Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus Born c. 10
Allegiance Roman Empire Years of service 62–68 Rank Praetorian prefect Commands held Praetorian Guard
Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus, also known as Ophonius Tigellinus and Sophonius Tigellinus (c. 10–69), was a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard, known as the Praetorian Guard, from 62 until 68, during the reign of emperor Nero. Tigellinus gained imperial favour through his acquaintance with Nero's mother Agrippina the Younger, and was appointed prefect upon the death of his predecessor Sextus Afranius Burrus, a position Tigellinus held first with Faenius Rufus and then Nymphidius Sabinus.
As a friend of Nero he quickly gained a reputation around Rome for cruelty and licentiousness. During the second half of the 60s however, the emperor became increasingly unpopular with the people and the army, leading to several rebellions which ultimately led to his downfall and suicide in 68. When Nero's demise appeared imminent, Tigellinus deserted him and shifted his allegiance to the new emperor Galba. Unfortunately for Tigellinus, Galba was replaced by Otho barely six months after his accession. Otho ordered the execution of Tigellinus, upon which he committed suicide.
Tigellinus was a native of Agrigentum, of humble origin and possibly of Greek descent. In 39, during the reign of Caligula, he was banished. He had been accused of adultery with Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla, the two surviving sisters of the Roman Emperor. He was recalled by Claudius in 41.
Having inherited a fortune, he bought land in Apulia and Calabria and devoted himself to breeding race-horses. In this manner he gained the favour of Nero, whom he aided and abetted in his vices and cruelties. In 62 he was promoted to the prefecture of the praetorian guards. In 64 he made himself notorious for the orgies arranged by him in the Basin of Agrippa, and was suspected of incendiarism in connection with the Great Fire of Rome, which, after having subsided, broke out afresh in his Aemilian gardens.
In 65, during the investigation into the abortive conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso, he and Poppaea Sabina formed a kind of imperial privy council, accusing the courtier and novelist Gaius Petronius Arbiter of treason; Petronius did not wait for a sentence, but instead chose to commit suicide by repeatedly slitting and rebinding his wrists until he was drained of blood. In 67 he accompanied Nero on his tour in Greece. When the Emperor's downfall appeared imminent, Tigellinus deserted him, and with Nymphidius Sabinus brought about the defection of the Praetorian Guard.
Under Galba he was obliged to give up his command, but managed to save his life by lavishing presents upon Titus Vinius, the favourite of Galba, and his daughter. Otho, upon his accession in January 69, determined to remove one so universally detested by the people. While in the baths at Sinuessa, Tigellinus received the news that he must die, and, having vainly endeavoured to gain a respite, cut his own throat with a razor.
Tigellinus in later art
- Tigellinus appears in both the play and film The Sign of the Cross. He is also a character in Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis and in the 6 hour mini-series A.D. Anno Domini.
- In the 1951 film Quo Vadis, based on the novel, Tigellinus (played by Ralph Truman) is (unhistorically) stabbed to death by a soldier spectator at the cry of A sword from Plautius! in the Colosseum when the Roman people revolt against Nero at the end of the film.
- He also appears in the Waldorf play, The Road to Damascus, where he is the wily and cunning right-hand-man and chief advisor of Emperor Nero. According to some sources, it was really Tigellinus' idea to burn Rome, although this is disputed. In The Sign of the Cross, it is Nero's idea to burn Rome, but it is Tigellinus who gives him the idea of blaming it on the Christians.
- He is a prominent character in the latter stages of the novel The Kingdom of the Wicked by Anthony Burgess.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Government offices Preceded by
Sextus Afranius Burrus
Praetorian prefect together with Faenius Rufus and then Nymphidius Sabinus
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