["Hera Ludovisi," actually an image of Antonia Minor, 1st century CE]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Not much is known of her life. She was the secretary and former slave of Antonia Minor (daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia), though whether she took up with Vespasian before or after her manumission is unknown. She seems to have been Vespasian’s mistress long before the death of Flavia Domitilla, his wife, though whether or not they continued the relationship while he was married is unknown. She officially became his concubine after he became a widower.*
We do know that she was literate, highly intelligent, and had an excellent memory. She successfully navigated the intrigues of Imperial politics long before Vespasian took power and used her skills to greatest effect, first as Antonia’s secretary and only later as Vespasian’s concubine. According to Cassius Dio, she once told her mistress, “I carry everything that you have written and anything else you tell me in my mind and no one can ever erase them.”** Once Vespasian became emperor, she used her intelligence and ambition to further both of their interests and gained quite a lot of power for herself. He delegated to her the selling of government offices, priesthoods, etc. Anytime anyone had reason to give money to the Emperor, it went through her and she used the position wisely, making both the Empire and herself as an individual quite wealthy. She died in 74 CE a wealthy, and by all accounts, happy woman.
[Funerary Inscription for Antonia Caenis, CIL 6.12037, 1st century CE]
[Source: Online Companion to The Worlds of Roman Women]
**Cassius Dio, History of Rome 65.14, translated by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: a Sourcebook in Translation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.