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

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  508 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by Free Press (first published 2010)
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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
Nov 29, 2015 Hanneke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2014 Bandit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
Apr 12, 2014 julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
'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 ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book on a very interesting topic.

Sadly, while the style is very readable, it does get a little muddled. In order to convey the material, the author does dot about a bit within the chapters, and it's quite easy to get confused as to when and who is being discussed. This wasn't an issue for me in the earlier chapters (I've studied the Julio-Claudians), but as my knowledge got spottier, so did my understanding of the book.

I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know a
3.75- 4!
I very much enjoyed this book!
The first half, mainly the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was very impressive and fascinating (Livia, Octavia, Julia, Agrippina the elder and Agrippina the Younger are all my favorites) but things kind of slowed down after the chapter on Claudius. I also find it interesting the author didn't include Julius Caesar/women he was involved with but I assume the author wanted to focus on women of the Roman Empire and not the Roman Republic.

Still the author clearly did
Dec 21, 2014 Tabor rated it liked it
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. ...more
Feb 09, 2013 Gavin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 of more than she can chew. The breadth of history being covered spans the Late Republic/
Oct 09, 2014 Lauralee rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History Lovers
Recommended to Lauralee by: No one
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
May 23, 2012 Jen rated it really liked it
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
Feb 24, 2013 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recensies
Wie dacht dat Orwell's Big Brother of Stalin met het aanpassen van gebeurtenissen in het verleden door het manipuleren van tekst en foto's uniek waren, zal versteld staan van hetgeen daarover te lezen is in Vrouwen van Rome. Het is al moeilijk genoeg om erachter te komen wat de rol van de keizerlijke vrouwen is geweest omdat ze op een enkel snippertje na nooit rechtstreeks tot ons 'spreken', maar als er dan ook nog aan geschiedvervalsing wordt gedaan door hun beelden kapot te slaan, ze uit beeld ...more
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
Jeff Lanter
Aug 14, 2011 Jeff Lanter rated it really liked it
Shelves: roman-history
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 ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2011 Colin rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Carol Tickles
Mar 13, 2016 Carol Tickles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Retrato nu e cru de mulheres lendárias que acompanharam em distância mínima a criação do Império Romano. Traz á tona a falta de discussão sobre elas justamente pela ausência de material escrito que tenha perdurado pelos tempos. Ficamos alienados por blockbusters e séries da HBO que contradizem bastante a história real no que tange as personagens femininas.
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 ...more
Vicki Cline
Jul 18, 2012 Vicki Cline rated it liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
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 ...more
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.
Renée Mee
Oct 09, 2014 Renée Mee rated it it was amazing
Very well written. She writes with healthy skepticism rather hen tabloid style. You really made reading non fiction entertaining to read. The book gave me a lot to think about
I picked up this book because I am very very interested in ancient Roman history, and thought a look at some of the lesser-known figures (specifically, women) would be fascinating. And the first couple of sections -- mainly the Julio-Claudians and Flavians -- really really were. But once we moved past that, I felt like I hit a brick wall of boring. I know a lot of it is because we don't really know that much about the later empresses or their husbands, but it was a slog for the last 150 pages or ...more
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
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 ...more
Hilary Scroggie
Apr 17, 2015 Hilary Scroggie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Really enjoyable, but there were a lot of times I wanted more than just the snapshot of a life it provides.
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 ...more
Finally finished this book! I agree with some of the other Goodreads reviewers that the beginning, on the Julio-Claudians (especially Livia), is really well done and interesting, but I got a little lost later in the book when it seemed like an endless succession of new names to remember. I thought some of her main arguments, about the shifting models of behavior for emperor's wives between Livia and Helena, and the tropes used to disparage these women, were very compelling and I hope to incorpor ...more
Oct 19, 2011 Shan rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
I've been fascinated with the early Roman empire since watching "I, Claudius" in Mr. Fennerty's high school Latin class. I love the miniseries and the book it's based on, but some of the female characters are a bit one-dimensional. This book presents a more balanced (but no less intriguing) view of the first ladies of Rome, and has inspired me to continue nerding out on Roman-lady biographies. One small quibble -- I didn't care for the (admittedly brief) epilogue. It doesn't tell us anything tha ...more
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Annelise Freisenbruch was born in 1977 in Paget, Bermuda, and moved to the UK at the age of eight. She studied Classics to postgraduate level at Cambridge University, receiving a PhD in 2004 for her thesis on the correspondence between the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and his tutor Cornelius Fronto. During that time, she also taught Classics at a private school in Cambridge. She has worked as a r ...more
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