Sallustia Orbiana

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Venus Felix sculpture of Orbiana.

Gnaea Seia Herennia Sallustia Barbia Orbiana (fl. 220s), usually known as Sallustia Orbiana, was a third century Roman empress, with the title of Augusta as the wife of Severus Alexander from AD 225 to 227.[1][2] She was known for her beauty, which was captured in multiple works of art. A victim of the jealousy of Julia Mamaea, the emperor's mother, Orbiana was divorced and exiled to Libya in 227.[3]


Orbiana was the daughter of Lucius Seius Herennius Sallustius, an influential Roman senator, in the early third century.[4] In August, 225, at about the age of 16 years, she wed the Roman emperor Severus Alexander, in an arrangement organized by the emperor's mother, Julia Mamaea.[3][5][6][7] Sallustius was proclaimed Caesar, and by the end of August, 227, Orbiana was granted the title of Augusta.[4] Mamaea became jealous of Orbiana, due to the strong bond that had developed between the young empress and her husband, as well as Mamaea's desire to be sole Augusta. She treated Orbiana cruelly, forcing her to take refuge with her father.[3][7]

Finding Mamaea's abuse unendurable, Sallustius sought the protection of the Praetorian Guard, or the intervention of the emperor, but such was Mamaea's influence over her son, that he failed to take any action in defense of his wife or her father. Mamaea ordered that Sallustius be put to death, on the pretext that he wished to use the Praetorian Guard to seize power for himself. He was executed in August of 227, and Orbiana was stripped of her title, divorced, and exiled to the province of Libya in north Africa.[3][5] Nothing further is known of her. Severus Alexander reigned for another eight years. He and his mother were slain in a mutiny in 235, clearing the way for the succession of Maximinus Thrax, and ending the Severan dynasty.[8]


Marble head of Orbiana
Denarius of Orbiana

A statue of Orbiana, depicted as Venus Felix, was unearthed near the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The marble, now in the Cortile Belvedere, or Belvedere Courtyard, of the Vatican Museums, was dedicated to the empress by her liberti Helpidius and Sallustia.[9][10] Besides a limited emission of coinage in bronze and silver, several Roman gold coins were minted with Orbiana's visage, including a coin which sold for £26.00 in 1897. She was the only wife of Severus to be featured on coins.[8]

Cultural references[edit]

Sallustia Orbiana is a character in Alessandro Severo (1716), an opera seria libretto by Apostolo Zeno. This was later adapted as La Salustia (1732), set to music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.


  1. ^ CIL II, 3734, CIL VI, 40683, CIL VIII, 9355, CIL VIII, 18254.
  2. ^ Gsell, Inscriptions Latines de L'Algérie, ii. 2, 4666.
  3. ^ a b c d Herodian, vi. 1.
  4. ^ a b Banchich & Lane, "Commentary on Book XII", apud Zonaras, p. 77.
  5. ^ a b Hopkins, The Life of Severus Alexander, pp. 57, 58.
  6. ^ Kean & Frey, The Complete Chronicle of the Emperors of Rome.
  7. ^ a b Vagi, Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, pp. 308, 309.
  8. ^ a b Sallustia Barbia Orbiana Archived 2010-02-27 at the Wayback Machine. a site devoted to Orbiana.
  9. ^ Lanciani, Wandering Through Ancient Roman Churches, pp. 217, 219.
  10. ^ Museo Vaticano, p. 25.


  • Herodianus, Tes Meta Marcon Basileas Istoria (History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius).
  • Joannes Zonaras, Epitome Historiarum (Epitome of History), Thomas Banchich, Eugene Lane, eds., Routledge (2009).
  • Museo Vaticano (1846).
  • Theodor Mommsen et alii, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (The Body of Latin Inscriptions, abbreviated CIL), Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (1853–present).
  • Sir Richard V. N. Hopkins, The Life of Severus Alexander, University Press (1907).
  • Stéphane Gsell, Inscriptions Latines de L'Algérie (Latin Inscriptions from Algeria), Edouard Champion, Paris (1922–present).
  • Rodolfo Lanciani, Wandering Through Ancient Roman Churches, Kessinger Publishing (1924, 2003).
  • David L. Vagi, Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, c. 82 B.C.–A.D. 480: Coinage, Taylor & Francis (2000).
  • Roger M. Kean, Oliver Frey, The Complete Chronicle of the Emperors of Rome, Thalamus (2005).

External links[edit]

Royal titles
Preceded by
Aquilia Severa
Empress of Rome
Succeeded by
Caecilia Paulina