MESSALINA, wife of CLAUDIUS I
Valeria Messalina, (c. 17/20 - 48 A.D.) was a Roman Empress as the third wife of Emperor Claudius. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she conspired against her husband and was executed when the plot was discovered.
Messalina was the daughter of Domitia Lepida and Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus.
Either in 37 or 38, Messalina married her second cousin Claudius who was about 48 years old. Claudius' nephew, Caligula ruled as emperor (37-41), and Messalina was an influential figure and a regular at Caligula's court.
Messalina bore Claudius two children, a daughter Claudia Octavia (born 39 or 40), who was a future empress and first wife to future emperor Nero, and a son, Britannicus (born 41). On 24 January 41, Caligula and his family were murdered and later that day the Praetorian Guard proclaimed Claudius the new emperor and Messalina became the new empress.
Messalina became the most powerful woman in the Roman Empire and Claudius bestowed various honours on her. Claudius, as an older man, could have died at any moment and Britannicus would have become the new emperor. To improve her own security and ensure the future of her children, Messalina sought to eliminate anyone who was a potential threat to her and her children.
Due to Claudius' devotion to her, Messalina was able to manipulate him into ordering the exile or execution of various people, including historian Seneca the Younger; Claudius' nieces Julia Livilla and Julia; Marcus Vinicius (husband of Julia Livilla); the elder Poppaea Sabina (mother of Empress Poppaea Sabina, second wife of Nero).
Agrippina the younger was a niece to Claudius, a daughter of Claudius' late brother Germanicus. On her return from exile after January 41, Messalina realised that Agrippina's son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (the future Nero) was a threat to her son's position and sent assassins to strangle Nero during his siesta. When they approached his couch, they saw what appeared to be a snake near his pillow and fled in terror. The apparent snake was actually a sloughed-off snake skin.
The ancient Roman sources (particularly Tacitus and Suetonius), portray Messalina as insulting, disgraceful, cruel, avaricious, and a foolish nymphomaniac.
In 47, Messalina became interested in the attractive Roman Senator Gaius Silius, who was happily married to the aristocratic woman Junia Silana (sister of Caligula's first wife). Messalina and Silius became lovers and Messalina forced Silius to divorce his wife.
Silius realised the danger in which he had put himself and the pair plotted to kill the weak emperor and make Silius the new emperor. Silius was childless and wanted to adopt Britannicus. They had committed bigamy: Messalina and Silius married in a full ceremony, in front of witnesses and had signed marriage contracts while Messalina was still legally married to Claudius.
While Claudius was in Ostia, inspecting construction work done on the harbour, his freedman Narcissus, advised him of Messalina's and Silius' plot to kill him. Messalina travelled to Ostia with her children hoping to speak to Claudius; however the emperor left Ostia before she was able to do so. Narcissus delayed Messalina, preventing her from seeing Claudius.
Claudius ordered the deaths of Messalina and Silius in 48. In Messalina's final hours, she was in the Gardens of Lucullus. Messalina and her mother were preparing a petition for Claudius. At the height of Messalina's influence and prosperity, Lepida and Messalina had argued and became estranged. Apparently overcome by pity, Lepida stayed with her daughter. Lepida's last words to her were 'Your life is finished. All that remains is to make a decent end'. Messalina was reputedly weeping and moaning. She finally realised the situation in which she had put herself.
An officer and a former slave arrived together to witness Messalina's death. The former slave verbally insulted her while the officer stood by in silence. Messalina was offered the choice of killing herself, but was too afraid to do so, so the officer stabbed Messalina with a dagger. Her dead body was left with her mother. At the time of Messalina's death, Claudius was attending a dinner. When Messalina's death was announced to him, Claudius showed no emotion, but asked for more wine.
On New Year's Day in 49, Claudius married as his fourth wife Agrippina the Younger, who went on to remove from the imperial court anyone she considered loyal to the memory of Messalina. Agrippina's son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was adopted by Claudius as his son and heir. He became known as Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus and succeeded Claudius as emperor instead of Messalina's son Britannicus. Nero married Messalina's daughter.