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The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars
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The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  693 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
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 humili ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 4th 2011 by Vintage (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
Aug 02, 2014 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 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
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-history
Excellent history looking at the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of the men who ruled the Roman empire.

Well written and readable.

Highly recommended.
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-ancient
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 Peter van Kempen
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-it
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!
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,
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
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 ...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
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 ...more
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 ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 24, 2013 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
Janet Russell
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most famous roman women in history!

Very good & very informative narration of the most famous roman women behind the emperor's
in history some being killed or dying for their men folk others having the most famous children!
Some overlooked others unjustly ignored all should be celebrated! Here's to you!
Great survey of the women of the Roman Empire. Lost me in the last couple chapters but that's only because Roman history loses me after the Julio-claudians. Learned about some new ladies and learned some great new things about some old favorites. Highly suggest for anyone who wants a starter pack for the Roman Empire.
Very informative and interesting. Written like an encyclopedia with very little voice or personality.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 05, 2015 rated it liked it
'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
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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/
Feb 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
G. Lawrence
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and intense introduction to the history of Imperial Rome from the perspective of the women behind the emperors. The author handles a complex subject with clarity and control. Very interesting, if you can keep up with the swift changes in events!
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
Apr 12, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jeff Lanter
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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 ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it
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 ...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