Women in ancient Rome were not allowed any direct role in politics. Nevertheless, women often took on powerful roles behind the scenes, whether in the realm of their own family, or in the elite world of government. Here’s a list of some of the most influential and memorable ancient Roman women.
15 Aurelia Cotta
I, Claudius (35th Anni... Best Price: $18.99 Buy New $31.83 (as of 01:15 EDT - Details) Aurelia Cotta, who lived from 120 to 54 BC, was the mother of Julius Caesar. Her husband died young, and before that, was away most of the time, so she was the one in charge of raising Caesar along with his two sisters (both named Julia – one the future grandmother of Augustus). She and her family lived in the Subura, a working class district in Rome, which was unusual for a highborn patrician family. She also raised Caesar’s daughter Julia after his wife Cornelia Cinna died. Aurelia was considered intelligent and independent. When Caesar was nearly executed at age 18 by the dictator Sulla, for refusing to divorce Cornelia Cinna, it was Aurelia who intervened. She headed a petition to Sulla that succeeded in saving her son’s life.
Lucilla was born around 150 AD, to the emperor Marcus Aurelius. She married her father’s co-ruler Lucius Verus at about age 14. After Lucius Verus died, Lucilla remarried, and traveled with her second husband and Marcus Aurelius during his Danube military campaign. It was during this time that Marcus Aurelius died, and Commodus became emperor. Commodus’ actions while emperor became increasingly disturbing, and an assassination plot was hatched by Lucilla, her nephew, her daughter, and two cousins. Lucilla planned to take over as empress afterwards, but the scheme failed. As her nephew attempted to stab Commodus, he shouted, “Here is the dagger the senate sends you!” This was ample warning to Commodus’ guards. The male members of the plot were immediately put to death, while Lucilla, her daughter, and cousin were banished to Capri. However, Commodus had them Rome: The Complete Series Best Price: $45.54 Buy New $53.99 (as of 09:20 EDT - Details) executed also a year later, in 182 AD. A character based on Lucilla appears in the movie Gladiator.
13 Cornelia Africana
Cornelia Africana was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, famous for his victory against Hannibal in the Second Punic War. She died at age 90 in 100 BC, and was remembered by the Romans as an exemplar of virtue. Out of the 12 children she had, only Sempronia, Tiberius Gracchus, and Gaius Gracchus survived. When her husband died, she did not remarry, and took over the education of her children. When Tiberius and Gaius became involved in controversy because of their populist political reforms, they never lost the support of their mother. Eventually, she lost both her sons when they were killed on different occasions at the hands of the conservative senate. When Cornelia herself died, a statue was dedicated to her. Over time, Cornelia became an increasingly idealized figure, with emphasis switching from her own education and rhetorical skills to her image as the perfect Roman mother.
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