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Caesars' Wives: The Women Who Shaped the History of Rome

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In scandals and power struggles obscured by time and legend, the wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the Caesars have been popularly characterized as heartless murderers, shameless adulteresses, and conniving politicians in the high dramas of the Roman court. Yet little has been known about who they really were and their true roles in the history-making s In scandals and power struggles obscured by time and legend, the wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the Caesars have been popularly characterized as heartless murderers, shameless adulteresses, and conniving politicians in the high dramas of the Roman court. Yet little has been known about who they really were and their true roles in the history-making schemes of imperial Rome's ruling Caesars--indeed, how they figured in the rise, decline, and fall of the empire. Now, in Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire, Annelise Freisenbruch pulls back the veil on these fascinating women in Rome's power circles, giving them the chance to speak for themselves for the first time. With impeccable scholarship and arresting storytelling, Freisenbruch brings their personalities vividly to life, from notorious Livia and scandalous Julia to Christian Helena. Starting at the year 30 BC, when Cleopatra, Octavia, and Livia stand at the cusp of Rome's change from a republic to an autocracy, Freisenbruch relates the story of Octavian and Marc Antony's clash over the fate of the empire--an archetypal story that has inspired a thousand retellings--in a whole new light, uncovering the crucial political roles these first "first ladies" played. From there, she takes us into the lives of the women who rose to power over the next five centuries--often amid violence, speculation, and schemes--ending in the fifth century ad, with Galla Placidia, who was captured by Goth invaders (and married to one of their kings). The politics of Rome are revealed through the stories of Julia, a wisecracking daughter who disgraced her father by getting drunk in the Roman forum and having sex with strangers on the speaker's platform; Poppea, a vain and beautiful mistress who persuaded the emperor to kill his mother so that they could marry; Domitia, a wife who had a flagrant affair with an actor before conspiring in her husband's assassination; and Fausta, a stepmother who tried to seduce her own stepson and then engineered his execution--afterward she was boiled to death as punishment. Freisenbruch also tells a fascinating story of how the faces of these influential women have been refashioned over the millennia to tell often politically motivated stories about their reigns, in the process becoming models of femininity and female power. Illuminating the anxieties that persist even today about women in or near power and revealing the female archetypes that are a continuing legacy of the Roman Empire, Freisenbruch shows the surprising parallels of these iconic women and their public and private lives with those of our own first ladies who become part of the political agenda, as models of comportment or as targets for their husbands' opponents. Sure to transform our understanding of these first ladies, the influential women who witnessed one of the most gripping, significant eras of human history, Caesars' Wives is a significant new chronicle of an era that set the foundational story of Western Civilization and hung the mirror into which every era looks to find its own reflection.


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In scandals and power struggles obscured by time and legend, the wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the Caesars have been popularly characterized as heartless murderers, shameless adulteresses, and conniving politicians in the high dramas of the Roman court. Yet little has been known about who they really were and their true roles in the history-making s In scandals and power struggles obscured by time and legend, the wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the Caesars have been popularly characterized as heartless murderers, shameless adulteresses, and conniving politicians in the high dramas of the Roman court. Yet little has been known about who they really were and their true roles in the history-making schemes of imperial Rome's ruling Caesars--indeed, how they figured in the rise, decline, and fall of the empire. Now, in Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire, Annelise Freisenbruch pulls back the veil on these fascinating women in Rome's power circles, giving them the chance to speak for themselves for the first time. With impeccable scholarship and arresting storytelling, Freisenbruch brings their personalities vividly to life, from notorious Livia and scandalous Julia to Christian Helena. Starting at the year 30 BC, when Cleopatra, Octavia, and Livia stand at the cusp of Rome's change from a republic to an autocracy, Freisenbruch relates the story of Octavian and Marc Antony's clash over the fate of the empire--an archetypal story that has inspired a thousand retellings--in a whole new light, uncovering the crucial political roles these first "first ladies" played. From there, she takes us into the lives of the women who rose to power over the next five centuries--often amid violence, speculation, and schemes--ending in the fifth century ad, with Galla Placidia, who was captured by Goth invaders (and married to one of their kings). The politics of Rome are revealed through the stories of Julia, a wisecracking daughter who disgraced her father by getting drunk in the Roman forum and having sex with strangers on the speaker's platform; Poppea, a vain and beautiful mistress who persuaded the emperor to kill his mother so that they could marry; Domitia, a wife who had a flagrant affair with an actor before conspiring in her husband's assassination; and Fausta, a stepmother who tried to seduce her own stepson and then engineered his execution--afterward she was boiled to death as punishment. Freisenbruch also tells a fascinating story of how the faces of these influential women have been refashioned over the millennia to tell often politically motivated stories about their reigns, in the process becoming models of femininity and female power. Illuminating the anxieties that persist even today about women in or near power and revealing the female archetypes that are a continuing legacy of the Roman Empire, Freisenbruch shows the surprising parallels of these iconic women and their public and private lives with those of our own first ladies who become part of the political agenda, as models of comportment or as targets for their husbands' opponents. Sure to transform our understanding of these first ladies, the influential women who witnessed one of the most gripping, significant eras of human history, Caesars' Wives is a significant new chronicle of an era that set the foundational story of Western Civilization and hung the mirror into which every era looks to find its own reflection.

30 review for Caesars' Wives: The Women Who Shaped the History of Rome

  1. 4 out of 5

    Hanneke

    Ancient imperial Rome has always been one of my favorite time periods in history. If you have the same fascination, I can seriously recommend this book by Annelise Freisenbruch about the women of the successive Caesars, starting with the first emperor Augustus and his wife Livia and ending at the fall, or rather replacement, of the last Roman emperor in 476 by a German named Odoacer, son of one of Attilla's followers. While the history of the first dynastic Julio-Claudian family is pretty well k Ancient imperial Rome has always been one of my favorite time periods in history. If you have the same fascination, I can seriously recommend this book by Annelise Freisenbruch about the women of the successive Caesars, starting with the first emperor Augustus and his wife Livia and ending at the fall, or rather replacement, of the last Roman emperor in 476 by a German named Odoacer, son of one of Attilla's followers. While the history of the first dynastic Julio-Claudian family is pretty well known and especially their wives, daughters and mothers, I had no knowledge of the emperors (or wives) of the successive three to four hundred years, except for Trajan and Hadrian, the latter a benign emperor and of course the builder of the Hadrian Wall. Knowing not even the names of the further emperors of the following centuries, it was a joy to be now told about them by Freisenbruch in a scholarly, yet spirited, fashion. Written from the viewpoint of the royal wives, daughters and other female family members, you get a pretty concise history of the Roman emperors and their reigns, recording their victories or losses, as well as their good or bad behaviour, the latter being naturally more prevalent.The wives tended to have great influence, especially those of the first Julio-Claudian dynasty. Livia is the acknowledged main woman throughout the entire imperial time and a role model throughout the centuries of Roman rule. To be named 'Augusta', the honorary title granted to Livia by Augustus, is an ambition that every imperial wife strives for. Nevertheless, it was dangerous to be an empress or even daughter or sister of one. A few wrong moves and you could be expelled to the island of Pandateria, as befell Julia, Augustus' daughter. She survived, but other expelled wives or daughters in successive periods were sometimes starved to death on the island or even strangled upon arrival. Alternatively, the wives and daughters could be very scary creatures themselves as well, Messalina, wife of Claudius, is ranking high up on the scary ladder. Pretty violent behaviour was not uncommon in all the successive imperial families through the following centuries. Of all the maniacs, Caligula and Nero were exceptionally dangerous though. Obviously, true psychopaths and life threathening to have as a family member. People who get annoyed by too many footnotes, beware. It did not bother me, but there is an abundance of footnotes in this study. I liked this book. It was very interesting to learn more about the Roman imperial period in the centuries following the well-known reign of the first dynasty.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Caesars' Wives: The Women Who Shaped the History of Rome is a great introduction to the role of the royal ladies of Rome, empresses and Augustas alike. But because its scope is so large (over 500 years of history), and the amount known about the women is relatively small, Annelise Freisenbuch has to spend most of her time making some broad statements and theses about what might have happened. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the narrative is occasionally unfocused. If yo Caesars' Wives: The Women Who Shaped the History of Rome is a great introduction to the role of the royal ladies of Rome, empresses and Augustas alike. But because its scope is so large (over 500 years of history), and the amount known about the women is relatively small, Annelise Freisenbuch has to spend most of her time making some broad statements and theses about what might have happened. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the narrative is occasionally unfocused. If you haven’t read any Roman history before or have no idea who most of the major players are, this book might quickly become confusing. If you do have the background (or have at least seen the BBC adaptation of I, Claudius), then this is a well-written, interesting spin on Roman history and the various dynastic ladies who manage, however temporarily, to seize their own power and agency in a very masculine world. The Julio-Claudian dynasty gets the royal treatment here, as it should. The chapters about Livia are especially good; I liked that Freisenbuch included descriptions of typical wedding rites, Livia's early years during the fall of the Republic, and her influence in the later stages of Augustus's reign. The parts about the rest of the tangled Julio-Claudian tree are equally interesting. Reading about Nero's reign through the lens of Agrippina Minor is a nice twist, and I loved the inclusion of Caligula's crazy wife and his apparently crazy daughter. (He's convinced that the daughter is his only when she tries to scratch out her playmates' eyes.) The book is definitely weakest in its later chapters. In the earlier chapters, Freisenbuch is better able to focus on Rome’s first ladies because the empire is only being ruled by one family. By the time that Constantine and the Tetrachy roll around, emperors and Caesars are flipping places so quickly that most of the last few chapters are rapid-fire roll calls of Rome’s later rulers. The context might have been necessary, but I also would have liked to skim over some of that (which I did) and for more focus to be placed on Galla Placidia and Pulcheria’s movements within the political scene at the time. The fact that so many Roman empresses were involved in the creation of Christianity surprised me; I didn't know that Helena was such a revered figure in the early church, and that women like Pulcheria were able to directly influence theology. Freisenbuch also brings up how Christianity, despite its new strict rules and moral codes, actually gave women a new way to retain their independence. Yes, you have to swear celibacy and live an ascetic life, but once you do so, you're in control of your own fate. In many ways, Pulcheria was the predecessor for Queen Elizabeth I. In no particular order, here are some scenarios from the book that I’d love to read as historical fiction: · Livia’s early years, in which she escapes through a forest fire with a baby tied to her back, fleeing from Octavian with her then-husband (!). She later ends up seducing Octavian while he’s married. Basically: “A year that she began as a political exile ended with her as consort to one of the most powerful men in the world.” That’s the start of a series right there! · Julia having sex with every single person in Rome while her father, Augustus, passed draconian measures to restrict sexual activity outside of marriage. I guess that one is probably an erotica novel. Apparently she wore really racy outfits. Maybe a remake of The Carrie Diaries called The Julia Diaries? · Berenice, queen of Judaea, moving in with Titus on the Palatine Hill. Once Vespasian dies and Titus becomes emperor, they separate. Even Suetonius mentions that they didn’t want to leave one another, but they did their duty. There is probably an opera about this, given all the doomed love and revolts and scandal, but I would like a novel. · Galla Placidia gets kidnapped during the sack of Rome by the Goths, and is later forced to marry Athaulf. However, Athaulf is totally hot (history says so!!! history says he was a Gothic babe!!!!!), and “by all accounts” they have a great love affair. Tragedy, hot Goths, babies named Theodosius, battles, etc. · Honoria, Galla’s daughter, is so annoyed by her probable marriage to a boring senator that she writes to Attila the Hun (!), asking him to marry her and carry her away. This could be completely epistolary or just involve some of their letters to one another. I’m not picky. The last thing that I took away from the book was that Livia managed to be a badass for over eighty years: “Like many age-defying record breakers she was said to have sworn by a daily dose of alcohol, in her case a glass of red wine from the Pucinum region of northern Italy.” Noted.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    In a word this book was extremely impressive. I can't even imagine the amount of exhaustive research that must have gone into creating it, almost detective like work of finding women's lives in what was very much a men's world...just reading it was a fairly exhausting matter. Not to say it wasn't well written, it was, well written, coherent, cohesive...just overwhelming. The sheer lack of imagination (really adherence to tradition)with which ancient romans approached the naming process made it t In a word this book was extremely impressive. I can't even imagine the amount of exhaustive research that must have gone into creating it, almost detective like work of finding women's lives in what was very much a men's world...just reading it was a fairly exhausting matter. Not to say it wasn't well written, it was, well written, coherent, cohesive...just overwhelming. The sheer lack of imagination (really adherence to tradition)with which ancient romans approached the naming process made it tough to keep everyone in line, although the author does provide handy family trees in the preface. Usually I prefer my non fiction to be somewhat humorous, this was a very serious book, very much like a text book with very sparse visuals. Also for a book with the word Sex featured quite prominently in a title, notably not at all salacious. Incredibly informative, very interesting book, took me most of the day to get through, but it was certainly an education. Anyone with interest in the area and some patience would like this. Recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    As I was walking my dog this morning (ain't she cute?), I saw a "Republicans for Voldemort" bumper sticker. Nah, Livia for president is my bumper sticker. Have you seen I, Claudius? Then you know what I am talking about. Honestly, Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson should rule the world. It was somewhat disappointing, therefore, to find that the mistress of manupultions, the plottress of plots, might not have poisioned anyone. But she sure was a hell of a woman. Freisnbruch does deal with the proble As I was walking my dog this morning (ain't she cute?), I saw a "Republicans for Voldemort" bumper sticker. Nah, Livia for president is my bumper sticker. Have you seen I, Claudius? Then you know what I am talking about. Honestly, Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson should rule the world. It was somewhat disappointing, therefore, to find that the mistress of manupultions, the plottress of plots, might not have poisioned anyone. But she sure was a hell of a woman. Freisnbruch does deal with the problem of a lack of good sources, but pointing out that many of the stories about Rome's first ladies were remarkably similar (see, Hilary, it isn't just you). Her writing style is very engaging and she does a wonderful jonb of bringing the reader into Rome. I didn't know, for instance, that a Roman first couple might have been inter-racial. And man, did Gladiator get it wrong. Enjoyable and worth while read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Excellent history looking at the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of the men who ruled the Roman empire. Well written and readable. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Becerril

    This is a poor attempt at rewriting history There is a recurring narrative the author quietly harps on as well as tools she uses to dismiss any opposition to her narrative. In what I'll call "Annie's complaint" in her honor, this narrative is: all women of antiquity were unfairly afflicted with "negative stereotypes" and that no matter who the author is, they are completely unreliable because of this. Yes, because no women in history has ever done anything bad or wrong, Tacitus is the same as the This is a poor attempt at rewriting history There is a recurring narrative the author quietly harps on as well as tools she uses to dismiss any opposition to her narrative. In what I'll call "Annie's complaint" in her honor, this narrative is: all women of antiquity were unfairly afflicted with "negative stereotypes" and that no matter who the author is, they are completely unreliable because of this. Yes, because no women in history has ever done anything bad or wrong, Tacitus is the same as the notoriously unreliable author of the Historia Augusta. This is a recurring theme without any evidence beyond claims that these "stereotypes" were no more than tropes to dismiss women in positions of Imperial influence and/or authority. The men, however, are either self-glorifying "baby-faced" little boys or fierce barbarians who keep women down except when the women are too fierce to be kept down. It is true that sources contradict each other and must be interpreted with the lens of the era. However, I think this is my first encounter with a historian who declaims the Historia Augusta as it applies to women and then blithely raises it to canonical status when it comes to men. I digress. I am going to name several examples of her bad work from each section of her book and how her narrative is, shall we say, contradictory? First is Octavia, sister of the Emperor, who not only raised her own children, but her husband Mark Antony's two sons from a previous marriage... as well as the three children he had from his torrid affair with Cleopatra. The author dismisses this remarkable act of motherly compassion as simply a a cliche of a "perfect, passive, dutiful" Roman woman. Not even four pages later, Scribonia, mother of Julia the daughter of Augustus, receives plaudits from the author for her "remarkable legacy" in accompanying her disgraceful and disgraced daughter into exile. A bit later, she claims that in an effort to subvert Augustan laws against adultery, Vistillia, a daughter of a noble family, officially registered as a prostitute. To give this real-world grounding, it would be akin to Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco appearing on Brazzers under her real name and advertising as an escort through the BBC. Or for Americans, for a daughter of George W. Bush to do the same and advertise via Fox News. Examples aside, no source claims that is the case. If anything, it's more likely that Vistillia the prostitute was attempting to unperson herself in order to gain greater control of her fortune or perhaps as some kind of revenge on her husband, who when asked why he hadn't punished her as the law demanded, replied that the sixty day grace period had not elapsed, hinting at either his role as her pimp or his utter bafflement as what to do by being turned into a public cuckold. Next would be Annie's complaint regarding Messalina and Agrippina, the famous witches who were wives of the Emperor Claudius. Messalina, who is historically infamous for her promiscuity, is pitied as a "baby-faced" "teenage wife" and the author repeatedly bemoans Messalina's youth. After all, every young wife married to an older man has competed with a professional prostitute to see who could service the most the clients in a single night, and deliberately has a sham marriage with a potential rival to the Imperial throne... right? And Agrippina's connivance is completely understandable, since she wanted her son Nero to be Emperor, and she could not have connived at the death of Claudius, whose family was long-lived when not murdered because surely all the sources lie... right? The next one would is an irritating display of Afro-centric historic revisionism. Lucius Septimius Severus is the first Roman Emperor born in Africa. His ancestry is documented to be Punic/Libyan Berber through his father and Italian mainland through his mother. The author chooses to claim that due to old Lucius having darker skin in the famous Severan Tondo, he was the first black Roman Emperor. There were Arab Emperors, Berber Emperors, Libyan Emperors, but there was never a black Emperor. She also attempts to complain that the Emperor's marble statue was a falsehood to conceal his blackness.... even though it's well-known those statues were painted and what we see now are simply statues whose paint has fallen off. She even mentions that the statues were painted once upon a time when discussing female sculptures, but conveniently forgets it for her imbecilic ahistorical Afro-centric revisionist black Emperor inanity. (Have I mentioned the author is white?) Next up is Fausta, wife of Constantine the Great. Her stepson Crispus was executed on the Emperor's orders, but at Fausta's instigation. The sources generally agree she was set against him and used allegations of sexual impropriety to cause his death. Constantine, however, had her executed shortly afterwards. Annie's complaint rears its head that surely she didn't connive at Crispus' death, the unfairness and constancy of the wicked stepmother trope... but she's then forced to admit there had to be some kind of scandal or crime to explain why Fausta was put to death. The last example (out of so many more I could name and shame, such as the empress wearing a military cape as a hint of androgyny when it represents a more united front for Imperial power) would involve Stilicho, the Roman strongman who was one of the last to keep the Western Empire alive. The author is quite happy to proclaim a half-barbarian de facto usurper, dressed in barbarian clothes and oppressing the poor, hapless, incompetent Emperor Honorius.... while deliberately ignoring that Stilicho was half-Roman, thought of himself as Roman, married the impeccably Roman niece of the Emperor Theodosius, and fought loyally for Rome. TL;DR: Reading Caesars' Wives was an eye-opening experience, as it was published in 2010, long before the post-modern craze we see everywhere in media today. It demonstrates how history can be completely reinterpreted by a supposed expert into a canvas to serve modern agendas and viewpoints that are completely at odds with reality. I strongly recommend that wherever possible, members of KiA look for the original sources or only rely on established authorities who predate the modern lot of historians. Revision is important when it aligns with known facts, not when it goes off into Annie's Complaint.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    Hate to say it, but the women of history tend not to be as interesting as the men because the women were stuck doing "proper" (and therefore boring) things. Still, it's a good read covering some of the highlights of the Roman Empire. It is funny in places. Hate to say it, but the women of history tend not to be as interesting as the men because the women were stuck doing "proper" (and therefore boring) things. Still, it's a good read covering some of the highlights of the Roman Empire. It is funny in places.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jan Peter van Kempen

    Fascinating. Well-written. Thoroughly researched. Those are the three key elements to describe this book. Definitely a must-read if you're into ancient history! Fascinating. Well-written. Thoroughly researched. Those are the three key elements to describe this book. Definitely a must-read if you're into ancient history!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    'Caesar's wife must be above reproach', as the old saying goes. Of course, as Annelise Freisenbruch ably demonstrates, very few of the Caesars' wives (or sisters or mothers) managed to escape reproach, whether fairly or unfairly. Their positions at the very heart of power in imperial Rome held them up to great scrutiny and even greater expectations - the woman of the imperial family were expected to be figureheads, exemplars of Roman matronly dignity, chastity and soberness. It was probably a st 'Caesar's wife must be above reproach', as the old saying goes. Of course, as Annelise Freisenbruch ably demonstrates, very few of the Caesars' wives (or sisters or mothers) managed to escape reproach, whether fairly or unfairly. Their positions at the very heart of power in imperial Rome held them up to great scrutiny and even greater expectations - the woman of the imperial family were expected to be figureheads, exemplars of Roman matronly dignity, chastity and soberness. It was probably a standard few women short of saints could live up to, and when they fell from grace they fell hard. The tale of the Roman Empire is characteristically told through the story of its Caesars, so it is beyond refreshing to read its history from the point of view of its women. There are some real characters in this story, which stretches from the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC all the way down the centuries to the collapse of the western Roman Empire in the mid-fifth century. Names such as Julia, Augustus' wild and wilful daughter; Livia, his wife who set the standard for all the empresses to come; Agrippina, accused of forcefully assisting her husband Claudius to his posthumous deification as a god; St Helena, mother of Constantine, the man who converted the Empire to Christianity. The response of the Romans to their Augustae, as they were known, demonstrates the changing patterns and currents of political thought in Rome. Behaviour condemned as abhorrent in their empresses in the early years of the Empire, such as participating in political debate or accompanying their husband on military campaigns, would be accepted as standard years later. Women began to be represented on the currency in their own right, and as the bloodlines of Caesars failed and adoption became the standard method of succession, it was often links to the female members of the imperial family that could confer the laurel wreath of power on the potential successors jostling for position. But there was always concern and tension about the role of women in imperial life, as demonstrated by the frequency of the accusations of adultery, murder and incest that were used against them. It is entirely possible some of the women of Rome were indeed just as murderous and homicidal as a number of the Emperors turned out to be, but the similarity of the accusations recurring time and again suggest more to tried-and-tested political slander than truth. This book also serves as a good overview of the five centuries of imperial Rome, moving from one political dynasty to another, with, as mentioned, the women often serving as the links between one dynasty and the next. And it is surprising just how relevant much of this material feels, even today - the role and behaviour of a politician's spouse is just as much a live issue today as it was during the height of the Roman Empire, albeit with thankfully fewer accusations of incest and murder.

  10. 5 out of 5

    April

    Freisenbruch manages to present what we know about the lives of imperial women in a concise manner that I found easy enough to read, my copy having a strange, repeating problem with the some letters being squished together about 1/3 the way across the page notwithstanding. For me, it was a joy that Freisenbruch chose to focus so much on the Julio-Claudians since I find that period the most interesting by far, but I have a feeling that was also informed by the amount of sources available on the t Freisenbruch manages to present what we know about the lives of imperial women in a concise manner that I found easy enough to read, my copy having a strange, repeating problem with the some letters being squished together about 1/3 the way across the page notwithstanding. For me, it was a joy that Freisenbruch chose to focus so much on the Julio-Claudians since I find that period the most interesting by far, but I have a feeling that was also informed by the amount of sources available on the topic. This was, despite the blurb on the cover of my edition, mainly a scholarly work aimed at a scholarly audience, and Freisenbruch seems to have written it with that audience firmly in mind. The sentences are long and dense, containing many clauses, rather than the simpler sentence forms that seem to be preferred in more popular histories, such as Holland's, some of Cartledge's work, or Beard's latest. It was interesting to see the return of some of the same tired old excuses for vilification of women over the course of roughly 500 years as well. (Clearly, incest never gets less titillating.) The thing that struck me about this throughout the course of Freisenbruch's chronology is just how much strong women seem to scare men. You need only look to the receptions of Agrippinna the Younger, Pulcheria, or even Livia herself to see this happen again and again. I'm sure that wasn't Freisenbruch's intended message--it seems more likely that she simply intended to trace the evolution of the Roman matron into the Christian ascetic--but it struck me as important the sheer number of times it was repeated over the course of the narrative. I didn't particularly enjoy the last couple of chapters, mostly because the Christian ascetic is not a theme with which I find particular resonance, and stories about Helena's piety or her travels in the Holy Land bore me as much as stories about her son and the Nicene Creed do. (Also, while the digression into the roots of Arianism and how it might have affected various empresses relations with each other was probably necessary, it really went on too long. The founding beliefs of the church likewise do not interest me at all despite their far-reaching implications.) Overall, however, I found Freisenbruch's narrative informative without being heavy-handed or droning, and I appreciated the fact that she didn't buy into the more obvious hatreds of some of her ancient sources. Freisenbruch manages to pull of writing a serious, scholarly work about a subject for which there are fewer sources than one might like admirably. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bruno Bouchet

    The limitations of the book, particularly the early chapter are the limitations of historical evidence. So little was recorded about the early 'first ladies' that it's hard to write much history about them. Most of the evidence ends up being what coins were issued with what heads on them - but that's hardly the author's fault. It's a good read, a different angle on Roman history and interesting on the way the various leading women were demonised, accused of the same depravity, excesses and inces The limitations of the book, particularly the early chapter are the limitations of historical evidence. So little was recorded about the early 'first ladies' that it's hard to write much history about them. Most of the evidence ends up being what coins were issued with what heads on them - but that's hardly the author's fault. It's a good read, a different angle on Roman history and interesting on the way the various leading women were demonised, accused of the same depravity, excesses and incest as their predecessors. Yet in the very valid debunking of the myths around Livia, Messaline Aggrappina et al, I couldn't help feeling a bit saddened that they weren't the wild and outrageous characters we've been lead to believe. They were much more fun as backstabbing murderous, poisoning, adulterous bitches, but then what's more important historical fact or entertaining characters for me?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    An excellent attempt at piecing together the scant sources for some of the most powerful women of the Roman empire (not just the wives, some sisters, mothers and daughters get into the mix as well). In spite of that we know surprisingly little of these ladies (though I kind of already knew that, to be honest) the portraits are quite vivid and real. I also like the touch of adding a few lines of how history has treated their memories, and how they have been presented in for example theatre plays a An excellent attempt at piecing together the scant sources for some of the most powerful women of the Roman empire (not just the wives, some sisters, mothers and daughters get into the mix as well). In spite of that we know surprisingly little of these ladies (though I kind of already knew that, to be honest) the portraits are quite vivid and real. I also like the touch of adding a few lines of how history has treated their memories, and how they have been presented in for example theatre plays and historical fiction. (But it added nothing to my desire to read 'I, Claudius'. Not necessarily a bad thing.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I enjoyed this but I'm really glad I did a unit of Roman history in uni because it was hard and had some assumed knowledge. Part of this book were truly excellent, other parts could have done with some editing. Very thorough and well researched, and a different look at the usual Roman history. I enjoyed this but I'm really glad I did a unit of Roman history in uni because it was hard and had some assumed knowledge. Part of this book were truly excellent, other parts could have done with some editing. Very thorough and well researched, and a different look at the usual Roman history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellis

    This might not be the worst book I’ve read this year, but it definitely ranks as one of the biggest disappointments. I was so excited when the foreword mentioned how biased the transfer of history is, how much it depends on the source, and how using and/or repeating this source does not always mean you’re referencing facts so much as opinion. What followed though, was not the promised “fascinating story” that “pulls back the veil on these fascination women in Rome’s power circles, giving them th This might not be the worst book I’ve read this year, but it definitely ranks as one of the biggest disappointments. I was so excited when the foreword mentioned how biased the transfer of history is, how much it depends on the source, and how using and/or repeating this source does not always mean you’re referencing facts so much as opinion. What followed though, was not the promised “fascinating story” that “pulls back the veil on these fascination women in Rome’s power circles, giving them the chance to speak for themselves for the first time”. Nope, it was a dry, digressive, disappointingly male-focused mess with a very abrupt ending. In my opinion, its biggest contribution is Freisenburch’s admittedly interesting argument that the Julio-Claudian dynasty is more tied to Livia than Augustus, and that she is, in fact, more significant and vital to the creation and continuance of this dynasty, and the Roman Empire in general. I would not recommend it to someone who isn’t already familiar with these historical figures, because, aside from her (justified!) fixation on Livia, Freisenburch moves over them very quickly and shallowly, so that things get very confusing and tangled very quickly. First there is the actual way this book is written. I don’t know how much of this is on the translator, but the English text was riddled with grammar mistakes, overlong and confusingly structured sentences, and had so many subclauses going around that I sometimes felt as if I was reading an actual Latin text trying to imitate De Bello Gallico. The writing is dry, repetitive, often surprisingly shallow, and moves at the slowest pace. Content-wise, it is just as meandering and unfocused. It’s as if Freisenburch decided to throw all her knowledge of Roman history at the wall, vaguely connects it to the women she claims are her focus, and then collects it haphazardly into a book. She goes off on so many tangents and vaguely-related expositions that, while definitely interesting in their own right, completely overwhelm the main narrative thread. She cherrypicks her sources -- oddly enough even excluding some that would have supported her argument --, indulges in speculation way too much, and stacks so many (weakly-supported) arguments on top of each other that this reads like the first draft of a thesis, and one that could have used a few more revisions at that. As for the lives and times of these Roman “first ladies” I was promised…….don’t you love it when authors use women’s lives a jumping off point to discuss pretty much anything else, a.k.a. general Roman practices and the conflicts and lives of the men they’re tied to? I know Freisenburch has to give some political background to sketch the general context these women moved in, especially if she wanted this book to function as a general introduction to these figures as well, but it just got excessive. The longer the book went on, the more she just quickly recounted the main bits of speculation surrounding the women in question instead of actually delving into their lives and characters and giving them some kind of personality or depth, before she could let male history and actions take over the narrative again. For personal reasons, I was especially disappointed in Agrippina Minor’s chapter. Maybe it’s because she’s the figure I already knew the most of beforehand, but Freisenburch didn’t add anything new. I even got the impression that she didn’t want to explore her character beyond her reputation as a politically ambiguous enigma, which is literally the opposite of what this book promises to do.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lauralee

    The Roman Empire was one of the darkest and notorious eras in history. The emperors are known to be ruthless killers with an unquenchable lust for blood and gore. They are known for having gladiatorial games, persecuting Christians, and some are even known for burning down the city of Rome so that they can take the credit for "rebuilding" Rome. In Freisenbruch's novel, she recounts the Roman empire from the perspective of the lives of the Roman Empresses. The classical Roman sources written by The Roman Empire was one of the darkest and notorious eras in history. The emperors are known to be ruthless killers with an unquenchable lust for blood and gore. They are known for having gladiatorial games, persecuting Christians, and some are even known for burning down the city of Rome so that they can take the credit for "rebuilding" Rome. In Freisenbruch's novel, she recounts the Roman empire from the perspective of the lives of the Roman Empresses. The classical Roman sources written by men and are biased against women have stereotyped Roman women into two categories. The first stereotype is that of a good virtuous Roman wife, who is loyal to her husband, but when her husband or son died, she continues to mourn for her loved ones to the end of her life, never to get over her own grief. The second type of woman is a power-hungry schemer who carries poison and uses sex and murder as a means to attain their own ambition and power. In Freisenbruch's novel, these women who were considered masculine, (for instance being in the army frontlines of a battle and having power and influence over their husbands and sons) were seen as an offense to Roman men. Many were attacked and accused of crimes of sexuality just so they could be rid of. These accused women were sent into exile where were brutally beaten and died of starvation. Freisenbruch's second half of the novel focuses on the less violent reign of the Christian emperors. It starts with Helena, the mother of Constantine (the first Christian emperor). Helena started the tradition of the empresses to go on a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem and founded the true cross. Her successors have donated money to the Church, and three sisters of a Christian emperor decided to devote their life to God by being virgins and living a monastic life, though one of the sisters was forced to get married in order to help ensure the dynastic survival (but still kept her vow to God having her marriage remain unconsummated). The author gives a detail about how the Christian era had given women the freedom that had once been denied to them, and we can see why Christianity had appealed to them, and why some men criticized the Christian religion. The Emperors of Rome, with the exception of Marcus Aurelius and the Christian emperors, are portrayed in a negative light. Most of them cruel tyrants. Some are portrayed as weak, allowing their wives and mothers to have power and influence. Most have murdered their rivals to the throne. Some have even committed fratricide. Others, like Nero, have ruthlessly killed their mothers, who had raised them and help them become emperors, just so they could marry a beautiful woman. Overall, this book is full of treachery, betrayal, danger, scandal, passion, and intrigue. We get to know the women that have been shrouded by the emperors. However, I would suggest to anyone interested in this book that before they read it, they should have some prior knowledge of the history of the early Roman empire, or watch an episode of HBO's Rome or BBC's I, Claudius, for the author has mentioned these two tv shows frequently, and the way her book is written it is assumed that the reader is meant to have some knowledge of Roman history. Readers that do not have any prior knowledge of Roman history would most likely get lost, may find it a frustrating read, and will give the reader a giant headache. This book will appeal to fans of soap operas, The Godfather movies, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and the tv historical dramas like The Tudors and The Borgias.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

    This is the first book I have read by this author. It was brought up as a suggestion on goodreads as I've read books dealing with similar themes and materials (such as Matthew Dennisons' Empress of Rome and Judith Herrins' Women in Purple, both incidentally worthwhile reads). A preliminary glance at the contents page of this book might lead one to make a quite reasonable assumption that Friesnbruch has bitten off more than she can chew. The breadth of history being covered spans the Late Republic This is the first book I have read by this author. It was brought up as a suggestion on goodreads as I've read books dealing with similar themes and materials (such as Matthew Dennisons' Empress of Rome and Judith Herrins' Women in Purple, both incidentally worthwhile reads). A preliminary glance at the contents page of this book might lead one to make a quite reasonable assumption that Friesnbruch has bitten off more than she can chew. The breadth of history being covered spans the Late Republic/Early Principate. Covering the days of such Julio-Claudian grandees as Livia right through to the days Galla Placidia and the fall of the Western empire. So, no mean undertaking by any means. Despite this the book is exceedingly thorough surveying the leading female figures of Romes first dynasty the Julio-Claudians right through to that of Constantines. Allowances have to be made for the scant materials for the earliest 'First Ladies' due to the patriarchal nature of Roman society which essentially relegates women to the back benches/ sidelines of the historical narrative of Rome. As the Grand Narrative of Roman history tends to focus on the stories of 'great male figures' this problem being particularly acute in the study of the Julio-Claudian women when there was still debate as to whether women should have any role in public life bar those traditionally ascribed as appropriate to them by the state. Frisenbruch's style is accessible and pleasant to read this going hand in hand with the informative nature of the book makes it hard to put down. There are also some handy family trees in the front of the book before the content page which are helpful in aiding the reader orientate themselves over the course of the book. The Roman Imperial families appear to have drawn from a rather narrow pool of names which certainly has the potential to cause confusion as to what information pertains to which figure. The table of family trees helps a great deal in preventing this. Overall, I think this book is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the role of women in Roman society. Happy Reading, Gavin Rowan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    As usual, being able to buy books at 2am is proving to be my downfall. This book came to my attention while I listened to the last episodes of the "History of Rome" podcast. And I'm extremely glad I came into this book with a well oiled working knowledge of Roman history--even if I had only listened to the names, I did recognize them. This book is not simply a biographical look at women who were married to emperors. It is instead a far more ambitious and interesting look at the role of women in As usual, being able to buy books at 2am is proving to be my downfall. This book came to my attention while I listened to the last episodes of the "History of Rome" podcast. And I'm extremely glad I came into this book with a well oiled working knowledge of Roman history--even if I had only listened to the names, I did recognize them. This book is not simply a biographical look at women who were married to emperors. It is instead a far more ambitious and interesting look at the role of women in the empire. Obviously, our knowledge of women and their lives during the ancient times is severely limited. As the saying goes "quiet women seldom change history," and there were so many quiet women those days. The author starts with Livia and ends with the incomparable Galla Placidia--who I have decided I thoroughly admire. The author, thus called because that's one hell of a last name you got there, examines not just how the women acted in their role as empress, but how they were perceived, portrayed, and memorialized. Without losing sight of the very deeply ingrained bias against women in general and the even deeper ingrained proclivity among Romans to repeat calumnies as truth (it's really almost amazing how many stepmom-empresses were incestuous poisoners...you'd think they had some sort of union or something), the author sifts through the evidence without ever resorting to speculation (YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU, JULIA FOX --author of Jane Boleyn). When the documentation is slight, the author states it clearly and makes no unfounded suppositions (AGAIN, LOOKING AT YOU JULIA FOX). Do I wish we knew more about these women? Yes, because I think they would have good stories to tell. However, this book does its dangedest in an informed, interesting, and well-documented way. This definitely added to my knowledge of the time, and my wish to have Galla Placidia over for drinks.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tabor

    Freisenbruch's work is a wonderful example of an extensive and well researched non-fiction book and further, is presented without any biases towards history. Overall, I applaud her ability to detail the lives and trials of the women who were wives to the Roman emperors as documentation of their lives is close to nil. Ultimately, I was very impressed with the amount of research poured into this book and thought it should serve as an example to all non-fiction writers on how they should research. Freisenbruch's work is a wonderful example of an extensive and well researched non-fiction book and further, is presented without any biases towards history. Overall, I applaud her ability to detail the lives and trials of the women who were wives to the Roman emperors as documentation of their lives is close to nil. Ultimately, I was very impressed with the amount of research poured into this book and thought it should serve as an example to all non-fiction writers on how they should research. However, the issue with Caesars' Wives was that it read like a history textbook and was very repetitive. Even though, I am extremely interested in the Julio-Claudian, Flavian Dynasty and the Five Good Emperors and so on- the text became tedious to read. This was due to the fact that the author never expanded into the bigger picture and as a result, it felt like one seemingly unimportant event after another while all the women seemed to be same. In fact, this book reminded me of my old history professor, who was extremely detailed and would lecture on every single event without describing how ultimately it would come to shape/change society. If you can ask "so what?" at any point while reading a non-fiction book then the author hasn't done a very good job on piecing together a thesis to tie the work together. In addition, I think it would have been interesting to hear the author's commentary on why the Roman Emperors often found themselves without heirs or on another one of the common themes found in their reigns. I would only recommend this book to someone who was looking for an overview on the era and was a diehard scholar of the Roman Empire.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    Oh, how much I loved this book! I really enjoy history books, but it is true they are not the most easy genre to read, and sometimes a couple of chapters per day are more than enough. With The First Ladies of Rome, instead, I could not wait to pick it up everytime I could, and I often found myself reading a lot without feeling it at all. I think Annelise Freisenbruch did a wonderful job with a subject which is very fascinating, but sadly also very little documented. As she states in the premise, Oh, how much I loved this book! I really enjoy history books, but it is true they are not the most easy genre to read, and sometimes a couple of chapters per day are more than enough. With The First Ladies of Rome, instead, I could not wait to pick it up everytime I could, and I often found myself reading a lot without feeling it at all. I think Annelise Freisenbruch did a wonderful job with a subject which is very fascinating, but sadly also very little documented. As she states in the premise, there are few informations available about the empresses of Rome, and often their real personality is hidden behind their husbands' fame. Indeed, there were times while reading when I was annoyed that so little was known about some of the women, but this is definitely not Freisenbruch's fault, and she did good with what she had. While it is true some women remained a mystery, others came to life thanks to Freisenbruch's research. My favourite was definitely Livia, but I also think Agrippina Minor was a wonderfully complex and ambiguous figure. I would love to read a historical novel about her! The time period, the traditions and the places are also wonderfully reconstructed. The descriptions of Prima Porta, Livia's villa, were especially fascinating. Also, some anecdotes were really great and surprising. Ancient Rome is one of my favourite historical periods and I was delighted by all of this, and anyone who wants to know more about it will definitely learn something new. Absolutely recommended!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    A concise little history of what we know about some of the more (in)famous women in the imperial Roman families, beginning with Augustus' wife Livia around 40 B.C. and moving through the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, the Flavian Dynasty, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, the Severan Dynasty, the Tetrarchs and the Constantinian Dynasty, and ending with the Theodosian Dynasty and the fall of the Western Empire in the 5th century. The author has done exhaustive research using primary and secondary sourc A concise little history of what we know about some of the more (in)famous women in the imperial Roman families, beginning with Augustus' wife Livia around 40 B.C. and moving through the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, the Flavian Dynasty, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, the Severan Dynasty, the Tetrarchs and the Constantinian Dynasty, and ending with the Theodosian Dynasty and the fall of the Western Empire in the 5th century. The author has done exhaustive research using primary and secondary sources; looking at histories, letters, inscriptions, artwork, and coinage (among other things) for clues on the rise and fall of various women who married into or were born into the royal family. She gives a balanced accounting, mentioning various biases that would have influenced the sources which she used. I also liked how she referred to medieval, renaissance, and later works which were influenced by these women and their reputations (deserved or undeserved). I thought it made an interesting bridge to our modern lives. In any case, a fascinating read, which opened my eyes to exactly how perilous the times were for any man or woman in the spotlight. More murders and executions than you can shake a stick at!

  21. 5 out of 5

    julia

    I've been listening to a History of Rome podcast, which inspired me to pick up this book. The podcast largely focuses on the men in history, and I was curious to learn more about the women involved. This book had some interesting details, but so much of these women's lives is frustratingly unknowable; women were not considered important to the male historians who recorded events for posterity, outside of producing children. They were celebrated, literally on pedestals, through statuary and image I've been listening to a History of Rome podcast, which inspired me to pick up this book. The podcast largely focuses on the men in history, and I was curious to learn more about the women involved. This book had some interesting details, but so much of these women's lives is frustratingly unknowable; women were not considered important to the male historians who recorded events for posterity, outside of producing children. They were celebrated, literally on pedestals, through statuary and imagery connecting them to goddesses and supporting their sons and families. Even the women who, after birthing three children, became independent after the death of their husbands, exempt from the legal requirement to remarry, and allowed to keep property, there is little known of them. Unless they had been suspected of poisoning their husbands, having many affairs, or scheming in some other way, which was all speculation, and has to be doubted now. If you're up for a slightly academic and slight depressing read about the role of women in society - jump right in.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Lanter

    Annelise Freisenbruch has written a thoroughly researched and interesting book about one of the more difficult topics in Roman History. There is not a lot of discussion about women in the surviving Roman texts, but the Freisenbruch does a great job of using the evidence that does exist to discuss the lovers and wives of the Caesars. I knew bits and pieces of the women's lives from reading about their husbands in other texts, but my knowledge was frequently expanded by getting a different perspec Annelise Freisenbruch has written a thoroughly researched and interesting book about one of the more difficult topics in Roman History. There is not a lot of discussion about women in the surviving Roman texts, but the Freisenbruch does a great job of using the evidence that does exist to discuss the lovers and wives of the Caesars. I knew bits and pieces of the women's lives from reading about their husbands in other texts, but my knowledge was frequently expanded by getting a different perspective. The balance between a scholarly and readable prose really helped too. For me, the most exciting parts were actually when the author discusses some of the most recent Roman finds. I haven't heard much about what kind of Roman artifacts have been found in the last fifty years so these sections were particularly enlightening and exciting to read. If you have interest in the most prominent women in Roman History, then this book is recommended reading.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Annika Hipple

    I really liked the concept of this book: telling the story of ancient Rome through its empresses and other powerful women. For the most part, it was an interesting -- though rather dense -- read. Annelise Freisenbruch has clearly done an immense amount of research, and she tells her story well overall (though some awkward or grammatically flawed sentences crop up here and there). I was already quite familiar with the history of Rome until the second century A.D., so I was looking forward to lear I really liked the concept of this book: telling the story of ancient Rome through its empresses and other powerful women. For the most part, it was an interesting -- though rather dense -- read. Annelise Freisenbruch has clearly done an immense amount of research, and she tells her story well overall (though some awkward or grammatically flawed sentences crop up here and there). I was already quite familiar with the history of Rome until the second century A.D., so I was looking forward to learning more about the later empire. Unfortunately, I felt the book lost a bit of steam about 2/3 of the way through, around the time when the empire became Christianized. I'm not sure if there's a direct correlation there or if it's simply because less is known about the women of the late Roman empire. Whatever the reason, the last several chapters of the book just didn't hold my interest quite as well as the earlier ones did.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    I read a copy of Freisenbruch’s book through inter-library loan, as my local library at the time (Knight Memorial in Providence) did not have it. The book is a truly fascinating analysis of the wives of the Roman emperors, showing a very good understanding of history, the Roman psyche, and the primary source documents (it helps that Freisenbruch is a Latin teacher!). While the book cannot possibly go into full detail of the wives of all of the emperors in Roman history, the Julio-Claudians are w I read a copy of Freisenbruch’s book through inter-library loan, as my local library at the time (Knight Memorial in Providence) did not have it. The book is a truly fascinating analysis of the wives of the Roman emperors, showing a very good understanding of history, the Roman psyche, and the primary source documents (it helps that Freisenbruch is a Latin teacher!). While the book cannot possibly go into full detail of the wives of all of the emperors in Roman history, the Julio-Claudians are well-represented, and it does follow the history of the empire all the way to the fall of the West (the tome would have to be many times the size it is to go into all the emperors to the fall of Byzantium!). This book does also have the great virtue of being *readable*, as so many of the books on this sort of topic are . . . well, *not*. Definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of Rome!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    Overall a very nice portrayal of the women in Ancient Rome. Most sources about Ancient Rome have no real view of the women there, given they played such a behind the scenes role in the entire thing. This book shows what really happened to the women there, I commend the author on her research about the women, only 5% of all that was written in Rome is still available to us today, she really did have to dig deep. What I found confusing was the many names, Roman women took the names of their other Overall a very nice portrayal of the women in Ancient Rome. Most sources about Ancient Rome have no real view of the women there, given they played such a behind the scenes role in the entire thing. This book shows what really happened to the women there, I commend the author on her research about the women, only 5% of all that was written in Rome is still available to us today, she really did have to dig deep. What I found confusing was the many names, Roman women took the names of their other family members and this book follows the Julio-Claudian family which has many similar names, Julia for example, is one of the very popular ones. Keeping who was who straight kind of gave me a headache but I really enjoyed learning about all the women in Ancient Rome and would give this a 4/5 star rating

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Cline

    The author has collected together as much evidence as she could find about the lives of the wives (and other female relatives) of many of the early Roman emperors, starting with everyone's favorite, Livia, Augustus' better half. After reading and watching I, Claudius, it's hard to approach the Julio-Claudian ladies with an unprejudiced point of view, but Freisenbruch does a good job of presenting "just the facts." She also has found portraits and statues of these women and describes much of how The author has collected together as much evidence as she could find about the lives of the wives (and other female relatives) of many of the early Roman emperors, starting with everyone's favorite, Livia, Augustus' better half. After reading and watching I, Claudius, it's hard to approach the Julio-Claudian ladies with an unprejudiced point of view, but Freisenbruch does a good job of presenting "just the facts." She also has found portraits and statues of these women and describes much of how they looked (although I wish more illustrations had been included in the book). There's also a lot about the progress of the Empire and the activities of the emperors.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Annabelle

    Kick-ass, bad-ass women. Extremely bad-ass! As my immediate follow-up read to Matthew Dennison's 12 Caesars, I found this more in-depth in terms of characters' connectivity, characterization, and the motivation and machinations behind their courses of action and/or inaction. Better explained too, the bizarre law on picking heirs via adoption, regardless of age or relation. I like the metamorphosis of women's roles and portrayals as Rome's reach and leadership evolved. But Rome was always beholde Kick-ass, bad-ass women. Extremely bad-ass! As my immediate follow-up read to Matthew Dennison's 12 Caesars, I found this more in-depth in terms of characters' connectivity, characterization, and the motivation and machinations behind their courses of action and/or inaction. Better explained too, the bizarre law on picking heirs via adoption, regardless of age or relation. I like the metamorphosis of women's roles and portrayals as Rome's reach and leadership evolved. But Rome was always beholden to its women. Check out Rome's first emperor: Augustus's second wife Livia's progeny, from Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and finally, Nero--ruled Rome! And damnatio memoriae--now there's a phrase worthy of 1984! It more than makes up for the book's terribly tiny font...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    I loved this book. I found it well written, informative and interesting. I love Roman history and women's history so I feel that I was the target audience for this book and it delivered! It was a joy to read. My favourite chapters were definitely about the 1st and 2nd century women: Livia, Agrippina Maior and Agrippina Minor, Messalina, Julia, etc. This is mostly because the early Imperial Age of Roman history is really my main area of interest. By the end of the book with Pulcheria and co. I st I loved this book. I found it well written, informative and interesting. I love Roman history and women's history so I feel that I was the target audience for this book and it delivered! It was a joy to read. My favourite chapters were definitely about the 1st and 2nd century women: Livia, Agrippina Maior and Agrippina Minor, Messalina, Julia, etc. This is mostly because the early Imperial Age of Roman history is really my main area of interest. By the end of the book with Pulcheria and co. I struggled a little bit, but not because of any fault of the author but because of my small interest for this period of time and lack of interest in Christian history (or anything with Christianity, really) Overall, I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    A very different lens through which to examine the Roman Empire from its beginnings and through the reigns of the first Caesars from Augustus to Domitian, and then again in the second and fifth centuries! Freisenbruch traces the evolution of imperial power through the dress, public roles and lives of the women who were the emperors' sisters, mothers and spouses. Much interesting detail as well, including the role of some of the imperial women in formulating early Christian doctrines. I was parti A very different lens through which to examine the Roman Empire from its beginnings and through the reigns of the first Caesars from Augustus to Domitian, and then again in the second and fifth centuries! Freisenbruch traces the evolution of imperial power through the dress, public roles and lives of the women who were the emperors' sisters, mothers and spouses. Much interesting detail as well, including the role of some of the imperial women in formulating early Christian doctrines. I was particularly surprised that one such woman was a major force behind the growth of Mariology in the Eastern churches.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aishe

    Really pulls you in and not because of the scandals and gossip, but because it was researched very thoroughly. The author makes good use of the sources available to us and gives plausible explanations for her theories where the historical record is spotty. I was pleasantly surprised, entertained, enlightened, and I wanted more. I wish she'd continued on to talk about the Byzantine houses after the fall and the later consorts of the "Holy Roman Empire." Basically, my appetite was whetted for more Really pulls you in and not because of the scandals and gossip, but because it was researched very thoroughly. The author makes good use of the sources available to us and gives plausible explanations for her theories where the historical record is spotty. I was pleasantly surprised, entertained, enlightened, and I wanted more. I wish she'd continued on to talk about the Byzantine houses after the fall and the later consorts of the "Holy Roman Empire." Basically, my appetite was whetted for more. I may be reading a good deal more nonfiction history books in the near future. Thanks, Ms. Freisenbruch.

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