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Statilia Messalina

(c. 35 - after 69 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Statilia Messalina, third wife of Nero.
Zdjęcie: TimeTravelRome | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Statilia Messalina was the third and last wife of Emperor Nero. We know very little about her person. History did not tell us the exact date of her birth or death. It is assumed that Statilia Messalina was probably born in 35 CE. The truth is, however, that she came from a senatorial family that enjoyed great fame. She was the great-granddaughter of Titus Statilius Taurus, who was an outstanding commander and consul during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Statilia Messalina had four husbands. Due to insufficient information in historical sources, we know only one by name – Atticus Vestinus. Atticus Vestinus in 65 CE was a consul and at the same time one of the closest friends of the emperor Nero. This friendship, however, did not last long, because Atticus Vestinus “disregarded the emperor’s lethargy, which he knew through, and he feared his friend’s impudence, often sneered at by him in biting jokes, which, when they contain much truth, leave a bitter memory behind”1. Nero’s embitterment and hatred reached their apogee when Atticus Vestinus “married Statilia Messalina, although he knew that Caesar was also among her lovers”2.

At the same time, Piso’s plot was discovered, the aim of which was to kill and remove emperor Nero from power. This plot, as historical sources tell us, was quickly discovered because one of the conspirators betrayed everyone involved in it. By order of Nero, they were deprived of their lives. This plot, however, became a good opportunity for Nero himself to get rid of Westinus, husband of Statila Messalina. Taking the opportunity, Nero sent a cohort of soldiers to the house of Atticus Vestinus and then ordered all his possessions to be seized. According to Tacitus on that day when Atticus Vestinus performed all his “duties as consul and gave a solemn feast, either because he feared nothing or to hide his fear when the soldiers say that the tribune is calling for him, and he immediately gets up, and suddenly everything accelerates: they lock him up in the bedroom, the doctor is at hand, he cuts his veins, he carries him, still strong, into the bathhouse, he immerses him in warm water, but he does not utter a word, to feel sorry for one’s fate”[note id=”3”]. It was only late at night that Nero ordered the release of Atticus Vestinus’ fellow-feasters, saying “they had enough penance for the consular feast”4.

By killing Atticus Vestinus, Nero removed the only obstacle that stood in his way of marrying Statilia Messalina. The wedding of emperor Nero and Statilia took place at the beginning of 66 CE. This is how Statilia became Nero’s third wife. After marriage, she received the title of Augusta. They never had offspring. In 67 CE Statilia Messalina accompanied Nero on a trip to Greece, where the emperor announced the freedom of the Greeks.

In April 68 CE Nero has been abandoned by all. As a result of this course of events, he committed suicide. His successors, however, spared both his wife and her entire fortune. This was due to the fact that Nero’s successors – Galba, Otho, and Vitelius – came from the same senatorial circles as Statilia Messalina. According to Suetonius, emperor Otho intended to marry Statilia. He was prevented by his successor Vitellius, who defeated him. As a result of the defeat, Otho decided to commit suicide. Earlier, however, he wrote a letter to “the widow of Nero, whom he intended to marry, commending her his ashes and memory”5.

We do not know in detail the further fate of Statilia Messalina’s life or the exact date of death. The historical sources we have access to only mention that she lived after 69 CE.

Author: Violetta Fułat-Światowska (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Footnotes
  1. Tacyt, Dzieła, tłum. S. Hammer, Warszawa 1957, XV 68.
  2. Ibidem.
  3. Tacitus, XV 69.
  4. Ibidem.
  5. Swetoniusz, Żywoty Cezarów, przeł. J. Niemirska – Pliszczyńska, Wrocław 1987, Otho 10.
Sources
  • Tacyt, Dzieła, tłum. S. Hammer, Warszawa 1957
  • Swetoniusz, Żywoty Cezarów, przeł. J. Niemirska – Pliszczyńska, Wrocław 1987, Otho

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