6/13/2008

Woman of the week - Poppaea Sabina

Name: Poppaea Sabina
Born: 30 AD, Pompeii, Italy
Dead: 65 AD
Married to: 1 - Rufruius Crispinus
2 - Marcus Salvius Otho
3 - Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Children: One son in her first marriage, one daughter by her third
Occupation: Empress

Poppaea Sabina is one of those women who has not been treated to kindly by historians - much due to how she is described by ancient historians like Tacitus and Suetonius. The problem is that ancient historians were not very interested in being unbiased and wrote with an agenda, and she was married to emperor Nero, one of the most hated Roman emperors of all times. It might be true that she was a horrible person who only strove to get as far as possible, and it might all be lies - we just have no way of knowing. Much that was written about her is there no way for any historian to know.

Poppaea's father was a questor who had managed to get into scandal before reaching any important positions in society and her mother was a noted beauty. Her father died when she was a year old and the mother remarried a man who became both consul and senator. Poppaea's mother was later forced to commit suicide by the intrigues of the empress Valeria Messalina in 47 AD. By then Poppaea had left home, she married Rufruius Crispinus, of equestrian rank, in 44 AD. They were married for some years and had a son before they eventually got divorced and Poppaea married her second husband.

This man was the one who would have a short career as emperor Otho in 69 AD, but that was all in the future at this stage. But he was a friend of the emperor Nero and Nero fell in love with Poppaea and forced Otho to divorce her so that he could make her his mistress, which happened in 58 AD.

Nero eventually divorced is his first wife and married Poppaea in 62. This was probably due less to the woman's persuasive charms and more to do with the fact that she by now was pregnant and his first wife of eight years had failed to give him a child. The child Poppaea gave birth to was a daughter, Claudia Augusta, who died aged just 4 months. After the birth Poppaea was honoured by Nero with the title of Augusta.

Poppaea died in 65, while pregnant with her and Nero's second child. Ancient historians have it that Nero killed her in a fit if rage, for example by jumping on her. The truth is that we do not know but the historians were partial against Nero and had every reason to speak ill of him and knowing the health situation of ancient Rome it is not at all unlikely that she died due to some complication with the pregnancy. After her death Nero went into deep mourning and refused to have her cremated and instead she was embalmed and placed in Augustus mausoleum in a state funeral and she was given divine status.

Poppaea's son by her first marriage was killed on a fishing-trip on orders from Nero and her first husband was executed - all of this after her death.

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