The best books on ancient Rome from an archaeologist and historian

Duane W. Roller Author Of Empire of the Black Sea: The Rise and Fall of the Mithridatic World
By Duane W. Roller

Who am I?

I have spent 50 years studying, teaching, and writing about Roman history, participating in and leading many archaeological expeditions to the Roman world, particularly in Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the Levant. I have written a dozen books on the ancient world, including the best-selling Cleopatra: A Biography. Ancient Rome is both my expertise and passion.

I wrote...

Empire of the Black Sea: The Rise and Fall of the Mithridatic World

By Duane W. Roller,

Book cover of Empire of the Black Sea: The Rise and Fall of the Mithridatic World

What is my book about?

What is commonly called the kingdom of Pontos flourished for over two hundred years in the coastal regions of the Black Sea. At its peak in the early first century BC, it included much of the southern, eastern, and northern littoral, becoming one of the most important Hellenistic dynasties not founded by a successor of Alexander the Great. It also posed one of the greatest challenges to Roman imperial expansion in the east. Not until 63 BC, after many violent clashes, was Rome able to subjugate the kingdom and its last charismatic ruler Mithridates VI. This book provides the first general history of this important kingdom from its mythic origins in Greek literature (e.g., Jason and the Golden Fleece) to its entanglements with the late Roman Republic. 

The books I picked & why

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A Brief History of the Romans

By Noel Lenski, Richard J.A. Talbert, Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola

Book cover of A Brief History of the Romans

Why this book?

This is probably the best recent one-volume history of Rome, which covers the entire scope of the Roman world from its beginnings to its collapse. It is nicely illustrated, and gives a solid summary of the Roman environment that is easily understood by non-specialists. It is an exciting story: from a village on the Tiber River to ruling the world, an unexpected process that is well laid out.

From the Gracchi to Nero

By H.H. Scullard,

Book cover of From the Gracchi to Nero

Why this book?

This is a focused survey of the most fascinating period in Rome's history, when the ancient Republic evolved into an empire: the era of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and the emperors Augustus, Nero, and others. During this period Rome's expansion meant major internal changes and a century of instability, and I know of no better book that explains why and how this happened.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon,

Book cover of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Why this book?

This is the first great study of the Roman world. Although over 200 years old, it is still influential in the way we look at Rome. It is also one of the great monuments of English prose. Although we may no longer agree with many of his conclusions, it is a joy to read and helps us understand the basis of the Roman world.

The Art of Rome

By Bernard Andreae,

Book cover of The Art of Rome

Why this book?

This is a lavishly illustrated work showing the major pieces of Roman art, an important component of their ideology and self image. It explains how the Romans built on the Greek tradition of art and architecture and created their own artistic world, much of which is still with us today.

I, Claudius

By Robert Graves,

Book cover of I, Claudius

Why this book?

Although fiction, this is an impressive study of the early years of the Roman empire, and was the basis of the popular televisions series of the 1970s. It is well worth reading for a more personal insight into the Roman world. Everything Graves describes is documented in some way in the ancient texts.

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