Exclusive media partner: The New York Times


Receive regular updates about forthcoming events and other news from Intelligence Squared


You have been added to our mailing list and will now be among the first to hear about events.


The Untold Story of Messalina: The most Notorious Woman of the Roman Empire

Classicist Honor Cargill-Martin explores Messalina's reputation in the context of her time and explains who she really was

Messalina was the third wife of the Emperor Claudius and one of the most notorious women of the Roman world. Historians Tacitus and Suetonius wrote that the Empress Messalina was ‘a ruthless and sexually insatiable schemer.’ The stories they told about her included nightly visits to a brothel and a twenty-four-hour sex competition with a prostitute. Tales like these have defined the empress’s legacy but is her story more complex? 

In June 2023 classicist Honor Cargill-Martin came to Intelligence Squared to reveal the truth about arguably one of the most slandered and underestimated female figures of ancient history. She described a woman battling to assert her position in the overwhelmingly male world of imperial Roman politics – and succeeding. Intelligent, passionate and ruthless when she needed to be, Cargill-Martin argued that Messalina’s story encapsulates the cut-throat political maneuvering and excessive lifestyle of the Roman elite in their heyday. 



Honor Cargill-Martin

Author, classicist, and art historian

Author, classicist, and art historian. She has masters degrees in Greek and Roman history and Italian Renaissance art and is currently studying for a doctorate focusing on political sex scandals in Ancient Rome at Christ Church College, Oxford. She has published a number of children's fiction titles and her debut non-fiction title is Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery.   

Dan Jones

One of Britain's best known historians

One of Britain's best known historians. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Powers and Thrones, Crusaders and most recently the novel Essex Dogs. He is the host of the podcast This is History: A Dynasty to Die For and has produced, written, and presented dozens of TV shows, including the popular Netflix series Secrets of Great British Castles.