The best books on ancient Roman society

Who am I?

I’m a writer and educator working in central Virginia, and I’ve been in love with the ancient world since my first Latin class back in the seventh grade. I’ve always been interested in social history more than just the chronology of battles and the deeds of famous men, so my research looks for sources that can illuminate daily life and the viewpoints of marginalized populations. I hold a BA in English and History from the College of William and Mary and an MLitt from Mary Baldwin University.

I wrote...

From Unseen Fire

By Cass Morris,

Book cover of From Unseen Fire

What is my book about?

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history. As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily Life, Mysteries, and Curiosities

Why did I love this book?

This book provides an exemplary hour-by-hour guide to what life was like for a citizen of Rome at the height of its power. I love that Angela not only gives us the high-society angle, bringing us into the lush gardens and sumptuous homes of Rome’s wealthy and powerful, but also the crowded apartments and streets that were home to the vast majority of the ancient city’s citizens. You walk alongside them, getting a ground-level view of the patterns of a normal day in all its mundane details, from clothing to food to labor to entertainment, rendered in fascinating prose.

By Alberto Angela, Gregory Conti (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The wondrous extravagance of banquets where flamingos are roasted whole and wine flows like rivers. The roar of frenzied spectators inside the Colosseum during a battle between gladiators. A crowd of onlookers gathered at a slave auction. The silent baths and the boisterous taverns...Many books have dealt with the history of ancient Rome, but none has been able to so engage its readers in the daily life of the Imperial capital.

This extraordinary armchair tour, guided by Alberto Angela with the charm of a born storyteller, lasts twenty-four hours, beginning at dawn on an ordinary day in the year 115…

Book cover of The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

Why did I love this book?

Duncan walks the reader through the generations leading up to the fall of the Republic, examining the political, economic, and social conditions that led to civil war and, eventually, the transition to Empire. While Duncan provides biographies of key figures like the Gracchi brothers, he also sets them in the context of their world: its constraints, its faith, its competing pressures. The Storm Before the Storm opens a window into an under-examined period of history, one which has echoes in modern-day politics.

By Mike Duncan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Storm Before the Storm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. Beginning as a small city-state in central Italy, Rome gradually expanded into a wider world filled with petty tyrants, barbarian chieftains, and despotic kings. Through the centuries, Rome's model of cooperative and participatory government remained remarkably durable and unmatched in the history of the ancient world.

In 146 BC, Rome finally emerged as the strongest power in the Mediterranean. But the very success of the Republic proved to be its undoing. The republican system was unable to cope with the vast empire Rome now ruled:…

Book cover of S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome

Why did I love this book?

No one does comprehensive Roman history like Mary Beard. In detailing the rise of Rome from a humble fishing village to a continent-spanning center of the empire, she takes care to examine the lives of those often left out of the historical narrative: women, the enslaved, immigrants, and the poor. Beard writes with wit and passion, making this highly readable even as it covers a lot of territory.

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked S.P.Q.R as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In SPQR, an instant classic, Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome "with passion and without technical jargon" and demonstrates how "a slightly shabby Iron Age village" rose to become the "undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean" (Wall Street Journal). Hailed by critics as animating "the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life" (Economist) in a way that makes "your hair stand on end" (Christian Science Monitor) and spanning nearly a thousand years of history, this "highly informative, highly readable" (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but…

Book cover of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

Why did I love this book?

This travelogue looks at the Mediterranean with dual vision: one ancient eye and one modern. Perrottet retraces the route taken by the wealthy Romans who were, in a sense, the world’s first tourists, living with enough safety and comfort to travel for leisure rather than necessity. He begins in Italy, then the Greek mainland and some island-hopping, makes a necessary stop in Troy, then moves down the Turkish coast and finally into Egypt. In doing so, he provides perspective both on what the Romans would have expected and discovered along the journey as well as what a modern-day traveller would find 2000 years later. The similarities are as surprising as the differences!

By Tony Perrottet,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The ancient Romans were responsible for many remarkable achievements—Roman numerals, straight roads—but one of their lesser-known contributions was the creation of the tourist industry. The first people in history to enjoy safe and easy travel, Romans embarked on the original Grand Tour, journeying from the lost city of Troy to the Acropolis, from the Colossus at Rhodes to Egypt, for the obligatory Nile cruise to the very edge of the empire. And, as Tony Perrottet discovers, the popularity of this route has only increased with time.

Intrigued by the possibility of re-creating the tour, Perrottet, accompanied by his pregnant girlfriend,…

Caesar's Women

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of Caesar's Women

Why did I love this book?

This is my favorite of McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Though fictional, they are impeccably researched, rendering the collapse of the Republic in truly astonishing detail. McCullough manages to render the twists and turns of Roman politics in a way that a reader can not only follow them, but understand why they mattered so much. You’ll feel as though you are right there in the Forum or the dining-room with Caesar, Antony, Pompey, Servilia, Fulvia, and the rest. McCullough’s vivid prose drives home that these were real people, living real lives, with the same petty concerns and daily frustrations as all of us, even when they were also shaping the fates of nations.

By Colleen McCullough,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Caesar's Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of "Thornbirds", this is the fourth in the "Masters of Rome" series and centres around Caesar in his ascension. The Republic of Rome is as much a place of women as it is of men, and no one knows Rome's women quite as Caesar does.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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