The best books on ancient Rome at the time of Nero

Who am I?

Having been an actor and a dancer, in college I became interested in the origins of those arts. Curiosity led me to study Greek theater and ancient religions. In the early 2000s, I traveled to Rome with a group of writers, including Terry Brooks, Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Engstrom, and John Saul. As soon as I set foot in Rome, I fell in love with that magnificent city’s history—in particular Vestal Virgins, the most powerful women in the ancient world. That trip inspired me to write Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome, a bestseller in many categories on Amazon.


I wrote...

Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome

By Suzanne Tyrpak,

Book cover of Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome

What is my book about?

Suspense in Ancient Rome Elissa Rubria Honoria is a Vestal Virgin--priestess of the sacred flame, a visionary, and one of the most powerful women in Rome. Vestals are sacrosanct, sworn to chastity on penalty of death, but the emperor, Nero, holds himself above the law. He pursues Elissa, engaging her in a deadly game of wits and sexuality. Or is Elissa really the pursuer? She stumbles on dark secrets. No longer trusting Roman gods, she follows a new god, Jesus of Nazareth, jeopardizing her life and the future of The Roman Empire.

The books I picked & why

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The Twelve Caesars

By Suetonius, Robert Graves (translator),

Book cover of The Twelve Caesars

Why this book?

The Twelve Caesars is the first book I read about ancient Rome, back in college. It’s old. Written by Suetonius, an ancient historian (AD 69 – AD 122, approximately). A wonderful storyteller, with a penchant for embellishment, in this book you’ll find Suetonius’s titillating tales about twelve Caesars including Caligula (notoriously insane), Nero (quite the sociopath), Julius, and others. This book is far from dry, a bestseller since the first century, AD.


What Life Was Like: When Rome Ruled the World: The Roman Empire 100 BC-AD 200

By Time-Life Books,

Book cover of What Life Was Like: When Rome Ruled the World: The Roman Empire 100 BC-AD 200

Why this book?

Frequently, I write about everyday men and women. Consequently, I need to get a feel for what everyday life was like. What did people eat? How did they dress? Where did they work? I visit a lot of museums and have traveled extensively, but when I’m writing at home, I like books with lots of pictures, not only of historical sites, but photos of objects: cookware, weapons, clothing, jewelry, houses. This helps me bring the ancient world to life. This book is packed with pictures and well-researched information.


The History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome

By T. Cato Worsfold,

Book cover of The History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome

Why this book?

When I wrote, Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome, this was the only book I found specifically about the Vestals. Written in 1934, it covers topics including: religious duties, civil duties, dress, and discipline. The Virgins were sworn to chastity on penalty of death, understanding their duties and how they were disciplined was essential to my story. I couldn’t have written my historical novel without help from this book.


The Roman Way

By Edith Hamilton,

Book cover of The Roman Way

Why this book?

In college, I read The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton and while writing Vestal Virgin I discovered she’d written this little book about ancient Rome. An educator and prolific novelist, Hamilton offers us her interpretation of selected works by great Romans. The collection includes: Plautus, Cicero, Livy, Horace, and Vergil. It’s a wonderful, short read for anyone interested in some of the most important writers in history.

I wrote to Edith Hamilton, asking her for research recommendations, not realizing that she’d passed away years earlier. Months later, a large manila envelope arrived from England. Along with a kind letter, her estate sent me several pages of sources. Needless to say, I’m very grateful.


Ancient Rome

By Dorling Kindersley, Simon James,

Book cover of Ancient Rome

Why this book?

Found in the children’s section, I depend Eyewitness Books. I’ve collected a number of them and find them extremely useful for quick reference. Loaded with photographs and snippets of well researched information, they are enjoyable for readers of all ages. Topics in this book include: Family life, the bloody arena, a trip to the baths, worship and sacrifice, a dinner party, and much more. Ancient Rome is brought to life.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rome, ancient Rome, and the Roman Empire?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Rome, ancient Rome, and the Roman Empire.

Rome Explore 204 books about Rome
Ancient Rome Explore 122 books about ancient Rome
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Letters from a Stoic, The Eagle of the Ninth, and Pompeii if you like this list.