cover image Agrippina: The Most Extraordinary Woman of the Roman World

Agrippina: The Most Extraordinary Woman of the Roman World

Emma Southon. Pegasus, $27.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-64313-078-1

This remarkable biography from historian Southon (Marriage, Sex, and Death) follows Agrippina the Younger (15–59 CE), who, “as the daughter of an Imperator, the sister, niece, wife and mother of emperors... was never paralleled.” Her father was the admired Germanicus, her brother the emperor Caligula, her uncle and second husband Claudius, her son Nero. She was the first woman to assume the role of empress when she married Claudius, and she broke all customs: though she could not enter the senate or speak in public, she sat beside Claudius, negotiated diplomatically, appeared on coins, wrote her memoirs (a thing not done by women in those days), and donned the symbolic gold cape. She was possibly murdered (perhaps by her son Nero) at 43. Southon points out that “there is no objective, capital T truth about Agrippina,” because of the “glaring, crippling problems” with the source material on Agrippina’s life: the historical record is not “truthful in the way that you or I might conceive of truth” as it was recorded dismissively by sexist historians of the time and was written at least 50 years after Agrippina died. Southon delivers her research and speculations with enormous wit, a feminist outlook, and charming vulgarity. This sassy biography will rope in even those who think they’re not interested in ancient Rome. (Aug.)