[Roman coin depicting Pompeia Plotina and naming her Augusta, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Born the daughter of Lucius Pompeius, Plotina was probably raised in or near Nemasus (modern Nimes, France). She married a general named Trajan and accompanied him to Cologne in 88 CE when he was sent to end a revolt in the area. In 98, Trajan succeeded Nerva as Emperor and the couple moved to Rome. In the following years, Plotina cultivated her reputation as an ideal wife. She ran the Imperial household, wove, and presented herself as modest* and entirely obedient to her husband before the Roman public. When Trajan tried to award her the title of Augusta in 100 CE, she refused it, only agreeing to accept it five years later.
None of this meant, however, that Plotina was uninterested or uninvolved in the running of the Empire anymore than the image of obedience meant she could not act on her own. She had influence as the Emperor’s wife and she knew how to use her reputation and his to get what she wanted. She was particularly interested in the welfare of the Roman people, pushing for fairer taxation and public aid for the poor, especially orphans and widows. She was also particularly devoted to the Epicurean school of philosophy, seeking the help of Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, on their behalf.
Plotina was quite fond of Hadrian. It was she who arranged his marriage to Vibia Sabina, strengthening his claim to imperial power. When Trajan died, she was the one who signed his will, formally adopting Hadrian as his heir** and making him Emperor. In the last years of her life he apparently never failed to give her what she wished for, though according to him she never asked for anything unreasonable. When she died in the early 120s, he had her deified and built a temple for her in the place of her birth.
*The story goes that on entering the imperial palace for the first time she said she hoped she would leave it as the same woman she was when she entered.
**The couple had no children.
Cassius Dio, Roman History 68.5, 69.1, 69.10 - Lacus Curtius
Letter from Pompeia Plotina to her adoptive son Hadrian, found in Lewis, Naphtali and Meyer Reinhold. Roman Civilization. Columbia University Press, 1989. [Note: Text of the letter may be found here on Google Books]
Lightman, Marjorie and Benjamin Lightman. A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008. [Note: May be found on Google Books here.]
Shelton, Jo-Ann. The Women of Pliny's Letters. New York: Routledge, 2013. [Note: May be found on Google Books here.]
The Ideal Epicurean Woman? - New Epicurean
Pompeia Plotina - Wikipedia