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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”