20 Historical Rulers Who Murdered Members Of Their Own Family

A bust of Agrippina the Younger, held in the National Museum in Warsaw (c. 1st century CE). Wikimedia Commons.

19. Agrippina the Younger, a ruthless and ambitious member of the Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty, murdered her uncle and husband to secure her son the throne

Agrippina the Younger, also known as Agrippina Minor, was a Roman Empress of the Julio-Claudian dynasty: the first imperial line of Ancient Rome. The daughter of Germanicus, heir-apparent to Tiberius until the former’s sudden and suspicious death, her brother, Caligula, instead ascended to the imperial title in 37 CE. Allegedly engaging in an incestuous relationship with her brother, Agrippina was exiled in 40 CE after being implicated in a failed assassination plot. After the murder of Caligula in January 41 CE, Agrippina returned to eventually marry his successor and her paternal uncle, Claudius. Their marriage in 48 CE was controversial, provoking outcry in Rome as immoral.

However, Agrippina, as she did throughout her life, married not for love but for power. Ruthlessly using her position as Empress to purge the imperial court of all who opposed her, she sought to leverage her son by a former marriage into position to inherit the throne. Succeeding in this goal, her son, renamed Nero, was formally adopted by Claudius in 50 CE. Outliving his usefulness, Agrippina is recorded as having poisoned her uncle and husband on October 14, 54 CE, with deadly mushrooms during a banquet. Although Nero did indeed succeed his adopted father, his reign was turbulent and he became the first emperor to commit suicide in 68 CE.