Milonia Caesonia from "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum"
|Empress consort of the Roman Empire|
|Tenure||circa AD 39 – 24 January AD 41|
24 January AD 41|
Palatine Hill, Rome
|House||Julio-Claudian Dynasty (by marriage)|
The daughter of Caesonius and Vistilia, Caesonia was born toward the beginning of the first century, but the year is not certain. Her birthday was celebrated between 2 June and 4 June. The gens Caesonia was of modest origin, and had only recently come to prominence. Caesonia had six half-brothers, five of whom are known:
- Servius Cornelius Scipio Orfitus, whose son, Servius Cornelius Scipio Salvidienus Orfitus, was consul in AD 51;
- Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, consul in 39, and a distinguished general under Claudius and Nero, was the father of the empress Domitia Longina;
- Quintus Pomponius Secundus, consul suffectus in 41;
- Publius Pomponius Secundus, consul suffectus in 44;
- Publius Suillius Rufus, consul in 43, and father of Marcus Suillius Nerullinus, consul in 50.
Little is written of Caesonia's life. Suetonius says that when Caligula married her, she was neither beautiful nor young, and was already the mother of three daughters by another man. He describes her as a woman of reckless extravagance and wantonness, whom Caligula nonetheless loved passionately and faithfully. According to Cassius Dio, the two entered into an affair some time before their marriage, either late in AD 39 or early in 40, and that the emperor's choice of a bride was an unpopular one. The satirist Juvenal suggests that Caligula's madness was the result of a love potion administered to him by Caesonia.
In the account given by Suetonius, the emperor would parade Caesonia in front of his troops, and sometimes displayed her naked in front of select friends. In an odd demonstration of affection, he would jokingly threaten to have her tortured or killed.
On 24 January, AD 41, Caligula was slain by an assassin. As part of the wider conspiracy, Caesonia and her daughter Julia Drusilla were murdered just hours after Caligula's demise. Josephus reports that she died bravely: stricken with grief at her husband's death, she willingly offered her neck to the assassin, telling him to kill her without hesitation.
In popular culture
Caesonia has been portrayed several times on film and television:
- 1937 – Leonora Corbett in the uncompleted film I, Claudius
- 1966 – Krista Keller in the TV movie Caligula
- 1968 – Barbara Murray in the TV series The Caesars
- 1975 – Yvonne Lex in the TV movie Caligula
- 1976 – Freda Dowie in the TV series I, Claudius
- 1979 – Helen Mirren in the theatrical film Caligula
- Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, "The Life of Caligula", 25.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, 23.
- Juvenal, Satires VI.615-20
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, 28.
- Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, "The Life of Caligula", 33.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, xix. 2. § 4.
| Empress of Rome