The best books on Roman history

Gordon Anthony Author Of In the Shadow of the Wall
By Gordon Anthony

Who am I?

I have had a lifelong love of history, especially ancient history, and have spent years studying it for both interest and pleasure. I also love stories, so I decided to put my knowledge of Roman history to good use, providing what I hope is an authentic backdrop to my novels.


I wrote...

In the Shadow of the Wall

By Gordon Anthony,

Book cover of In the Shadow of the Wall

What is my book about?

Brude, A young pictish warrior, leaves his home in the village of Broch Tava to join a raid on the Roman province beyond the wall. Capture after a disastrous battle, only his dreams of home and the childhood sweetheart he left behind allow him to survive life as a slave. Trained as a gladiator, he eventually wins his freedom and returns home after an absence of thirteen years. There he discovers that much has changed and life in Broch Tava is every bit as dangerous as in the arena. And the great Roman wall still casts a long shadow. With the empire preparing a massive invasion, can Brude survive the deadly snares of his former friend and save his people from death or enslavement?

The books I picked & why

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The Eagle of the Ninth

By Rosemary Sutcliffe,

Book cover of The Eagle of the Ninth

Why this book?

This was the book which really sparked my interest in Roman history. I read it as a teenager, and loved it. This book has made such an impression on people that the story of the lost Legion is now established as a “fact”, even though the historical evidence is against it. That’s the power of fiction.

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…


Eagle in the Snow

By Wallace Breem,

Book cover of Eagle in the Snow

Why this book?

Another work of fiction which had a powerful impact on me when I first read it. Written with such assurance, the Roman world seems to come to life in this dramatic story of the fall of the western Empire. The principal character is a man to whom honour and duty are the most important things in his life, compelling him to do his duty despite insurmountable odds.

Eagle in the Snow

By Wallace Breem,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Eagle in the Snow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel about General Maximus, one of the inspirations behind Ridley Scott's massively successful film GLADIATOR.

'Behind me I left my youth, my middle age, my wife and my happiness. I was a general now and I had only defeat or victory to look forward to. There was no middle way any longer, and I did not care.'

In the year AD 406 Rome was on the defensive everywhere, and a single Roman legion stood desperate guard on the Empire's Rhine frontier. Maximus, the legion's commander, is urged to proclaim himself emperor, but he stands by his concept of duty…


Pompeii

By Mary Beard,

Book cover of Pompeii

Why this book?

We all love Mary Beard, and this superb book looks into the daily life of the people who lived in Pompeii before its destruction, revealing plenty of fascinating detail, and excellent explanation and commentary. Definitely one of the best books about daily life in an ordinary Roman town.

Pompeii

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The ruins of Pompeii, buried by an explosion of Vesuvius in 79 CE, offer the best evidence we have of everyday life in the Roman empire. This remarkable book rises to the challenge of making sense of those remains, as well as exploding many myths: the very date of the eruption, probably a few months later than usually thought; or the hygiene of the baths which must have been hotbeds of germs; or the legendary number of brothels, most likely only one; or the massive death count, maybe less than ten per cent of the population.

An extraordinary and involving…


Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome

By Paul N. Pearson,

Book cover of Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome

Why this book?

I found this book very easy to read yet packed with historical detail. Paul Pearson presents superbly researched history in an engaging narrative style. This book provides a fascinating insight into the life of one of Rome’s least known emperors, and suggests some thought-provoking theories about his character and reputation.

Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome

By Paul N. Pearson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Maximinus was a half-barbarian strongman 'of frightening appearance and colossal size' who could smash stones with his bare hands and pull fully laden wagons unaided. Such feats impressed the emperor Severus who enlisted him into the imperial bodyguard whereupon he embarked on a distinguished military career. Eventually he achieved senior command in the massive Roman invasion of Persia in 232 and three years later became emperor himself in a military coup. Supposedly over seven feet tall (it is likely he had a pituitary disorder), Maximinus was surely one of Rome's most extraordinary emperors. He campaigned across the Rhine and Danube…


The Twelve Caesars

By Suetonius, Robert Graves (translator),

Book cover of The Twelve Caesars

Why this book?

For anyone looking for an introduction into the lives of the early emperors, Suetonius provides plenty of gossip and scandal. The Penguin translation is a rollicking good read. From Julius Caesar through to Domitian, the lives and deeds of the first dozen Emperors are subjected to scrutiny. Some of the tales may be hearsay, some may be exaggerated, some may even be invented, but Suetonius knows how to portray characters in an entertaining way.

The Twelve Caesars

By Suetonius, Robert Graves (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Twelve Caesars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Suetonius, in holding up a mirror to those Caesars of diverting legend, reflects not only them but ourselves: half-tempted creatures, whose great moral task is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within' GORE VIDAL

As private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, the scholar Suetonius had access to the imperial archives and used them (along with eyewitness accounts) to produce one of the most colourful biographical works in history. The Twelve Caesars chronicles the public careers and private lives of the men who wielded absolute power over Rome, from the foundation of the empire under Julius Caesar and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rome, ancient Rome, and Pompeii?

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

Rome Explore 235 books about Rome
Ancient Rome Explore 141 books about ancient Rome
Pompeii Explore 16 books about Pompeii

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Letters from a Stoic, Cambridge Latin Course Book 1, and Asterix and Cleopatra if you like this list.