The best ancient history books that challenge assumptions

Henry Davis Author Of Creating Christianity - A Weapon Of Ancient Rome
By Henry Davis

Who am I?

Henry Davis is an independent historical researcher who has been studying ancient history for over 20 years. Even though he wanted to embark on a formal education studying the Classics, he suffered from extreme anxiety and felt he could not do so. He resorted to self-study, with help from family and friends, who had degrees in Classical studies, and began reading the work of respected historians/scholars/classicists, Dame Mary Beard, Tom Holland, Sir Ronald Syme, Gavin Townend, and Anthony Birley, to name only a few.


I wrote...

Creating Christianity - A Weapon Of Ancient Rome

By Henry Davis,

Book cover of Creating Christianity - A Weapon Of Ancient Rome

What is my book about?

A profound and controversial investigation of a complex theme - the war that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the creation of the Christian religion. The religious and political battle between the people of Judea and the Jewish and Roman aristocracies is presented in an unconventional narrative, which investigates ancient evidence, quotes from the work of respected authorities on the subject, and states controversial opinions openly. Its main conclusion is that the New Testament (the new law) was created by a powerful senatorial family called the Calpurnius Pisos, who had the full support of their relatives, the Herodian royal family (the family of ‘Herod the Great’), and the Flavian emperors, with the Piso family hiding their name within the Koine Greek scriptures. The result is a book that is both provocative and compelling.

The books I picked & why

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The Roman Revolution

By Ronald Syme,

Book cover of The Roman Revolution

Why this book?

Considered a controversial masterpiece, this book has helped reveal far more than many realize. It examined the fall and overthrow of the Roman Republic and the re-establishment of the monarchy centered on the life and career of Octavian, who became Augustus, the first emperor. Syme, a much-respected scholar of ancient Rome, was immensely skilled in the use of prosopography, the technique of examining and tracing genealogical connections between the various leading families of republican and imperial Rome. He showed that republican Rome was ruled by an oligarchy, in this case, where a small group of powerful people, related by blood, marriage links, are in control. Syme’s expertise in examining the nomenclature of ancient history has allowed further discoveries to be made, mainly the family connections between the Roman Emperors of the first and second centuries. This is not the best book for an introduction to Roman history, but it is an incredibly important one for revealing the family relationships and political motivations of the Roman aristocracy. This is not just ancient history, but very much portrays how politics functions now.

The Roman Revolution

By Ronald Syme,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Roman Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Roman Revolution is a profound and unconventional treatment of a great theme - the fall of the Republic and the decline of freedom in Rome between 60 BC and AD 14, and the rise to power of the greatest of the Roman Emperors, Augustus. The transformation of state and society, the violent transference of power and property, and the establishment of Augustus' rule are presented in an unconventional narrative, which quotes from ancient evidence, refers
seldomly to modern authorities, and states controversial opinions quite openly. The result is a book which is both fresh and compelling.


Encyclopaedia Biblica

By John Sutherland Black, Thomas Kelly Cheyne,

Book cover of Encyclopaedia Biblica

Why this book?

The official title of the book is ‘Encyclopedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political and Religious History, the Archaeology, Geography, and Natural History of the Bible.' This work was produced by various professors of Oxford University and was a continual work from 1899-1903. It seems to be rarely mentioned by historians and Biblical scholars today, and I am recommending this work because there is a considerable wealth of information in it, and any student of history would find it incredibly useful. The Oxford professors critically examined ancient folklore and legends, without being swayed by traditional opinions of the time. For example, the origins of the people of Israel, and Egyptian and Hittite history are thoroughly examined, as is the Biblical literature. Interestingly, in this work, the professors doubted the existence of Nazareth, stating: ‘Was Nazareth originally the name of a town (or village) at all? There are two NT passages which may well suggest a doubt...’(page 362, column 3360).

Encyclopaedia Biblica

By John Sutherland Black, Thomas Kelly Cheyne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Encyclopaedia Biblica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…


Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

By Anthony Birley,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

Why this book?

This is a very scholarly, decent history of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, full of direct quotes and personal letters. A great alternative to Marcus’ Meditations, this book examines the family politics concerning his son Commodus, and his wars with Parthia and Germany. Birley also provides, in Appendix I, information regarding which sources he considers good and bad in regards to Roman historiography, as he became the main student of Sir Ronald Syme, a reader can feel safe that the information is well researched. I feel all scholars and those passionate about the history of imperial Rome should have a copy of this book.

Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

By Anthony Birley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Marcus Aurelius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor who ruled the Roman Empire between AD 161 and 180, is one of the best recorded individuals from antiquity. Even his face became more than usually familiar: the imperial coinage displayed his portrait for over 40 years, from the clean-shaven young heir of Antonius to the war-weary, heavily bearded ruler who died at his post in his late fifties.
His correspondence with his tutor Fronto, and even more the private notebook he kept for his last ten years, the Meditations, provides a unique series of vivid and revealing glimpses into the character and peoccupations of this…


Myth of Persecution

By Candida Moss,

Book cover of Myth of Persecution

Why this book?

Certain events that the ancient writers described, do not always seem to fit within the time they were writing, and I very much enjoy books that question what was written. In my opinion, this book by Candida Moss is very provocative, as it challenges the traditional view of the alleged persecution of Christians. A particular point she makes is in regards to the Roman historian, Tacitus, she states: ‘Tacitus’s Annals dates to 115-20 (CE), at least fifty years after the events he describes. His use of the term “Christian” is somewhat anachronistic. It’s highly unlikely that, at the time the Great Fire occurred, anyone recognized Jesus followers as a distinct and separate group.’ Although this book leaves questions unanswered, it offers a great deal to think about. Another scholar of note, who also argues against the idea that Christians were a special group being attacked by the Roman state or Nero, is Andrew Fleming West, Professor of Classics at Princeton University, his article is titled ‘The Myth of the Neronian Persecution.

Myth of Persecution

By Candida Moss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Myth of Persecution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss, a leading expert on early Christianity, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the dangerous legacy of a martyrdom complex is employed today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors.
 
According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the fourth century, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire intent on their destruction. As the story goes, vast numbers of believers were thrown to the lions, tortured, or burned alive because…


The Jewish War

By Flavius Josephus,

Book cover of The Jewish War

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because a lot of my own work has involved examining this book very deeply, and gaining a new and very controversial understanding of it. The Jewish War is considered by many historians as probably the greatest history book of all time, and if not the greatest, then it is in the top 10. It documents, in great detail, the war between the people of Judea and the Roman aristocracy. The individual known as Josephus describes himself as a general in the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 CE, and then later switches sides. He has been described as one of the first war correspondents, with his work being considered one of the most important sources of first-century history. Josephus’ work was included in some of the handwritten Bibles in the Eastern Christian churches of Armenia and Syria. Latin editions of the Bible also included Wars of the Jews and his other work, Antiquities of the Jews, and this was because his work was seen as describing the same prophecy described in the Gospels, that of the destruction of Jerusalem

The Jewish War

By Flavius Josephus,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Jewish War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Josephus' account of a war marked by treachery and atrocity is a superbly detailed and evocative record of the Jewish rebellion against Rome between AD 66 and 70. Originally a rebel leader, Josephus changed sides after he was captured to become a Rome-appointed negotiator, and so was uniquely placed to observe these turbulent events, from the siege of Jerusalem to the final heroic resistance and mass suicides at Masada. His account provides much of what we know about the history of the Jews under Roman rule, with vivid portraits of such key figures as the Emperor Vespasian and Herod the…


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