Here’s how the history of the Roman Empire usually goes… We kick off with Romulus murdering his brother, go on to Brutus overthrowing Tarquin, bounce through an appallingly tedious list of battles and generals and consuls, before emerging into the political stab-fest of the late Republic. After ‘Et tu, Brute?’, it runs through all the emperors, occasionally nodding to a wife or mother to show how bad things get when women won’t do as they’re told, until Constantine invents Christianity only for Attila the Hun to come and ruin everything.
Let’s tear up this script. The history of Rome and its empire is so much more than these ‘Important Things’. In this alternative history, Emma Southon tells another story about the Romans, one that lives through Vestal Virgins and sex workers, business owners and poets, empresses and saints.
Southon traces the lives of twenty-one women from across Rome’s vast empire, following them in war, forbidden love, sedition and natural catastrophe (plus the odd Bacchic orgy). A History of the Roman Empire in 21 Women shows Rome as you’ve never seen it before – brazenly unconventional, badly behaved and ever so feminine.