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Shhh.. It's a Secret

Contributed by David Verne

Claudius' wife, Messalina has been carrying on an affair with Silius, a senator soon to be consul. She convinces him to divorce his wife, and he begins to pressure her to divorce Claudius and marry him. When Claudius left on a trip to the port city of Ostia, Messalina and Silius got married. Rome was the ultimate grapevine and nothing stayed secret for long, but they didn't even try to keep the secret. They got married in a lavish ceremony with hundreds of guests at the feast afterwards, basically acting as if everything was normal. Narcissus, Claudius' chief of staff, had formed an alliance of convenience with Messalina, but things had gone way to far, and he tells Claudius about his wife's activities asking, "Are you aware, you're divorced? For the whole Senate and people saw the ceremony." Claudius was stunned but moved quickly to find out if a coup was going on. After hearing that Claudius was coming back to Rome, Messalina left Rome with her children and tried to see Claudius, but Narcissus made sure she didn't get anywhere near the emperor. Narcissus took Claudius to Silius' home, telling him that all the proof he needed was there. Claudius went to the home and found statues and pieces of furniture from the Imperial palace; Messalina had been moving stuff there for some time. Messalina continued to deny everything, including the marriage, but the hundreds of witnesses claimed otherwise. Claudius was still hesitant to kill Messalina, and Narcissus was concerned that he might pardon her. Narcissus dispatched several centurions, telling them that the emperor ordered her death. The centurions found her and executed her and Silius. The Emperor reportedly didn't react, and the Senate voted for a damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory), her name would be removed from anywhere and all statues taken down in an attempt to erase all memory of the person from history. [1]

My Take by David Verne
I don't know what Messalina and Silius were hoping to accomplish here, as they didn't have a shred of a claim on the throne. They just got married and acted like business as usual. The historian Tacitus, writing 70 years later, expresses his disbelief to his readers saying, "I am well aware that it will seem incredible that, in a city that knows all and conceals nothing, any members of the human race could have been so reckless."

See Also


  1. Tacitus, Cornelius. The Annals. 

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