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24 September 2007

Sporus - (? - 69CE)

Poppaea Sabina
In the Roman year AUC 818, the year that in the later Christian calendar would be numbered 65, Nero, in the 15th year of his rule, had a row with his second wife, Poppaea Sabina, who was pregnant with their second child. This led to his kicking her in the stomach, as a result of which, she died. He had already honoured her with the title of 'Augusta' after their first child. Nero was devastated. Her body was embalmed and put in the Mausoleum of Augustus; she was given a state funeral; and she was proclaimed to be a goddess.

He also resurrected her in a way that would fit a horror b-movie. One of his slaves had the misfortune to resemble Poppaea. Nero had Sporus castrated, dressed as the empress and addressed as ‘Sabina’. He paraded her through Rome, and publicly embraced her. They were publicly married in Greece in 67.

In AUC 821 (68 CE), as Nero's rule fell apart, he retreated to the suburb of Via Salaria with a few of his loyal servants and slaves. Sporus was among them, as was Marcus Epaphroditus, Nero's secretary, who actually helped Nero to commit suicide, or perhaps killed him.

Subsequent emperors.

Otho (Poppaea Sabina's previous husband whom she left for Nero), on becoming emperor, took Sporus as consort under the name Poppaea.

His successor, Vitellius, ordered Sporus to act on the stage as a woman being ravished, a final humiliation that lead to her suicide.


None of the ancient sources says anything of what Sporus may have felt.

Sporus is definitely a male name. The feminine would be Spora, but is never used.

Not the Greek mathematician and astronomer.

Nero was somewhat of a drag queen himself. He composed songs, sang and danced in public, and sometimes appeared in drag.

  • Dion Cassius. Ixii. 28, Ixiii. 12, 13, 27, Ixiv. 8, Ixv. 10 ;
  • Suetonius. Nero. 28, 46, 48, 49 ;
  • Sextus Aurelius Victor. De Caesaribus. 5, Epit. 5 ;
  • Dion Chrysostom. Oratio. xxi;
  • Suidas, s. v. “Sporus”
  • ++Shaun Tougher.  The Roman castrati : eunuchs in the Roman Empire.  Bloomsbury Academic, 2021: 33-5, 40-53.
  • ++ Anthony Everitt & Roddy Ashworth.  Nero: matricide, music, and murder in imperial Rome. Random House, 2022: 322-3, 341-2, 344-5, 349.



The Christian connection

Poppaea Sabina was probably the first proto-Christian in Rome. Josephus visited Rome in 817/64 to obtain the release of some Jewish priests and found that Poppaea was always ready to facilitate Jewish petitions towards her husband. He succeeded in his mission, and returned home bearing gifts. He described her as θεοσεβής (theosebioi) which is usually translated as 'God-fearer'. See the entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia. It is ironic that she became a Roman goddess but not a saint.

Marcus Epaphroditus, the secretary who killed Nero, was also a colleague of Paul the Apostle, and the sponsor and publisher of two of the works of Josephus. See Philippians 2:25: "Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants".    There are those who say that Epaphroditus is the Marcus who gave his name to the second Christian gospel.

Thus Sporus links two of the key early Roman Christians.

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