Episode #109: Women of Ancient Rome and Italy: the untold story

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Listen to “Women of Ancient Rome and Italy: The Untold Story” on Spreaker.


Italy has a rich and exciting past but how many of the stories, history books and hence tours we experience in Italy are focused on the powerful male protagonists who wrote these narratives? We take a look at the past from a different perspective and learn about Italy’s history of influential women and the women’s history experiences created by LivTours.

Show notes
Angelo Carotenuto, founder of Liv Tours, a family-owned Italian tour company with plenty of adopted family members, all of whom have a passion for Italy. Liv Tours offer 200+ tours in over 25 cities in Europe, with expert guides who will help you fall in love with Italian history, culture, and food. We learn about their new series of women’s history focused tours offering a different and unique perspective into the sites and histories of the women who influenced Italy.  Angelo tells us some of the stories that are often untold or forgotten. The inspiring Women of Ancient Rome tour is available now and launching soon will be the Women of the Vatican, Women of Florence, and Women of Venice

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About our guest – Angelo Carotenuto

In 2012 a world-renowned Italian-American tour guide and classically trained opera singer meets Swedish logistics expert Kristin in Rome. They fell in love and then created what they love – an eco-tourism company focused on the country where Angelo was born and the same country that brought them together. 

LivItaly Tours rapidly grew to be a leader in the industry thanks to the high-quality services, unique small group tours of max 6 people and private experiences that allow the traveler to not just visit Italy, but to live it! Sustainability has always been a key factor for LivItaly and the company is in the final stage of receiving a green certification. Where large group tours are exploiting the country’s heritage, LivItaly’s small group tours are exploring it and always gives back to the local community. 

For 10 years travellers have loved the huge selection of tours and experiences, the intimacy of the small groups, and the extraordinary tour guides. And after a lot of requests, LivItaly has expanded to France, Spain, and England and is today known as LivTours.

You can find Liv Tours on these channels:

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Liv Tours has recently created a series with a fascinating and unique concept – to have tours that focus on the women that so often get side-lined in the stories of Italy. Their women-focused tours begin with Women of Ancient Rome – touring the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, learning about the status quo, roles, and forgotten importance women had behind the scenes in ancient Roman society
  2. Angelo had been a tour guide in Italy for some time, running his own tour company in which he was later joined by wife Kristin when they decided to change direction slightly. They decided that in order to give people the tours that they really dreamed about – their group tours were going to be set at a maximum of six people per tour guide, thus giving the guides the ability to eliminate all sorts of tour stereotypes that probably don’t fit into your ideal of a dream tour – flags, headsets, running to catch up to the tour guide
  3. Keeping with small groups gives the opportunity to their tour guides to show more of their passion for their subject. They have passion about their country, they have passion about their culture – and by eliminating headsets, flags, and generally organising a ton of people, they are able to more easily transmit that passion, giving people those goosebumps when they hear these fascinating stories and the opportunity to divert the conversation – ask questions and have conversations
  4. Angelo and Kristin are a small family business and rely on word of mouth and returning clients and they were asking about us doing tours in other cities and after having so many requests for tours in other cities, a little while BC (before covid) they decided to expand their tours to outside of Italy, using the same rules – small groups and passionate tour guides. They’ve now opened in Paris and Barcelona and are set to open in other cities, though with over 200 tours in over 25 cities in Italy – Italy is at the heart of everything they do
  5. In the first few months of lockdown, the idea for a new concept of tour came about. Many historians say that there are times when huge shifts happen and that’s an opportunity to go back into yourself and start being creative again – as you really put things into perspective. The Renaissance was a great example when creativity and intellect started growing and becoming fascinating again – right after a moment of sorrow and darkness. This for Angelo and Kristin is when the concept of Women-Focused tours began to take shape
  6. The initial idea was the ability to present history and characters and happenings in a way that is different from what we’re taught at school. So for instance the first idea, that they developed quite yet was the World War II series. The idea to create a bunch of World War II-themed tours across all of our destinations – Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, Paris from different perspectives to the usual.  Because history is often told by the victorious, yet it’s interesting to spend time in a place and understand how the losers may want to tell their story and their part of what happened. On a similar note, history is an extraordinarily masculine subject. The history and the books and therefore the tours are talking about the men of the stories and of the past. On a Vatican tour, they’ll not talk about the Sibyls – the female prophets painted by Michaelangelo inside the Sistine Chapel. They’ll not talk about the wife of the Laocoön priest of Troy, who saw his husband being dragged into the waters by a snake with their two sons – she lost a husband and two sons in one single dramatic mythological event. They’ll not talk about Michelangelo’s beloved mother, or Raphael’s. They might talk about his sexual inclination, but not about the influence that women and female figures might have had on these people. Nor do they stop at actual art pieces that are made by females or women
  7. The creation of these tours takes a huge amount of research. Access to the material is not easy – partly due to the male focus of regular history books, so the tour managers have to be really inquisitive and delve into far deeper research and unexpected places to find the nuggets of information
  8. Angelo’s direction to their tour guide managers is – we’re never going to talk about men on these tours and no tour will be the same in terms of content. The relationship to the discussion and presentations about women on these tours will not be a formula – every destination and its stories present themselves in a different way
  9. Liv Tours has 100 spectacular, five star-rated tour guides just in Rome, and they’re phenomenal at every single tour (performance) they do, but because of the research and learning required for this tour only a few will be able to take on the delivery of this type of tour, it’s hardcore research and the knowledge/learning to be able to talk about it for 3 hours
  10. For the Women’s of Ancient Rome tour, you see the exact same sites that you would see in a Colosseum and ancient city tour. You see the same sites you would on a normal tour – but the information and the world opened up to you is completely different.
  11. Looking to some examples of incredible women from the Roman era – Julia Domna, was the wife of Septimius Severus (around the 2nd century BC). Septimius Severus had two children – the oldest one, Geta, was made Emperor. And Caracalla, the youngest one, was tremendously jealous of him – both for becoming an Emperor and also him getting all the love by Julia Domna.  She tried to mediate peace between the two of them but sadly she fails and Caracalla kills Geta. Caracalla then deletes every single image that will recall Geta’s memory to the world and crucially to his mother. He scratched off Geta’s face out of the family portrait. He wants to be the closest and only one to his mother. And when he becomes the Emperor, he makes his mother Co-Empress. She becomes an enormous influence in social, political, philosophical life of ancient Rome
  12. Livia was another fascinating story. Livia was married to a man called Nero (but not that Nero!) whose family had huge animosity between the Octavias family (of whom Augustus would later become Emperor Augustus). Their family lost the fight and is exiled. Livia, of course, goes with them. When Livia is pregnant with Nero’s first child they are finally let back into the country, where she falls in love with Augustus – essentially Nero’s nemesis. Augustus tells Nero on the day of the birth of the son, that he needs to leave Livia, because he’s going to marry her. Nero accepts and walks her down the aisle on the wedding day as a fatherly figure. And over time Livia becomes the most famous, grand, powerful, influential Co-Empress of the beginning of the Roman Empire. She is so well respected by Augustus that he talks about state matters to her which is pretty stunning given that it’s 2000 years ago – a man shares state matters because he wants to hear what his wife has to say about it
  13. This kind of behind-the-scenes power we assume to be behind-the-scenes because we’re taught history that way. But perhaps ancient Romans knew that Augustus depended on Livia and thought of Livia’s figure as the real protector of the sacred value of the choices made by the Emperor. History has been transposed through the centuries, translated, retold recounted, retranslated by man, after man, after man, after man. This is also an enormous issue for perspective and the editing of content/information over time. People who have been telling the stories have virtually always been telling them from that one side
  14. Looking to the Vatican – there is a famous story about Raphael’s lover, the daughter of a baker who made him go nuts and lose his mind for her to the point, legend has it that he got a high fever and consequentially died (essentially from too much sex with her). But that’s the only thing we know, and that’s the only thing we talked about if the myth even comes up in stories of the legend of Raphael’s love life and why he may have died. But no one talks about this woman and who her father the baker was. Did she ever come into the Vatican scene? Did she ever see Raphael’s work? Does Raphael share his work with her? And did she have anything to say about it? Is she painted somewhere? It gets so intriguing and so much more interesting.
  15. The Women of Ancient Rome tour is available now and they’ll soon be launching Women of the Vatican, Women of Florence, and Women of Venice – which you’ll be able to find on the Women’s History section of their website
  16. Looking to the modern-day women of Italy, there is an amazing group of female protagonists in Venice that runs a rowing club. They row on boats that are similar to gondolas, but slightly wider and the technique is very similar. Row Venice offers rowing lessons from which every penny they make goes back into a woman’s association in sports. They do this in Cannaregio, a beautiful off-the-beaten-path district where the canals are tranquil. 

Places mentioned in the show

  • Maranello – a town in the province of Modena in Northern Italy, famous as the home of Ferrari
  • Palazzo Massimo – museum near Termini station in Rome, has to a reconstruction of Livia’s home
  • Vatican Museums – a whole complex of museums attached to the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel
  • Doge’s Palace – a palace built in Venetian Gothic style and landmarks of the city of Venice
  • Cannaregio – the northernmost of the six historic sestieri (districts) of Venice


  • Sibyls – were prophetesses or oracles in Ancient Greece painted by Michael Angelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling – the twelve Prophets and Sibyls
  • Laocoön – the son of Acoetes, is a figure in Greek and Roman mythology. He was a Trojan priest who was attacked, with his two sons, by giant serpents sent by the gods
  • Davide (Falasca) – LivTours Rome Tour Guide Manager
  • Vestal Virgins – In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth
  • Julia Domna – the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus
  • Fulvia – wife of Mark Antony 
  • Livia – Roman empress from 27 BC to AD 14 as the wife of Emperor Augustus.
  • Romulus and Remus – twin brothers whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome. The killing of Remus by his twin, has inspired artists throughout the ages and since ancient times, the image of a she-wolf suckling the twins has been a symbol of the city of Rome
  • Pieta – Renaissance sculpture and the only piece Michelangelo ever signed
  • Giulia Farnese – mistress to Pope Alexander VI, and sister of Pope Paul III. She was known as Giulia la bella, meaning “Julia the beautiful”
  • The Borgias – tv series set in Renaissance-era Italy following the Borgia family in their scandalous ascension to the papacy
  • Margarita Luti – the daughter of a baker and mistress and model of the painter Raphael
  • Catherine de Medici – an Italian noblewoman and queen consort of France from 1547 until 1559, by marriage to King Henry II
  • Mary Beard – English scholar of Ancient Roman civilisation
  • Row Venice – a non-profit organization of passionate women and expert vogatrici – open year-round offering a Venetian rowing lesson

Resources from Untold Italy

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