Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

PAMELA HARRIMAN has died. English, of aristocratic descent, daughter-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill (1), American ambassador to France, she was characterised in obituaries as one of those grandes horizontales that used to make history lessons worth staying awake in. But any responsible Roman supina would have wondered what on earth she thought she was playing at.

Women had one overriding purpose in the ancient world - to produce and raise children. Aristocratic women, especially in the imperial household, held in their wombs the key to dynastic succession and therefore power.

Julia (1), the daughter of the emperor Augustus, had a string of husbands and produced a string of potential successors before Augustus exiled her in 2 BC for excessive extramarital activity. Julia's daughter Agrippina (1) produced nine children in the cause, one of whom became the emperor Caligula. Another child of hers, Agrippina (2), produced just one infant, Nero, but she was a determined woman, married the emperor Claudius and wheeled and dealt (and some say poisoned) her way into ensuring that Nero was adopted as Claudius' successor. …

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