The best books on the ancient city of Rome

Who am I?

Simon has been a student and historian of ancient Rome for most of his life, and has authored one non-fiction work and numerous historical novels set in the era, a number of them set in the ancient city itself. He has spent time in Rome over the decades, hunting down traces of the ancient city and studying architecture and finds, ever deepening his understanding of the place, how it worked, what it looked like, and its place in the world. Rome is the core of three decades of research for Simon.

I wrote...


By Simon Turney,

Book cover of Commodus

What is my book about?

Rome is enjoying a period of stability and prosperity. The Empire's borders are growing, and there are two sons in the imperial succession for the first time in Rome's history. But all is not as it appears. Cracks are beginning to show. Two decades of war have taken their toll, and there are whispers of a sickness in the East. The Empire stands on the brink of true disaster, an age of gold giving way to one of iron and rust, a time of reason and strength sliding into hunger and pain. The decline may yet be halted, though. One man tries to hold the fracturing empire together. To Rome, he is their emperor, their Hercules, their Commodus.

The books I picked & why

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Dans la Rome des Césars

By Gilles Chaillet,

Book cover of Dans la Rome des Césars

Why this book?

This French book is quite simply the best reconstruction of Rome in the age of Constantine you could hope for. If you read French or are happy to translate it, the sections about each area of the city are informative and interesting, accompanied by beautiful photographs, but even if you speak no French and have no intention of reading it, this book is still worthwhile. Between these sections, the book is filled with large, fold-out maps of reconstructed Rome, including every known building and right down to the alleyways, lovingly depicted. I have used it as a source for every book I’ve set in Rome now for the better part of a decade. An invaluable source and lovely work.

24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There

By Philip Matyszak,

Book cover of 24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There

Why this book?

Matyszak is one of the most knowledgeable and most entertaining authors on the subject of the Roman world. His guides to legionaries and gladiators and so on are both fun to read and highly educational. He is extremely accurate in his detail, yet provides that detail in such a way as to be highly enjoyable. 24 Hours in Ancient Rome is a unique book. It takes us through everyday life in the ancient city through the eyes of its people, almost like a reality TV show, hour by hour from the bakers in the middle of the night to the tavern owners at lunchtime, twenty-four guides to the city giving you twenty-four wonderful angles of Rome.

Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide

By Amanda Claridge,

Book cover of Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide

Why this book?

There are many books on the remains to be seen of the ancient city of Rome, but this is by far the best. Most such guides concentrate on the major famous locations and ignore the periphery. Sources that do cover them are usually only very dry academic ones. Arranged by region, the Oxford guide covers a plethora of sites, from the most famous to the relatively obscure, accompanied by detailed plans and photographs. The text is easy to read and is the most informative I’ve found. If you want to see the ancient city on a visit to Rome, do not start without this guide.

A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire

By J.C. McKeown,

Book cover of A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire

Why this book?

This is an absolute treasure trove of knowledge. The book is precisely what it says. Arranged roughly by subject, the book is a collection of tidbits and snippets taken directly from ancient sources. What you are learning are fascinating and often amusing or unbelievable facts on ancient Rome, written by the men who lived there at the time, from Pliny regarding medical bills as a “down payment on death” to Roman naming conventions, you will learn more about ancient Rome from simply browsing this book than you would from any single treatise.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome

By L.J. Trafford,

Book cover of How to Survive in Ancient Rome

Why this book?

This is quite simply the best entry-level guide to the ancient culture, world, and city of Rome I have found. Written in a humorous and engaging manner, it walks the reader through the history of Rome from its legendary founding to the date the book is nominally set (the reign of Domitian), all from the point of view of someone of Domitian’s time. It covers every subject from the dos and don’ts of dinner parties to the importance of gods. A perfect start for someone new to the subject, and equally entertaining for the scholar.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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