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Emperor Claudius of Rome. Unlucky in love. His wives, Messalina, and Agrippina. Roman soap opera.

Updated on February 15, 2016


Unlucky in love, and not just The Emperor Claudius.

Unlucky in love once. The Emperor Claudius and Messalina.

Claudius. Unlucky in love twice. Agrippina. Mushrooms can be bad for you.

Execution of Messalina.

Our cast of characters.

Emperor Claudius. A sucker for a pretty face.
Emperor Claudius. A sucker for a pretty face.
Messalina with her clothes on.
Messalina with her clothes on.
Agrippina and Nero. Familial devotion at it's best. I don't think.
Agrippina and Nero. Familial devotion at it's best. I don't think.

Unlucky in love, and not just The Emperor Claudius.

History is full of the stories of those who were unlucky in love. The story of Mary Queen of Scots and her marriage to the drunken murderer Darnley is well known to many, as is the tale of Catherine II of Russia, and her unhappy coupling with the mad Peter III, which ended in his murder by one of her lovers, which then lead on to her ascending the throne Of The Russian Empire.

Most of us have heard of Anne Boleyn, and how her adulterous "marriage" with King Henry VIII led her to lose her head on Tower Green when that relationship hit a rocky patch.

But the central character in my little tale tonight is none of those mentioned above. No. For this story of blighted affections, I need to take you back to the era when gladiators fought for their lives in the arena, and to a city, and an empire that was the greatest that the world had yet seen.

Our characters lived in Rome. One was The Emperor Claudius, and the other principals were his final two wives, Valeria Messalina, and Agrippina the Younger.

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Unlucky in love once. The Emperor Claudius and Messalina.

Claudius was the fourth roman emperor. He came to "The Purple" when his insane nephew Caligula was murdered by The Praetorian Guards. He was not considered a very suitable candidate for Emperor, as he had several physical disabilities, including a stammer, and a limp. But he was the last living adult male descendant of Julius Caesar, so he kind of got thrown into the job by the soldiers.

He turned out to be quite a competent ruler, by roman emperor standards anyway. Among his successes was the completion of the conquest of Britain. He was also very diligent as a lawmaker and a judge. Most of his wise edicts were thrown out by his mad successor Nero, but that is not for today's story.

Claudius was married to a lady called Valeria Messalina, known to history by her second name Messalina. This not so delightful beauty was the daughter of Domitia Lepida the Younger, and her first cousin Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus. They had two children. The old emperor was completely besotted with her. He had statues erected to her all over Rome. Any kind of status that could be conferred on a woman was bestowed on Messalina, and soon she was the second most powerful person in the empire.

But she was not content. Insecurity ate away at her core. The fact that the emperor was rather old bothered her. Their son Britannicus would have inherited, but her power would have been affected. She was prepared to do anything to retain her own position.

The thing that Messalina is most notorious for, however, is her great sexual appetite, and her promiscuity. According to the roman satirist Juvenal she used to leave the palace when Claudius was asleep, and work all night in her own private brothel. She is once reputed to have engaged in a competition with a famous prostitute to see which of them could satisfy the most amounts of men in a night. The empress won with a score of twenty five satisfied clients. She used her influence with her husband to get anyone she considered a rival either exiled or executed.

But eventually she went too far. She fell in love with a handsome senator called Gaius Silius, and started an affair with him. They plotted to murder Claudius, and she promised that she would make Silius emperor afterwards.

He promised to adopt Britannicus.

They planned to stage a coup when the emperor was out of Rome on a visit to the port of Ostia. First of all they staged a very elaborate wedding for themselves. But some faithful servants of the emperor went to Ostia and gave the game away. Claudius was heartbroken. He had no idea of his wife's double life. Still he managed to gather his wits enough to order that the lovers and their fellow plotters be executed.

Messalina was offered the option of killing herself, but she didn’t have the courage to go through with it so they cut her head off instead.

Afterwards the emperor told his guards to kill him if he ever considered marriage again.

But he did get married, and they didn’t kill him. His next wife did that instead.

Claudius. Unlucky in love twice. Agrippina. Mushrooms can be bad for you.

For his final marital adventure The Emperor Claudius got hitched to Agrippina the Younger. The aged ruler was her second husband, and she came with a teenage son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. To save my typing finger for the rest of this story, I will refer to him by the name he is better known, Nero.

Talk about "out of the frying pan, and into the fire". Agrippina wasn’t a whore like Messalina, but she was intensely ambitious, and she dearly wanted to supplant Britannicus, in the succession, with her own spotty offspring. She made certain that anyone who might have any connection with her predecessor was dismissed. She was very unpopular with the people, because of her arrogance, and because she was actually Claudius's niece.

The silly old fool was again besotted by a young bride. Agrippina persuaded him to adopt Nero, and she started to undermine his regard for Britannicus. The son of Messalina was gradually being stripped of his inheritance rights, in favour of Agrippina's brat.

Eventually the emperor started to get a bit tired of his domineering wife/niece, and her son. He started to favour Britannicus again.

Agrippina decided it was now or never.

She presented her husband with a plate of his favourite mushrooms, which she had previously laced with plenty of poison.

The inevitable happened.

Claudius died.

Nero became emperor.

Agrippina had an enormous amount of power in the early days of her son's reign. She was even allowed to listen to the debates in The Senate from behind a curtain.

But Spotty Boy was growing up.

Nero became fed up with his mother's domination, and she was thrown out of the palace. She had also been intriguing to get Britannicus into power.

Nero had Britannicus poisoned.

It is not certain how Agrippina met her end. It very much depends on which roman historian you believe. Suetonius, Dio Cassius, and Tacitus all tell different versions. But they all agree on one thing. Nero had his mother murdered.

The accounts range from having a ceiling falling on her, to putting her in a collapsible boat, which then sank under her. (She is supposed to have survived that, so he sent men to stab her).

In this version she is said to have told the assassins to stab her in the womb, for giving birth to such "an abominable son."

I would have said that they were about even.

What would Claudius have said?


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