Negative Portrayals of Roman Imperial Women Analytical Essay by Geebs

Looks at the negative portrayals of Roman Imperial women, Messalina and Agrippina, because of the hegemonic misogyny of ancient Rome.
# 150935 | 2,745 words | 10 sources | MLA | 2012 | CA
Published on May 14, 2012 in History (Greek and Roman) , Women Studies (Women and Society)

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This paper demonstrates how the portrayals of women in ancient sources, such as Agrippina in accounts of the reign of her husband Claudius and Messalina on the reign of her son Nerom, are negative and false constructions. This misconception has occurred, the author claims, because historians are effectively apologists for these incompetent or crazy rulers, blaming the misdeeds of men on the women in their lives. The paper concludes that Roman women actually did not have much power and influence, even women of the imperial court, so that their portrayal as being power-hungry and manipulative women are manifestations of popular cultural ideas of the time and not their actual roles.

Table of Contents:
Women in Ancient Rome
The Reign of Claudius
The Portrayal of Messalina
The Reign of Nero
The Portrayal of Julia Aggripina

From the Paper:

"The circumstances of Messalina's execution offer another clue as into the sexist Roman psyche. There is a huge sexual double standard that allows for women to be called wicked if adulterous, while men can not only get away with similar behaviour, but are expected to. In Roman society, it was socially accepted and even assumed that men, married or not, would make use of mistresses, and/or of slaves or prostitutes. This is further evidence that the hegemonic values of Rome affected the ways male authors would deal with female protagonists.
"Suetonius' account is contradictory in how it claims that Claudius was "wholly under the control of these [freedmen] and of his wives" during his reign, acting "according to the interests of each [...] for the most part in ignorance and blindly," yet also demonstrates how Claudius was seen as ignorant and unfit even before his marriages and rule, with his own family and peers harping on, and insulting, his general foolishness. It is only through Suetonius internalizing the misogynistic social narrative of women that he becomes an apologist for Claudius, blaming many of his errors on Messalina, even after consistently demonstrating through his own writing how unfit Claudius was to hold political office."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Clark, Gillian. Women in the Ancient World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Goodman, Martin. The Roman World: 44 BC-AD180. Routledge: New York, 2012.
  • Kraemer, Ross Shepard. Unreliable Witnesses: Religion, Gender and History in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Suet. Aug. Translation by J. C. Rolfe, accessed on
  • Tac. Ann. Translation by C. H. Moore, accessed on

Cite this Analytical Essay:

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Negative Portrayals of Roman Imperial Women (2012, May 14) Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

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"Negative Portrayals of Roman Imperial Women" 14 May 2012. Web. 31 May. 2020. <>