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A History of the Roman Empire in 21 Women

Published by Oneworld Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

Rome as you’ve never seen it before – brazenly unconventional, badly behaved and ever so feminine.

‘Hugely entertaining and illuminating’ —Elodie Harper, author of The Wolf Den


Here’s how the history of the Roman Empire usually goes…

We kick off with Romulus murdering his brother, go on to Brutus overthrowing Tarquin, bounce through an appallingly tedious list of battles and generals and consuls, before emerging into the political stab-fest of the late Republic. After ‘Et tu, Brute?’, it runs through all the emperors, occasionally nodding to a wife or mother to show how bad things get when women won’t do as they’re told, until Constantine invents Christianity only for Attila the Hun to come and ruin everything.

Let’s tear up this script. The history of Rome and its empire is so much more than these ‘Important Things’.

In this alternative history, Emma Southon tells another story about the Romans, one that lives through Vestal Virgins and sex workers, business owners and poets, empresses and saints.
  • Discover how entrepreneurial sex worker Hispala Faecenia uncovered a conspiracy of treason, human sacrifice and Bacchic orgies so wild they would make Donna Tartt blush, becoming one of Rome’s unlikeliest heroes.
  • Book yourself a table the House of Julia Felix and get to know Pompeii’s savviest businesswoman and restauranteur. Indulge in an array of locally sourced delicacies as you take in the wonderful view of Mount Vesuvius… what could possibly go wrong?
  • Join the inimitable Septimia Zenobia, who – after watching a series of incompetent, psychopathic and incompetently psychopathic emperors almost destroy the Empire – did what any of us would do. She declared herself Empress, took over half the Roman Empire and ran it herself.

About The Author

Emma Southon is a Bookshop Manager at Waterstones and the author of Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore, a Best Book of the Year for the New Statesman. Armed with a PhD in Ancient History, she also co-hosts the History is Sexy podcast. She lives in Belfast, with her cat Livia, and tweets @NuclearTeeth.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (September 7, 2023)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780861542314

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Raves and Reviews

'Hugely entertaining and illuminating... Emma Southon brilliantly walks the line between humour and heartbreak, never shying away from the brutality some of the women endured, yet doing so with the lightest touch and managing to keep their humanity always in focus.' —Elodie Harper, author of The Wolf Den

‘Southon gives a fresh sense of Roman civilization... She presents ordinary, “small” lives as extraordinary… This is not just a book about the lives of historical women, but one about the history of womanhood… delightful… Southon’s book is a testament to those who were determined not to be left voiceless.’ —TLS

'The women in Southon’s book are nuanced, fearless and thanks to Southon's brilliant storytelling, unforgettable: ambitious kingmakers, charming courtesans, political actors, brave survivors and proud poets. Funny, original and often moving, this is exactly the type of book I wish I could have read when I was younger.' —Costanza Casati, author of Clytemnestra

'A History of the Roman Empire in 21 Women is a fantastic read. It is sparkling, irreverent and entertaining... Where was Emma Southon when I studied Roman history!?' —Laura Shepperson, author of The Heroines

'A fresh perspective. Following the lives of 21 women from across Rome and its territories, Southon rollicks through the empire we thought we knew so well.' —Idler

'[A] lively, alternative history… Southon makes the important point that women have often been erased from Roman history… And Southon reminds us of all the behind-the-scenes diplomacy employed by women related to powerful men in order to further their own and their family's interests, which rarely gets mentioned or properly credited… Roman women have always been there – we must now ensure their stories sing out.' —BBC History

'Emma Southon is a truly original voice in popular historical writing. She has this amazing ability to take everything you thought you knew about Roman history, turn it upside down, reorient it, and show it to you anew, all the while making you laugh uproariously because she is, frankly, hilarious. A History of the Roman Empire in 21 Women is the history book I didn’t know I needed but I now find indispensable – an instant classic.' —Jane Draycott, author of Cleopatra's Daughter

An utter delight to read, full of humour and hugely informative. I loved immersing myself in the lives of so many fascinating women, including one of my favourites from Pompeii. I challenge you not to think of the Roman Empire daily after reading it!’ —Historia Magazine

'A whip-smart and revelatory read. Emma Southon brings us "the story of Rome as told through women" – women like a priestess, a businesswoman, and a poet; women who were queens, rebels, scapegoats, and survivors. This is the history you didn’t know you needed from a writer who should be on everyone’s radar.' —Shelley Puhak, author of The Dark Queens

'A fun and jocular guide.' —ARGO

'With laugh-out-loud humor, Southon not only shares the stories of these women but also delivers valid critiques of existing histories and biased sources. Clever, bold, and refreshingly feminist; readers will be engaged and entertained to the very end. This book deserves a home on library shelves to balance patriarchal nonfiction collections. More histories like this are needed.' —Booklist

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