The Roman Nymphomaniac Empress

Messalina, the wife of Roman Emperor Claudius, had an insatiable desire for sex

Peter Preskar
Jan 7 · 4 min read
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Messalina in the arms of a gladiator (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Roman Empress Messalina had a notorious reputation as a nymphomaniac. The sexually promiscuous empress had a string of lovers. Her decadent love life was also the cause of her demise.

The spicy stories about Messalina include her working as a prostitute in a brothel and holding a competition about who had more sexual stamina.

Who was Messalina?

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Painting of Messalina by Hans Makart (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Valeria Messalina (20–48) was an influential Roman noblewoman. She was a great-grandniece of the first Roman Emperor Augustus.

Messalina was very beautiful and irresistible to most Roman men. In 38, she married Claudius (10 BC-54 AD), when she was eighteen and he was forty-eight. Romans didn’t bother with the fact they were first cousins, once removed. She gave birth to a daughter Claudia Octavia and to a son Britannicus.

In 41 AD, when the conspirators killed Emperor Caligula, the Praetorian Guard selected Messalina’s husband Claudius as the next emperor.

She used her influence over Claudius for her own gain. Using false accusations, she eliminated her opponents and amassed great personal wealth.

In 48 AD, Messalina married her lover, Senator Gaius Silius. It was a move that was too bold even for docile Claudius. His advisors arranged for her execution.

Emperor Nero succeeded Claudius in 54. He married Messalina’s daughter Claudia Octavia and had her killed a few years later. Nero also organized the poisoning of Britannicus, Messalina’s only son. Thus Messalina and her children disappeared from the Roman political theatre.

Messalina the Nymphomaniac — a gossip or truth?

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The orgies of Messalina by Federico Faruffini (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

All the Roman writers who wrote about Messalina described her as a nymphomaniac.

She definitely was one of the most magnetic and beautiful women of her time. Messalina was a young wife married to an old husband. Perhaps Claudius was not interested in lovemaking anymore. After all, he had a huge empire to govern.

Gossipers said that Messalina had over 150 lovers. During the night she loved to sneak out of the imperial palace while Claudius was sleeping. She went to the brothel where she would work as a prostitute. After a long night of sex with multiple men, she would return to her husband.

Claudius either didn’t know about her affairs or he ignored her promiscuous behavior. He definitely was a laughing stock of all the men in Rome.

Once, Messalina entered a competition with the best Roman prostitute, Scylla. Messalina and Scylla bet on who could please more men in twenty-four hours.

Messalina won by twenty-five to twenty-four! She definitely had stamina. No wonder that poor Claudius let her loose!

That story cemented Messalina as one of the most famous nymphomaniacs in history.

Messalina married her lover when her husband was out of town

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Death of Messalina by Georges Rochegrosse(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In 48, Claudius left Rome for Ostia, to oversee the construction of the new port. While Claudius was out of town, Messalina married her lover, Senator Gaius Silius.

They had a huge and expensive wedding party. Messalina’s enemies seized the opportunity and immediately notified Claudius.

Realizing she had made a mistake, Messalina pleaded with Claudius to spare her life. Claudius, as usual, was leaning towards forgiving his wife. But his advisors ordered Messalina to commit suicide.

Messalina lost in the game of thrones of the Roman Empire.

Once Claudius heard the news of Messalina’s death, he was indifferent. He showed no remorse, sadness, or relief. Instead, Claudius asked for another cup of wine.

The Roman Senate issued a ‘condemnation of memory’ edict to erase all evidence of Messalina’s life.

Conclusion

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Status of Messalina by Eugène Cyrille Brunet (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

We need to be careful with the credibility of ancient stories. Often writers lived centuries after the events they recorded had happened. Also, some stories were part of the smear tactics to damage someone’s reputation.

Even if only half of what Roman writers say about Messalina is true, we have to admit that she had a lively love life.

Throughout history, Messalina was an inspiration for many works of art. The depictions of her life perpetuated Messalina’s image as a nymphomaniac to modern times.

Want to read more about the scandalous lives of Romans?

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Peter Preskar

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History junkie.

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

Peter Preskar

Written by

History junkie.

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

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