cover image A Rome of One’s Own: The Forgotten Women of the Roman Empire

A Rome of One’s Own: The Forgotten Women of the Roman Empire

Emma Southon. Abrams, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-419-76018-1

Historian Southon (A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) surveys 1,100 years of Roman history in this expert and wittily conversational narrative. By profiling 21 relatively unknown women, Southon presents a “whole new history” that is “closer to the version the Romans told themselves.” Skillfully parsing sometimes limited and biased sources, Southon depicts her subjects as complex human beings. Hersilia, a Sabine woman kidnapped by the Romans (c. 750 BCE) who became Romulus’s wife, is the first woman to appear by name in a Roman text. She may have prevented a full-scale war between the Romans and Sabines when she spoke publicly about how she and the other kidnapped Sabine women had adjusted to their new lives, which bound the two groups into a familial relationship. Julia Felix, who probably died in the 79 CE Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii, made money as a property owner, demonstrating the possibilities of independence for adult, single, middle-class women of the Roman empire. Claudia Severa’s affectionate letters to Sulpicia Lepidina in 100 CE show life in a Roman military outpost in northern England as more social and familial than depicted in male-centered histories and provide a window into female friendships. Southon’s crisp characterizations, snappy assessments of existing histories, and breezy narrative style will enchant fans of ancient history and women’s history. It’s a delight. Illus. (Nov.)