The Best Book Showing Daily Life In Ancient Athens And Rome (At Their Respective Peaks)

Nigel Rodgers Author Of The Colosseum From AD80 To The Present Day
By Nigel Rodgers

The Books I Picked & Why

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

By Robin Lane Fox

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

Why this book?

Robin Lane Fox, best known for his books on Alexander the Great, has produced a superb overview of ancient history, from the emergence of Greece c.776BC to the Roman empire’s zenith under the emperor Hadrian (reigned  AD117-138).  He takes a firmly narrative approach, which makes for a thrilling read. His focus is on the lives of great men such as Pericles, Alexander, and Julius Caesar and on key political and military events rather than on cultural and social factors. While his epic approach may not impress all academics, it will probably still be read with enthusiasm long after more specialist works have been forgotten. Lots of illustrations, some in colour. Ideal for the general reader.


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Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

By Tom Holland

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Why this book?

This is history rewritten almost as a thriller. Zooming through the centuries from 753 BC – the year Rome was traditionally founded – to the death of Augustus the first emperor in AD14, Tom Holland’s sizzling prose grabs you from the start and keeps you reading. His theme is the rise of Rome from an obscure hill village to ruler of the Mediterranean world, his focus is on the last turbulent decades of the Roman Republic torn by civil strife and its final replacement by Augustus’s empire. It was an age of extremes – extreme violence, extreme luxury, extremely brilliant individuals. The Rubicon, incidentally, is a tiny river, once the northern boundary of Italy proper. By crossing it in 49BC, Caesar sparked the civil wars that wrecked the Republic.


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The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome

By Peter Connolly, Hazel Dodge

The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome

Why this book?

This book has the best illustrations of the two main cities of antiquity that l have ever seen. Besides superb photographs (all in colour) of the ruins today, they include Peter Connolly’s brilliant reconstructions of buildings of all sorts: houses, palaces, baths, temples, forums, hippodromes, theatres, amphitheaters, insulae (blocks of flats), bars and aqueducts, plus styles in furniture, clothing, and hair. All are shown in colourful detail, many with cutaway illustrations that recreate city life of 2000 years ago with wonderful vividness. They are complemented by Dr. Hazel Dodge’s lucid, informative text. The first part covers Athens at its democratic peak under Pericles around 434BC, the second Rome at its imperial zenith some 500 years later, when it was the greatest city on earth.


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The Penguin Dictionary of Ancient History

By Graham Speake

The Penguin Dictionary of Ancient History

Why this book?

Dictionaries are not usually meant to be fun but this fact-packed book is so well-written that it is a joy to read. Wonder who on earth was Cicero? What the Punic wars were all about? How the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis? What was so special about Greek theatre? And why  Rome conquered Britain? You will find all the answers here. Besides military and political events, it covers literature, philosophy, art, religion, sport, and society, all the way from 776BC and the first Olympic Games to the end of the Roman Empire in the west in AD476.


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Love, Sex and Tragedy: Why Classics Matter

By Simon Goldhill

Love, Sex and Tragedy: Why Classics Matter

Why this book?

Simon Goldhill powerfully demonstrates why we remain indebted to the ancient world in so many ways. It is not just that classical columns often decorate our buildings or that classical legends inspire our films and books, our whole life still bears the cultural and psychological imprint of ancient Greece and Rome. Our current obsession with gyms, for example, stems from the Greek passion for exercising in public (and they did so naked). Gymnasium is in origin a Greek word. While Greeks and Romans took different views from us on numerous things, from romantic love to slavery, the issues they first confronted and debated still matter. Unsurprisingly for the ancient world, far from being peopled with dead white marble statues gathering dust in museums, throbbed with impassioned life. The echoes of their tumultuous lives haunt us still.


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