Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery by Honor Cargill-Martin

Posted March 29, 2023 by Stephanie in can't-wait wednesday / 9 Comments

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read.



Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery by Honor Cargill-Martin
Expected publication: 11 May 2023 by Head of Zeus

This is the story of Messalina – third wife of Emperor Claudius and one of the most notorious women to have inhabited the Roman world.

The scandalous image of the Empress Messalina as a ruthless and 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 with a 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.



I already have a review copy of this book from NetGalley but I just had to feature it for a Can’t-Wait Wednesday post. Messalina from ancient Rome has always really fascinated me but it’s hard to find any work about her that doesn’t slander or misrepresent her due to propaganda from ancient Roman historians. So I’m glad that, according to the synopsis at least, that Honor Cargill-Martin seems to look beyond that and try to tell the real story of Messalina. I’m so excited to read it!



Are you also looking forward to this book?
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9 responses to “Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery by Honor Cargill-Martin

  1. Yes – I recall Messalina from reading the duology I, Claudius and Claudius the God – and yes, didn’t Graves make her out to be unutterably evil. It wasn’t until I finished my Feminist studies at Uni a lot, lot later that I found myself wondering just what it was that annoyed those Roman historians so much about her that made them do such a number of her reputation… I hope this proves as enjoyable as it sounds:)).

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