From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Sporus, see Sporus of Nicaea.
Born Between 49 and 51
Died 69 (age 17-20)
Cause of death suicide
Occupation Freedmen
Known for Marriage to Nero

Sporus was a young boy whom the Roman Emperor Nero favored, had castrated, and married.[1][2][3][4] The sources for "Sporus" are the enemies and historical critics of Nero such as Cassius Dio. Sporus is a possible propaganda disseminated by Nero's political enemies.[5][6]

Origins of the name[edit]

Sporus derives from the ancient Greek word σπορά spora, meaning "seed, sowing," related to σπόρος sporos, "sowing," and σπείρειν speirein, "to sow." In all references about this story, he is always called Sporus, a male name, when the female would be Spora.

According to the Roman naming conventions, he would gain the nomen and praenomen of his former master retaining his former name as a cognomen. In that case, assuming that it was Nero who freed him (which is not clear), his full name would be Nero Claudius Sporus (after Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus).


Little is known about Sporus's background except that he was a young man to whom Nero took a liking. He was a Puer delicatus, who were sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve their youthful qualities. The puer delicatus generally was a child-slave chosen by his master for his beauty as a "boy toy."[7] Despite this, Cassius Dio called him a freedman.[2][3]

Marriage to Nero[edit]

Nero, Glyptothek, Munich

Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabina, was killed by Nero in 65. In the beginning of 66, he married Statilia Messalina. Later that year or in 67 he married Sporus.[3]

Nero had Sporus castrated,[a] and during their marriage, Nero had Sporus appear in public as his wife wearing the regalia that was customary for Roman empresses. He then took Sporus to Greece and back to Rome, making Calvia Crispinilla serve as "mistress of wardrobe" to Sporus, epitropeia ten peri estheta.[8] Nero had earlier married another freedman, Pythagoras, who played the role of Nero's husband, as Sporus played the role of Nero's wife. In addition to other forms of address, Sporus was termed "Lady", "Empress", and "Mistress".[8] Suetonius quotes one Roman who lived around this time who remarked that the world would have been better off if Nero's father Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus had married someone more like the castrated boy.[1]

Suetonius places his account of the Nero–Sporus relationship in his reports of Nero's sexual aberrations, between his raping a vestal virgin and committing incest with his mother.[3] Some think that Nero used his marriage to Sporus to assuage the feelings of guilt he felt for kicking his pregnant wife Sabina to death.[9] Dio Cassius, in a more detailed account, writes that Sporus bore an uncanny resemblance to Sabina and that Nero called Sporus by her name.[4]

Shortly before Nero's death, during the Calends festival, Sporus presented Nero with a ring with a gemstone depicting the Rape of Proserpina, in which the ruler of the underworld forces a young girl to become his bride. It was at the time considered one of the many bad omens of Nero's fall.[10]

Sporus was one of the four companions on the emperor's last journey in June 68,[4] along with Epaphroditos, Neophytus and Phaon. It was to him, and not to his wife Messalina, that Nero turned as he began the ritual lamentations before taking his own life.[1][3]

After Nero and death[edit]

Soon after Nero's death, Sporus was taken to the care of the Praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who took part in the final conspiracy against Nero and persuaded the Praetorian Guard to desert him but when he attempted to have himself declared emperor, he was killed by his own soldiers. Nymphidius treated Sporus as though they were married, and called him "Poppaea".[8][10]

After Nymphidius' death, Sporus would, in the year 69, become involved with Otho,[4] who was also killed by his enemies.[10] He died later that year: Vitellius planned for Sporus to play the title role of the Rape of Persephone (the same theme of the ring Sporus gave Nero at the Calendas), for the viewing enjoyment of the crowds during one of the gladiatorial combats. Sporus then committed suicide[how?] to avoid the humiliating show.[4][10] He was probably under 20 years old at the time of his death.

In fiction[edit]

In 1735, Alexander Pope wrote a satirical poem that mocked the courtier Lord Hervey, who had been accused of homosexuality a few years earlier. He scoffs at using so strong weapon as satire upon a weak and effeminate target like Sporus, "that mere white curd of ass's milk", and in a famous line Pope poses the rhetorical question: "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"[11][12][13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ SUET., Nero 28,1: "Puerum Sporum exsectis testibus etiam in muliebrem naturam transfigurare conatus cum dote et flammeo per sollemnia nuptiarum celeberrimo officio deductum ad se pro uxore habuit"
    "He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife" – The expression exsectis testibus, literally "to have the testicles removed", does not imply that the entire genitalia were removed.


  1. ^ a b c Ancient History Sourcebook: Suetonius: De Vita Caesarum—Nero, c. 110 C.E.
  2. ^ a b Cassius Dio Roman History: LXII, 28 – LXIII, 12–13
  3. ^ a b c d e Champlin, 2005, p.145
  4. ^ a b c d e Smith, 1849, p.897
  5. ^ https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/research/monetary-history-of-the-world/roman-empire/chronology_-by_-emperor/imperial-rome-julio-claudian-age/nero-54-68-ad/
  6. ^ http://theopopov.com/neroopera/history.htm
  7. ^ Elizabeth Manwell, "Gender and Masculinity," in A Companion to Catullus (Blackwell, 2007), p. 118.
  8. ^ a b c Champlin, 2005, p.146
  9. ^ Champlin, 2005, p.108-109
  10. ^ a b c d Champlin, 2005, pp. 147–148
  11. ^ Moore, Lucy (2000). Amphibious Thing: The Adventures of a Georgian Rake. Penguin Books. p. 376. ISBN 9780140273649. 
  12. ^ "The Gay Love Letters of John, Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox". Gay History and Literature – My Dear Boy. Retrieved 2012-08-03.  – Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton
  13. ^ Pope, Alexander. "Pope's Caricature of Lord Hervey – 1765". Gay History and Literature – Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England. Retrieved 2012-08-03.  As first published the verse referred to Paris, but was changed to Sporus when republished a few months later.