The best books on ancient Rome by ancient Romans

Who am I?

They say true happiness is finding something you love, and getting paid to do it, which makes me one happy bunny. Ancient history has been my passion, my hobby and my job for the past three decades, and I still wake up every morning looking forward to another day of it. Thanks to the internet I can study the classics and still hike in the mountains and kayak the mountain lakes of my corner of British Columbia. It doesn't get better than this.


I wrote...

Hercules: The First Superhero

By Philip Matyszak,

Book cover of Hercules: The First Superhero

What is my book about?

Hercules the superman, the monsterslaying machine, the myth – who was the man beneath the lionskin headdress, and does he really live up to his legend? This unique biography tells the story of the first superhero from his traumatic birth to his dramatic death.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Golden Ass

Philip Matyszak Why did I love this book?

Not so much a novel as a loosely connected set of rambling anecdotes dealing with everything from incompetent market officials to Greek myth and sex and superstition. The whole thing is told with great verve and is a sackful of fun. Try P.G. Walsh's translation available from Oxford. World Classics.

By Apuleius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written towards the end of the second century AD, The Golden Ass tells the story of the many adventures of a young man whose fascination with witchcraft leads him to be transformed into a donkey. The bewitched Lucius passes from owner to owner - encountering a desperate gang of robbers and being forced to perform lewd 'human' tricks on stage - until the Goddess Isis finally breaks the spell and Lucius is initiated into her cult. Apuleius' enchanting story has inspired generations of writers such as Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Keats with its dazzling combination of allegory, satire, bawdiness and…


Book cover of The War Nerd Iliad

Philip Matyszak Why did I love this book?

Don't look for some high-brow version full of pseudo-Shakespearean language. Homer's story is a blood-and-guts tale (literally) of hard-bitten heroes, feuding among spiteful gods and bombastic military commanders. Try John Dolan's version from Feral house publishing, deliberately written as he imagined the story was first told – by soldiers sitting around a campfire exchanging yarns.

By Homer, John Dolan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

We recognize the names: Achilles, Odysseus, Zeus, and Apollo. We're taught that The Iliad is a foundational text of civilization. But who has really read the text? Until now, The Iliad was hijacked by academics and used to bludgeon schoolchildren as a boring-yet- mandatory reading.

Poet, novelist, essayist, and former teacher John Dolan revisits this ancient tale and restores it to its ancient glory. The Greeks and Trojans are still fighting. The gods are still interfering. But in Dolan's version, you'll be amazed at how funny, raw, and terrifying this doomed world of war really is. He strips away clunky,…


Book cover of Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers

Philip Matyszak Why did I love this book?

Ever wonder where Shakespeare got his ideas from? He plundered the classics, especially Plutarch and Plautus. Plautus can't really complain about that as his plays are mostly re-workings of (now lost) Greek originals. This play is Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, set 1500 years earlier. It's still a good read and should elicit a few giggles. Try Riley's translation on Digireads.

By Plautus, Henry Thomas Riley (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered to be Plautus's greatest play, "Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers" is the story of two twin brothers, Menaechmus and Sosicles, who are separated at age seven when their father takes Menaechmus on a business trip. This classic play, which provided the inspiration for Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors", draws heavily on the theme of mistaken identity.


Book cover of Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories

Philip Matyszak Why did I love this book?

A self-contained description of a war fought in Africa against an ambitious monarch, in which the Roman superpower struggles with an elusive enemy. Roman efforts are badly hampered by corrupt generals and Sallust, writing a generation later makes no attempt to conceal his contempt for the aristocratic establishment which happily pocketed Jugurtha's bribes. A book that reads well and is relevant today. Get the Oxford University Press edition, and get the Catiline conspiracy thrown in for free.

By Sallust,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sallust (86-c. 35 bc) is the earliest Roman historian of whom complete works survive, a senator of the Roman Republic and younger contemporary of Cicero, Pompey and Julius Caesar. His Catiline's War tells of the conspiracy in 63 bc led by L. Sergius Catilina, who plotted to assassinate numerous senators and take control of the government, but was thwarted by Cicero. Sallust's vivid account of Roman public life shows a Republic in decline, prey to moral corruption and internal strife. In The Jugurthine War he describes Rome's fight in Africa against the king of the Numidians from 111 to 105…


Book cover of The Epigrams Of Martial

Philip Matyszak Why did I love this book?

With this one I'm not going to recommend an edition, because while Martial is witty, bitingly sarcastic and a keen commentator on his society he can also be breathtakingly obscene. Imagine teenage scrawls on toilet walls - if those scrawls were written by Shakespeare - and you'll be close enough. So pick your edition with care – however broad you imagine your mind to be, an unexpurgated Martial will stretch it a bit more and have you chuckling and nodding the rest of the time.

By Henry George Bohn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book has been considered by academicians and scholars of great significance and value to literature. This forms a part of the knowledge base for future generations. So that the book is never forgotten we have represented this book in a print format as the same form as it was originally first published. Hence any marks or annotations seen are left intentionally to preserve its true nature.


You might also like...

Poetic Justice

By Fiona Forsyth,

Book cover of Poetic Justice

Fiona Forsyth Author Of Blood and Shadows

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Rome nerd Teacher Notebook hoarder Thwarted thespian

Fiona's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In the first century, Rome’s celebrated love poet Ovid finds himself in exile, courtesy of an irate Emperor, in the far-flung town of Tomis. Appalled at being banished to a barbarous region at the very edge of the Empire, Ovid soon discovers that he has a far more urgent - and potentially perilous - issue to address. A killer is at large in Tomis.

Somebody is slaughtering animals in a parody of ritual, and the Governor’s advisor Marcus Avitius is under pressure to apprehend the perpetrator. When the killer progresses from animal to human victims, Avitius reluctantly allies himself to the mercurial, tipsy Ovid.

Poetic Justice

By Fiona Forsyth,

What is this book about?

‘Poetic and haunting: Forsyth provides a captivating glimpse into the life of one of Ancient Rome's greatest writers.’ Steven Veerapen, author of the Simon Danforth Mysteries

9 CE.

Rome’s celebrated love poet Ovid finds himself in exile, courtesy of an irate Emperor, in the far-flung town of Tomis.

Appalled at being banished to a barbarous region at the very edge of the Empire, Ovid soon discovers that he has a far more urgent - and potentially perilous - issue to address. A killer is at large in Tomis.

Somebody is slaughtering animals in a parody of ritual, and the Governor’s…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, and Rome?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, and Rome.

Ancient Rome Explore 284 books about ancient Rome
Ancient Greece Explore 132 books about Ancient Greece
Rome Explore 313 books about Rome