Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery

Published by Head of Zeus on 11th May 2023

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 image of the Empress Messalina as a 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 - of nightly visits to a brothel and a twenty-four-hour sex competition with a prostitute - have defined the empress's legacy, but her real story is much more complex.

In Messalina, Honor Cargill-Martin reappraises one of the most slandered female figures of ancient history, and finds a woman who succeeded in asserting herself in the overwhelmingly male world of imperial Roman politics. 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.