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Freedman of the Roman emperor Nero


The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Freedman of the Roman emperor Nero
Is Emperor
From Holy Roman Empire
Field Royals
Gender male
Birth 49
Death 1 January 69, Rome, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy
The details (from wikipedia)


Sporus was a young boy whom the Roman Emperor Nero supposedly favored, had castrated, and married.

Origins of the name

Sporus derives from the ancient Greek word σπορά spora, meaning "seed, sowing," related to σπόρος sporos, "sowing," and σπείρειν speirein, "to sow." In all references about this story, he is always called Sporus, a male name, when the female would be Spora.

According to the Roman naming conventions, he would gain the nomen and praenomen of his former master retaining his former name as a cognomen. In that case, assuming that it was Nero who freed him (which is not clear), his full name would be Nero Claudius Sporus (after Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus).


Little is known about Sporus's background except that he was a young man to whom Nero took a liking. He may have been a puer delicatus, who were sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve their youthful qualities. The puer delicatus generally was a child-slave chosen by his master for his beauty and sexual attractiveness. Cassius Dio identifies Sporus as a freedman.

Marriage to Nero

Nero, Glyptothek, Munich

Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabina, died in 65, supposedly kicked to death by Nero. In the beginning of 66, Nero married Statilia Messalina. Later that year or in 67 he married Sporus, who was said to bear a remarkable resemblance to Poppaea.

Nero had Sporus castrated, and during their marriage, Nero had Sporus appear in public as his wife wearing the regalia that was customary for Roman empresses. He then took Sporus to Greece and back to Rome, making Calvia Crispinilla serve as "mistress of wardrobe" to Sporus, epitropeia ten peri estheta. Nero had earlier married another freedman, Pythagoras, who had played the role of Nero's husband; now Sporus played the role of Nero's wife. Among other forms of address, Sporus was termed "Lady", "Empress", and "Mistress". Suetonius quotes one Roman who lived around this time who remarked that the world would have been better off if Nero's father Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus had married someone more like the castrated boy.

Suetonius places his account of the Nero–Sporus relationship in his scandalous accounts of Nero's sexual aberrations, between his raping a vestal virgin and committing incest with his mother. Some think that Nero used his marriage to Sporus to assuage the feelings of guilt he felt for kicking his pregnant wife Poppaea to death. Dio Cassius, in a more detailed account, writes that Sporus bore an uncanny resemblance to Sabina and that Nero called Sporus by her name.

Shortly before Nero's death, during the Calends festival, Sporus presented Nero with a ring with a gemstone depicting the Rape of Proserpina, in which the ruler of the underworld forces a young girl to become his bride. It was at the time considered one of the many bad omens of Nero's fall.

Sporus was one of the four companions on the emperor's last journey in June 68, along with Epaphroditos, Neophytus and Phaon. It was to him, and not to his wife Messalina, that Nero turned as he began the ritual lamentations before taking his own life.

After Nero and death

The Rape of Proserpina, by Luca Giordano

Soon after, Sporus was taken to the care of the Praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who had persuaded the Praetorian Guard to desert Nero. Nymphidius treated Sporus as a wife, and called him "Poppaea". Nymphidius tried to make himself emperor but was killed by his own guardsmen.

In 69, Sporus became involved with Otho, the second of a rapid, violent succession of four emperors who vied for power during the chaos that followed Nero's death: Otho had once been married to Poppaea, until Nero forced their divorce. Otho reigned for just three months, until his suicide after the Battle of Bedriacum. His victorious rival, Vitellius intended using Sporus as victim in a public entertainment; a fatal "re-enactment" of the Rape of Proserpina at a gladiator show. Sporus avoided this public humiliation by committing suicide. He was probably under 20 years old.

In fiction

In 1735, Alexander Pope wrote a satirical poem that mocked the courtier Lord Hervey, who had been accused of homosexuality a few years earlier. He scoffs at using so strong weapon as satire upon a weak and effeminate target like Sporus, "that mere white curd of ass's milk", and in a famous line Pope poses the rhetorical question: "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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