Main Site . Sebasteion

8. Dedication of a statue of Poppaea Sabina

Ποππαίαν Σαβεί–

Poppaea Sabina

The first inscription from the left (from the viewer's perspective) on the pedestal at the north wall of the Sebasteion.

Letters: 3-4.5 cm.


Jones 1979, no. 13; SEG 27 (1977), no. 917; İnan 1993, p. 219, no. 1 (pl. XIII, E cf. XV and XVI.10); BullÉp 1995, 546.

Poppaea became Nero's second wife in 62 CE. She died in 65 while she was pregnant with their second child. That her death was, in fact, due to his maltreatment of her in a fit of temper is doubtful (Champlin 2003, pp. 103-111). In any case Poppaea was deified after her death and mourned extravagantly by Nero. Though neither she nor her husband became the subjects of a formal damnatio memoriae after 68, the statues of Nero were removed in most cases, and we hear from Tacitus that those of Poppaea had also been toppled, at least in Rome (they were restored under her former husband Otho in 69 CE; Tacitus, Hist. 1.78.2). It seems surprising, then, that her statue may have remained in place in Boubon two centuries after that of her husband had been removed (see no. 9). Since the inscription in her honor shows no signs of erasure, and assuming that the inscriptions of the Sebasteion as they survive today reflect accurately its sculptural program, it would seem that Poppaea's statue was never removed (cf. Varner 2004, p. 79 with n. 292, and see the general discussion). She may, of course, have been popular in her own right for reasons unknown to us. An empress was in a position to contribute to a provincial embassy's success, as Poppaea is known to have done in favor of the Jewish historian Josephus. But Nero's lasting popularity in Rome and the provinces after his death, despite his disgrace (Flower 2006, pp. 197-233), could just as well explain why his wife's statue was spared even as his own effigy and inscribed name had to be removed under pressure from the new political situation in 69 CE.