Mud City Press


The First Woman of Rome

A Novel by Dan Armstrong

The written history of the Roman Republic is nearly devoid of exceptional women. Among the few who are mentioned, Cornelia Sciponis Africanus stands out. Born to one of Rome's most prestigious families, and the daughter of Publius Scipio, the general who defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War, Cornelia is remembered as Rome's first noted woman intellectual and as the ideal Roman mother.

Her two sons, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, spent their lives trying to give greater voice to the common citizen in a governmental system dominated by the aristocracy. The two brothers each made huge, all but revolutionary, impacts on Roman politics, but Cornelia, as well as her daughter Sempronia, were also important players during the turbulent years of the late Republic. The tragic story of the Gracchi family, Cornelia and her three children, represents an important but little known chapter in Roman history that begs to be retold because of its historical significance and how it reflects on current times, both in the evolution of democracy and the position of women in society.

Sempronia, the oldest child, tells her family's story during the fifteen years of her brothers' tumultuous and controversial political careers. Sempronia's narrative reveals Cornelia through her relationships with each of her children, either assisting her sons to navigate the extreme politics of Rome eighty years before the death of Caesar or helping Sempronia to cope with a serious disability compounded by an abusive marriage to the most powerful man in Rome. This little known and poignant story of ancient Rome accents the strength of a middle-aged woman standing with her sons and her daughter against an increasingly repressive and brutal political regime.


Read an excellent review and interview of author at John Henderson's blog from Rome THE DOG-EARED PASSPORT: John Henderson's Adventures in Travel and Food.

CORNELIA picked in top ten books about Italy.

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