Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus

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Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus (flourished second half of 1st century BC & first half of 1st century) was a Roman Senator who was a friend of the first two Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius.[1]

Family Background[edit]

Maximus was born and raised in Rome. His birth date is unknown, however it is not earlier than 24 BC, but possibly in 14 BC.[2] His father was the Roman Senator, consul who was the literary patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus.[3] Maximus was the son born to Corvinus’ second marriage to his unknown wife.[4] From the writings of the poet Ovid (Book EIV.XVI:1-52), reveals that his mother was a Roman noblewoman called Aurelia Cotta. Another fact supporting that Aurelia Cotta was the mother of Maximus was although he by birth was of the gens Valeria, he was later adopted into the Aurelii Cottae.[5]

His birth name is unknown, however he is only known by his adoption name. From his father’s previous marriage, Maximus had three older paternal half siblings who were: Valeria Messalina who married the Roman Senator Titus Statilius Taurus III, another sister called Valeria who married the Roman consul Marcus Lollius[6] and Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus, who served as a consul in 3 BC.[3] Maximus was the great-uncle of Roman empress Lollia Paulina[7] who was the third wife of Roman emperor Caligula and a relation to Roman empress Statilia Messalina, the third wife of Roman emperor Nero. His possible son may have been Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, consul of 58.


Maximus was a friend[8] and patron of the poet Ovid.[2] He was one of the people that Ovid had addressed various letters to which have survived.[9] Maximus was with Ovid in 8, when news arrived of Ovid’s banishment.[10] Maximus afterwards provided material and psychological support to his exile, perhaps financial assistance.[10] Although his friendship with Augustus didn’t affect Ovid’s banishment, Ovid believed as late as 11, that Maximus could successfully intercede with the Princeps.[1]

Political career[edit]

Maximus was a leading public figure throughout the reign of Tiberius[8] and until at least 32, remained close to the emperor.[1] After the trial and execution of Marcus Scribonius Libo Drusus in 16, Maximus in the Roman Senate proposed that the statue of Drusus should be excluded from descendant’s funeral-parades.[11] This proposal was politically significant; as the history of this particular punishment shows that Maximus held Drusus to be an enemy of the Roman people - hostes populi Romani.[1] Maximus probably anticipated Tiberius’ approval. A prominent noble allied to the government would not knowingly exasperate the Princeps.[1]

He became consul in 20.[8] During his consulship, Maximus would ask the Roman Senate to speak first, for when the emperor presided. It was custom to include officials among those called upon for their views.[12]

According to a Greek inscription found at Ephesus, sometime after his consulship, Maximus became the Proconsul of Asia.[5] The inscription which honors Maximus, is dedicated to him by Alexander son of Memnonos, who was Alexander’s friend and benefactor. The inscription is dated from 25/26.[13] The Greek inscription reads:

Μἄρκον Αύρήλιον
Κότταν Μάξιμον
Μεσσαλείνον τον
γενόμενον άνθύ-
πατον Άλέξαν-
δρος Μέμνονος τόν
έαυτοῦ φίλον καί εύ-

In 32, Tiberius successfully defended Maximus when prosecuted for accusing Caligula of homosexuality and ridiculing a banquet held to Tiberius’ late mother as a funeral feast and boasting of Tiberius’ protection when he went to law.[2]


Maximus was a poet and orator whom Tacitus condemns for his extravagant life-style, his shameful behavior and servility.[14] Pliny the Elder describes him as an extravagant gourmet.[15] Juvenal makes him as a patron of the arts.[16]

One freedman of Maximus, Marcus Aurelius Zosimus, was buried on the Appian Way outside of Rome with his wife, Aurelia Saturnia.[17] His epitaph is one of the few Roman funeral inscriptions, that expresses the patron and freedman relations in poetic terms.[8] Below is a copy the Latin inscription and an English translation:

M. Aurelius Cottae Maximi
Zosimus, accensus patroni.
Libertinus eram, fateor: sed facta legetur
patrono Cotta nobilis umbra mea.
Qui mihi saepe libens census donavit equestris
qui iussit natos tollere quos aleret
quique suas commisit opes mihi semper, et idem
dotavit natas ut pater ipse meas,
Cottanumque meum produxit honore tribuni
quem fortis castris Caesaris emeruit.
Quid non Cotta dedit? qui nune et carmina tristis
haec dedit in tumulo conspicienda meo.
Aurelia Saturnia, Zosimi.
I admit that I was a freedman; but now my shadow has been ennobled by my patron Cotta. Several times he was willing to grant me an equestrian fortune, he ordered me to let my children live so that he could provide for their upkeep. He was always ready to grant me his own wealth. He also gave my daughters the dowries a father provides. He promoted my son Cottanus to the rank of tribune in which he bravely served in Caesar’s army. What did Cotta not give us? Now, sadly, he provided these verses which can be read on my tomb.
Aurelia Saturnia, Zosimus’s [wife].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Pettinger, The Republic in Danger: Drusus Libo and the Succession of Tiberius, p. 39
  2. ^ a b c Ovid: Poems from Exile, entry of Cotta Maximus
  3. ^ a b Paterculus, The Roman History, p. 127
  4. ^ Syme, R., Augustan Aristocracy, p. 230f.
  5. ^ a b Skidmore, Practical Ethics for Roman Gentlemen: The Works of Valerius Maximus, p. 116
  6. ^ Genealogy of M. Lollius by D.C. O’Driscoll
  7. ^ Tacitus, Annals: Part Two: Claudius & Nero – 10. The Mother of Nero. XII
  8. ^ a b c d Gardner, The Roman Household: A Sourcebook, p. 40
  9. ^ Ovid: Poems from Exile
  10. ^ a b Pettinger, The Republic in Danger: Drusus Libo and the Succession of Tiberius, p.38-9
  11. ^ Tacitus, Annals: Part One: Tiberius – 4. The First Treason Trials. II. 27-52
  12. ^ Tacitus, Annals: Part One: Tiberius – 5. The Death of Germanicus. II. 53-III 19
  13. ^ Greek Inscription of Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus
  14. ^ Annals:6.5-6.7
  15. ^ Natural History:10.52
  16. ^ Juvenal, 5.109, 7.94
  17. ^ Gardner, The Roman Household: A Sourcebook, pp. 40-1


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Junius Silanus Torquatus,
and Publius Petronius

as suffect consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Marcus Valerius Messala Barbatus
Succeeded by
Tiberius Caesar Augustus IV,
and Drusus Julius Caesar II

as ordinary consuls