Saturday, October 19, 2013

History mystery: Ruthless Historical Figure, Queen Valeria Messalina

Messalina was the daughter and the second child of Marcus Valerius Messalls Barbatus and Domitia Lepida the Younger, who also happened to be his first cousin. Messalina’s grandparents Claudia Marcella and Anthony Major were half sisters and there was a large amount of inbreeding from her paternal and maternal side of her family. She was the third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero, a second cousin of Emperor Caligula and the great grandniece of Emperor Augustus and not much is known about Messalina before her marriage to her second cousin Claudius.

While she was young she was quite popular in the court of her cousin Caligula and may have picked up most of his habits in his debaucheries hall which have resulted in her adulteress way of living. After marriage to her cousin Claudius, she bore two children, a daughter, Claudia Octavia and son Tiberius Claudius Germanicus also called Britanicus. When Emperor Caligula was murdered, Claudius and Messalina became the new Emperor and Empress.

With this rise to power, Messalina entered history with a reputation of a ruthless and as an adulterous woman. Her husband on the other hand was easily manipulated by her and in the beginning was unaware of her many follies. She is said to have used her influence which affected a large number of prosecution in her country. She used her influence and power during her tenure as imperial wife especially on Narcissus, as accomplice, who was the foremost of Claudius’s secretaries.

According to some sources, she allied herself with Claudius’s freedman, Narcissus to dominate the emperor and to fulfill her own desires. Her first victim happened to be Appius Junius Silanus who had been in command of the three legions in Spain before he was brought to Rome and married to Messalina’s mother with the intention to lessen any threat that his military authority provided him with.

Valeria Messalina-2
Messalina was powerful and influential and was known for various notorious behaviors and used her complex manipulations which resulted in murders and exile of her proposed enemies. She had a long list of enemies which included a philosopher, Seneca, who was exiled under her order, Claudius’s niece, Julia who was first exiled and then murdered; Marcus Vinicius was also poisoned by her along with many other political who were rivals to her son Britanicus.

The version of the story relates that according to Messalina and Narcissus, each in turn dreamt that Appius had intentions of assassinating Claudius and one day Appius’s sudden entry into Claudius’s chamber for an early morning appearance seemed to confirm that their dream could be true and he was executed for a crime which he had not committed. Some are of the belief that Claudius himself could be instrumental in planning the execution to get rid of his enemy and Messalina and Narcissus may not have even been involved in the plot.

In the ancient world whenever woman had any role in the affairs of the state, they became part of the story and used their power and influence according to their means and purpose. Messalina used her power in enticing many men towards her bedroom chamber and was considered to be an unchaste woman. She would boast that she could take many men at a stretch against her rival and according to Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, she is said to have challenged a popular prostitute in a contest which lasted for twenty four hours and she won with a score of twenty five men.

In another incident she created a brothel where she along with her other aristocratic members anonymously serviced men in her city and though these incidents could be exaggerated by the enemies, the influence of women in power is not something that is unheard of and her connection with Vettius Valens and Plautius Laternaus show evidence since they are documented.

Using her promiscuity was evident in many reports of her political manipulation and sometimes she also used her power to save people especially her lover in a particular instance and saved a German Sabinus from being executed in the arena. Being a powerful and an influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity it is said that she conspired against her husband Claudius but her plot was discovered. Her story goes on to say according to Tacitus who describes that she met her end when her final affair was with Silius the handsome young nobleman and the husband of Junia whom she had ordered to be exiled and later murdered.

One day in autumn, she unilaterally pronounced herself divorced from Claudius and in an odd private yet proper ceremony married Gaius Silius. Tacitus states that he was unaware that this incident could be a fiction but credits it all the same saying that Silius had earlier divorced his wife in order that he could be with Messalina. He further states that Messalina had been transferring possessions belonging to the imperial family, to him and while Claudius was away from Rome, a grand party was organized to celebrate the event.

Many got to know of this secret marriage though Claudius was ignorant about the same but when he learned of it his fearful reaction indicated that he seemed to recognize it as coup attempt to destroy him, intended to punish her severely. He sought the help of his trusted freedman Narcissus who had apparently worked closely with Messalina earlier, had now turned against her when she became the cause of the death of Polybius, another freedman secretary of Claudius.

 Narcissus seemed to be careful in ensuring that Messalina did not make attempts to soften Claudius resolution of punishment. It is said that Messalina after being caught in her act of a secret marriage retreated to the gardens of Lucullus for safety, the garden belonging to Valerius Asiaticus whose persecution she had once influenced and she was urged to make an honorable end by suicide. Messalina did not have the courage or the will to kill herself and so the centurion in charge of the execution helped her by executing her along with Silius and a number of many upper class members.

1 comment:

  1. That was too much of mystery...too difficult to believe ...Very well presented :-)



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