Valeria Messalina (c.18–48 CE) was a great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus and Empress herself as the third wife of the Emperor Claudius. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she conspired against her husband and was executed when the plot was discovered.
She was a regular and, despite her age, influencial figure at Caligula’s court. She married her second cousin Claudius in around 38 CE when she was no older than twenty and he was forty-eight years old. They had two children (Claudia Octavia and Britannicus). When Claudius was proclaimed emperor in 41 CE Messalina became the most powerful woman in the Roman Empire. Through her status she became very influential but, possibly because of Claudius’ age, she was very insecure. To improve her own security and ensure the future of her children she attempted to eliminate anyone who was a potential threat to her and her children
The ancient Roman sources, particularly Tacitus and Suetonius, portray Messalina as insulting, disgraceful, cruel, avaricious, and as a foolish nymphomaniac. Juvenal referred to her in his Satires as a ‘whore-empress’ and ‘august harlot’.
In 47 CE Messalina and the Senator Gaius Silius allegedly became lovers and plotted to kill Claudius. Claudius ordered their deaths. Messalina was offered the option of suicide – her mother Domitia Lepida reportedly advised her: ‘Your life is finished. All that remains is to make a decent end.’ – but was too afraid to do so, so she was decapitated. When Messalina’s death was announced to him Claudius reportedly showed no emotion but asked for more wine.