The Disturbing Weddings of Nero

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was the fifth emperor of Rome and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which fell due to the sheer incompetence and outrageous behavior of their emperor. His treatment of Christians is the basis for being named the Beast of the Apocalpyse in the Book of Revelations (if you add up all the roman numerals in his full, it add up to 666). Having ruled for thirteen years and eight months, his obscene activities have cemented his infamy nearly two thousand years later.

The boy Sporus mentioned here may have been what is called a “puer delicates”. That is, child-slave chosen by his master for his beauty as a “boy toy” and castrated to preserve that beauty. Which was an understood, if not standard, tradition in Roman society. Thus Nero’s action were not totally without precedent, but one did not marry such people.

This text comes from Suetonius’s 12 Caesars, written in 121 BCE. One criticism of this work is that the author did focus on rumor and old gossip as much as he did on historical facts. On the other hand, much of the material on Nero’s scandal ridden reign has been backed up by many, many other contemporary sources. So we may assume most of what is written below is true.

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“Having tried to turn the boy Sporus into a girl by castration, he went through a wedding ceremony with him- dowry, bridal veil, and all- took him to his palace with a great crowd in attendance, and treated him as a wife. A rather amusing joke is still going the rounds: the world would have been a happier place had Nero’s father, Domitius, married that sort of wife. He dressed Sporus in fine clothes normally worn by an empress, and took him his own litter not only to every Greek assize [judicial court] and fair but actually through the Street of the Sigillaria at Rome, kissing him amorously now and then.

“The lecherous passion he felt for his mother, Agrippina, was notorious, but her enemies would not let him consummate it, fearing that if he did she would become even more powerful and ruthless than hitherto. So he found a new mistress said to be her spitting image; some say that he did in fact commit incest with Agrippina every time they rode in the same litter – the stains on the clothes proved it.

“Nero practiced every kind of obscenity, and after defiling almost every part of his body finally invented a novel game: He was released from a cage dressed in the skins of wild animals, and attacked the private parts of men and women who stood bound by the stakes. After working up sufficient excitement by this means, he was dispatched –shall we say? – by his freedman Doryphorus. Doryphorus now married him – just as he himself had been married to Sporus. And on the wedding night, [Nero] imitated the screams and moans of a girl being deflowered.”

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

 

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