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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Died69 CE
Cause of deathSuicide
Known forBeing castrated and married to the Roman emperor Nero
Spouse(s)Nero (married 66 or 67 CE, died 68 CE)

Sporus was a young slave boy whom the Roman Emperor Nero had castrated and married as his Empress during his tour of Greece in 66–67 CE - allegedly, in order for him to play the role of his wife, Poppaea Sabina, who had died the previous year.[1][2][3][4]

Ancient historians, generally, portrayed the relationship between Nero and Sporus as an "abomination";[5] 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.[3] Some think Nero used his marriage to Sporus to assuage the guilt he felt for, allegedly, kicking his pregnant wife Poppaea to death.[6] Dio Cassius, in a more detailed account, writes that Sporus bore an uncanny resemblance to Poppaea and that Nero called Sporus by her name.[4] Some modern scholars, however, question this account and claim that Sporus was by no means a willing participant in his fate.[7] In contrast, they suggest, "the marriage of Nero to Sporus had nothing to do with love, and probably little to do with lust either. It was not some form of prototype 'gay marriage.' It had been intended simply to humiliate a potential rival for the throne through the use of sexual violence against him."[8]

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Some scholars have deduced that Sporus was likely an epithet given to him when his abuse started, considering it is derived from the Greek word σπόρος, meaning "seed" or "semen", referring to the fact that he could not produce children.[9] Others point out that the name resembles the Latin word spurius of Sabine origin, meaning "illegitimate child", and that it is possible that Nero himself had called the boy Spurius, or that he believed the Greek name Sporus to be related to the Latin word.[10]


Little is known about Sporus' background except that he was a youth to whom Nero took a liking. He may have been a puer delicatus. These were sometimes castrated to preserve their youthful qualities.[11] The puer delicatus generally was a child-slave chosen by his master for his beauty and sexual attractiveness.[12] Cassius Dio identifies Sporus as the child of a freedman.[2][3]

Marriage to Nero

Nero, Glyptothek, Munich

Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabina, died in 65 CE. This was supposedly in childbirth, although it was later rumored Nero kicked her to death. At the beginning of 66 CE, Nero married Statilia Messalina. Later that year or in 67 CE, he married Sporus, who was said to bear a remarkable resemblance to Poppaea.[3]

Nero had Sporus castrated,[a] 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 the wardrobe" to Sporus, ἐπιτροπεία τὴν περὶ ἐσθῆτα (epitropeia ten peri estheta).[13] 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".[13] 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.[1]

Shortly before Nero's death, during the Calends festival, Sporus presented Nero with a ring bearing 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.[14]

Sporus was one of the four companions on the emperor's last journey in June of 68 CE,[4] along with Epaphroditus, Neophytus, and Phaon. It was Sporus, and not his wife Messalina, to whom Nero turned as he began the ritual lamentations before taking his own life.[1][3]

After Nero and death

The Rape of Proserpina, by Luca Giordano

Soon afterward, 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.[13][14]

In 69 CE, 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 had forced their divorce.) Otho reigned for three months until his suicide after the Battle of Bedriacum. His victorious rival, Vitellius, intended to use Sporus as a 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.[4][14]

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 a 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?"[15][16][17]

The fourth episode of Season 3 of the US TV show Succession features Tom Wambsgans recounting the marriage of Nero and Sporus to Greg Hirsch. He once again refers to Greg as Sporus in the Season 3 finale.[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ SUET., Nero 28,1: "Puerum Sporum exsectis testibus etiam in muliebrem naturam transfigurare conatus cum dote et flammeo per sollemnia nuptiarum celeberrimo officio deductum ad se pro uxore habuit"
    "He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife" – The expression exsectis testibus, literally "having the testicles removed", does not imply that the entire genitalia was removed.


  1. ^ a b c Ancient History Sourcebook: Suetonius: De Vita Caesarum  – Nero, c. 110 C.E.
  2. ^ a b Cassius Dio Roman History: LXII, 28 – LXIII, 12–13
  3. ^ a b c d e Champlin, 2005, p. 145
  4. ^ a b c d Smith, 1849, p. 897
  5. ^ Champlin, 2005, p. 149.
  6. ^ Champlin, 2005, p.108-109
  7. ^ Woods, 2009, p. 82: Quote - "On the whole, therefore, the evidence suggests that Sporus was keen to revenge himself upon Nero in any way that he could for his castration and humiliation, even if he did end up joining him in his flight, that their relationship was one of mutual hatred rather than love." - end quote.
  8. ^ Woods, 2009, p. 82.
  9. ^ Champlin, 2005, p. 150.
  10. ^ Woods, 2009, pp. 79–80.
  11. ^ Vout, Caroline, Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 136
  12. ^ Manwell, Elizabeth (2007). "Gender and Masculinity". A Companion to Catullus. Blackwell. p. 118.
  13. ^ a b c Champlin, 2005, p.146
  14. ^ a b c Champlin, 2005, pp. 147–148
  15. ^ Moore, Lucy (2000). Amphibious Thing: The Adventures of a Georgian Rake. Penguin Books. p. 376. ISBN 9780140273649.
  16. ^ "The Gay Love Letters of John, Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox". Gay History and Literature – My Dear Boy. Retrieved 3 August 2012. – Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton
  17. ^ Pope, Alexander. "Pope's Caricature of Lord Hervey – 1765". Gay History and Literature – Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England. Retrieved 3 August 2012. As first published the verse referred to Paris, but was changed to Sporus when republished a few months later.
  18. ^ "Tom and Greg and 'Succession's Bonkers Nero Reference, Explained". 9 November 2021.
  19. ^ @succession (9 November 2021). "Nero and Sporus" (Tweet) – via Twitter.


This page was last edited on 23 November 2023, at 00:58
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