My favorite books on Roman Britain (by a Roman crime novelist)

Why am I passionate about this?

A family visit to Hadrian’s Wall first sparked my interest in Roman Britain, and since then I’ve written eight novels, one novella, and a couple of short stories featuring Roman Army Medic and reluctant sleuth Gaius Petreius Ruso and his British partner, Tilla. I’m the owner of an archaeological trowel and infinite curiosity, both of which I wield as often as possible in search of the “real” Roman Britain. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Medicus

What is my book about?

A serial killer is on the loose in Roman-occupied Britain, and Gaius Petreius Ruso is out to catch him... if he isn't killed first. The Gods are not smiling on army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso in his new posting in Britannia. He has vast debts, long shifts, and an overbearing hospital administrator to deal with . . . not to mention a serial killer stalking the local streets.

Barmaids' bodies are being washed up with the tide and no one else seems to care. It's up to Ruso to summon all his skills to investigate, even though the breakthroughs in forensic science lie centuries in the future, and the murderer may be hunting him down too. If only the locals would just stop killing each other and if only it were possible to find a decent glass of wine, and someone who can cook, Ruso's prospects would be a whole lot sunnier....

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Roman Britain

Ruth Downie Why did I love this book?

This is the British Museum’s take on Roman Britain and as you’d expect, there are gorgeous photos on every page. If you can drag your eyes away from the visual feast, the text is intelligent and informative and there are suggestions for further reading. Don’t just leave it adorning the coffee table – pick it up and discover a lost world!

By Richard Hobbs, Ralph Jackson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roman Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The British Museum's new introductory guide to Roman Britain combines an informative text with first-class design and is illustrated with plentiful artefacts from the museum's collections. Throughout the book the emphasis is on cultural interaction and change, showing the impact of the Roman presence, but also British survivals; the book starts, perhaps unusually for general guides of this kind, with a section on pre-Roman Britain, and ends with a chapter on Britons after Rome. In between we learn about the military, the new literate culture introduced by Rome, about the impact of Rome on the rural economy, and on life…


Book cover of Britain Begins

Ruth Downie Why did I love this book?

First, a confession: this book is not strictly about Roman Britain. But more lovely photos, plus lots of maps and plans, give us fascinating clues about life in these islands before—and after—the invasion. After all, even in “Roman” Britain, plenty of people were more or less beyond the sphere of Imperial control. 

By Barry Cunliffe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The last Ice Age, which came to an end about 12,000 years ago, swept the bands of hunter gatherers from the face of the land that was to become Britain and Ireland, but as the ice sheets retreated and the climate improved so human groups spread slowly northwards, re-colonizing the land that had been laid waste. From that time onwards Britain and Ireland have been continuously inhabited and the resident population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 60
million.

Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples,…


Book cover of An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC - AD 409

Ruth Downie Why did I love this book?

Part of what fascinates me about Roman Britain is the idea that centuries before Britain took control of large areas of the globe, we were once a scatter of remote islands on the fringe of somebody else’s Empire.  This book attempts to tell the story of the Roman occupation without starting from the assumption that the invasion was a Good Thing. After all, not everyone was desperate for better roads, posh crockery and a flashy bath house. 

By David Mattingly,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked An Imperial Possession as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part of the Penguin History of Britain series, An Imperial Possession is the first major narrative history of Roman Britain for a generation. David Mattingly draws on a wealth of new findings and knowledge to cut through the myths and misunderstandings that so commonly surround our beliefs about this period. From the rebellious chiefs and druids who led native British resistance, to the experiences of the Roman military leaders in this remote, dangerous outpost of Europe, this book explores the reality of life in occupied Britain within the context of the shifting fortunes of the Roman Empire.


Book cover of Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain

Ruth Downie Why did I love this book?

A modern tour around sites of Roman Britain, and a fascinating look at the stories we later Britons have told ourselves about the Roman era over the ensuing centuries – in ways that perhaps say more about us than they do about the Romans. 

By Charlotte Higgins,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Under Another Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What does Roman Britain mean to us now? How were its physical remains rediscovered and made sense of? How has it been reimagined, in story and song and verse? Sometimes on foot, sometimes in a magnificent, if not entirely reliable, VW camper van, Charlotte Higgins sets out to explore the ancient monuments of Roman Britain. She explores the land that was once Rome’s northernmost territory and how it has changed since the years after the empire fell. Under Another Sky invites us to see the British landscape, and British history, in an entirely fresh way: as indelibly marked by how…


Book cover of Roman Britain: A Sourcebook

Ruth Downie Why did I love this book?

This is the place to go for the written evidence, conveniently gathered together in one slim paperback: all the way from the distant whispers of early Mediterranean travellers to fifth-century Christian writers. Letters, coins, altars, curses, graffiti and gravestones find a place here beside the scrolls of historians for whom “good writing” was not always synonymous with “sticking to the facts”. 

By Stanley Ireland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roman Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Roman Britain: A Sourcebook has established itself as the only comprehensive collection of source material on the subject. It incorporates literary, numismatic and epigraphic evidence for the history of Britain under Roman rule, as well as translations of major literary sources.

This new edition includes not only recently discovered material, but also the texts of Caesar's commentaries on his expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC, as well as relevant sections of Tacitus' biography of his father-in-law, former governor of Britain. The inclusion of these pivotal texts, which provide the most detailed account of the Romans campaigns in Britain,…


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Book cover of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

Antonieta Contreras Author Of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

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Why am I passionate about this?

As a trauma therapist and dedicated researcher, I love uncovering valuable insights within lesser-known books. There are hidden gems, free from the pressure of commercial success, crafted by authors deeply committed to research, understanding, and the art of writing itself. Their dedication resonates with me, as I believe in the profound value of information and the power of critical thinking. Through my own book, Traumatization and Its Aftermath, I aim to emphasize that psychological concepts often lose their depth in translation and my mission is spreading awareness and fostering a deeper understanding of trauma and its intricate facets. With that idea in mind, I chose these five titles. 

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What is my book about?

A fresh take on the difference between trauma and hardship in order to help accurately spot the difference and avoid over-generalizations.

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Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

What is this book about?

The book is comprehensive, bold, and practical-a much-needed resource for the assessment and treatment of trauma. Instead of the traditional focus on the overall importance of healing, Traumatization and its Aftermath decodes why some people don't heal as easily as others, analyzes the various failures of diagnosis, and explains how to make therapeutic interventions truly effective.

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