The First Ladies of Rome
Six hundred years of the Roman Empire from Augustus to its long-drawn-out end: this is the serious work of an author who does not hesitate in asserting the conclusions of her own impressive research, if necessary in opposition to other – male – writers, ancient and modern. Against the weight and daunting complexity of this history, First Ladies is enormously enjoyable. Rome’s First Ladies were by no means necessarily Emperors’ wives; they could be grandmothers, daughters, aunts or mistresses. The Julio-Claudian dynasty alone takes readers from Livia – workaholic but not a serial poisoner – to Agrippina “Minor” – deplorable but gutsy. From a comprehensive parade of imperial ladies, the truest romance must be the doomed affair of Titus and a non-Roman, his Jewish Princess Berenice.
The coming of Christianity which might have been expected to bring a more repressive regime for women, starts with Helena the Emperor’s mother setting out, aged eighty, for the Holy Land. Chastity became an acceptable alternative for women who rejected marriage and childbearing. From amongst the charismatic females of late empire, the lives of Galla Placidia and Pulcheria, enterprising and energetic, are worth waiting for. The illustrations are delightfully diverse and the family trees essential.