The Best Books On Ancient Roman Society

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Alberto Angela, Gregory Conti

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

Why 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.


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

By Mike Duncan

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

Why 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.


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

By Mary Beard

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

Why 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.


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Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

By Tony Perrottet

Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

Why 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!


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Caesar's Women

By Colleen McCullough

Caesar's Women

Why 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.


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