Plotina (d. 122)

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Plotina (d. 122)

Roman empress from 98 to 117. Name variations: Pompeia Plotina. Born Pompeia Plotina, a Roman of Nemausus (Nimes) in Gallia Narbonensis (southern France); married Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus, c. 53–117), Roman emperor (r. 98–117); children: none, but eventually adopted Publius Aelius Hadrianus, also known as Hadrian, Roman emperor (r. 117–138), as heir to Trajan.

Marcus Ulpius Traianus, known as Trajan, is considered to have been the second of the five good Roman emperors, beginning with Nerva and ending with Marcus Aurelius. There is no doubt that the title is justified. An excellent general, energetic and able, he extended the frontiers of the Roman Empire to their greatest extent while maintaining the favor of the people and the good will of the senate.

Plotina, a formidable and intellectual woman whose interests included literature, mathematics, music, and works of charity, enjoyed the same reputation as her husband. Noted for her modesty, she refused to be made augusta (empress) until 105, seven years after Trajan had become Roman emperor. "I wish to be the same sort of woman when I leave as I am entering," she said. Strong-willed but loyal and virtuous, Plotina was devoted to religion and philosophical pursuits, especially epicurianism, and was highly respected in Rome, as were Trajan's sister Ulpia Marciana and Ulpia Marciana's daughter Matidia I (mother-in-law of the future emperor Hadrian), both of whom were very close to the emperor. The senate voted the title Augusta to Plotina and Ulpia Marciana in 105, and in 112 gave both of them the right to issue coinage.

In failing health in 117, probably brought about by the rigors of two years of campaigning in the field, Trajan suffered what appears to have been a stroke while in Syria. Although he recovered sufficiently to appear in public, Plotina insisted upon their immediate return to Italy. The emperor and his entourage left Syria by ship but were forced to put in at the port of Selinus in Cilicia, where Trajan died on August 8th or 9th, 117. Although it seems clear that the moody but popular Hadrian was his choice for successor, for some reason Trajan delayed in adopting him until he was on his deathbed, thereby giving rise to rumors that it was Plotina who engineered Hadrian's succession while Trajan was dying and perhaps even made the decision after his demise. Plotina became Hadrian's friend and advocate. It was said that she regarded him as a substitute for the son she never had. Hadrian clearly respected her as well, writing that Plotina's "pity and honored dignity achieve all things." She arranged his marriage to Sabina , Trajan's grandniece, a union designed purely to benefit Hadrian's political career. Sabina was only 13; he was 24.

Trajan's ashes were buried in a golden urn and placed in the base of his famed column at Rome; Plotina's ashes were placed beside them when she died a few years later, in 122. At the time of her death, Hadrian paid her outstanding honors. Though his travels prevented him from holding the funeral in Rome until 124, he dedicated a temple to her in Nemausus (Nimes), her birthplace in Gallia Narbonensis (southern France). In the first two centuries of the empire, Plotina was the only empress who might be compared to Livia Drusilla , the consort of Augustus. As well, Plotina, Ulpia Marciana, and Matidia I were all deified.