Sed No Satiata: Valeria Messalina

While there are plenty of famous Roman men, how many noted Roman women can most people name? Not many. However there is one woman who was regarded as a symbol of promiscuity, deviousness and ambition. Empress Valeria Messalina.

Messalina born approximately  between 20-22CE was the daughter of Domita Lepida the Younger and Marcus Valerius Mesalla Barbatus. Little is known about her early life. Aged 15  Messalina married Claudius, her second cousin who was 50 years old. Messalina bore Claudius two children; Claudia Octavia and Britannicus. Both would end up as the siblings/spouse of the infamous Nero. Once the despised Emperor Caligula was murdered, Claudia and Valeria became the ruling couple of the Roman Empire.

Once in power, Messalina rang rings around her inept, feeble husband. Indulging in many many dalliances. One story is that Messalina challenged Rome’s top prostitute to see who could sleep with the men in one night. Needless to say; with 25 men, Messalina won. Apparently she also used her cunning to accrue whatever she desired. When Messalina wanted to acquire the stunning Gardens of Lucullus, she made sure that it was hers. By accusing the owner Valerius Asiaticus of plotting to kill Claudius and ensuring that he was killed (choosing suicide over execution). Valeria proved victorious. After years of humiliating Claudius and being so open with her adultery, Messalina’s luck ran out. After she ‘married’ her lover Gaius Silius, Claudius finally had enough. After executing the entire wedding party, Messalina was given the choice of killing herself or being executed. She was executed after failing to kill herself.

The title refers to a quote by Juvenal, the Roman poet about Valeria herself. It translate as ‘but not satisfied’. Plus I love Latin quotes. This perfectly illustrates Messalina’s reputation as a sexually insatiable she devil. How much of her reputation was true is up for debate. The main sources of this view point were from Roman historian (Tacitus and Suetonius) when Messalina’s imperial lineage was very unpopular. Combined with Juvenal’s extremely misogynist stories about Messalina’s working in a brothel.

Where the propaganda ends and where the truth begins is difficult to gage. Maybe in time we will learn who was the real Valeria.

Valeria Massalina

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