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8 Most Influential Women in Ancient Rome

Roman history has always focused on male patriarchy where all the military, politics, and higher authority roles were dominated by men. It left the women in the shadows as a housekeeper, wife, and sex object. They had only a few rights and were not considered equal to men. Even the history writers who were also mostly men, did not portray the importance of women in ancient Rome. But even after the lack of opportunity and rights, some women managed to obtain massive influence and power in the male-dominant system. They became active participants in the most important decisions, strategies, and current affairs of the Roman Empire. But who were these women? How did they escape the male-dominant world? Find it all in the lives of 8 most influential women in ancient Rome.

List of Powerful Women in Ancient Rome

1) Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC)

2) Livia Drusilla (58 BC – 29 AD) 

3) Agrippina the Younger (15-59 AD)

4) Julia Domna (c. 160-217 AD)

5) Cornelia Scipionis Africana (190-100 BC)

6) Fulvia (83-40 BC)

7) Theodora (c. 500-548 AD)

8) Hortensia (c. 1st century BC) 

1) Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC)

Cleopatra VII was the last Pharaoh of Egypt who was born in 69 BC. She was seen as a representation of intrigue, beauty, and political skill in ancient history. Her swirling life was characterized by political scheming, amorous entanglements, and her pivotal influence on Roman affairs.

In 48 BC, she began a relationship with Caesar, a powerful general and statesman of Rome, which resulted in the birth of their son, Caesarion. After Caesar was killed in 44 BC, Cleopatra sided with Mark Antony, the next important Roman leader.

Her relationship with Mark Antony solidified her political status even more. Their partnership resulted in the creation of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was a potential rival of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, as well as Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son. When Octavian’s soldiers defeated Mark Antony’s navy at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Cleopatra’s situation became worse.

Following their defeat, Cleopatra and Antony committed suicide. According to legend, Cleopatra’s suicide by snakebite cemented her reputation as a sad and intriguing historical figure. She passed away in 30 BC, and as a result, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, bringing an end to the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.

The legacy of Cleopatra lives on in both history and popular culture. She was a great linguist and researcher who made an effort to understand the complex politics of ancient Egypt and Rome. She was clever and crafty, and it showed in her abilities to charm, entice, and plan in the male-dominated world of ancient politics. Cleopatra VII, a symbol of intelligence, beauty, and political shrewdness, had a lasting impression on the ancient world and is a fascinating historical character to research and admire.

Also read: List of 25 Roman Emperors From Caesar to Romulus

2) Livia Drusilla (58 BC – 29 AD) 

Born in 58 BC and died in 29 AD, Livia Drusilla had a significant and enduring role in the early days of the Roman Empire. She was the first Roman Emperor’s wife and is frequently mentioned as one of the most significant female figures in Roman history.

Due to her elevated status as the Roman Empress because of her marriage to Augustus, Livia played a significant role in Roman politics. She actively took part in the political schemes of her era, and her influence stretched beyond the private realm. Livia was renowned for her diplomatic skills and her mastery of the complex political system of ancient Rome.

Livia’s contribution to ensuring the imperial succession was one of her most enduring contributions. She was the mother of Tiberius, who followed Augustus as Emperor, and by manipulating events, she made sure that her family members maintained positions of authority. She played a significant role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire thanks to her political awareness.

Livia also had a strong interest in religion and was connected to the veneration of the god Augustus, which helped to develop the imperial cult. The early Roman Empire’s intellectual and cultural advancement was significantly influenced by her sponsorship of the arts and advocacy of Roman culture.

Many historians disagree about Livia’s life and impact, and some portray her as a cunning and ambitious character. But it is impossible to ignore her achievements as a political and cultural force and her capacity to influence the course of the Roman Empire. Rome’s rise from a republic to an empire was greatly aided by the fearsome Empress Livia Drusilla, who made a lasting impression on the ancient world.

3) Agrippina the Younger (15-59 AD)

Agrippina the Younger, a significant figure in the Julio-Claudian dynasty and a lady of considerable influence in ancient Rome lived from 15 to 59 AD. She is remembered for her complicated relationships with the Roman emperors of the time as well as for her important role in the dynasty.

She was the niece of Emperor Claudius and the daughter of the adored and esteemed Roman general Germanicus. She was born as Agrippina Minor. Early in her life, Agrippina experienced political upheaval, which included the exile and death of family members as a result of plots by the imperial court.

When Agrippina wed Emperor Claudius in 49 AD, her life underwent a tremendous change. She rose to become one of Rome’s most powerful ladies as Empress. Her political awareness and ambition allowed her to have a say in imperial decisions like choosing her son Nero to be Claudius’s heir.

The imperial family experienced stress and strife as a result of her attempts to restrain her son Nero and preserve her power before he succeeded her as Emperor in 54 AD. As Nero searched for greater independence, Agrippina’s power diminished and their relationship strained.

The climax of their strained relationship came in 59 AD when Nero allegedly ordered Agrippina’s assassination because of her efforts to control his rule. With Agrippina’s passing, her turbulent life and political career came to an end.

The history of Agrippina the Younger is one of ambition, manipulation, and the intricate relationships between power and politics in the Roman Empire. Her experience represents the difficulties and dangers encountered by powerful women in ancient Rome and offers a dramatic illustration of how family, politics, and power interacted in the early Roman Empire.

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4) Julia Domna (c. 160-217 AD) 

Julia Domna, who was notable in the Roman Empire from the time of her birth in 160 AD until her death in 217 AD, served as the Empress and had a significant impact on the rule of her husband, Emperor Septimius Severus, and their sons.

Julia Domna, who came from a distinguished Syrian family, began her incredible journey into the Roman imperial court with her marriage to Septimius Severus in 187 AD. She swiftly became a recognized and powerful person thanks to her intelligence and charisma. Julia Domna was renowned for supporting literature, philosophy, and the arts, which helped the Roman Empire experience a cultural revival.

Her sponsorship of the philosopher and scholar Philostratus, whose work, “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana,” demonstrated her dedication to intellectual pursuits, was one of her most enduring accomplishments. Her support of influential writers and philosophers improved the intellectual environment of the time.

Julia Domna was actively involved in running the Roman Empire under the rule of her husband. She frequently served as Septimius Severus’ regent in Rome, making crucial decisions and preserving the stability of the imperial court as he campaigned across the vast lands.

Julia Domna’s life had its share of difficulties. She observed the upheaval in politics, as well as the disputes between her sons Caracalla and Geta following the demise of Septimius Severus. However, despite her best efforts to arbitrate between her quarreling sons, her son Caracalla ultimately succeeded in becoming Emperor. After Caracalla killed his brother Geta, Julia Domna’s power diminished.

After losing her husband and both of her sons, Julia Domna’s final chapter was characterized by her sadness and failing health. She committed suicide in 217 AD as her health deteriorated, putting an end to a life marked by intelligence, cultural favoritism, and political power.

Julia Domna, a symbol of the Roman Empire’s global character and a significant person in the cultural and political history of her time left an enduring impression on the Roman world through her support of the arts, her involvement in administration, and her complicated family relationships.

5) Cornelia Scipionis Africana (190-100 BC)

A remarkable woman of ancient Rome, Cornelia Scipionis Africana was known for her intelligence, grace, and heritage as well as her effect on the Roman Republic. She was born in 190 BC and lived until 100 BC.

She was the daughter of Aemilia Paulla and the renowned Roman general Scipio Africanus, who in the Second Punic War vanquished Hannibal. The illustrious Scipio family, of which Cornelia was a member, was known for both its political and military significance.

Cornelia became well-known among the Roman nobility due to her education and refinement.

She was regarded as one of the most admirable Roman figures of her day and was well-recognized for her eloquence, intellect, and virtue. She received a Greek education, which was unique for Roman women at the time, and had a strong background in both literature and philosophy.

The two sons of Cornelia, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, who rose to prominence in Rome as political reformers, left Cornelia’s greatest legacy. She gave them a strong sense of civic responsibility and a dedication to social justice. Roman history was significantly impacted by her influence on them and their policies, which sought to address the problems of land redistribution and commoner’s rights.

In a time of escalating social and political instability in the Roman Republic, Cornelia became a figure of political significance thanks to her relationships with the Gracchus brothers and her impact on their political careers. The legacy of Cornelia Scipionis Africana stands as a testament to maternal influence and the importance of education in classical Rome. She is a significant figure in the history of the Roman Republic because she influenced the political ideas of her sons and her standing among the Roman elite as an example of Roman morality. 

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6) Fulvia (83-40 BC)

Born in 83 BC and died in 40 BC, Fulvia was a well-known and politically engaged lady in the dying Roman Empire. She was renowned for her strong personality and involvement in the turbulent politics of the time.

Some of the most important political people of her era crossed paths with Fulvia in her lifetime. She first wed Publius Clodius Pulcher, a well-known Roman official who became famous for his role in the Bona Dea scandal. She wed Gaius Scribonius Curio, a prominent member of Roman politics after Clodius passed away.

Fulvia’s third marriage, to Mark Antony, one of the trinity together with Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus), and Lepidus, was, however, her most notable union. Fulvia’s union with Antony strengthened her standing in Roman politics. She held a lot of dominance in Rome during her husband’s absences, as he was frequently away on military missions.

Her involvement in the conflict between Mark Antony and Octavian was one of the most well-known incidents involving Fulvia. She aggressively backed her husband in his conflict with Octavian for supremacy. Fulvia played a crucial part in this chaotic period, leading soldiers and organizing resistance during the Perusine War, a period of civil war that occurred during that time.

She received both praise and criticism for her political activity. Some painted her as an ambitious and cunning character, while others saw her as a fierce defender of Antony’s interests. Fulvia’s forces were ultimately routed in the battle, and she was compelled to flee to Greece. Her colorful and contentious life came to an end with her death in 40 BC.

The memory of Fulvia is that of a politically engaged and strong-willed lady who made a significant contribution during a period of political unrest in the late Roman Republic. She is remembered in the records of Roman history for her participation in the wars of the time and her marriage to Mark Antony.

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7) Theodora (c. 500-548 AD)

Theodora, who lived around 500 to 548 AD, was a notable and significant person in the Byzantine Empire. She is primarily remembered for being the wife of Emperor Justinian I and for having a significant influence on Byzantium’s political, social, and religious scene.

Theodora’s early life was shaped by her pursuit of a career in theater, a field that frequently carried a stigma in the culture of the time. Theodora was born into a modestly wealthy family. Despite this, her talents and charisma made her a renowned actress and entertainer.

Her life took an important turn when she first met Justinian, who was at the time the heir to the Byzantine Empire. Theodora became the Empress of Byzantium after their marriage in 525 AD, and Justinian took the throne in 527 AD.

Theodora’s influence as Empress went beyond what is often expected of imperial companions. She was a key player in the politics of the Byzantine Empire, giving her husband wise counsel and frequently fighting for the rights of women and other minor groups.

Her engagement in the 532 AD Nika Riots was one of her most famous accomplishments. Theodora kept her ground and persuaded her husband to stay in the city and deal with the rebels when the riots threatened to topple Justinian’s power. Her awareness and bravery were crucial in putting an end to the rebellion.

Theodora also supported social and legal changes aimed at enhancing the position of women and defending their rights, notably in divorce and property ownership situations. She had an impact on these problems that influenced Byzantine civilization.

Theodora’s support of the Monophysite branch of Christianity in religious matters had a big impact on the Byzantine Empire’s religious landscape. She supported Monophysite authorities and worked to end the empire’s religious conflicts.

Theodora’s important tenure as Empress came to an end with her death in 548 AD, but her legacy as a powerful, independent, and politically intelligent woman in the Byzantine Empire lives on. She paved the way for women’s rights, politics, and religion throughout Byzantium with her contributions to all three.

8) Hortensia (c. 1st century BC) 

Hortensia was a remarkable lady in ancient Rome recognized for her eloquence and her involvement in promoting the rights of women and the Roman commoners, notably during a period of political and social turmoil in the late Roman Republic. Hortensia lived in the first century BC.

Hortensia was the daughter of the eminent Roman speaker Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, which undoubtedly contributed significantly to her intellectual growth. When Rome was in upheaval in 42 BC as a result of Julius Caesar’s murder and the following power struggle, Hortensia made a memorable address to the Roman Senate.

Her speech was an impassioned plea for tax reform, especially the establishment of a more equal tax system that would not penalize Roman women, who were then burdened with high taxes. Hortensia’s speech was noteworthy not only for its content but also because it was made by a woman in the traditionally male-dominated field of politics.

The “Lex Antonia,” which aimed to tax wealthy Roman women to pay for the military, was in effect at the time of Hortensia’s oration. She contended that Roman women, who had few legal protections and no voting rights, shouldn’t be subjected to such taxation without Senate participation.

Although the precise result of her speech is not generally known, it is known that the Senate changed the tax proposal as a result of Hortensia’s passionate protest. Hortensia’s speech is an early example of a woman advocating for her rights in the political sphere and serves as a tribute to her intelligence, courage, and the social and political dynamics of her time. She is a notable figure in the history of ancient Rome because of her willingness to speak out for women’s rights and her eloquence in doing so.

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The Roman Empire was dominated by males and women were not considered equal to men. In those difficult times, some women broke the barrier and proved their worth to the world. They took part in the major decisions of the Roman Empire. 

Egyptian queen Cleopatra captured the attention and affection of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two prominent Romans. Emperor Augustus’ wife Livia served as his co-regent and assisted in the establishment of an empire. Mother and wife Agrippina demonstrated her intelligence and ambition, but her journey was marked by treacherous turns. Julia Domna, an empress who cherished culture, preserved her husband’s dynasty.

Daughter of a well-known commander, Cornelia raised her sons to be heroes of the people. Fulvia, a highly-spirited woman, engaged in political games and fought with strong men. Theodora then emerged on the stage to assume the role of empress. Hortensia spoke up in the Senate to demand equal taxes and rights for Roman women.

In the end, these women left their mark on Rome’s history by their actions and intellect. Their tales are full of mystery, courage, and the resilience of the human spirit. The effects of their actions have reverberated throughout the decades, reminding people of the powerful women who shaped ancient Rome.


What Was the Role of Women in Ancient Rome?

In ancient Rome, women’s primary responsibilities were as wives and mothers, in charge of running the home and raising children. While other elite women worked in trade and business, some had access to education and social power. With a few notable exceptions, women were typically denied participation in politics and the military, and they had fewer legal rights than men.

What Age Did Roman Girls Get Married?

Roman girls were allowed to marry at the age of 12 by law. Lower-class females typically married early, although elite families would postpone marriage for tactical reasons.

Were Roman Women Equal to Men?

No. Roman women were not considered equal to men. They were only thought of as wives, housekeepers, and sex objects. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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