Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus
Messallinus was born and raised in Rome. He was the oldest son of the famous senator, orator and literary patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus whom he resembled in character, from wife Calpurnia. Messallinus is known to have had at least one sister, Valeria, who married the Senator Titus Statilius Taurus. From his father’s second marriage, his younger paternal half-brother was the Senator Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus. Messallinus was the great-uncle of Lollia Paulina, the third wife of Caligula, and a relation to Statilia Messalina, the third wife of Nero.
Tibullus mentions that Messallinus was admitted into the quindecimviri sacris faciundis, the collegia in charge of the Sibylline Books. Syme notes that the date of his cooption was before the poet's death in 19 BC, and argues it was in 21 BC. He served as a consul in 3 BC.
In AD 6, Messallinus served as a governor in Illyricum. During his time in Illyricum, he served with Tiberius with distinction in a campaign against the Pannonians and Dalmatians in the uprising of the Great Illyrian Revolt with the half-strength Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Messallinus defeated the Pannonii, led by Bato the Daesitiate, and prevented spread of the uprising. For his defeat over Bato, Messallinus was rewarded with a triumphal decoration (ornamenta triumphalia) and a place in the procession during Tiberius’ Pannonian triumph in 12, four years after the death of his father.
In the first session of the Senate after Tiberius ascended to the throne, Messallinus suggested that an oath of allegiance should be sworn to the emperor yearly. Tiberius declined this offer, then asked if this motion was his own idea; Messallinus replied it was a spontaneous suggestion, meant to show public spirit, even at risk of his safety. He next appears in history six years later, in the year 20, as part of the outcome of the trial and execution of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. Tacitus notes that Messallinus, along with Caecina Severus, proposed a golden statue be placed in the temple of Mars the Avenger, and an altar dedicated to Vengeance, in celebration of the execution of Piso. Emperor Tiberius blocked the motion, pointing out that victories over foreign powers were commemorated with such acts, but domestic conflicts should be shrouded in silent grief. Messallinus is recorded as also proposing public thanks given to Tiberius and other individuals for having avenged Germanicus; when Lucius Nonius Asprenas pointedly asked if he had intentionally omitted all mention of Claudius in his proposal, the future emperor was then added. Messallinus also appears as one of seven witnesses of the Senatus consultum de Cn. Pisone patre, the Roman Senate's official act concerning the trial and punishment of Piso.
The last time Tacitus mentions Messallinus is in his account of the following year, when he spoke against a motion before the Senate to forbid senators from bringing their wives with them when leaving to govern a province. Syme hints that Messallinus died not long after, noting that Tacitus provided no obituary notice for the senator, and concluding, "The oration did service as a conspicuous exit."
Tibullus is not the only poet to mention Messallinus. From his exile at Tomis, the poet Ovid addressed as many as three poems to him. Ovid's Tristia comprises poems written during his travel into exile, and his first years at Tomis, none of which mention names. Syme explains this omission "ostensibly to avoid embarrassment". Despite this, Syme is confident that one of the poems in Tristia (IV.4) is addressed to Messalinus. After beginning with a compliment to noble birth, to noble character, and to eloquence inherited from his father, Ovid pleads with Messalinus intervenes with Augustus to recall him from exile.
The next other two poems are part of his three-book collection titled Epistulae ex Ponto ("Letters from the Black Sea"), in elegiacs like Tristia, but providing the names of the addressees of the poems unlike Trisita. Syme dates the first poem (I.7) to AD 12, and the second (II.2) to the following year. Both repeat Ovid's pleas for help to be recalled from Tomis. "The three pieces to his address fail to disclose any close personal relationship, common acquaintances, or liking for poetry," Syme observes, and contrasts this to Ovid's relationship with Messalinus' brother Cotta Maximus. "Ovid knew him from the cradle (Ex P. II.3.72), he mentions in 11 his wife and new-born son (Tr. IV.5.27ff)."
Messallinus' daughter Valeria Messalla was born ca. 10 BC and later married the praetor of 17, Lucius Vipstanus Gallus.
- Gagarin, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Academy Bible, p.131
- Juster, Elgies: With parallel Latin text, p. 119
- Paterculus, Paterculus: The Tiberian Narrative, p.66
- Syme, Augustan Aristocracy, p. 240
- Syme, Augustan Aristocracy, p. 230
- Paterculus, The Roman History, p.127
- Tibullus, II.5
- Juster, Elgies: With parallel Latin text, pp. 119-120
- Tacitus, Annales, I.8
- Tacitus, Annales, III.18
- CIL VI, 31689
- Syme, Augustan Aristocracy, p. 234
- Syme, History in Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 76
- Syme, History in Ovid, p. 122
- Syme, History in Ovid, p. 123
- Syme, History in Ovid, p. 125
- Marcus Velleius Paterculus - 2.112.1-2
- Tacitus - The Annals of Imperial Rome
- Suetonius - The Lives of the Twelve Caesars
- Cassius Dio, 55.30.1-5.
- A. Tibullus, The Complete Poems of Tibullus: An En Face Bilingual Edition, University of California Press, 2012
- A. M. Juster, Elegies: With parallel Latin text (Google eBook), Oxford University Press, 2012
- Velleius Paterculus – Translated with Introduction and Notes by J.C. Yardley & A.A. Barrett, The Roman History, Hackett Publishing, 2011
- M. Gagarin & E. Fantham, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Academy Bible, Oxford University Press, 2009
- V. Paterculus, Paterculus: The Tiberian Narrative, Cambridge University Press, 2004
- Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford University Press, 1989
Gaius Caelius (Rufus?),
and Galus Sulpicius
as Suffect consuls
| Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Cornelius Lentulus
and Marcus Plautius Silvanus
as Ordinary consuls