During his reign Caligula had forced his uncle Claudius to marry Valeria Messalina, 30 years his junior. It was intended as a joke but Claudius very quickly became besotted with her, he was always a slave to his women. She found him physically repulsive with his bad skin, club foot, stammer and tendency to dribble. Even so she bore him two children. She was a licentious, deceitful, and greedy woman, and was determined to rule. If that meant having sex with her monstrous husband then so be it.
Agrippina, the mother of Nero and Messalina (Lyasca - Wolf Girl) the wife of Claudius. Julia Agrippina, or Julia the Younger, known as Agrippinilla, was born around 9AD. She was the daughter of Germanicus (whose mother was Antonia, the daughter of Marc Antony) and Agrippina (the granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus the Divine). She was the niece and adopted daughter of the Emperor Tiberius, sister of Caligula and the mother of Nero. She was a scion of the Imperial family and was immersed in Court intrigue from the day she was born. She was beautiful, ruthless, domineering, violent and ambitious. Valeria Messalina, though certainly not of low birth, did not emerge from such exalted circles. Even so she was a regular attendee of the parties thrown at the Imperial Palace. This vicious and scheming woman, who was little more than a girl, was to become the most powerful person in Rome, more powerful than the Emperor himself. She certainly thought so. Agrippina's life was one fraught with danger. As a daughter of the Imperial family her life was in the hands of others and was dictated by the requirements of State policy. A series of politically determined marriages followed. However, her life remained fairly conventional until her brother Gaius ascended to the throne as the Emperor Caligula (Little Boot) in 37AD. Caligula, was notoriously fond of his sisters, particularly, Drusilla. He is believed to have had an incestuous relationship with all of his sisters, and certainly enjoyed forcing his sisters to have sex in public with his friends. After Drusilla died, apparently at his own hands after she revealed that she was pregnant with his child, his relationship with his other sisters changed. He no longer trusted them. Accusing them of plotting against him he had them exiled to the Pontine Islands. He then auctioned (something he felt he had a penchant for) all their worldly goods. Agrippina and her sister Livilla, were forced to dive for sponges to make ends meet, and to work for a living. Caligula's reign was short, however. Thought to be insane, he was murdered on 24 January, 41AD, after less than 4 years in power. Caligula had been the victim of a Republican plot and an attempt had been made to murder the entire Imperial family. Despite also killing Caligula's wife and baby daughter they failed to murder his uncle Claudius, who was found cowering behind a curtain in the Imperial Palace and proclaimed Emperor by the Praetorian Guard. Caligula's assassins were hunted down and executed. During his reign Caligula had forced his uncle Claudius to marry Valeria Messalina, 30 years his junior. It was intended as a joke but Claudius very quickly became besotted with her, he was always a slave to his women. She found him physically repulsive with his bad skin, club foot, stammer and tendency to dribble. Even so she bore him two children. She was a licentious, deceitful, and greedy woman, and was determined to rule. If that meant having sex with her monstrous husband then so be it. Upon becoming Emperor, Claudius facilitated the return of his nieces Agrippina and Livilla. Agrippina's own ambitions had not been dimmed by her exile. Unlike her sister who returned to her husband and disappeared into obscurity, Agrippina was determined to remain within the Imperial loop. Even so, realising that as a rival to Messalina her life might be in danger, she kept for a time a low-profile and lived away from the Imperial Palace. In any case, she had other short-term priorities. She had returned to Rome penniless. She immediately and shamelessly made a play for the successful General and future Emperor, Galba. But he was already married, and happily so. Agrippina found her advances spurned and was further humiliated when she was slapped and given a public dressing down by Galba's mother-inlaw. Her uncle Claudius came to her rescue however, when he ordered Gaius Sallutius Crispus, a wealthy ex-Consul to divorce his wife and marry her. In 47AD Crispus died suddenly and mysteriously. It was rumoured that Agrippina had poisoned him. Either way, she inherited his estates and became wealthy in her own right. Meanwhile, Messalina was busy governing Rome. Claudius was often away from the city and during his long absences she ruled with a rod of iron, ruthlessly disposing of anyone who opposed her, or offended her in any way. In 47AD she attended the Secular Games with her son Britannicus. Also present was Agrippina and her son, Lucius, the future Nero. The reception accorded Agrippina was far and away greater than that for Messalina. She was furious. Later that night assassins were despatched to eliminate, Lucius. He was only saved when his murderers were frightened off by a snake emerging from his bed. Messalina's behaviour by this time was becoming increasingly erratic. Her infamous competition with a prostitute named Scylla, to see who could satisfy the most sexual partners in 24 hours, became the talk of the city. The fact that she won, claiming 25 fully paid-up and gratified partners, only enhanced her reputation as the Wolf-Girl. She never really made much effort to hide her antics from her husband, whom she considered a fool anyway, but now she over-played her hand. While Claudius was away inspecting public works in Ostia, she married her lover, the Senator, Gaius Silius. She intended him to become Emperor. No one would support her silly deformed husband, she thought. But the rebellion as it was, never caught fire, and was easily crushed. Despite her pleas she was not permitted to see her husband. As she was composing a letter begging her husband's forgiveness, if only for the sake of the children, she received the order that she was to take her own life. She refused to do so, claiming that the Emperor would understand if only she could speak to him. Her mother, Lepida, now intervened. She had long since tired of her daughter's antics and told her, "Your life is done. All that remains is to make it a decent end". But Messalina still refused to commit suicide. A guard then ran her through and decapitated her. With Messalina dead, Agrippina at last felt able to assert herself. She now determined to marry her uncle, the Emperor, and secure the succession for her son. Claudius, however, had vowed never to marry again. So she set about seducing him. She would fondle him and shower him with kisses in outrageous displays of public affection. He soon succumbed to her advances and they married in 48AD, even though an uncle marrying his niece was considered incestuous and illegal under Roman Law. Agrippina worked tirelessly to persuade Claudius to adopt Lucius as his son and heir. Warned by a soothsayer that should her son become Emperor he would end by murdering her, Agrippina replied "Let him kill me, provided he becomes Emperor". But her aim all along was that they would rule in tandem. Claudius was putty in her hands, even nominating Lucius as heir over his own son Britannicus. Agrippina's now increasingly frantic efforts to isolate Britannicus, and the loathsome character of Lucius himself, soon made Claudius regret his decision. He began again to favour his own son, and he would soon come of age. Agrippina had to act. At a banquet in 54AD after eating a hearty meal, Claudius collapsed and died. The result of a poisoned mushroom. Following the old man's death, Lucius was proclaimed Emperor. He immediately changed his name from Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus to Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. For the first few years of his reign the young Nero showed great promise. Dominated by his mother and guided by his tutor, Seneca, Rome's leading philosopher, Nero governed with reason and justice. But it soon dawned on him who ruled and his mother's domineering presence was an increasing encumbrance to his ambitions. Nero had married Claudius's daughter, the chaste and noble Octavia in June 53AD. But it was a political marriage. Nero had his eyes set on the beautiful, vain and mercurial Pompaea. A woman of low-repute and ill-thought of. He knew his mother would never accept him divorcing Octavia. So instead he had his wife banished, and later quietly murdered. Agrippina continued to nag Nero incessantly but she was losing control over her son. So she began to nurture a relationship with her step-son Britannicus. In February 56AD Britannicus collapsed during a banquet in the Imperial Palace. Nero declared that it was little more than an epileptic fit and had Britannicus carried away. But he was dead - poisoned. Even as the festivities continued his body was already being burned. In the meantime Nero's relationship with his mother continued to crumble. In 57AD he banished his mother from the Imperial Palace. Though they would meet from time to time, she was forced to live on the Island of Misenum. Nero took great pleasure in sending people there to harass, harangue and annoy her. But this was not enough for Nero. He was by now heartily sick of her constant meddling in his affairs. He decided to be rid of her. But how? He couldn't execute his own mother; and poisoning was too obvious. So he had his engineers design a collapsible boat. He would invite his mother to dinner. On her return journey to Misenum the bottom of the boat would fall out and his mother would drown. It was an ingenious idea, he thought, and the bottom of the boat did indeed fall out. But his mother was an experienced swimmer from all those years diving for sponges, and she managed to swim ashore. Nero was furious, now there was to be no pretence. He ordered troops to go to Misenum and murder his mother. Agrippina was lying on her bed recovering from her ordeal as the soldiers closed in. Seeing them she pulled back the bedclothes and pointing to her womb said, "Strike here!" On hearing of her death, Nero was delighted, "At last", he said , "I am free to live like a man". Postscript: The Emperor Nero's reign is well-documented, with his mother dead the last restraint on him was removed, and as he indulged his desire to be a great artist his reign stumbled from one disaster to another. In 60AD, Queen Boadicea of the Iceni almost brought Roman rule in Britannia to a close, destroying three Roman cities, Colchester, St Albans and London, before being defeated at a site still unknown. In 64AD the city of Rome was set ablaze and the greater part of it burned to the ground. Though Nero probably played no part in this and he did his best to provide relief for the poor and dispossessed he was held to blame. Nero, it was said, had fiddled while Rome had burned. He had to find a scapegoat. He lighted upon the Christians, a recently formed and deeply unpopular religious sect. Deemed the culprits, Nero unleashed an orgy of violence upon them. They were rounded up, tortured, crucified, burned to death, and eaten alive by wild animals in the arena for the entertainment of the masses. Two of his victims were the Apostles Peter and Paul. So cruel were the punishments inflicted on the Christians that it actually elicited sympathy from a populace that had previously held them in deep contempt. When his rebuilding plans for the city revealed that he intended to construct a giant palace to his own glory, the socalled Golden House, his popularity plummeted to rock bottom. In the summer of 65AD he arrived home late from a night at the theatre. His wife, the vain, arrogant, bisexual Poppaea, whose great beauty was belied by an unpleasantness of character, was less than pleased and let loose a torrent of verbal abuse. In a fit of temper Nero kicked his wife and their as yet unborn child to death In the same year a vast conspiracy to overthrow and kill Nero was uncovered. At that time Nero was still able to wield enough authority to eliminate this threat. But his support was dissipating with every day that passed. A Praetorian Guard, Subrius Flavius, arrested at the time told him, "I hated you, yet not a soldier was more loyal to you while you deserved to be loved. I began to hate you when you became the murderer of your mother and your wife, a charioteer, an actor, and an incendiary". It was a warning Nero would have done well to have heeded. In 66AD the province of Judea exploded into rebellion. It was a serious challenge to Roman rule and could only be crushed by a huge muster of military forces under the command of the then little known future Emperor Vespasian. Despite these threats to his reign and the Empire, Nero continued to indulge his artistic fantasies. He would pose as the great charioteer even performing in the arena where he would invariably win even when he lost. He would put on theatrical performances with himself as the star turn, and give recitals that went on for so long that women pretended to give birth, and men feigned death, simply to escape them. Following a series of failed attempts to topple him, in 68AD, Galba, the Governor of Spain, declared himself Emperor and marched on Rome. Nero was in a panic about what to do. With his friends deserting him and believing himself unable to muster sufficient forces for his defence he fled Rome. It was now just a matter of time. He decided, after much procrastination, to commit suicide, but he could not bring himself to do it. Instead a servant ran him through with a sword. His last words were "Qualis artefex pereo " (What an artist dies in me).