Roman Empire

Bust of Agrippina the Younger, granddaughter of Augustus, sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero, from the National Museum, Warsaw. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Roman Empire was one of the most extensive and enduring empires in history, having a lasting influence on the development of language, religion, culture, and government in the territories it governed. Formed after the collapse of the Roman Republic and the victory of Octavian over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the empire was ruled by Octavian after he was declared princeps, or “first citizen” in 27 BC. The first two centuries of the empire beginning with Octavian (Augustus) were known as the Pax Romana owing to its enduring peace and prosperity. The first dynasties – Julio-Claudian, Flavian, and Nerva-Antonine – oversaw expansion and success in their reigns. The assassination of Commodus in 192 AD brought the Nerva-Antonine dynasty to an end and was followed by the Year of Five Emperors, with the Severan dynasty emerging victorious. Though the dynasty saw the rise of powerful augustae (royal women), political turmoil threatened the empire’s survival and was followed by the Crisis of the Third Century. The emperor Diocletian emerged victorious and stabilised the empire once again, only for the Tetrarchy to collapse upon his abdication. The empire was soon divided along east and west, and split entirely into two separate empires in the fifth century, with the Western Roman Empire ending in 476. The Eastern Roman Empire survived as the Byzantine Empire.

The Roman Empire has some of history’ most famous empresses – many were heavily involved in politics and rule, with some responsible for the elevation, security, and even deposition of the emperors. You can find out more about some of these empresses below!


Dixon, Suzanne. Reading Roman Women: Sources, genres, and real life. London: Duckworth, 2001

Freisenbach, Annelise. The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars. London: Vintage, 2010

Lefkowitz, Mary F., and Maureen B. Fant. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. A Source Book in Translation. Fourth Edition. London: Bloomsbury, 2016

Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity. Second Edition. London: Vintage, 2015

Potter, David S., ed. A Companion to the Roman World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009

Women in Antiquity

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