The best non-fiction books to immerse yourself in Ancient Rome

Why am I passionate about this?

Curious about Ancient Rome and especially about gladiators, I asked myself, who were the backstage team of the Colosseum? The more I searched for the team, the more I realised there was hardly any mention of them. If there were hundreds of animals, dancers, singers, gladiators, criminals, and more about to be shown off to an audience of 60,000, who was planning and managing it all? And so I created the Colosseum’s backstage team – a retired centurion called Marcus and his scribe Althea, along with a motley crew of slaves, a prostitute, a street boy, even a retired Vestal Virgin… they came alive for me while researching and I eventually created a four-book series.


I wrote...

Book cover of From the Ashes

What is my book about?

They called it the Flavian Amphitheatre. We call it the Colosseum. Let the Games begin.

Rome, 80AD. A gigantic amphitheatre is being built. The Emperor has plans for gladiatorial Games on a vast scale. But Marcus, the man in charge of creating them, has just lost everything he held dear when Pompeii was obliterated by Vesuvius. Now it will fall to Althea, the woman who serves as his scribe, to ensure the Colosseum is inaugurated on time – and that Marcus makes his way out of the darkness that calls to him. Can a motley crew comprising a retired centurion, slaves, a prostitute, and an ex-Vestal Virgin create the greatest Games ever seen? Or will they fail and find themselves in the arena?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rome: In Spectacular Cross-Section

Melissa Addey Why did I love this book?

People sometimes look surprised when I say I start my historical research with children’s books, but when those books are works of art like this one, you’ll quickly see why. Stephen Biesty’s ability to take the most complex of buildings and draw their most intricate workings and construction elements is legendary. Explore the Forum, Temple, Baths, Colosseum, and Circus Maximus in wonderful detail and learn about Ancient Rome at a single glance… or many hours poring over every page. Might be out of print – buy a secondhand copy quickly before they all get snapped up!

By Stephen Biesty, Andrew Solway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

"The ancient city of Rome is the perfect subject for Stephen Biesty's illustrations - beautifully constructed, technologically advanced, and teeming with life. Titus's "Roman Holiday" takes in the Temple, the Forum and the Baths, the Colosseum and chariot racing at the Circus Maximus, all illustrated in stunning, painstaking detail". "There are cross-sections, cut-aways and explosions, authoritative annotations, lists and explanations. Biesty captures the epic scale of the city - the capacity crowd at the Colosseum, for example - and there is some wonderful attention to detail in the architecture and the engineering. But he also succeeds in capturing the humanity…


Book cover of Invisible Romans: Prostitutes, Outlaws, Slaves, Gladiators, Ordinary Men and Women ... The Romans That History Forgot

Melissa Addey Why did I love this book?

This book, for a writer of historical fiction, was a goldmine of potential characters. Bored of emperors and senators? Dive into this book instead, full of ordinary people living ordinary (and extraordinary) lives. Really brings Ancient Rome to life and makes you think about what an ordinary day would be like for the majority of its citizens. 

By Robert Knapp,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Invisible Romans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Knapp brings invisible inhabitants of Rome and its vast empire to life. He seeks out the ordinary men, housewives, prostitutes, freedmen, slaves, soldiers, and gladiators, who formed the fabric of everyday life in the ancient Roman world, and the outlaws and pirates who lay beyond it. He finds their own words preserved in literature, letters, inscriptions and graffiti and their traces in the nooks and crannies of the histories, treatises, plays and poetry created by members of the elite. He tracks down and pieces together these and other tell-tale bits of evidence cast off by the visible mass of…


Book cover of Chariot Racing in the Roman Empire

Melissa Addey Why did I love this book?

Oddly there aren’t actually that many books dedicated solely to chariot racing, but this one makes up for that. Huge amount of detail about everything from wheels to horses, but also a real sense of the passion the Romans had for this sport and just how terrifyingly dangerous it was to be a charioteer… almost makes being a gladiator look like a nice safe desk job! I loved the feel of the race day and all the parts that made it a spectacular event – from the vast crowd to the pre-race parades and the many different roles taking part on the day. Gripping read. 

By Fik Meijer, Liz Waters (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chariot Racing in the Roman Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A massive crowd of people, cloaked in the colors of their beloved athletes, slowly fill a 150,000-seat arena to cheer on their favorite teams. Athletes enter the stadium amid great pomp and circumstance as opposing fans hurl insults at one another and place bets on the day's outcome. Although this familiar scene might describe a contemporary football game, it also portrays a day at the chariot races in ancient Rome, where racers were the sports stars of the ancient world. Following close on the heels of his successful book on gladiators, Fik Meijer reveals all there is to know about…


Book cover of 24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There

Melissa Addey Why did I love this book?

Hour by hour, we follow various Romans as they go about their day, seeing many different jobs and possible fates ahead for a whole cast of characters. Engagingly written, it smoothly shares a real wealth of knowledge and detail about Ancient Rome without falling into the trap of ‘info-dumping’. I really liked that it mainly follows plebians, not the ruling class: no villas and togas here, rather blocks of flats and plain tunics. A great read.

By Philip Matyszak,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 24 Hours in Ancient Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Walk a day in a Roman's sandals ... What was it like to live in one of the ancient world's most powerful and bustling cities - one that was eight times more densely populated than modern day New York?

In this entertaining and enlightening guide, bestselling historian Philip Matyszak introduces us to 24 characters who lived and worked there. In each hour of the day we meet a new character - from a senator to a slave girl, a gladiator to an astrologer, watchmen to washerwomen - and discover the fascinating details of their daily lives.


Book cover of Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World

Melissa Addey Why did I love this book?

A superb title and an irresistible page-turner. I could have filled whole novels with the jobs described here. Each role was interesting in its own right but also collectively built up really interesting cultural insights. A very strong sense of daily life in all its fun and messiness and a brilliant book to engage not just adults but (with a bit of redaction!) older kids too. 

By Vicki Leon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Working IX to V as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vicki Le?n, the popular author of the Uppity Women series (more than 335,000 in print), has turned her impressive writing and research skills to the entertaining and unusual array of the peculiar jobs, prized careers and passionate pursuits of ancient Greece and Rome.

From Architect to Vicarius (a deputy or stand-in)-and everything in between-Working IX to V introduces readers to the most unique (dream incubator), most courageous (elephant commander), and even the most ordinary (postal worker) jobs of the ancient world. Vicki Le?n brought a light and thoughtful touch to women's history in her earlier books, and she brings the…


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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


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