Claudius and his Wives: the Normality of the Exceptional?

Späth, Thomas (2019). Claudius and his Wives: the Normality of the Exceptional? In: Bielman Sánchez, Anne (ed.) Power Couples in Antiquity: Transversal Perspectives. London: Routledge

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The emperor Claudius got married four times; his last two wives, Messalina and Agrippina the Younger, are those about whom the most precise information have reached us. However, these spouses are literary figures whose narrative functions are clearly determined by the argumentative context of the sources. What do they teach us about conjugal life in the domus Augusta? When we read the texts against the grain, we find a "marriage discourse" which is exactly the same for the imperial couple as for the couple relationships of contemporary aristocrats: there was simply no alternative model to that which mos and gender discourse had established. Also, the exceptional couple of the emperor and his wife informs us about the expectations and the conditions of ordinary marriages among the Roman elite. However, it cannot be denied that ordinary marriages did not usually end with the violent death of the wife (Messalina) or of the husband (Claudius): this paper proposes to consider the life of the imperial couple as quite ordinary – the extraordinary is not the marriage life, but its socially and politically exceptional conditions.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Ancient History and Reception History of the Ancient World
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for Global Studies (CGS)

UniBE Contributor:

Späth, Thomas


900 History
900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)








Thomas Späth

Date Deposited:

21 Mar 2019 16:32

Last Modified:

14 Feb 2022 06:54

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Agrippina minor, Julia (15-59 CE) Ancestry Aristocratic Couple Beauty, female Caecina (Aulus Caecina Severus) Claudius (emperor 41-54 CE) Dio Cassius Cocceianus Divorce Domestic life Exceptional couple Fecundity Freedmen Husband's relief Imperial couple Juvenal Marital life Messalina, Valeria (ca. 25-48 CE) Messalla, M. Valerius Corvinus Misogyny (alleged) Motherhood Nero (emperor 54-68 CE) Ordinary couple Partnership Remarriage Tacitus Weak sex Wife, expectations Wife, ideal




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