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Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire Hardcover – November 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former BBC freelance researcher Freisenbruch addresses a long-neglected topic in this intriguing study of the first ladies of the Roman Empire. While emphasizing such colorful individuals as Livia, the long-lived, scheming wife of Augustus; Agrippina, the mother of Nero, whose assertion of authority over him ended in her execution; and Julia Domna, the brilliant and tragic wife of the African-born Emperor Septimius Severus, Freisenbruch has also given us valuable information on less dramatic but steadier women whose presence enabled the Western Empire to flourish. Particularly significant were the roles of Helena and Fausta, the mother and wife respectively of Constantine the Great, in ensuring the triumph of Christianity in the Empire. Weakened only by a slight tendency to compare and contrast events with the modern media versions of Rome, Freisenbruch's debut is both fascinating and enjoyable. (Nov.) (c)
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“To summon the ghosts of Rome’s lost womenfolk is a remarkable achievement. But to do so with such vividness, evoking vibrant lives out of broken sculpture and distorting texts, is a triumph of scholarship. More than just toppling our preconceptions of familiar characters like Livia and Agrippina, Annelise Freisenbruch redefines our understanding of women’s roles at the pinnacle of Roman society. Clearing away the historical murk, Caesars' Wives is a convincing answer to an ancient mystery.”

--Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas, authors of Empires of Food

“A vivid account of the women who cracked the marble ceiling of ancient Rome’s corridors of power. Caesars’ Wives emerge from the long dark shadows of their better known Imperial consorts as brilliantly colored personalities of flesh, blood, intellect, and passion. Annelise Freisenbruch has stripped away the layers of myth, and painted the portraits of these remarkable wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters with clarity, sympathy, and a charming humor.”
--David Tripp, author of Illegal Tender and Special Consultant to Sotheby’s

“At last. A book that does not sell us the powerful, intriguing women of Rome simply as poisoners, schemers, femmes fatales, but that brings a wonderfully rich, varied and original range of evidence to bear on the reality of their extraordinary lives. After reading this book you will feel as though you have travelled the city with Livia, Agrippina et al. -- glimpsing the heady power-play and high-octane culture of the day and understanding both more subtly and more deeply how these women rode -- and sometimes out-maneuvered -- the political storm that was the Roman world.”

--Bettany Hughes, author of Helen of Troy

Caesars’ Wives is not only informed by meticulous scholarship, but it is a beautifully observed, gripping chronicle and a triumphant achievement. Eloquently written, this is a long-overdue reappraisal of some of the most intriguing and powerful women in history. You may think you know about them already - but you would be wrong, because in these pages the myths of centuries are swept away to reveal the startling truth. The book is so vivid and immediate in its detail that you forget that these women lived around two thousand years ago. Annelise Freisenbruch is a historian to trust, and her work will justifiably be hailed as the final word on her subject.”

--Alison Weir, author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn

“For years now Robert Graves and HBO have made us as familiar with Augustus’ troubled family as with Henry VIII, and we know that much of the narrative is scandal. Now Freisenbruch has stepped in to provide a lively, balanced, and expert account of the imperial wives. “

--Elaine Fantham, Ph.D., coauthor of Women in the Classical World

“Caesars' Wives gets as close as possible to the real stories of the women of the Roman Empire, without resorting to the dull, old sex and murder clichés. Annelise Freisenbruch delivers considerable scholarship in a lovely, easy-going way.”

--Harry Mount, author of the bestselling book on Latin language and history, Amo, Amas, Amat ... and All That

“Extraordinary story, spanning four and a half centuries…The author is quick to see the far-reaching consequences…and to apply the lessons to modern times… In this colorful, pacy story of dominant Roman women, we can admire them in their own right.”—The Telegraph

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416583033
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416583035
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,706,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on April 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Caesars' Wives is the first book by Dr. Annelise Freisenbruch. The author was born in Bermuda, raised in England and sports a Ph.D from Cambridge University! Not bad for a young woman in her early 30s! Friesenbruch has also done work as a freelance classical historian for the British Broadcasting Company.
Caesars' Wives covers in detailed prose the lives of the most prominent imperial spouses in the four hundred years from the Julio-Claudian emperors of the first century AD. to the end of the Roman empire in 476 AD. Wives discussed include such colorful and murderous wives as Livia who was married to Augustus for over fifty years and their infamous daughter Julia Also chronicled are important rulers from the eastern empire. Especially to be noted are Cleopatra VII the wife of Mark Antony; Berenice the Judean princess who wed Titan and Helena who was the mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine.
The problem I had with the book is there are so many names and dynasties to keep track of it boggles the mind of the historicla layman! This is particularly true as the book nears its 465 page end. It is a well researced book written in a scholarly style. Freisenbruch has done her homework quoting extensively from such ancient authors as Suetonious, Dio Cassius,
Pliny, Ovid, Tacitus and countless others both pagan and Christians.
The book could well be used as a resource in a collegetiate level course on the Roman Empire. Along with information about the women we find good descriptions of changes in fashion, childbirth customs and the role of women in the ancient world. A good book by a fine young classical scholar. Look upon it as "I Claudius" and "Rome" (TV programs on the period covered in this book) put in print and viewed from a female perspective. The book includes illustrations of coinage and portraits of many of the women mentioned in the text.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lance B. Hillsinger on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
No single book can tell the story of the Roman Empire. The best any one book can do is focus on one aspect and tell the story of Roman Empire through that focus. Through the lives of the notable women of the Empire -- not just those who were married to a Caesar - Annelise Freisenbruch gives us the history of Imperial Rome.
Anyone familiar with the history of the Roman Empire knows that recounting the historical narrative is difficult; many historical figures are known by multiple names and the same name is common to many historical figures. Frisenbruch included multiple genealogical charts to help the reader navigate through the morass of names.

However, Frisenbruch's style of writing adds to the confusion. For instance, in the first paragraph of chapter one, the story begins with Nero and his seventeen year old wife, Livia, running for their lives in a burning forest. In the next paragraph, the text jumps to the political fallout following the assaination of Julius Caesar. This is followed by a comparison of Livia to Cleopatra which is followed by a brief biography of Nero. Nowhere in the chapter does the author take the reader back to the burning forest and how Nero and Livia made their escape.

Similarly, chapter five begins with a discussion two plays about the emperor Titus and his mistress Berenice. These are plays that premiered in 1610! Berenice's story is quite an interesting historical figure; she is even mentioned the Bible. It would have been a lot clearer for the author to recount her story first and then report that in the Middle Ages her life was made into competing plays -- not the other way around. The confusing style continues in chapter eight.
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Format: Paperback
Long overlooked, the stories of the women behind the powerful men in Roman history get their stories told in this book. Author Annelise Freisenbruch pulls back the veil to reveal how the wives, sisters and daughters of the Julio-Claudians, Flavians, Antonines and Severans were involved in the jockeying for power and influence around the Emperor and future emperors. Livia gets a huge biography from Freisenbruch giving readers a much needed back story, including her father's flight from the partisans of Julius Caesar during the Civil War.
Among the ancient civilizations, Rome was unique in allowing women a place in public where the Greeks and everybody else kept their women sequestered. Freisenbruch goes far in showing sexual double standards being the foundation of social relations between the sexes and social class and social elevation were huge motivators and obstacles in people's lives at this time. Freisenbruch brings in a great depth and breadth of scholarship in antiquity but also women's issues across the ages. I myself have been really interested in the application of modern social theories and perspectives to the study of Classical Antiquity and the degree to which it makes stories from thousands of years ago seem very immediate and recognizable. This book definitely does that!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire - the title sounds absolutely tantalizing, doesn't it!
Much of the book is too, but this is not an "easy read." I would recommend this book to someone taking a college or elevated high school history class on a study of the Roman Empire. It is interesting and provides very in depth detail about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; so much detail that a casual reader probably will lose interest along the way. But, if you are into this era of history, and can easily keep track of the familial relations and facts, you might like. Would not recommend to anyone looking for a summer read on the beach. I read this book during the winter while settled in a quiet den on a comfortable couch close to a warm fireplace. Cannot imagine reading this book with any distractions. Not a chance.
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