Format Hardcover
Publication Date 06/06/23
ISBN 9781639363957
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 432

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Empress, Adulteress, Libertine: The Story of the Most Notorious Woman of the Roman World

Honor Cargill-Martin

The story of Messalina – third wife of the emperor Claudius and one of the most notorious women to have inhabited the Roman world

The image of the empress Messalina as a ruthless, sexually insatiable schemer, derived from the work of Roman historians such as Tacitus and Suetonius, has taken deep root in the Western imagination. The stories they told about her included nightly visits to a brothel and a twenty-four-hour sex competition witha prostitute. Tales like these have defined the empress's legacy, but her real story is much more complex.

In her new life of Messalina, the classicist Honor Cargill-Martin reappraises one of the most slandered and underestimated female figures of ancient history. Looking beyond the salacious anecdotes, she finds a woman battling to assert her position in the overwhelmingly male world of imperial Roman politics – and succeeding. Intelligent, passionate, and ruthless when she needed to be, Messalina's story encapsulates the cut-throat political manoeuvring and unimaginable luxury of the Julio-Claudian dynasty in its heyday.

Cargill-Martin sets out not to 'salvage' Messalina's reputation, but to look at her life in the context of her time. Above all, she seeks to reclaim the humanity of a life story previously circumscribed by currents of high politics and patriarchy.

Honor Cargill-Martin is an author, classicist, and art historian. She studied Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Oxford, winning a scholarship and graduating with a first-class degree. She remained at Oxford to complete a masters in Greek and Roman history before going on to study for a second masters in Italian Renaissance Art History at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Messalina is her first book.

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Endorsements & Reviews

Praise for Honor Cargill-Martin’s Messalina
"Brisk, fun and fascinating, this delicious debut is the perfect marriage of scholarship and wit." Suzannah Lipscomb, host of Not Just the Tudors
"For all the tales of sexual jealousy, vicious retribution and (occasionally) genuine love, this is also a serious and substantial account of the political machinations of the Roman imperial court in the first half of the first century AD, from a very considerable scholar. It is full of personalities of whom few will have heard—Narcissus, Mnester, Silius—who play intriguing supporting roles in the story of Messalina, whose reputation as a nymphomaniac is rightly discounted, while her role as a serial murderer is persuasively underlined. It left me longing for the surely-inevitable Netflix series.” Andrew Roberts, New York Times bestselling author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny and The Last King of America
“Written with poise, flair, and acute intelligence, brimming with passion and humor, Honor Cargill-Martin’s Messalina is more than just a corrective biography of a much-misunderstood woman. It is a tour de force, a captivating journey into the wild world of imperial Rome, and the most accomplished historical debut that I have read in years.” Dan Jones, New York Times bestselling author
"Honor Cargill-Martin writes Messalina's story with a wonderful combination of passion and precision, in a book that reads like a thriller while delivering a nuanced examination of one woman and her many depictions. There was so much I enjoyed in this book - the sly humour, the burning sense of injustice, the colourful evocation of Pompeii's lupanar - but the most powerful element was the quiet devastation in H C-M's retelling of Messalina's end. This book will make you laugh and cry —and above all it will make you think." Elodie Harper, author of The Wolf Den