|Tenure||24 January 41 – 48|
|Claudia Octavia, Empress of Rome
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus
|House||Julio-Claudian (by marriage)
gens Valeria (by birth)
|Father||Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus|
|Mother||Domitia Lepida the Younger|
|Born||25 January 17 or 20
Rome, Roman Empire
|Died||48 (aged 31 or 28)
Gardens of Lucullus, Rome, Roman Empire
Valeria Messalina, sometimes spelled Messallina, (c. 17/20–48) was a Roman empress as the third wife of the Emperor Claudius. She was also a paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero, second cousin of the Emperor Caligula, and great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she conspired against her husband and was executed when the plot was discovered.
Family & Early Life 
Messalina was the first daughter and second child of Domitia Lepida the Younger and her first cousin Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus. Messalina's father was the son of Marcus Valerius Messala Barbatus Appianus, a Claudius Pulcher by birth (son of Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul 38 BC) adopted by Marcus Valerius Messala, cos. suff. 32 BC. His mother was Claudia Marcella Minor. Messalina's elder brother, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, served as consul in 58. Her mother was the youngest child of the consul Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus and Antonia Major. Domitia Lepida had two siblings: Domitia Lepida the Elder, and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. Domitius was the first husband of the future Augusta Agrippina the Younger and the biological father of the Princeps Nero, making Nero Messalina's first cousin despite a seventeen-year age difference. Messalina's grandmothers Claudia Marcella and Antonia Major were half sisters. Claudia Marcella, Messalina's paternal grandmother, was the daughter of Augustus' sister Octavia the Younger by her marriage to Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor. Antonia Major, Messalina's maternal grandmother, was the elder daughter of Octavia by her marriage to Mark Antony, and was Claudius' maternal aunt.
Born no later than 12 BC and on the basis of his family distinction, Messalina's father could have expected a consulship by 23. Since he didn't become consul, he most likely died before that date. Her mother then married the consul Faustus Cornelius Sulla Lucullus III, great-grandson of the Roman Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Faustus and Lepida had a son around 22, Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix, Messalina's half brother. Faustus was consul in 52. Messalina was probably born and raised in Rome. Little is known about her life prior to her marriage to Claudius in 38.
Marriage to Claudius 
Either in 37 or 38, Messalina married her second cousin Claudius, who was about 48 years old. During the reign of another of her second cousins, the unstable Emperor Caligula (reigned 37–41), Messalina was very wealthy, an influential figure and a regular at Caligula's court. Claudius was Caligula's paternal uncle and was becoming influential and popular. Claudius probably married her to strengthen ties within the imperial family. Upon marrying Claudius, Messalina became a stepmother to Claudia Antonia, Claudius's daughter through his second marriage to Aelia Paetina.
Messalina bore two children during her marriage to Claudius: a daughter Claudia Octavia (born 39 or 40), a future empress, stepsister and first wife to the emperor Nero; and a son, Britannicus (born 41). On January 24, AD 41, Caligula and his family were murdered by a conspiracy led by Cassius Chaerea, and later that day, the Praetorian Guard proclaimed Claudius the new emperor and Messalina the new empress.
Roman Empress 
Messalina became the most powerful woman in the Roman Empire. Claudius bestowed various honors on her: her birthday was officially celebrated; statues of her were erected in public places; and she was given the privilege of occupying the front seats at the theatre along with the Vestal Virgins. The Roman Senate wanted Messalina to have the title of "Augusta", but Claudius refused. In 43, Claudius held a triumphant military parade to celebrate the successful campaign in Britain. Messalina followed his chariot in a covered carriage, and behind her marched the generals.
Through her status, Messalina became very influential, but in character she was very insecure. Claudius, as an older man, could have died at any moment, and Britannicus would have become the new emperor. To improve her own security and ensure the future of her children, Messalina sought to eliminate anyone who was a potential threat to her and her children. Among those who were loyal to Messalina was consul Lucius Vitellius the Elder. He begged her as a tremendous privilege for him to remove Messalina's shoes.
Due to his devotion to her, Messalina was able to manipulate Claudius into ordering the exile or execution of various people: the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger; Claudius’ nieces Julia Livilla and Julia; Marcus Vinicius (husband of Julia Livilla); consul Gaius Asinius Pollio II (see Vipsania Agrippina); the elder Poppaea Sabina (mother of Empress Poppaea Sabina, second wife of Nero); consul Decimus Valerius Asiaticus; and Polybius. Claudius had the reputation of being easily controlled by his wives and freedmen.
A well-known example of Messalina trying to eliminate her rivals was when Agrippina the Younger returned from exile after January 41. Agrippina was a niece to Claudius, a daughter of Claudius’ late brother Germanicus. Messalina realised that Agrippina's son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (the future Emperor Nero) was a threat to her son's position and sent assassins to strangle Nero during his siesta. When they approached his couch, they saw what appeared to be a snake near his pillow and fled in terror. The apparent snake was actually a sloughed-off snake skin.
The ancient Roman sources, particularly Tacitus and Suetonius, portray Messalina as extremely lustful, but also insulting, disgraceful, cruel, and avaricious; they claimed her negative qualities were a result of her inbreeding. The oft-repeated tale of Messalina's all-night sex competition with a prostitute comes from Book X of Pliny the Elder's Natural History, according to which the competition lasted for 24 hours and Messalina won with a score of 25 partners.
Roman sources state that Messalina used sex to enforce her power and control politicians, that she had a brothel under an assumed name and organised orgies for upper class women, and that she sold her influence to Roman nobles or foreign notables.
Downfall, death & aftermath 
Troy Pageant 
During the Secular Games in 47, at the performance of the Troy Pageant, Messalina attended the event with her son, Britannicus. Also present was Agrippina the Younger with her son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (Nero). Agrippina and Nero received a greater acclamation from the audience than did Messalina and Britannicus. Many people began to show pity and sympathy for Agrippina, due to unfortunate circumstances that occurred in her life.vThis is probably a first sign of Messalina's declining popularity.
Affair with Gaius Silius 
Later that year, Messalina became interested in the attractive Roman Senator Gaius Silius, who was married to the aristocratic woman Junia Silana (sister of Caligula's first wife Junia Claudilla). Messalina and Silius became lovers and Messalina forced Silius to divorce his wife. Silius realised the danger in which he had put himself. Messalina and Silius plotted to kill the emperor, and Messalina would make him the new emperor. Silius was childless and wanted to adopt Britannicus.
Plot discovery 
While Claudius was in Ostia inspecting harbor construction, his freedman Tiberius Claudius Narcissus advised him of Messalina's and Silius' plot to kill him. Messalina travelled to Ostia with her children hoping to speak to Claudius, but the emperor had left Ostia before she was able to do so. Narcissus had delayed Messalina, preventing her from seeing Claudius.
Claudius ordered the deaths of Messalina and Silius in 48. In Messalina's final hours, she was in the Gardens of Lucullus. Messalina and her mother were preparing a petition for Claudius. At the height of Messalina's influence and prosperity, Domitia Lepida and Messalina, having argued, had become estranged. Apparently overcome by pity, Lepida stayed with her daughter. Lepida's last words to her were: "Your life is finished. All that remains is to make a decent end." Messalina was reputedly weeping and moaning.
An officer and a former slave arrived together to witness Messalina's death. The former slave verbally insulted her while the officer stood by in silence. Messalina was offered the choice of killing herself, but was too afraid to do so, so the officer decapitated Messalina. Her dead body was left with her mother. At the time of Messalina's death, Claudius was attending a dinner. When Messalina's death was announced to him, Claudius showed no emotion, but asked for more wine.
In the days after her death, Claudius gave no sign of hatred, anger, distress, satisfaction, or any other passion. The only ones who mourned for Messalina were her children. The Roman Senate ordered that Messalina's name be removed from all public or private places and all statues of her be removed. On New Year's Day in 49, Claudius married, as his fourth wife, his niece Agrippina the Younger, who went on to remove from the imperial court anyone she considered loyal to the memory of Messalina. Agrippina's son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was adopted by Claudius as his son and heir. He became known as Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus and succeeded Claudius as emperor instead of Messalina's son Britannicus.
|Ancestors of Messalina|
Popular culture 
In fiction 
Messalina was featured prominently in Robert Graves' novels I, Claudius, and Claudius the God. In keeping with the historical views at the time the novels were written (1934–35), Messalina is portrayed as a teenager at the time of her marriage. She is also credited with all the actions mentioned in the ancient sources. He names prostitute who Messalina competed with as Scylla, following the Restoration playwright Nathaniel Richards in The Tragedy of Messalina, Empress of Rome (1640), although she is not named by Pliny.
Messalina has been portrayed many times elsewhere in movies and television films or miniseries, played by these actresses:
- Maria Caserini in the 1910 Italian silent film Messalina, directed by Enrico Guazzoni.
- Rina De Liguoro in the 1922 Italian silent film Messalina, directed by Enrico Guazzoni.
- María Félix in the 1951 Italian film Messalina, directed by Carmine Gallone.
- Susan Hayward in the 1954 Biblical epic Demetrius and the Gladiators, a completely fictionalized interpretation in which Messalina reforms and becomes a Christian.
- Belinda Lee in the 1960 film Messalina, Venere imperatrice.
- Sheila White in the 1976 BBC serial I, Claudius.
- Anneka Di Lorenzo in the 1979 film Caligula, and the 1977 comedy Messalina, Messalina!, which used many of the same set pieces as the earlier-filmed, but later released Caligula.
- Jennifer O'Neill in the 1985 TV series A.D._(miniseries).
- Kelly Trump in the 1996 adult film Messalina, directed by Joe D'Amato.
- Sonia Aquino in the 2004 TV movie Imperium: Nero.
The French writer Alfred Jarry based his novel Messalina (or The Garden of Priapus in Louis Colman's English translation) on the myths surrounding the subject. She is referred to in his book Le Surmâle (in English the Supermale); these two books are offered as diametrically opposed entities in his 'pataphysical œuvre. The Messalinas of these books are highly fictionalized and subject to Jarry's fanciful and extravagant imagination.
In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, the Forsaken Mesaana is named after Messalina. In Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Messalina is a guest at Satan's ball. In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester refers to his first wife as his Indian Messalina. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs, the protagonist's aunt, who 'first aroused [his] desire for women' is referred to as a Messalina. Mario Puzo's The Last Don revolves around a film called "Messalina" based on the notorious all night exploits of the empress. Chuck Palahniuk's novel Snuff makes numerous references to Messalina's sexual exploits (in particular, the story of her competition with Scylla) as a sort of precedent for the feats attempted by the novel's central character. Messalina is the name given to a Native American orphan by a Presbyterian family before she is taken in by Jacob Vaark in Toni Morrison's 2008 novel A Mercy. She goes by the nickname Lina. In Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, a dog with many pups is named after the Empress. Messalina is also mentioned in Paulo Coelho's book "Eleven Minutes."
Messalina is also briefly mentioned in Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in Chapter 6 as Lord Henry retorts to Basil's disapproval of Dorian's engagement: "If he wedded Messalina he would be none the less interesting".
In C.S. Lewis's essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast, the lead character, a devil giving a speech at the Tempter's College in Hell, makes reference to the dinner fare of 'Casserole of Adulterers': "To I who have tasted Messalina and Casanova they were nauseating."
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, LX. 14–18, 27–31
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX. 8; The Wars of the Jews II. 12
- Juvenal, Satires 6, 10, 14
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History 10
- Plutarch, Lives
- Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii; Octavia, 257–261
- Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Claudius 17, 26, 27, 29, 36, 37, 39; Nero 6; Vitellius 2
- Tacitus, Annals, XI. 1, 2, 12, 26–38
- Sextus Aurelius Victor, epitome of Book of Caesars, 4
- (French) Minaud, Gérard, Les vies de 12 femmes d’empereur romain - Devoirs, Intrigues & Voluptés , Paris, L’Harmattan, 2012, ch. 2, La vie de Messaline, femme de Claude, p. 39-64.
- Barrett, Anthony A. (1996). Agrippina: Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Klebs, E.; H. Dessau, P. Von Rohden (ed.) (1897–1898). Prosopographia Imperii Romani. Berlin.
- Levick, Barbara (1990). Claudius. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Dina Sahyouni, « Le pouvoir critique des modèles féminins dans les Mémoires secrets : le cas de Messaline », in Le règne de la critique. L’imaginaire culturel des Mémoires secrets, sous la direction de Christophe Cave, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2010, p. 151–160.
- Prosopographia Imperii Romani V 161
- Prosopographia Imperii Romani V 88
- Suetonius, Vita Claudii, 26.29
- Prosopographia Imperii Romani V 89
- Prosopographia Imperii Romani, stemma p. 363
- Levick, Claudius, p. 54
- Barrett, Agrippina, p. 233
- Cassius Dio 60.31
- IMDB – Messalina, Empress of Rome (1977)
|Empress of Rome
Agrippina the Younger