperor, when the crime was at last accomplished, realised
its portentous guilt. The rest of the night, now silent and stupified,
now and still oftener starting up in terror, bereft of reason, he
awaited the dawn as if it would bring with it his doom. He was first
encouraged to hope by the flattery addressed to him, at the prompting
of Burrus, by the centurions and tribunes, who again and again pressed
his hand and congratulated him on his having escaped an unforeseen
danger and his mother’s daring crime. Then his friends went to the
temples, and, an example having once been set, the neighbouring towns
of Campania testified their joy with sacrifices and deputations. He
himself, with an opposite phase of hypocrisy, seemed sad, and almost
angry at his own deliverance, and shed tears over his mother’s death.
But as the aspects of places change not, as do the looks of men, and
as he had ever before his eyes the dreadful sight of that sea with
its shores (some too believed that the notes of a funereal trumpet
were heard from the surrounding heights, and wailings from the mother’s
grave), he retired to Neapolis and sent a letter to the Senate, the
drift of which was that Agerinus, one of Agrippina’s confidential
freedmen, had been detected with the dagger of an assassin, and that
in the consciousness of having planned the crime she had paid its
The Annals by Tacitus