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The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars [Kindle Edition]

Annelise Freisenbruch
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Like their modern counterparts, the 'first ladies' of Rome were moulded to meet the political requirements of their emperors, be they fathers, husbands, brothers or lovers. But the women proved to be liabilities as well as assets - Augustus' daughter Julia was accused of affairs with at least five men, Claudius' wife Messalina was a murderous tease who cuckolded and humiliated her elderly husband, while Fausta tried to seduce her own stepson and engineered his execution before boiled to death as a punishment.

In The First Ladies of Rome Annelise Freisenbruch unveils the characters whose identities were to reverberate through the ages, from the virtuous consort, the sexually voracious schemer and the savvy political operator, to the flighty bluestocking, the religious icon and the romantic heroine.

Using a rich spectrum of literary, artistic, archaeological and epigraphic evidence, this book uncovers for the first time the kaleidoscopic story of some of the most intriguing women in history, and the vivid and complex role of the empresses as political players on Rome's great stage.

Product Description


"What a great idea for a book this is - what a record of filial loathing, sexual scheming, parental neglect, suicide, fratricide, matricide, patricide, infanticide, incest and abuse... The result is a book both scholarly and racy... She has produced a book to be commended: one that restores to life some of the toughest, most colourful and most bizarre women who ever existed" (Robert Harris Sunday Times)

"[An] extraordinary story...a colourful, pacy survey of dominant Roman women" (Tom Payne Daily Telegraph)

"A beautifully observed, gripping chronicle and a triumphant achievement" (Alison Weir)

"At last. A book that does not sell us the powerful, intriguing women of Rome simply as poisoners, schemers, femmes fatales, but that brings a wonderfully rich, varied and original range of evidence to bear on the reality of their extraordinary lives" (Bettany Hughes, author of 'Helen of Troy' and 'The Hemlock Cup')

"A tour de force of research... an illuminating story" (Dailiy Mail)

Book Description

A brilliant and rich group biography of the imperial women of Rome - from an exciting young historian.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2106 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (31 Oct. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005TKD74C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #56,305 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Annelise Freisenbruch was born in Bermuda in 1977. After moving to the UK with her family, she studied Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, and was awarded a PhD in 2004. She is the author of The First Ladies of Rome (Jonathan Cape), a highly-acclaimed history of Rome's empresses, which was published in the US as Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power and Politics in the Roman Empire (Free Press) and has since been translated into several languages. Her first novel, Blood in the Tiber, was published in October 2014. She lives with her partner in Dorset where she teaches Latin.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive and interesting work 4 Jan. 2011
Annelise Freisenbruch studied Classics at Cambridge University. Her (unpublished) PhD about the correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto is from 2004. This account about the first ladies of Rome is her first book. It is an impressive debut (although there are a few unfortunate mistakes).

The main text is divided into nine chapters which follow a chronological line from the Julio-Claudian dynasty founded by Augustus and Livia in the first century BC until the Theodosian dynasty in the fifth century AD. At the end of the book we find notes with references, a bibliography and an index.

What about illustrations? In the beginning of the book we have a map of the Roman Empire and some useful charts (family trees of six imperial dynasties). In the middle of the book we have 34 photos, most of which are in colour. Each object in the photos is mentioned in the main text. Unfortunately, there is no cross reference from the main text to the photo (or the other way: from the photo caption to the main text).

The book is well written. It is based on ancient literary sources and modern scholarship. Archaeological evidence - such as coins, statues and portraits - is also used extensively.

The author presents a large number of persons, both men and women, but the focus is on the women, as far as this is possible. Here are some examples:

** In chapters 1-4 we meet some of the women who are connected with the Julio-Claudian dynasty: Livia, Octavia, Julia, Antonia Minor, Agrippina Minor, Livilla, Messalina, and Poppaea.

** In chapter 5 we meet some of the women who are connected with the Flavian dynasty: Julia Flavia, Domitia Longina, and Berenice.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Clio
The First Ladies of Rome is a study into various empresses of the Roman Empire. The book doesn't just solely focus always on the wife and official empress of the emperor, if he had more influential mothers, sisters, nieces or mistresses. It shows how the political requirements of the Emperor often played a role in how his wife dresses and presented herself. A man who had an organised household and good virtuous wife was considered a better candidate for leading the empire then one with a indiscreet wife. Therefore this book also shows the ways in which these woman could be dangerous to the emperor as well as making useful asserts. I found the family trees convoluted and squished, which made them difficult to read without knowledge of who married or gave birth to who, they were not presented well and did contain a few errors. There is a note on the naming and dating conventions in ancient Rome and a reasonably sized select bibliography, both in the back of the book to help the reader, if they wish to study aspects of the book in greater detail. Major or indepth knowledge in the period is not needed to enjoy this book.

One of the main themes of the book was how the role of empress changed and evolved over time as the empire developed and progressed. Alongside this the power base of a empress was also examined in how it changed through the centuries, first with her memory relying on the memory of her husband until eventually the power base and memory of an empresses had evolved to escape the fates of husbands and an empress could establish her own reputation independent of the emperors. I found these themes throughout the book very interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Women Behind the Caesars 13 Mar. 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fun, `popular' history book on women who wielded power in one form or another during the reigns of the Roman Emperors. The examples come from:
The Julio-Claudian dynasty
The Flavian dynasty
The families of Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines
The Severan dynasty
The Tetrarchs and the Constantinian dynasty
The Theodosian dynasty

I had only a couple of points that I felt needed to be made in my review. Firstly, there is a danger, of course, in histories of this type that extracts from primary sources, or sources written within a few decades or centuries of the narrative, are, without question or context, given authoritative status. This is particularly so, for instance, during the narrative on the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, where extracts of the works of Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Tacitus and Plutarch among others, are offered without commentary. An unwary or unknowledgeable reader could well assume that these offer unbiased and verified truths of what actually happened, or what was actually said. These sources, as always, need to be approached in the context of the writer himself or herself, the possible bias of the writer, the remove of the writer from the times of which they wrote, the times in which the writer was working and the sources that they themselves had available to produce their works.

Secondly, it would have been nice on the family trees at the front of the book to have some indicative dates. Given that this book is geared toward a broad readership, it is likely that many would approach the book with little, or no, previous in-depth knowledge of the Romans or their dynastic arrangements, so some perspective could have been immediately given by some dating.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Different slant on the other historic books about the Romans
Published 7 months ago by Anon
3.0 out of 5 stars A well documented book but disappointing
This book is obviously very researched but it is a little bit all over the place, which is quite frustrating. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Balibou
3.0 out of 5 stars First Ladies
The book was well written and laid out as one would expect. One strange thing was the beginning of the chapter on the Flavian women with Berenice. Read more
Published on 21 Feb. 2012 by L. Childs
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Starting Point
This is a good overview of the better known female power brokers in the ancient Roman world. There are some really fascinating characters like Livia and Agrippina. Read more
Published on 27 Sept. 2011 by piet88
5.0 out of 5 stars well worth a read
An interesting and well laid out book that will interest anyone that finds the roaman era fasinating, give it a go!
Published on 18 Sept. 2011 by Mr. C. L. Micallef
3.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Very interesting read on the women of Rome. A bit heavy towards the end but a real insight into Roman life as it really was
Published on 2 Jan. 2011 by Mrs. S. Tarbuck
5.0 out of 5 stars Ladies of Rome
A very interesting book.
It arrived very quickly and was as described.
Published on 25 Oct. 2010 by E. Dixon
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book.
This is a really wonderful book. I found it full of great insights into Roman history and there are lots of striking parallels with today.
Published on 30 Aug. 2010 by John Jacks
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning debut
This is history as it should be written - lively, entertaining, engaging and soundly grounded in fact. Read more
Published on 16 Aug. 2010 by Alison Weir
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