Bruttia Crispina

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Bruttia Crispina
L'Image et le Pouvoir - Tête de Crispine 01.jpg
Head of Bruttia Crispina, Roman Empress
Empress of the Roman Empire
Tenure178 – 191
Born164 AD
Rome, Roman Empire
Died191 AD (aged 26-27)
Capri, Roman Empire
Full name
Bruttia Crispina
Regnal name
Bruttia Crispina Augusta
FatherGaius Bruttius Praesens

Bruttia Crispina (164 – 191 AD) was Roman Empress from 178 to 191 as the consort of Roman Emperor Commodus.[1] Her marriage to Commodus did not produce an heir, and her husband was instead succeeded by Pertinax.


Crispina came from an illustrious aristocratic family and was the daughter of twice consul Gaius Bruttius Praesens[2] and his wife Valeria.[3] Crispina’s paternal grandparents were consul and senator Gaius Bruttius Praesens and the rich heiress Laberia Hostilia Crispina, daughter of another twice consul, Manius Laberius Maximus.

Crispina's brother was future consul Lucius Bruttius Quintius Crispinus. Her father’s family originally came from Volceii, Lucania, Italy and were closely associated with the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Crispina was born and raised in Rome or Volceii.


Crispina married the sixteen-year-old Commodus in the summer of 178 and brought him, as a dowry, a large number of estates. These, when added to the Imperial holdings, gave him control of a substantial part of Lucanian territory.[4][5][6] The actual ceremony was modest but was commemorated on coinage, and largesse was distributed to the people.[7] An epithalamium for the occasion was composed by the sophist Julius Pollux.[8]

Upon her marriage, Crispina received the title of Augusta,[9] and thus became empress of the Roman Empire, as her husband was co-emperor with her father-in-law at the time. The previous empress and her mother-in-law, Faustina the Younger had died three years prior to her arrival.

Like most marriages of young members of the nobiles, it was arranged by patres—in Crispina's case by her father and her new father-in-law, the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Crispina is described as being a graceful person with a susceptible heart, but there is no medal extant of her.[10]

As Augusta, Crispina was extensively honoured with public images during the last two years of her father-in-law's reign and the initial years of her husband's reign.[9] She did not seem to have any significant political influence over her husband during his bizarre reign. However, she was not exempted from court politics either, as her sister-in-law Lucilla, herself a former empress, was reportedly ambitious and jealous of the reigning empress Crispina due to her position and power.[11]

Crispina's marriage failed to produce an heir due to her husband's inability,[12] which led to a dynastic succession crisis. In fact, both Lucius Antistius Burrus (with whom Commodus had shared his first consulate as sole ruler) and Gaius Arrius Antoninus, who were probably related to the imperial family, were allegedly put to death 'on the suspicion of pretending to the throne'.[13]

After ten years of marriage, Crispina was falsely charged with adultery by her husband and was banished to the island of Capri in 188, where she was later executed.[14] After her banishment, Commodus did not marry again but took on a mistress, a woman named Marcia, who was later said to have conspired in his murder.[15]


Empress Bruttia Crispina, draped bust

On the basis of a misreading of HA Commodus 5.9 and Dio 73.4.6, her fall is sometimes wrongly associated with Lucilla's conspiracy to assassinate Commodus in 181 or 182. Her name continues to appear in inscriptions until as late as 191 (CIL VIII, 02366). Her eventual exile and death may instead have been a result of the fall of Marcus Aurelius Cleander, or of Commodus's inability to produce offspring with her to ensure the dynastic succession.[16]


  1. ^ Boatwright, Mary T. (2003). Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780691094939.
  2. ^ Venning, Timothy, ed. (2010). A chronology of the Roman Empire. Introduction by John F. Drinkwater. Continuum. p. 551. ISBN 9781441154781.
  3. ^ Chidester Egbert, James (1896). Introduction to the Study of Latin Inscriptions. American Book Co. p. 107.
  4. ^ Small, Alastair M.; Buck, Robert J. (1994). The excavations of San Giovanni di Ruoti. University of Toronto Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780802059482.
  5. ^ Adams, Geoff W (2012). Marcus Aurelius in Historia Augusta and Beyond. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 123. ISBN 0739176382.
  6. ^ Mennen, Inge (2011). Power and status in the Roman Empire, AD 193-284. Leiden: Brill. p. 90. ISBN 9789004203594.
  7. ^ Bury, J.B., ed. (1970). The Cambridge ancient history (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 182. ISBN 9780521263351.
  8. ^ Swain, Simon (1996). Hellenism and Empire: Language, Classicism, and Power in the Greek world, AD 50-250. Clarendon Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780198147725.
  9. ^ a b Varner, Eric R. (2004). Monumenta Graeca et Romana. damnatio memoriae and Roman imperial portraiture. Brill. p. 152. ISBN 9789004135772.
  10. ^ Morgan, Sydney (2010). Woman and Her Master, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9781108019347.
  11. ^ Potter, David S. (2004). The Roman Empire at bay: AD 180-395 (Reprinted. ed.). 600: Routledge. ISBN 9780415100571.
  12. ^ Ward, Allen M.; Heichelheim, Fritz M.; Yeo, Cedric A. (2003). A History of the Roman people (4th ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 379. ISBN 9780130384805.
  13. ^ van Ackeren, Marcel, ed. (2012). A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 237. ISBN 9781405192859.
  14. ^ Kean, Roger Michael; Frey, Oliver (2005). The Complete Chronicle of the Emperors of Rome. Thalamus. p. 100.
  15. ^ Freisenbruch, Annelise (2011). The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars. Random House. p. 6. ISBN 1446499065.
  16. ^ Hekster, O. (2002). Commodus: An Emperor at the Crossroads. Gieben. pp. 71–72.

External sources[edit]

Royal titles
Preceded by
Annia Galeria Faustina Minor
Empress of Rome
Succeeded by
Flavia Titiana