The best novels set in Ancient Rome

Who am I?

I have been mesmerized with ancient history since I was in high school. Since then, I’ve kept myself inspired by reading the best historical fiction I can get my hands on. Each and every time an author gives me the opportunity to be teleported to the ancient world, I am so grateful. There are so many things we can learn from the ancient Greeks and Romans, and that’s exactly why I and other authors continue to write about that time period. 

I wrote...

The Man With Two Names: A Novel of Ancient Rome

By Vincent B. Davis II,

Book cover of The Man With Two Names: A Novel of Ancient Rome

What is my book about?

Rome, 107 BC. Quintus Sertorius just lost his father and he may lose his home. When his rural village is stripped of its political status, he must leave his family to secure their food and protection from inside Rome's bloodthirsty government. As he transitions from countryman to politician, he's thrust into the middle of a bitter political war…

As Quintus struggles to gain the aid his village so desperately needs, he approaches Gaius Marius, the uncle of Julius Caesar himself. But with each passing day in the unforgiving landscape of the Eternal City, he puts his family and his own life in even greater danger. In a ruthless battle of conscience, will Quintus lose both himself and the ones he loves?

The books I picked & why

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Roman Blood

By Steven Saylor,

Book cover of Roman Blood

Why this book?

In addition to historical novels, I’ve always enjoyed a good crime/legal thriller. In Steve Saylor’s Sub Rosa series, you get the best of both worlds. From book 1, Roman Blood, through the remainder of the series, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. Gordianus the Finder is a compelling protagonist with a plethora of nuances that will keep you flipping pages. Steven Saylor gives us an incredibly vivid glimpse into the daily lives of the ancient Romans, from the lowest, forgotten members of society to the most opulent and powerful politicians. This book definitely encouraged me to think outside the box with my own writing and consider what truth lies behind the oftentimes skewed historical narrative we’ve been left with.

Quo Vadis?

By Henryk Sienkiewicz, Jeremiah Curtin (translator),

Book cover of Quo Vadis?

Why this book?

I’ve read a lot of books in my life, and this might be the only one that’s ever made me cry. The story follows an ambitious young Roman as he meets members of a strange new cult. At first, he’s opposed to them, but slowly falls in love with one of the new religion’s adherents, and joins them in their struggle against the oppressive Roman government. I’ve never been a big fan of romance, but this book showed me why love is so integral to good storytelling. It also gives a great example of how to weave religion or morals into a historical narrative without being overbearing or taking away from the story itself.

The First Man in Rome

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The First Man in Rome

Why this book?

Despite being one of the most famous novels set in ancient Rome, it stands up to its reputation. The depth of research and care Colleen expresses for the time period and her characters are unmatched. I must admit that I haven’t read the other books in the series, although I’m certain they’re just as impressive. I had to stop after reading The First Man in Rome because it was so good and so realistic, I was afraid I might take some fabrications as truth and implement them in my own books!

Toy: Lord of the Silver Bow

By David Gemmell,

Book cover of Toy: Lord of the Silver Bow

Why this book?

Okay, I’m taking some liberties here. Gemmell’s series is actually set during the Trojan war rather than ancient Rome, but there are constant references to “The Seven Hills,” so I’ll make an exception. I read this book when I was still in grade school and instantly fell in love with historical fiction, and ancient history in general. This book was fundamental to getting me started on the path of writing historical fiction. And to my delight, the story is just as impressive and moving now as it was then. This is the Trojan War like you’ve never seen before, and the narrative is so in-depth and engrossing, you’ll be transported to the ancient world for weeks.

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome

Why this book?

My favorite novel set in Ancient Rome, and perhaps my favorite novel period. This series follows the personal slave of the famous Roman Statesman Cicero. The first-person perspective allows us to see directly into the inner workings of the Roman Republic. The details are visceral, the emotions are real. Despite his vanity and arrogant tendencies, you find yourself constantly cheering for Cicero in his struggle to achieve respect in the cutthroat world of Roman politics. This book was a major inspiration for me as I began writing my own series, and I continue to return to it to this day.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ancient Rome, Rome, and private investigators?

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