Valerii Messallae and a paradigm change of Roman social survival game rules

The family tree of the Valerii Messallae

As with the Valerii Flacci, we dont’t know too much about the Valerii Messallae during the republican period. Their rise to consular status was at 263, but of those early consuls of the family we know relatively little. And again we see ”only one consular son” phenomenon with them.

Valerii Messallae

The family suffered eclipse after consul of 161 and reached consular level after interval of 100 years again at 61. Interesting to note is that Valerii Flacci flourished exactly at this period having consulships at 152, 131, 100, 93 and 86. And vice versa, the Flacci didn’t have any consuls after 86, in fact they were extinct within a couple of generations.

Valerii Messallae on their part had their prime years of influence and status only in coming. During the Augustan period the family was one of the most inflental ones and in fact one of the few strong republican era families that managed to hold on their influence under empire. Of the family also rose notorious Messalina, wife of emperor Claudius.

Paradigm change of the Roman social survival game rules

One can speculate if the reason behind the success of the Messalla branch and also the fall of Flaccus branch was changing of the sources of social prestige. As noted with Flacci, the family didn’t care for marital arrangements (at least to our knowledge) whereas Messallae seem to have shifted their focus already at the generation preceding consuls of 61 and 53.

The mother of consul of 53 (M. Valerius Messalla Rufus) was Hortensia, sister of the famous court speaker. Sister of Rufus, Valeria, also became the fifth (and last) wife of Sulla. The generation after this also had several marriage arrangements and flourished in the inner circle of Roman nobility during the Augustan period.

While we must avoid making too far reaching interpretations beased on the Valerii Flacci and Valerii Messallae, it certainly is intriguing to think that there might have been a change in the rules of the Roman social survival game and that this change has been so drastic as to act as watershed for very survival of the family lines. The popular phrases of paradigm change and disruptive change come to ones mind.