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The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars Hardcover – 19 Aug 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (19 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224085298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224085298
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.7 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 645,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The [book] is both scholarly and racy... She has produced a book to be commended." --The Sunday Times

'There is much to learn from these two books and much enjoyment to be had from them'
--Literary Review

`There is much to learn from these two books and much enjoyment to be had from them'
--Literary Review

`Extraordinary story'

`...The First Ladies of Rome is an illuminating story.' -- The Critics

"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

"Eloquently written, this is a long-overdue reappraisal of some of the most intriguing and powerful women in history" --Alison Weir, author of The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn

"A tour de force of research.....The First Ladies of Rome is an illuminating story" --Mail on Sunday

"A delight from start to finish - a vivid, exciting and very readable account" --Lancashire Evening Post

"Freisenbruch has managed the feat of writing a history book that has the page-turning qualities of a novel"
--Blackmore Vale Magazine

"Annelise Freisenbruch delivers considerable scholarship in a lovely, easy-going way"
--Harry Mount, author of Amo, Amas, Amat... and All That

`The author brings to life some of the toughest, most colourful women who ever existed.' --The Sunday Times

`excellent history...the stories Freisenbruch tells of political machinations and literary aspirations are among the most fascinating of any historical period.' --The Independent on Sunday

`bewitchingly enjoyable study.' --Guardian

Book Description

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

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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