Every time I picked up "A Rome of One's Own", I was whisked back in time, and learned something new!
I can only begin to imagine the amount of research Emma Southon must have done for this non-fiction book, as the history jumps right off of the page. Ms. Southon's writing style is informative, humorous, and full of heart, and her passion for what she writes about is very clear.
Throughout this biography, the author focuses on women in the Roman Empire, but also on how the history has been written and told. She reexamines this. She also explores how incredibly important is for these women's stories to be known both in their own right, as well as allowing a much deeper understanding of early Rome as a whole. Some of the women in this book I was very familiar with before (but still learned many new things about them!), some less familiar with, and some I had not sadly heard of at all. I absolutely plan to do more research in my own time as well to learn more about them.
I highly recommend this non-fiction book!
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Abrams Press for the ARC of this book! All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Thank you NetGalley, Abrams Press, and Emma Southon for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! I really enjoyed A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and was super excited to learn about this one. This book looks at women in Roman history that have been overlooked and misunderstood. It’s a fascinating read and also really fun. I feel like people who are a little scared of history books, like me, would enjoy this one! I get intimidated by some of them, but this author never makes me feel that way because of the humor it uses. Be sure to check it out!
Offering a fresh perspective on the history of ancient Roman, this book chronicles the often overlooked contributions of women who defied social norms, led rebellions, and made significant cultural and political impacts. With a blend of humor and scholarly insight, the book offers a groundbreaking narrative that finally gives long-overdue recognition to the influential women who shaped history.
This book is hilarious, informative, and fun. It demonstrates that when you actually look at women's lives, the familiar narrative of the role of women in Roman society was largely an ideal held by men rather than a reflection of how society functioned.
Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
It was definitely the title of Emma Southon’s new book A Rome of One’s Own: The Forgotten Women of the Roman Empire that first caught my attention. I don’t remember covering a whole lot of specifics related to ancient Rome and the Roman Empire in school – it was more how the society was structured and the extent of its territory at various point, its legacy during the Enlightenment, that sort of thing. We certainly didn’t get into the specifics of too many individual figures and those we did weren’t the women. In fact, when I was looking through the women Southon covers in A Rome of One’s Own, there was only one name I recognized (Boudicca, but then most of my exposure to the Roman Empire in the last few years has been at various museums and sites around England while on vacation). Choosing women from across the Roman Empire both physically and temporally, Southon doesn’t just explore who these women were and the roles they occupied in Roman society, she interrogates the sources themselves – who was telling their stories, what their motives likely were, and how that has shaped the general understanding of women’s roles in ancient Rome over the centuries.
Beginning with the empire’s legendary origins and the women who were abducted to become the wives and mothers of Rome, A Rome of One’s Own moves through history as city and its social structures took shape. From Tarpeia and Hersilia whose examples were used by Rome’s earliest historians to establish the traits of virtuous and dubious women for those of the fairer sex to emulate, to the importance of the Vestal Virgins in Roman religious traditions, you can find the legacy of women in Rome even if you have to read between the lines to get at the most likely truth. As the empire expanded and peoples from new areas fell under Roman rule and ultimately came to be Roman citizens, the definition of “Roman” shifted and the opportunities open to women shifted with it. Despite everyday women being largely ignored by the historical record or written in ways that reinforced stereotypes, if you know where to look and how, you can learn a lot about the experiences of women, like Julia Felix and the details of her business that were preserved in the ruins of Pompeii or the martyrdom of Perpetua who left a brief first-hand record of her persecution that contrasts with what her contemporaries wrote about her.
It isn’t just the women of ancient Rome that I only have minimal experience with (except for Boudicca, I think the figures I was most familiar with were those that pop up in Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series, which I feel inspired to resume reading with a better background on the time period). I very much appreciated the breadth of basic Roman history that Southon managed to work into her book as well. It helped to provide context for so many of the figures she covered but was managed in a way that kept it from veering too far into the weeds at any given time. At the same time, the sheer breadth of time and geography covered was incredible and truly helped give a sense of just how extensive the Roman Empire was.
The sense of humor that caught my attention in the title permeates the book as well, creating a wonderful narrative balance and highlighting that just because it’s history, doesn’t mean it has to be boring or take itself too seriously (even when so many of the primary sources do). A Rome of One’s Own is as much a text exploring historiography as it is looking to gather significant female figures of history in one place. The jokes and how she wields them also help to clear up confusion in situations where so many people had the same or frustratingly similar names.
As someone who loves learning about women's history and all that becomes involved with the erasure of women in the narrative, I genuinely enjoyed this text. The Romans certainly tried to make it seem like a boy's club when it comes to their history, and rediscovering these remarkable women in the book made me really glad I discovered this book randomly one day.
Emma Southon is my absolute favorite historian when it comes to exploring ancient Rome. First off, she literally wrote a book on murder in Rome (A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and I feel like that is a book everyone needs in their life. I know I did. Secondly, she examines Roman history a)within its historical context b)looking at the historical sources in their context and c)with a dry wit and humor that makes me feel like I'm having a conversation with a friend about something that I would actually regularly talk to a friend about (because that's the kind of person I am). It's also the sort of humor that would make people not necessarily interested in ancient history really get into it. And have I mentioned that she doesn't look at what Traditional Historians usually look at: Important Battles In History?
Instead, Emma Southon has been on the cutting edge of examining ancient Roman history from the point of view of women since her fabulous book on Agrippina came out in 2019 and she hasn't looked back since. In A Rome of One's Own she builds on Agrippina's success by exploring the lives of 21 Roman women who historians both past and present have relegated to footnotes (if they get mentioned at all) and reframe the story to remind us that really, it's the women who are incredibly important in the story of Rome. Even the Romans knew that, little though some of them liked to admit it.
A Rome of One's Own spans the entire length and timeline of the Roman Empire, from the early women of Rome (Tarpeia and Hersilia- you probably never heard of them) to one of the most famous (Lucretia- Roman men loved to turn her into a literary trope and make it all about them). From Boudicca (you might have heard of her, here's as close to the real story as Southon can get) to Julia Felix (a Pompeii businesswoman you've never heard of, but she'll make you question what you think you know about Romane women) and into the strange world of Christian martyrdom (Perpetua, in her own words) and the end of the Roman Empire, when Christians ruled and everyone was still fighting (Galla Placidia). Some of these women ruled behind the scenes, or not so behind the scenes, some just wanted to run a business and stay away from the murder-happy aristocrats. But Southon gives us compelling arguments that their stories, and the thousands like them that are not told here, are more the "real" Roman Empire than all of the Important Things and Battles we read so much about. Here are the true people of Rome, the lives both small and large, overlooked and misunderstood, and completely fascinating to read.
Full of fascinating facts and delightful humor, A Rome of One's Own is one of those books everyone should read!
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review
After reading Pooja’s review of Emma Southon’s A Rome of One’s Own, I clicked over to NetGalley and requested an arc. It was as delightful as Pooja said and my review would have been up much sooner if my brain hadn’t decided it will only produce words when a deadline is looming. It’s out next week, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy thoughtful and dryly witty examinations of ancient history and how histories are constructed. Southon divides her book between Rome as a Kingdom, a Republic, an Empire, and post empire.
If a man says he thinks about Ancient Rome a lot, ask him who Tanaquil was, or if he can tell you about the Julias of the Roman Empire. Does he even know Galla Placidia? To be fair, I could not have answered any questions about these women prior to reading Southon’s book either. Southon roots the lack of interest in Roman women not only in modern era patriarchal assumptions that women in history are inconsequential because they don’t lead armies, but also in the mythology of the founding of Rome, primarily written during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Given how badly we interpret events that happened yesterday, I don’t envy the historian attempting to glean facts from accounts written centuries later. Southon instead looks at why the stories of the few named women of the Roman Kingdom are constructed the way they are. I’m not going to get into all the interesting stuff in these chapters, because that’s what book clubs are for.
This was a fascinating read. I would definitely have been thinking about Rome if Emma Southon had been writing when I was reading ancient histories. I enjoyed Southon’s writing so much I immediately downloaded the audiobook version of A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I have not listened to it yet because my brain continues to be a jerk. Anyway, pour one out for Tarpeia, the first Roman scapegoat.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Abrams Press and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.
Who would have thought Rome could be so funny? You know, other than all the killings and such. Emma Southon attempts to re-frame Roman history with A Rome of One's Own. Southon puts the focus squarely on the women who were relegated to the background or forgotten altogether in the story of Rome.
Full disclaimer upfront. I enjoy humor in my history books, but I like it when it's used sparingly. If you liked Southon's other books then I highly suspect you will love this. She writes very well and she certainly got a few big laughs out of me. She clearly has an understanding of the time period and the research is great. There were two problems which took me out of the book a bit too much and I suspect one causes the other.
First, (and Southon makes sure you know whose fault this is) is there is a sad lack of actual documentation on a lot of what she is writing. Women were almost completely ignored during this time period, but unfortunately it means Southon only has so much to use for this book. I think that led to my second problem which was jokes seemed to take up too much narrative space. Again, some of her one liners landed perfectly (fire phallus, but I digress) but others took up a at least paragraph and after a while it became distracting for me. As I mentioned, you may be the type of reader who doesn't mind diversions here and there in which case you should read this. I fully admit this "problem" is a personal preference as opposed to a failure on Southon's part.
(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Abrams Press.)
"... Clever, bold, and refreshingly feminist - readers will be engaged and entertained to the very end. This book deserves a home on all library shelves to balance patriarchal nonfiction collections. More histories like this are needed." - full review to appear in BookList
Lets first start with the Title: A Rome of One's Own. What a wonderful title: a clever wordplay on words, reminiscent of Virginia Wolf's famous "A room of one's own". Both book focus on women, though in different contexts. Dr. Southon's titles cleverly alludes to Virginia Woolf's and how both works while distinct in their settings and specifics, revolve around the experiences, challenges, and roles of women in their respective societies.
Emma Southon's "A Rome of One's Own" dives deep into the intricate tapestry of the Roman Empire, focusing specifically on the often-overlooked stories of its women from its nascent days as a republic all the way to its climactic end. Her writing is a balance of rigorous historical detail and sharp, delightful humor. Many times throughout the book, I found myself laughing out loud, thanks to Southon's unique voice and wit. The characters she brings to life are not just mere footnotes in history; they're vivid, compelling figures whose stories resonate even today. Southon's choice of these characters shows a thoughtful curation, aiming to give readers a fuller, richer understanding of Roman history. While Southon often blurs the lines between rigorous historical commentary and light-hearted jests, this approach serves the narrative well, making the content both educational and entertaining. The humor doesn't detract but rather enhances the reading experience, making historical narratives accessible and thoroughly enjoyable. It's not just a recounting of facts; it's a lively dialogue with the past. One of the book's standout qualities is its depth of research. Southon's references are robust and solid, underscoring her commitment to factual accuracy while crafting a compelling narrative. The characters she introduces are not only well-chosen but are depicted with depth and vibrancy, making history come alive in a relatable manner. For anyone looking to delve into Roman history with a fresh lens, or simply for a captivating read that's as humorous as it is informative, "A Rome of One's Own" is a standout choice. ---
Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of A Rome of One's Own.
I love this author and her previous book, A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, so when I saw she has a new book coming out, I had to request it.
Once again, Ms. Southon has outdone herself in the research and storytelling department.
A Room of One's Own is another very interesting, thought provoking and yes, entertaining take of Rome that brings to life the lives of 21 extraordinary women who contributes and enriches our understanding of the ancient world
The history of Rome (and most histories) are full of men; soldiers, the elites, the privileged and wealthy, because only men do "important things."
Ms. Southon sheds light on the forgotten other half of the population: the women.
A princess, a poet, a queen, and a martyr, an entrepreneur, just to name a few. These women are more than just wives and mothers or young girls wed off to increase their families' political power and status; these women are also cunning, street smart, devious, manipulative, and just plain bad-ass.
History continually subjugates women, silencing female voices, but Ms. Southon's extensive research, humorous anecdotes and pithy comments showcase 21 very different, very unique individuals who did great things at a time when women weren't allowed to do anything except breed and have sons.
History is more than that just men and the battles and wars they wage and the political messes they foster and create.
A Rome of One’s Own shines an overdue spotlight on forgotten women, misrepresented and misunderstood, and readers are given an illuminating inside look of the ancient world from the female perspective who lived and survived during these tumultuous times.
Emma Southon makes reading about ancient Roman History feel like you’re enjoying libations with your super intelligent friend spin tales about forgotten women who had an indelible impact, often with soft power.
Ancient history, often written by academics, is dry and hard to continue reading. This was not. The author made it relatable to the present and was quite funny at times, to the point where I was reading passages aloud to my husband. Not just the funny parts, but I would often say, “Did you know?”
We learn about amazing, smart, powerful, and everyday women, such as Tanaquil, Turia, Julia Felix, and Sulpicia Lepidina to Cartamandua from the Brigantes to Zenobia and Galia Placidia, throughout the history of the Roman Empire from the foundation of polytheistic religion to the monotheistic Christian wars, and Rome's decline. So fascinating.
I learned a lot from this book because it was informative and enjoyable and not flat and dry as most academic and ancient history writing can be. I will definitely read more from Emma Southon.
Thank @NetGalley and @abramsbooks for my eARC.
A great, necessary and long overdue novel. A Rome of One's Own introduces readers to a snapshot of worthy (and damn brave) women who made an impact on the Roman Empire in one way or another, and yet, very little of them is recorded for reasons explored by the author.
The writing style consists of a colloquial commentary which feels much like a dinnertime or cocktail party conversation (for history nerds like me) rather than a laborious history novel. Southon steers clear of rigid textbook facts and dispenses with getting bogged down in irrelevant events, keeping the "dialogue" engaging, interesting and to the point.
The downside to this book is that there is simply not enough information to flesh out or dig further into the events highlighted therein. There are lots of "this general thing happened, but that's all we really know about it" moments. That is no fault of the author's and rather the point of the book. However, this downside serves as one of the reasons this is a good introductory text. For readers interested in the Roman Empire and getting a tiny little bit more insight into a few of the important, almost forgotten, women of that expansive period, I recommend this book.
This was a fun foray into the lives of historical women in the otherwise male-dominated world of Rome. Emma Southon put a lot of time and research into this piece and it clearly shows. While I would love to add to the historical conversation, I need to do additional research to make any salient comment on the historicity found in this book.
I'm on a mythology and ancient history kick and it's been a wild ride, like one day suddenly finding an extra room in one's house. So I really enjoyed this title. Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me access to an advanced copy.
Some of these women I had read about before; others (such as Zenobia!) were entirely new to me.
If I had one criticism, it would be that, while I realize this isn't a work of pure scholarship (although, given the voluminous bibliography, serious scholarship was definitely done!) and is presented to non-specialists as an entertaining window into the more overlooked aspects of classical history, a little swearing goes a long way. I'm a high-low cognoscente in that I like some plain speaking (even pottymouthery) mixed in with more formal speech, but sometimes it can be less of an asset to a work and erode the reader's confidence.
But that's the only criticism I could come up with. I'm so go glad to know about Emma Southon now! I'll definitely seek out her other works and hope to read more from her in the future.
I have been checking NetGalley daily for MONTHS, waiting impatiently for this book, and it did not disappoint (Emma Southon never does). As a longtime enthusiast of Roman history, I'll often get through an otherwise enjoyable book without learning much that feels like truly new information to me. Somehow, that never happens with Emma Southon's work. Her scholarship is impeccable, but it's her gift for finding hidden and forgotten stories -- and telling them in the most engaging ways -- that makes her a must-read Roman historian. This is Roman Real Talk, and I love it. I hope Emma Southon has many, many, MANY more stories to share. I am ready to read them all!
Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!
Conventional Ancient Roman histories may be dominated by men, but that tells an incomplete story. Emma Southon tells the stories of twenty-one women who made their mark on the empire.
While I enjoy reading about history, ancient history is usually not my jam - with one major exception. I will read anything Emma Southon writes, and wish fervently every time I finish one of her books that I hadn't already read all of her older ones. It's the conversational tone, the clear pleasure with which the book is narrated, and the knack that the author has for bridging the gap between the present and such a distant past while still making clear how very different the ancient Romans were from us.
In this book, we are told the stories of twenty-one Roman women who in some way left their mark visible to us two millennia later, which is a truly astonishing feat considering how little has been written about them by historians of the time, who were not particularly bothered with the everyday lives of such second-class citizens.
I appreciated that she showed us a diverse array of women from many different social classes and backgrounds, including women we might not today think of as being Roman, such as Boudica and Zenobia. I had known some of the events with which the women were associated, so it was surprising and illuminating to have the role that they played in them be brought to the forefront. I found the section about the women we know of through archeology to be particularly interesting, as it gave me an fascinating insight into the lives of middle class Roman women.