Pompeia Plotina

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Pompeia Plotina
Bust of Plotina, exhibited in the Vatican Museums.
Roman empress
Tenure98 – 117
BornTejada la Vieja, Hispania or Nemausus, Gaul
Regnal name
Pompeia Plotina Augusta
FatherLucius Pompeius

Pompeia Plotina (died 121/122) was Roman empress from 98 to 117 as the wife of Trajan. She was renowned for her interest in philosophy, and her virtue, dignity and simplicity. She was particularly devoted to the Epicurean philosophical school in Athens, Greece.[1] She is often viewed as having provided Romans with fairer taxation, improved education, assisted the poor, and created tolerance in Roman society.

Early life[edit]

Plotina was raised in Tejada la Vieja (Escacena del Campo) in the province of Hispania. She was possibly born in Nemausus (Nîmes) during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (r. 54–68), however she could have been born in the 70s. She was the daughter of Lucius Pompeius. Another woman from Nemausus named Pompeia L. f. Marullina may have been her relative;[2] historian Christian Settipani proposed that they may have been sisters.[3] Based on her cognomen Plotina her mother may have been named Plotia or similar.[4] In Pompeii an inscription names an Ulpia Plotina,[a] leading to the idea that Pompeia Plotina and Trajan were related. Little is known about Plotina's early life.

Marriage and life as Empress[edit]

Pompeia Plotina coin, celebrating the Fides on the reverse.

Trajan married Plotina before he became emperor, and their marriage was happy; they had no known children, probably due to the fact that Trajan himself was primarily interested in males.

Upon entering the imperial palace following Trajan's ascension, Plotina is said to have turned to those watching her and carefully announced, "I enter here the kind of woman I would like to be when I depart."[6] She sought to dispel the memories of the domestic strife that had plagued the reign of Domitian and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Plotina behaved in the manner of a traditional Roman matron, and she was associated with chaste goddesses such as Vesta (the guardian of Rome's sacred fire) and Minerva (goddess of war and wisdom).[7] In 100, Trajan awarded her with the title of Augusta, but she did not accept the title until 105. Plotina did not appear on coinage until 112.[1]

When the future emperor Hadrian and his sister were 10 or 11 years old, they lost their parents. Trajan and the Roman officer Publius Acilius Attianus became the children's guardians. Hadrian was a first cousin-once-removed to Trajan (Trajan's father and Hadrian's paternal grandmother were siblings). Plotina matched Hadrian with his future wife Vibia Sabina.[8]

Death of Trajan and accession of Hadrian[edit]

In 117, Trajan was on his deathbed at Selinus in Cilicia, where he was said to have written a letter in which he personally adopted Hadrian as successor to the Empire. The letter had been signed by the Empress Plotina, and when it arrived in Rome, it was suspect. Rumour named Attianus and Plotina as lovers—the two were very close to their ward Hadrian and the two had been present at Trajan's death—and they were rumoured to have forged Trajan's will to secure Hadrian's succession.[1][9]

Annelise Freisenbruch dismisses this accusation: "Plotina, the silent spouse of the second century, thus joined Livia, Agrippina the Younger, and Domitia in the gallery of Roman imperial women accused of covering up or conspiring in their husband's deaths." Freisenbruch notes that there are many plausible explanations why Plotina's signature might legitimately be on this declaration: Trajan may have simply been too weak to sign the letter himself. Freisenbruch also notes these kinds of accusations have dogged the spouses of rulers through the centuries.[10]

Along with Attianus and Matidia, the grieving widow Plotina accompanied Trajan's body to Seleucia and his ashes to Rome.[9]

Later years[edit]

While Plotina was a widow, her best-documented act took place. During the year 121, while the emperor Hadrian was inspecting the provinces, Plotina engaged him in a series of letters to discuss who should be the new head of the Epicurean school of philosophy in Athens. She petitioned for a change in the law, so that Popillius Theotimus, the acting head of the school, could become the official head; in response, Hadrian agreed with her argument, and the relevant letters were preserved in a series of inscriptions. Freisenbruch notes, "In stark contrast to her passive anonymity in the literary record, this inscription from Athens recasts Plotina as a highly educated woman, active on behalf of causes close to her heart and with the kind of access to the emperor once enjoyed by Livia."[11]

Plotina died of illness, and was deified. Her ashes joined Trajan's in the base of Trajan's Column. In 123, Hadrian built a basilica in her honor at Nîmes, in Provence.[12]

Nerva–Antonine family tree[edit]


  1. ^ Possibly the same person as Ulpia, the grandmother of Hadrian.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth-E.A. (edd.), Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 1214.
  2. ^ Syme, Ronald (2002). The Roman Revolution. Oxford paperbacks. Vol. 1. American Council of Learned Societies (illustrated, new ed.). OUP Oxford. p. 502. ISBN 9780192803207.
  3. ^ Settipani, Christian (2000). Continuité gentilice et continuité familiale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale: mythe et réalité. Prosopographica et genealogica (in Italian). Vol. 2 (illustrated ed.). Unit for Prosopographical Research, Linacre College, University of Oxford. p. 407. ISBN 9781900934022.
  4. ^ Gildersleeve, Basil; Miller, Charles William Emil; Meritt, Benjamin Dean; Frank, Tenney; Cherniss, Harold Fredrik; Thompson Rowell, Henry (1991). American Journal of Philology. Vol. 12. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 515.
  5. ^ Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9781139576604.
  6. ^ Dio Cassius, LXVIII, 5
  7. ^ Annalise, Freisenbruch (2010). Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire. London and New York: Free Press. pp. 159–161.
  8. ^ Historia Augusta, "Hadrian", 3; translated by Anthony Birley, Lives of the Later Caesars (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p. 59
  9. ^ a b Jackson, Nicholas (2022). Trajan: Rome's Last Conqueror (1st ed.). Chapter: Conspiracy, Death and Deification: GreenHill Books. ISBN 978-1784387075.
  10. ^ Freisenbruch, Caesars’ Wives, pp. 162f
  11. ^ Freisenbruch, Caesars’ Wives, pp. 163f
  12. ^ Bennett, Julian (1997). Trajan: Optimum Princeps. London: Routledge. p. 26. ISBN 0-203-36056-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • (in French) Minaud, Gérard, Les vies de 12 femmes d’empereur romain - Devoirs, Intrigues & Voluptés , Paris, L’Harmattan, 2012, ch. 6, La vie de Plotine, femme de Trajan, pp. 147–168.
  • (in German) Temporini, Hildegard, Die Frauen am Hofe Trajans. Ein Beitrag zur Stellung der Augustae im Principat, Berlin, De Gruyter, 1979, pp. 10–183.

External links[edit]