The best books on Parthia and the war with Rome in the 1st century bce

Andrew Levkoff Author Of The Other Alexander
By Andrew Levkoff

Who am I?

I grew up on Long Island, New York, got a BA in English from Stanford, then put that hard-earned degree to dubious use in the family packaging business. After a decade of trying to convince myself to think 'inside the box (lots of them), I fled to Vermont where I attempted to regain my sanity by chopping wood and shoveling snow off my roof for 8 years. (Okay, I came down off the roof every once in a while.) Like a fine cocktail, I was by then thoroughly chilled; what could be better after this than no sunshine for 13 years. That's right - Seattle. Since 2006 I have been taking the cure in Arizona, where my skin has darkened to a rich shade of pallid. Here it was that I finally realized, under the heading of hopefully-better-late-than-never, that I needed to return to my first love - writing. I live in Tempe with my wife, Stephany and our daughter, Allison, crowded into close proximity by hundreds of mineral specimens Steph and I have collected while rockhounding. "They're just a bunch of rocks," says Allison. Ouch.

I wrote...

The Other Alexander

By Andrew Levkoff,

Book cover of The Other Alexander

What is my book about?

The first triumvirate. Most lovers of Roman history are familiar with two of them, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, but the third is often given short shrift. He was Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Why would a sixty-year-old senator, with more wealth and power than any Roman, leave his lush estates, his loving wife, to tramp fifteen hundred miles to wage war on the mysterious Parthian empire to the east? Why indeed. Historians say greed and jealousy sent him to war, but I believe there was a deeper, more personal reason, which I explore in The Other Alexander.

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The books I picked & why

The King Must Die

By Mary Renault,

Book cover of The King Must Die

Why did I love this book?

This is the book that began my passion for writing historical fiction. Published in 1958, I read it in my early teens and became hooked on modern interpretations of ancient stories. This is no dry retelling of the legend of Theseus, early king of Athens, slayer of the dread Minotaur, but a fully formed relatable character who learns, grows, and conquers. I like to think that Renault was peering over my shoulder to inform my own writing.

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The King Must Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Theseus is the grandson of the King of Troizen, but his paternity is shrouded in mystery - can he really be the son of the god Poseidon? When he discovers his father's sword beneath a rock, his mother must reveal his true identity: Theseus is the son of Aegeus, King of Athens, and is his only heir. So begins Theseus's perilous journey to his father's palace to claim his birth right, escaping bandits and ritual king sacrifice in Eleusis, to slaying the Minotaur in Crete. Renault reimagines the Theseus myth, creating an original, exciting story.

Book cover of The Life Of Crassus (Plutarch's Lives)

Why did I love this book?

This is as close to the horse’s mouth as we can get, yet it’s still a hundred years after the events of Republican Rome’s demise. Remember the Viet Nam war? It was one of America’s great foreign policy failures. Rome hated failure like a teenager hates acne. Cover it up, deny it, erase it. That is what Plutarch does in this work. I think it speaks to Crassus' towering achievements that Plutarch has anything nice to say about him at all!

By Plutarch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life Of Crassus (Plutarch's Lives) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of Rome's richest man, who died a humiliating desert death in search of military glory

"A perfectly paced biography."-Tom Holland, Times Literary Supplement

Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 BCE) was a modern man in an ancient world, a pioneer disrupter of finance and politics, and the richest man of the last years of the Roman republic. Without his catastrophic ambition, this trailblazing tycoon might have quietly entered history as Rome's first modern political financier. Instead, Crassus and his son led an army on an unprovoked campaign against Parthia into what are now the borderlands of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq,…

Caesar's Women

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of Caesar's Women

Why did I love this book?

Here is a spellbinding history of life toward the end of the Roman republic, so broad in scope, so detailed in its analysis, it is a wonder of exhaustive research distilled into one thrilling narrative after another. McCullough is a must for any lover of antiquity.

By Colleen McCullough,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Caesar's Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of "Thornbirds", this is the fourth in the "Masters of Rome" series and centres around Caesar in his ascension. The Republic of Rome is as much a place of women as it is of men, and no one knows Rome's women quite as Caesar does.

Book cover of The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy: Or, the Geography, History, & Antiquities of Parthia

Why did I love this book?

Although this book was first published in 1873, it remains one of the foundations of research on the Parthian Empire. Why do I include it among these more modern works? Here’s an excerpt:

"Of the thirty sons who still remained to Orodes, king of Parthia, [he] selected as his successor Phraates, the eldest of the thirty. Orodes proceeded further to abdicate in his favour, whereupon Phraates became king. Phraates, jealous of some of his brothers, removed them by assassination, and when the ex-monarch ventured to express disapproval, added the crime of parricide to fratricide by putting to death his aged father."

The book is full of astounding little gems like this. That’s why. It is a fascinating exploration of one of the great, but few understood empires of the ancient world.

By George Rawlinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…

Book cover of Defeat of Rome in the East: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC

Why did I love this book?

I purchased this book in 2008, while I was researching The Other Alexander. However, I refused to open it until I had completed my own research over a year later. I did not want it to color my own work surrounding the history of Marcus Crassus. Why do I love it? Because here was a scholar with far more credentials than I who, it turns out, agreed with the premise of my own novels.

By Gareth C. Sampson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Defeat of Rome in the East as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 53BC the Proconsul Marcus Crassus and 36,000 of his legionaries were crushed by the Parthians at Carrhae in what is now eastern Turkey. Crassus' defeat and death and the 20,000 casualties his army suffered were an extraordinary disaster for Rome. The event intensified the bitter, destructive struggle for power in the Roman republic, curtailed the empire's eastward expansion and had a lasting impact on the history of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It was also the first clash between two of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world. Yet this critical episode has often been neglected by writers…

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