Tag Archives: matrons of awesome

Rock the Romanpunk and Matrons of Awesome

It occurs to me belatedly that I should do a summary post with links for those who didn’t get a chance to catch up on my crazy Rock the Romanpunk week while I was putting out several essay-length posts every day!

Here they are, then.

Matrons of Awesome: 50 Women of Ancient Rome

Part I – The Raptae
Part II – Republican Mothers
Part III – Republican Vixens
Part IV – Good and Evil at the End of the Republic
Part V – Romana Princeps
Part VI: Imperial Daughters and Many Small Islands
Part VII: Sex, Scandal and Bloodshed
Part VIII – Agrippina
Part IX – Forgotten Daughters, Brigitte Bardot, and Claudian Goddesses
Part X – Flavian Ladies
Part XI – Trajan’s Matrons
Part XII – Good Wives and the Gladiators
Part XIII – Between the Dynasties
Part XIV – A Surfeit of Julias
Part XV – Saint Helena

and while we’re at it, some silly ones:

Rocking the Romanpunk, one fanvid at a time.

Kermit Tours the Romanpunk
Mark Antony Strips the Romanpunk
Cleopatra Sings the Romanpunk
Brutus and Cassius Slash the Romanpunk
Bad Emperors Dance the Romanpunk
Supersizers Eat the Romanpunk

and don’t forget all this was an excuse for me to talk about my book, Love and Romanpunk

Love and Romanpunk is an e-book now!

Love and Romanpunk is Kindled

Sneak peeks at the stories in Love and Romanpunk

In closing I’d like to give a shout out to Doctor Who, which managed in its season finale to totally out-romanpunk me, even more than last year. And last year gave me Roman autons, the Last Centurion and River Song as Cleopatra! (Two years before that it was Donna speaking Latin, Vesuvius and Karen Gillan as a soothsayer) Hard to beat Winston Churchill as Caesar on a mammoth, though.

Sigh. If only they could have afforded a mammoth.

Matrons of Awesome Part XV – Saint Helena

I've been in this room! Check out the Flavian Lady in the background. Best room in the Musei Capitolini.

The end of the Severan dynasty pretty much concludes the period of Roman history that I know anything about. However, I promised 50, which means one more to go… and though there are many interesting women of the later Roman Empire, if you’re only going to choose one, then it’s fairly obvious whom that one should be.

50. Helena

After the death of Alexander, Rome fell into a time of chaos brought about by very short imperial reigns, assassination, political plotting and civil strife. No emperor since the Severans had managed to found a stable dynasty, which meant that the role of women had been quite limited in the public political sphere.

Helena was the daughter of a tavern-keeper, which in social terms put her somewhere between freedwomen and prostitutes. As a teenager, she fell in love far above her station, with an ambitious young soldier called Constantius Chlorus, and she lived with him as a common law wife, though legal marriage was impossible because of the gulf in status between them both.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part XIV – A Surfeit of Julias

So those who have read the lead story in Love and Romanpunk know that the book has a fixation on the name ‘Julia.’ It’s not just because that name was attached to so many women of the first, Julio-Claudian era, or because, thanks to the various Caesars, it had a great many sacred and significant connotations in its own right.

There was another dynasty which cemented the importance of the name Julia, and it marked a huge change in the image that Roman imperial families showed to the world.

41. Julia Domna

When ambitious African-born Roman general Septimius Severus heard of a horoscope for a young woman named Julia that predicted she would marry a king, he hurried across country to court her. Julia Domna was the Syrian daughter (of Arab descent) of the high priest of a sun god. She not only married Septimius but also bore him two sons, Caracalla and Geta. She was a highly intelligent, educated woman who served as a valued advisor to her husband.

Some time later, Septimius brought the horoscope to fruition by using his military and political skills to make himself emperor of Rome. Which is… one way to do it. Ah, Romans. We say they were supersitious, but really they just used the supernatural as a ‘how to’ guide.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome XIII: Between the Dynasties

This one’s short. This is all we have about these three, apart from a coin or two that just confirms the below information.

38. Manlia Scantilla

Wife of Didius Julianus, who came the throne suddenly and left equally suddenly, in a pool of blood. He ruled for 30 days or so, and took the time to give his wife and daughter the title Augusta.

39. Didia Clara

Daughter of Didius Julianus. When he died in the aforementioned pool of blood, the supporters of his successor Pertinax went after Manlia Scantilla and Didia Clara… and removed the title of Augusta from Didia Clara. Yep, that’s all they did.

A long way from murdering Caligula’s baby in her bed, to end his biological line…

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part XII – Good Wives and the Gladiators

When Antoninus Pius was adopted as Hadrian’s heir, he already had a wife and daughter, both called Faustina.

A condition of Antoninus’ adoption was that he in turn adopt two men chosen by Hadrian: Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. But Marcus Aurelius and Faustina also managed to break the adoptive tradition of the emperors by having a son of their own. And what a son! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

the apotheosis of Antoninus Pius and Faustina

33. Faustina Major

Antoninus’s wife Faustina didn’t make much of an impact on the imperial family, as she died within a couple of years of her husband’s reign. She is notable, however, for getting the title of Augusta almost immediately, making her the first imperial wife since Domitia who didn’t have to wait several years for this honour.

Faustina’s posthumous life is more memorable – she was deified by her husband, and became something of a patron goddess for the whole Antonine family, with an unprecedented number of coin types released in her honour.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part XI – Trajan’s Matrons

(or: “disgustingly good women of the Adoptive Era.”)

(or: “of all the PR in all the world, these women had the best that money could buy”)

After the Flavians dynasty died with Domitian, elderly Nerva took the Empire. He didn’t have a wife or children, so he chose the ridiculously sensible route of just picking an adult male who he thought would do a good job, and making him the heir. That was Trajan, a childless forty-something general with a good head on his shoulders.

Sadly, without a focus on dynastic inheritance, there was no place for the public image of women in Nerva’s reign. Let’s move on to Trajan.

It was during the reign of Trajan that many of the historical sources about the Julio-Claudians were actually written. There’s a popular theory that the Julio-Claudian women were dealt with so atrociously in the sources as sluts, harridans and poisoners in order to show how modest, virtuous and generally wonderful the women of Trajan’s family were.

So if you’re looking for the juicy stuff, you might want to go back to some of the earlier entries…

29. Plotina

Plotina was middle aged when her husband Trajan became emperor. Luckily for her, he had no interest in siring a biological heir, so her marriage was not in danger from any wide-hipped young temptresses (for some reason I keep expecting this to happen, ala Henry VIII, but the adoption laws of Rome actually protected wives from being discarded in the name of fertility).

Plotina was a good woman. No, really. Modest, chaste. All those things. We have scads of information (well, compared to other Roman women) about how good she was, and what a non-slutty, non-poisonous, non-greedy wife she was when Trajan was alive.

However, as soon as Trajan died, Plotina’s literary portrayal changed quickly. In Dio in particular (one of our main historical sources) it’s like a switch has been thrown, and she goes overnight from a paragon of wifely virtue to a scheming, ambitious mother figure in the manner of Agrippina.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome: Part X – Flavian Ladies

Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudians. After he died, Rome had the Year of Four Emperors, in which various blokes (Otho, Galba, Vitellius) tried to grab the throne.

Finally, Vespasian, a pragmatic military man, marched in and got himself settled in power. He, with his two adult sons Titus and Domitian, comprised the Flavian dynasty.

The one thing Flavian women are famous for, above all else, is the distinctive hairstyle of the era.

My favourite example of the Flavian “curled bogan fringe” is on this bust of an anonymous Flavian Lady. She’s a peach, isn’t she?

If you’re in Rome, you’ll find her in a window at the Musei Capitolini, the only well-lit piece of art in the whole place. Go and admire her!

Also, it’s amazing that they managed to get those curled fringes so high, two thousand years before hair product was invented. Go Flavians!

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part IX – Forgotten Daughters, Brigitte Bardot, and Claudian Goddesses.

Some short ones this time!

19. Claudia Octavia

We know little about Octavia, daughter of the Emperor Claudius and his doomed wife Messalina, her except that she was used and abused quite outrageously in service to the imperial family.

As a teenager, she was married to her stepbrother/adopted brother Nero, in order to further promote his role as her father’s heir, ahead of her own brother Brittannicus. Mostly, Nero ignored her, which was the best outcome for everyone.

When her father died (cough, poison mushrooms, cough), Octavia found herself no better off than she had been before – except that now, the husband who was ignoring her was the emperor. It was Nero’s mother Agrippina, not his wife, who stood at his side as consort. Various exotic mistresses filled Nero’s bed, and his mother filled his heart. There was no room for anyone else. Then her brother Brittannicus was poisoned, and Octavia was left alone.

Nero wanted to divorce Octavia, but hadn’t realised just how popular she was with the ordinary people of Rome. There was an outcry, and Nero dropped the idea quickly. Instead, he framed her for adultery, and had her exiled, then executed.

Seneca, one of Nero’s chief advisors, wrote a tragedy, “Octavia,” which is particularly notable for the vicious caricature it makes of Agrippina’s character. In fact, Agrippina had fought for Nero to treat his wife more kindly, and to stay married to her. Though to be fair this was probably because she feared what might happen if Nero started choosing his own brides.

20. Claudia Antonia

Antonia was Octavia’s eldest sister, daughter of Claudius to one of his pre-Messalina wives. There is only one story told about Antonia. Towards the end of his life, having been divorced, widowed, etc. several times over, Nero had a bright idea to reclaim the popularity of his first marriage to Octavia by marrying her sister.

Antonia said no.

Nero killed her.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part VIII – Agrippina

18. Agrippina Minor
(often called Agrippina the Younger, same name as her mother, you get how this works by now)

Another of my absolute favourites. This woman had everything: family, power, status. Oh, a few rumours of poison and incest here and there, but who doesn’t have a skeleton or two in their closet?

And yes, my fascination for her led to the short story “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary” and “The Patrician” and indeed the whole four story collection Love and Romanpunk. This is what happens when I embrace my obsessions.

The thing that came as most of a surprise to me, in writing those stories, was that I couldn’t write a sympathetic Livia and a sympathetis Agrippina in the same universe. No matter how much I fictionalised them, they hated each other too much. So Livia has to wait until I have a year or two to set aside in search of The Great Romanpunk Novel, which will have her relationship with Octavian front and centre.

In the mean time, Agrippina gets to slander Grandma with great abandon, and embrace the smugness that comes from having a suite of short stories in her honour. And, you know, being portrayed as a manticore-slaying superhero.

I didn’t say the stories were *entirely* historically accurate. If I cause Tacitus to turn in his grave a little, job done.

Continue reading →

Matrons of Awesome Part VII – Sex, Scandal & Bloodshed

15. Drusilla

When Tiberius died, he was succeeded by the very young and very unstable Caligula. Caligula had three older sisters: Livilla (not the previous Livilla, sometimes called Julia, not any of the previous Julias), Agrippina and Drusilla, whom he heaped with public honours (honours not extended to his various wives, not even the mother of his baby). He had the names of his sisters included in the formal oaths, so that when Romans swore in the name of the Emperor they were also swearing in the name of his sisters.

Caligula’s favourite sister was Drusilla. Their grandmother Antonia had been shocked to find them in bed together as children, in a very non-siblingy kind of way. As emperor, Caligula infamously ravished all three of his sisters at official banquets. (it passes the time between lark’s tongue & pudding)

Continue reading →