The Best Books About Roman Britain And The Celts

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By David Mattingly

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

Why this book?

I’m not a professional historian; I’m a writer looking for authentic details, and this work is full of them. I read it cover to cover, underlining as I went. Growing up in England, I’d been taught the “wonders” of Roman occupation – The roads! The central heating! The public baths! What I found here was a more dispassionate view of how the Romans both destroyed and vibrantly re-shaped life in Celtic Britain.


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Roman Sussex

By Miles Russell

Roman Sussex

Why this book?

Absolutely invaluable and more narrowly focused, Miles Russell’s Roman Sussex. This one gives the reader great details of ruins and archaeological sites (there are scores of them -- villas and temples and city walls --to be found all around Sussex). I've visited many of these historical sites, both as a student and later. Some of these places are only just coming to light, often by accident as Fishbourne was revealed when a backhoe cutting a trench across an open field hit a section of Roman brickwork. There's also a good discussion here of the real Togidubnus, my protagonist, the Celtic king who was probably the first inhabitant of the enormous palace at Fishbourne.


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The World of the Celts

By Simon James

The World of the Celts

Why this book?

The difference between an account of history and historical fiction is in the sensory images the writer conjures up for the reader --"You are there!" Searching for everyday details to “set the scene” for the novel, I found a wealth of material in this scholarly discussion of Celtic life, dwelling places and weaponry, clothing, technology, history and culture. Lots of useful illustrations here that brought family bonds and Celtic society to life for me.


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Britain and the Celtic Iron Age

By Simon James

Britain and the Celtic Iron Age

Why this book?

Another, more popularly oriented (and much shorter) discussion of Celtic life by Simon James (with Valerie Rigby), has a different focus: Britain and the Celtic Iron Age. Like the longer, less specific to Britain version by this author, this one gave me a much greater “feel” for the life of my characters before and after the Roman conquest. It’s full of photos and illustrations of Celtic artifacts, many of them collected by the British Museum.


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Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire

By Jerome Carcopino

Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire

Why this book?

A historical novel has to do more than just re-tell a part of history. The author has the duty to make history come alive for the reader, even if fictionalized. That means details about daily life and customs, not just buildings and battles. This book was enormously helpful in describing everyday Roman life. What the Romans were eating and wearing in Rome, they probably also ate (as near as they could) and wore in their colonies. Here I found everything from going to the barber to going to the circus.


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