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All About History - - CONTENTS -

Au­thor Emma Southon Pub­lisher Un­bound Price £12 Re­leased Out now

You’ve prob­a­bly never read a his­tory book like this be­fore. Front and cen­tre in Agrip­pina: Em­press, Ex­ile, Hustler, Whore is some­one who au­thor Emma Southon calls “the most ex­tra­or­di­nary woman in the Ro­man world”, but the way in which her bi­og­ra­phy is told is some­thing else en­tirely.

Ro­man women gen­er­ally weren’t thought of as hav­ing their own agency – in fact, even to­day they’re usu­ally re­ferred to as the wives, moth­ers or sis­ters of oth­ers. Agrip­pina the Younger, as the sis­ter, niece, wife and mother of Ro­man em­per­ors, was cer­tainly no ex­cep­tion. When you think of Ro­man power, her name usu­ally isn’t at the fore­front of your mind. Even when you think of Ro­man women, your mind prob­a­bly wan­ders to Livia, Lu­cre­tia or Mes­salina. But Agrip­pina the Younger was a trail­blazer, and Southon is on a mis­sion to show you why.

From the very first page, you’ll be en­thralled in the tale. The very first line of the in­tro­duc­tion sets the tone, “This is the story of an ex­tra­or­di­nary woman.” From there, Southon weaves a ta­pes­try of life in An­cient

Rome – es­pe­cially that some­what mis­er­able life women faced – and con­denses the his­tory of the na­tion from king­dom to em­pire into an en­ter­tain­ing seven pages. Southon ap­proaches her writ­ing with an ob­vi­ous sense of hu­mour (like the pithy ded­i­ca­tion “To all my Dif­fi­cult Aunts”) and it hon­estly just makes it a joy to read.

Agrip­pina the Younger is a tricky sub­ject to tackle. All of the ev­i­dence we have about her, as Southon ex­plains, is through what peo­ple wrote down of her in­ter­ac­tions with men. That’s all we have – and why the book’s sub­head ex­hibits how she’s been viewed as a re­sult: em­press, ex­ile, hustler, whore.

In fact, the book it­self is split into five chap­ters (daugh­ter, sis­ter, niece, wife and mother) to show her in her re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily mem­bers. But de­spite that, Southon paints the pic­ture of a woman in her own right. Agrip­pina was a woman who made her own life in a male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety (and it was be­cause of her de­ter­mi­na­tion to be seen as an equal that she was mur­dered by her own son).

It’s hard to put down so hav­ing the stan­dard his­tory-book plates is only re­ally an af­ter­thought.

Al­though the book seems to be aimed at read­ers in their 20s or 30s with a smat­ter­ing of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences, noth­ing is dumbed down. Sources are eval­u­ated, ev­ery­thing is ex­plained in con­text and Southon has the air of some­one who knows ex­actly what they’re talk­ing about.

What’s es­pe­cially great about Agrip­pina is Southon’s ob­vi­ous deep in­ter­est in her cen­tral fig­ure and she knew that those she would be shar­ing the story with would be as in­ter­ested as her. The book was pub­lished through Un­bound, a com­pany that makes sure books are funded di­rectly by those who would want to buy the fin­ished prod­uct. With­out this web­site, it’s un­likely that any­thing like this would have gone to print and hon­estly, that re­ally would have been a shame.

A re­fresh­ing take on ar­guably one of the great­est Ro­man women to have lived, it’s a must-read book for any­one who is in­ter­ested in the an­cient world. Forth­right, Re­fresh­ing, Vi­va­cious KM

“Weaves a ta­pes­try of life in An­cient Rome – es­pe­cially that mis­er­able life women faced”

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