The best books on Roman Britain (by a Roman historian)

Emma Southon Author Of A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome
By Emma Southon

Who am I?

Emma Southon has a PhD in Ancient History from The University of Birmingham and has been obsessed with Romans since she was 16. Her first book for general audiences was Agrippina: A Biography of the Most Extraordinary Woman in Rome and she co-hosts the podcast History is Sexy with the writer Janina Matthewson. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.


I wrote...

A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

By Emma Southon,

Book cover of A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

What is my book about?

In Ancient Rome, all the best stories have one thing in common--murder. Romulus killed Remus to found the city, Caesar was assassinated to save the Republic. Caligula was butchered in the theater, Claudius was poisoned at dinner, and Galba was beheaded in the Forum. In one 50-year period, 26 emperors were murdered.

But what did killing mean in a city where gladiators fought to the death to sate a crowd? In A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Emma Southon examines a trove of real-life homicides from Roman history to explore Roman culture, including how perpetrator, victim, and the act itself were regarded by ordinary people. Inside Ancient Rome's darkly fascinating history, we see how the Romans viewed life, death, and what it means to be human.

The books I picked & why

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

By David Mattingly,

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

Why this book?

David Mattingly is one of the world’s foremost experts on Roman imperialism and a clear-eyed writer with consistently fascinating perspectives. His book on Roman Britain is one of the few that considers the realities of life in colonised Britain and the human impact of Roman imperialism, from the earliest years of Roman invasions and resistance through the final days of Roman Britain four centuries later.

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

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.


The Emperor's Babe

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Book cover of The Emperor's Babe

Why this book?

This novel is a wild and dizzying trip through Roman London in the Third Century by the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. Written in verse full of Latin puns and joyful wordplay, it follows Zuleika, a Sudanese-British girl who ends up having an affair with the emperor Septimius Severus. It might not be the most historically accurate in its depiction of the emperor, but as a depiction of Roman London as a thrilling and multi-cultural city–and as a gripping read—it’s one of a kind.

The Emperor's Babe

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FROM THE BOOKER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR OF GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER

'Wildly entertaining, deeply affecting' Ali Smith

Londinium, AD 211. Zuleika is a modern girl living in an ancient world. She's a back-alley firecracker, a scruffy Nubian babe with tangled hair and bare feet - and she's just been married off a fat old Roman. Life as a teenage bride is no joke but Zeeks is a born survivor. She knows this city like the back of her hand: its slave girls and drag queens, its shining villas and rotting slums. She knows how to get by. Until one day she catches…


Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain

By Charlotte Higgins,

Book cover of Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain

Why this book?

Part travelogue, part history and part consideration of the legacy of Rome in Britain, Higgin’s trip around various Roman sites (mostly in England) is a great exploration of what remains of Roman Britain in the twenty-first century, both in the landscape and in our collective consciousness. It doesn’t aim to provide a chronological history of Roman Britain but instead offers a personal reflection on Romans in Britain more broadly.

Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain

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…


Life and Letters from the Roman Frontier

By Alan K. Bowman,

Book cover of Life and Letters from the Roman Frontier

Why this book?

Vindolanda is one of Britain’s best Roman sites, in part because of the letters which have been discovered. Written by Roman soldiers and their families, these letters include birthday party invitations, complaints about debts and shopping lists and they only surviving letters from a woman to a female recipient. They provide a staggeringly intimate look at daily living in a Romano-British fort and Alan K. Bowman brings the whole site to life.

Life and Letters from the Roman Frontier

By Alan K. Bowman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life and Letters from the Roman Frontier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1998. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.


The Eagle of the Ninth

By Rosemary Sutcliffe,

Book cover of The Eagle of the Ninth

Why this book?

Sometimes, classics are classics for a reason. Here Sutcliffe imagines what happened to the famous Ninth Legion, who vanished on the wrong side of Hadrian’s Wall, through the eyes of young Marcus and his freedman Esca. Originally written for kids, it appeals to all ages because it is full of adventure, touching relationships and plain great writing which conjures a world both familiar and alien.

The Eagle of the Ninth

By Rosemary Sutcliffe,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Eagle of the Ninth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Everyman edition reprints the classic black and white illustrations of C. Walter Hodges which accompanied the first edition in 1954.

Around the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, stationed at Eburacum - modern day York - marched north to suppress a rebellion of the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again. During the 1860s, a wingless Roman Eagle was discovered during excavations at the village of Silchester in Hampshire, puzzling archaeologists and scholars alike. Rosemary Sutcliff weaves a compelling story from these two mysteries, dispatching her hero, the young Roman officer Marcus Aquila, on a perilous journey beyond…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ancient Rome, Roman Britain, and Rome?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ancient Rome, Roman Britain, and Rome.

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