I’ve recently returned from a writing sojourn in the Eternal City. Under the beating June sun, I retraced the bloodstained steps of Rome’s most infamous Shebugs: Valeria Messalina.
Marc Anthony was her great grandfather and her father, high ranking consul, Valerius Messalla Barbatus. Her noble birth garnered an even deeper luster no sooner the fifteen-year old Shebug became a member of Caligula’s household - by way of marriage.
Her husband, the much older, physically disabled and simple-minded Tiberius Claudius Caesar, assumed the unexpected leadership of Rome when his tyrannical nephew, Caligula, was stabbed to death thirty times on Palatine Hill as a result of a plan hatched by the Praetorian Guard and Roman Senate. Valeria Messalina stepped into her new role of consort in no time at all.
The fifteen-year old bride, Tiberius’ third wife, possessed good looks and took lovers early on in their marriage. But Claudius, smitten and bewitched by the Roman Lolita, pandered to her every whim. Valeria’s debauched conduct became the talk of the town head when she challenged a prostitute-and came out the victor. Valeria even sent one of Claudius’ favourite nieces who was apparently highly skilled in the art of seduction, packing into exile and later terminated in an odd fit of jealousy. But Claudius turned a blind eye.
In ridding themselves of the despotic Caligula, the Romans hoped to secure figureheads that were beyond reproach. Despite his crippled physique, mild-mannered Claudius fit the bill - but his much younger wife did not.
But did she care? Not a fig.
Valeria’s venom flowed alongside blood on every road leading to Rome. Anyone who opposed the Empress Shebug lost their lands and many their lives. She plotted and counter-plotted. Her inglorious greed became unmasked when she brought trumped up charges against a leading senator whose beautiful lands she coveted. Claudius believed her false accusations, which lead to the respected politician’s death. And so, the fabled Gardens of Lucullus came into Valeria’s dirty little hands.
The unassailable Shebug ranks as the first century AD Mafia Mother of all Mothers: she sold her influence to anyone rich enough to buy it in exchange for imperial favours. But it was when she fell for the most handsome man in Rome, Cauis Silius, that Valeria Messalina crossed the proverbial Rubicon…
The young consul-delegate succumbed to the Emperor's in the hopes that the infatuation would die down and that he would be replaced by another paramour. Instead, Valeria all but handed over the empire to Silius – slaves, freeman, furniture…you name it.
Public opinion of the Emperor dropped to a new low so Messalina tricked her husband into a temporary divorce so he could save face. But as soon as Claudius granted his overindulged Empress her freedom, she shocked the citizens of Rome and wed Silius without delay.
The insult to the scorned Emperor became too heavy to shoulder. Reduced to putty by his courtiers, he had no choice but to order Valeria's execution to demonstrate some semblance of strength. Centurions were immediately dispatched; not even the wedding attendees were spared the rod. Cornered, Messalina tried to end her own life which was viewed as more dignified in ancient times, but failed miserably.
Armed with the Romans Republic’s full backing, the centurions’ blades of justice exterminated the despotic Shebug... in the Garden of Lucullus.