Women in Imperial Rome

In Rome, after the fall of the Republic, women played a conspicuous, independent and sometimes ill-omened part. But it was on their follies and extravagances, rather than on their virtues, that masculine writers usually preferred to dwell, writes J.P.V.D. Balsdon.

Roman history, like most history, is apt to represent women from an exclusively masculine standpoint. True, we know of two women writers who lived during the reign of Nero: the mysterious Greek Pamphyla, who published thirty-three books about Greek philosophy and Greek history, and Nero’s mother herself, the younger Agrippina, who—whether at her political zenith or in her political decline, we cannot say—published her autobiography, together with an account of the fate of the other members of her tragic family.

But, as a rule, women did not write history. Indeed, until they began to write novels in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we have little record over the years of how they regarded the opposite sex or, indeed, their own.

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