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Pomponia Graecina

(? - 84 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Danuta Stenka as Pomponia Graecina in the film “Quo vadis” (2001).

Pomponia Graecina was probably born in the first century CE, although the exact date is unknown. Her family connections are also not exactly known, although they can be partially reconstructed. Pomponia’s father was probably consul Gaius Pomponius Grecian. Graecina’s wife was Azynia, sister of Gaius Asinius Polllio. Due to these connections, Pomponia was related to the imperial family, because Azynia’s father was Gaius Asinius Gallus, who in the eighth year CE held the office of consul, and Azynia’s mother was Wipsania Agrippina, daughter of Marcus Agrippa and the first wife of Tiberius, with whom she had a son, Drusus the Younger. Vispania’s half-sister was Agrippina the Elder, mother of Emperor Caligula and Agrippina the Younger became the mother of Nero and the wife of Claudius.

Before 65 CE, Pomponia married Aulus Plautius, a senator and chieftain who became famous for his conquest in  43 CE Britain and served as its governor until CE 47. The son of Pomponia and Aulus was probably Aulus Plautius the Younger, who was murdered on Nero’s orders after he had an affair with his mother, Agrippina, who encouraged her younger lover to remove Nero from power and take his place.

When in CE 43 Pomponia’s friend and relative Julia Helena was condemned to death by her uncle, Emperor Claudius, probably as a result of the intrigues of the Empress Messalina, Pomponia for forty years, until her death, wore mourning for her friend. She avoided punishment for this, probably due to her exquisite origin, as well as her husband’s military fame, which earned her a lot of prestige. Tacitus writes that Pomponia’s long life was sad and unhappy, perhaps due to the tragic death of his son and other relatives related to the imperial family:

Pomponia was a woman destined to long life and to continuous grief: for after Julia,​ the daughter of Drusus, had been done to death by the treachery of Messalina, she survived for forty years, dressed in perpetual mourning and lost in perpetual sorrow; and a constancy unpunished under the empire of Claudius became later a title to glory.

Tacitus, Annales, XIII.32

In 57, Pomponia was accused of professing “foreign superstition” that historians identify with Christianity, although in fact there were many cults in Rome religious and sects from different parts of the then ancient world. Her husband then became the head of the domestic court, which tried the accused and issued an acquittal:

Pomponia Graecina,​ a woman of high family, married to Aulus Plautius — whose ovation after the British campaign I recorded earlier​ — and now arraigned for alien superstition,​ was left to the jurisdiction of her husband.​ Following the ancient custom, he held the inquiry, which was to determine the fate and fame of his wife, before a family council, and announced her innocent.

Tacitus, Annales, XIII.32

Pomponia finally died in 83 CE.

Pomponia a Christian?

Inscriptions discovered in the catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome suggest that members of the Pomponia family were in fact Christians. Archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the discoverer of the catacombs of Saint Callixtus, made the controversial thesis that Pomponia was actually Saint Lucy, who was supposed to live in the first century CE. Rossi claimed that he found in the catacombs he discovered, confirming that Pomponia founded the honour of the catacombs and that she was to be baptized by the name of Lucyna. Interestingly, Saint Lucy is associated with the legend of two Roman soldiers, Processius and Martinian, who were the prison guards of Saints Peter and Paul. Both soldiers were to be converted by the apostles and were martyred for it. Their bodies were to be purchased by Saint Lucy and buried in her private cemetery.

Author: Marcin Gwizdalski (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Sources
  • Herbermann Charles, Crypt of Lucina
  • Marceli Kosman, Na tropach bohaterów "Quo vadis"
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Neron
  • Suetonius, Nero
  • Tacitus, Annales

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