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Ofonius Tigellinus
Born c. 10
Agrigentum, Sicily
Died 69
Allegiance Roman Empire
Years of service 62–68
Rank Praetorian prefect
Commands held Praetorian Guard

Ofonius Tigellinus, also known as Tigellinus Ofonius, Ophonius Tigellinus and Sophonius Tigellinus (c. 10–69), was a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard, known as the Praetorian Guard, from 62 until 68, during the reign of emperor Nero. Tigellinus gained imperial favour through his acquaintance with Nero's mother Agrippina the Younger, and was appointed prefect upon the death of his predecessor Sextus Afranius Burrus, a position Tigellinus held first with Faenius Rufus and then Nymphidius Sabinus.

As a friend of Nero he quickly gained a reputation around Rome for cruelty and callousness. During the second half of the 60s however, the emperor became increasingly unpopular with the people and the army, leading to several rebellions which ultimately led to his downfall and suicide in 68. When Nero's demise appeared imminent, Tigellinus deserted him and shifted his allegiance to the new emperor Galba. Unfortunately for Tigellinus, Galba was replaced by Otho barely six months after his accession. Otho ordered the execution of Tigellinus, upon which he committed suicide.


Tigellinus was a native of Agrigentum, of humble origin and an exile either of Greek or Spanish descent. In 39, during the reign of Caligula, he was banished.[1] He had been falsely accused of adultery with Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla, the two surviving sisters of the Roman Emperor. He was recalled by Claudius in 41. [2]

Born into an impoverished family, Tigellinus spent his early years as a merchant. It is said he had a vicious childhood in which he inherited a fortune, bought land in Apulia and Calabria, and devoted himself to breeding race-horses. In this manner he gained the favour of Nero, whom he aided and enabled in his vices and cruelties . In 62 he was promoted to the prefecture of the praetorian guard as the commander of the praetorian bodyguard, he persecuted Faenius Rufus and Nymphidius Sabinus to secure his tenure as one of Neros most trusted and closest advisors. He also constructed evidence to justify the murder of Neros first wife, Claudia Octavia of which he killed. In 64 he made himself notorious for the crimes arranged by him in the Basin of Agrippa, and was suspected of incendiarism in connection with the Great Fire of Rome, which, after having subsided broke out afresh in his Aemilian gardens, this raised the claim by the Historian Tacitus that the praetorian prefect was an arsonist.[3]

In 65, during the investigation into the abortive conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso, he and Poppaea Sabina formed a kind of imperial privy council, accusing the courtier and novelist Petronius Arbiter of treason; Petronius did not wait for a sentence, but instead chose to commit suicide by repeatedly slitting and rebinding his wrists until he was drained of blood.[2]

In 67 Tigellinus accompanied Nero on his tour of Greece. Tigellinus had a role in the death of the famous General Corbulo, who had been invited to come to Greece as well but was ordered to commit suicide. When the Emperor's downfall appeared imminent, Tigellinus deserted him from the palace to avoid death and with Nymphidius Sabinus brought about the defection of the Praetorian Guard.[2]

Under Galba he was obliged to give up his command and banished out of Rome but managed to save his life by lavishing presents upon Titus Vinius, the favourite of Galba, and his daughter.[4] Otho, upon his accession in January 69, was determined to remove one so universally hated by the people. While in the baths at Sinuessa, Tigellinus received the news that he must die, and, having vainly endeavoured to gain a respite, cut his own throat with a razor.[2]

Tigellinus in later art[edit]

  • Tigellinus appears as a character in the opera Neró i Acté (1928) by Juan Manén.[5]
  • Tigellinus appears in both the play and film The Sign of the Cross. He is also a character in Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis and in the 6 hour mini-series A.D. Anno Domini.
  • In the 1951 film Quo Vadis, based on the novel, Tigellinus (played by Ralph Truman) is (unhistorically) stabbed to death by a soldier spectator at the cry of A sword from Plautius! in the Colosseum when the Roman people revolt against Nero at the end of the film.
  • He is a prominent character in the latter stages of the novel The Kingdom of the Wicked by Anthony Burgess.
  • He is the leading character in John Hersey's 1972 novel portraying Rome as a police state, The Conspiracy.
  • Tigellinus appears in Simon Scarrow's novel Praetorian (taking place in 51 AD) as an optio (junior officer) of the Praetorian Guard; at the end of the novel, he is promoted to second-in-command to Prefect Burrus, and expects to succeed him after Nero ascends to the throne.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Stephen Dando-Collins (2010). The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City. Da Capo Press. pp. 25–. ISBN 0-306-81933-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Dando-Collins, Stephen (2010-09-07). The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306819339. 
  4. ^ Flavius Josephus (1997). The Jewish War. Harvard University Press. pp. 303–. ISBN 978-0-674-99536-9. 
  5. ^ Gesine Manuwald (28 May 2013). Nero in Opera: Librettos as Transformations of Ancient Sources. De Gruyter. pp. 236–. ISBN 978-3-11-031751-0. 


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sextus Afranius Burrus
Praetorian prefect together with Faenius Rufus and then Nymphidius Sabinus
Succeeded by
Cornelius Laco