The best new books about the Roman Empire

Greg Woolf Author Of Rome: An Empire's Story
By Greg Woolf

The Books I Picked & Why

The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

By Nicola Terrenato

The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

Why this book?

This book rewrites the story of how Roman imperialism got started. It is written by one of the best archaeologists in the field, and it shows. It is brilliantly illustrated, and it explains the world into which Rome emerged. Instead of the traditional story of virtuous Roman heroes and bold wars of conquest, it shows why other Italian peoples decided to join up with Rome. We get a sense of how other Italians saw things. And we understand how the ruling families, Roman and Italian alike, came together and built a state that would conquer the Mediterranean in all their interests. Revolutionary!


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Building Mid-Republican Rome: Labor, Architecture, and the Urban Economy

By Seth Bernard

Building Mid-Republican Rome: Labor, Architecture, and the Urban Economy

Why this book?

The monuments we see when we visit Rome were constructed under the emperors. But Rome was already a great metropolis before they began work, one that was architecturally unique and built on a scale to dwarf most ancient cities. What this book does is reconstruct the great building projects of the Republic, beginning with the original fourth-century walls of Rome and the first aqueducts. It asks (and answers) questions like: Where did they get the stone? Who provided the labour? How long did it take them? And what technologies did they use? This was a Rome built without marble, without concrete, and not a royal foundation, but one managed by generations of magistrates riding the wave of a slow economic boom. Completely fascinating.


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Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy

By Elena Isayev

Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy

Why this book?

Migration is the great theme of the twenty-first century. Our experience has set historians on a quest to see how new the mass movement of peoples really is. Isayev’s book is one of the first full-length studies of migration in Roman times.

It is enormously wide-ranging, bringing together the evidence of archaeology and of Roman comedy and history with the insights of geographers and sociologists. We see populations transplanted against their will, enslaved prisoners, hostages, and refugees, but also settlers and traders trying to make their fortune, and explorers and travelling scholars. Best of all we explore the ways that Romans thought about this, sometimes encountering chillingly familiar hostility but more often positive views of new arrivals. Romans often thought of themselves as a city of immigrants, and saw their willingness to accept newcomers as one reason for their success. Isayev does a wonderful job of opening up this new field of Roman history.


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The Science of Roman History: Biology, Climate, and the Future of the Past

By Walter Scheidel

The Science of Roman History: Biology, Climate, and the Future of the Past

Why this book?

Already when I was writing the first edition of Rome. An Empire’s Story it was clear that the subject was being transformed by scientific discoveries. Over the last decade, science-led projects have changed our notions of ancient Roman nutrition and health, of Romans’ impact on the environment, on the animals and plants they farmed, and also of their own vulnerability to plague and climate change. Scheidel, who is a world leader in this field, has gathered together historians using everything from human DNA and skeletal material to the remains of ancient seeds and animals to explain how the life sciences can unlock whole new areas of ancient history. This is a fast-moving field, and this short book gives a crash course on what has been done to date, and what might come next.


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Urban Space and Aristocratic Power in Late Antique Rome: Ad 270-535

By Carlos Machado

Urban Space and Aristocratic Power in Late Antique Rome: Ad 270-535

Why this book?

Many histories of Rome end in the second century that period in which Edward Gibbon judged “the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous”. But there is a great deal of Roman history after that. Rome survived a great military crisis in the third century. The next generation of emperors based themselves near the frontiers to ward off future attacks. Machado’s extraordinary book tells the story of the City of Rome after the emperors had gone, returned into the hands of an aristocracy fascinated by its past but also committed to Roma Aeterna (Eternal Rome). Using statues and inscriptions and archaeology and a mass of little read ancient literature, Machado paints a vivid picture. Far from the new centres of power, the Roman aristocracy rebuilt, repaired, and steered the city through religious transformations, barbarian sacks, and beyond the fall of the western empire.


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