Empress Messalina Prostitutes Herself

Empress Messalina Prostitutes Herself
14 December 2016 0 Comment

In 38 AD Emperor Claudius married his second cousin, Valeria Messalina. And Caesar had no idea what was to come?

The Perfect Wife

Messalina was the third wife of Claudius, who was a paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero (and whose daughter Octavia later became the wife of Nero), a second-cousin of the Emperor Caligula, and a great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus no less. She was a powerful and influential woman with the right pedigree, who gave her husband two children, Octavia and Britannicus.

With One Slight Imperfection?

With her accession to power, Messalina enters history with a reputation as being ruthless, predatory and with an insatiable appetite for sex! She may very well be history’s most famous nymphomaniac. Her husband is represented as easily led by her and unconscious of her many adulteries. In 48 AD, he went away on a trip and was informed when he returned that Messalina had gone as far as to marry her latest lover, Senator Gaius Silius. While many would have ordered her death, the Emperor offered her another chance. Seeing that as weakness, one of his head officers went behind the Emperor’s back and ordered Messalina’s death. Upon hearing the news, the Emperor did not react and simply asked for another chalice of wine.

True or False?

Accusations of Messalina’s sexual excesses were a tried and tested smear tactic and the result of ‘politically motivated hostility’, we are told. Two accounts especially have added to her notoriety. One is the story of her all-night sex competition with a prostitute in Book X of Pliny the Elder’sNatural History, according to which the competition lasted for 24 hours and Messalina won with a score of 25 partners. The poet Juvenal gives an equally well known description in his sixth satire of how the Empress used to work clandestinely all night in a brothel under the name of the She-Wolf or as the common prostitute “Lycisca”, and he wrote:

“And when the hour of business now was spent, And all the trulls dismissed, repining went.

Yet what shoe could, she did: slowly she passed, And saw her man and shut her cell the last,

Still raging with the fever of desire, Her veins all turgid, and her blood on fire.

With joyless pace the imperial couch she sought, And to her happy spouse (yet slumbering) brought

Cheeks rank with sweat, limbs drenched with poisonous dews, The steam of lamps, and odour of the stews.

Claudius had scarce begun his eyes to close Ere from his pillow Messalina rose

(Accustomed long the bed of state to slight For the course mattress and the hood of night),

And with one maid and her dark hair concealed Beneath a yellow tire, a strumpet veiled,

She slipped into the stews unseen, unknown, And hired a cell, yet reeking, for her own.

There flinging off her dress, the imperial whore Stood, with bare breasts and gilded, at the door,

And showed, Britannicus, to all who came, The womb that bore thee, in Lycisca’s name;

Allured the passers-by with many a wile, And asked her price, and took it with a smile.”

After her execution the Roman Senate ordered a damnatio memoriae so that Messalina’s name would be removed from all public and private places and all statues of her would be taken down. And yet she still lives, smiling her delicious smile among us today.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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