The best books on the ancient Mediterranean

Who am I?

I have a lifelong fascination for history and archaeology. Following a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology (University of Edinburgh), and a brief period as a field archaeologist, I undertook a PhD (University of Newcastle) researching the history of Greek settlement in southern Italy. My subsequent career has been devoted to the study of ancient Italy and Sicily, with a specific focus on the development of ethnic and cultural identities, and the formation of urban societies. I have held posts at several UK universities, including research fellowships at UCL, a lectureship at the University of Newcastle, and I am currently a part-time lecturer and Honorary Fellow at the University of Durham.

I wrote...

The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars

By Kathryn Lomas,

Book cover of The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars

What is my book about?

In the late Iron Age, Rome was a small collection of huts arranged over a few hills. By the third century BC, it had become a large and powerful city, with monumental temples, public buildings, and grand houses. It had conquered the whole of Italy and was poised to establish an empire. But how did it accomplish this historic transformation?

This book explores the development of Rome during this period, and the nature of its control over Italy, considering why and how the Romans achieved this spectacular dominance. For Rome was only one of a number of emerging centres of power during this period. From its complex forms of government to its innovative connections with other states, Kathryn Lomas shows what set Rome apart. Examining the context and impact of the city's dominance, as well as the key political, social, and economic changes it engendered, this is crucial reading for anyone interested in Ancient Rome.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Kathryn Lomas Why did I love this book?

This is a seminal work on the development of ancient Rome and an excellent overview of the city’s history. It presents an outline account from its early development to Late Antiquity written in an accessible and engaging style. Although its principal focus is a chronological account of Rome’s political development and rise to world power, it is much more than this and presents fascinating insights into Rome’s social and cultural history.

It examines themes of immigration and belonging, how to be a Roman, the nature of slavery and the lives of the ordinary people, and many others, alongside its account of conquest and imperial dominance, and of the transition from Republic to Principate.

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked SPQR as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In SPQR, an instant classic, Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome "with passion and without technical jargon" and demonstrates how "a slightly shabby Iron Age village" rose to become the "undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean" (Wall Street Journal). Hailed by critics as animating "the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life" (Economist) in a way that makes "your hair stand on end" (Christian Science Monitor) and spanning nearly a thousand years of history, this "highly informative, highly readable" (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but…

Book cover of The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others

Kathryn Lomas Why did I love this book?

The volume (the publication of a Cambridge lecture series) addresses one of the key themes of modern culture: the nature of identity. The question ‘what is a Greek?’ is not as straightforward as it seems, given that the Greek world was very diverse, and the book explores this by examining Greek culture as a series of polarities: Greek vs barbarian; free vs slave, citizen vs non-citizen; male vs female and gods vs humans. It traces how these polarities illuminate how the Greeks thought about themselves, and how we think about them.

Although aimed squarely at a student readership, it is an approachable introduction to the nature of Greek culture and reflection on questions of identity, difference, and belonging which are at the forefront of contemporary political and cultural debate.

By Paul Cartledge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book provides an original and challenging answer to the question: 'Who were the Classical Greeks?' Paul Cartledge - 'one of the most theoretically alert, widely read and prolific of contemporary ancient historians' (TLS) - here examines the Greeks and their achievements in terms of their own self-image, mainly as it was presented by the supposedly objective historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

Many of our modern concepts as we understand them were invented by the Greeks: for example, democracy, theatre, philosophy, and history. Yet despite being our cultural ancestors in many ways, their legacy remains rooted in myth and the…

Book cover of Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

Kathryn Lomas Why did I love this book?

The Etruscans were a fascinating people with a rich and varied material culture, as well as a reputation for mystery, partly due to their enigmatic and unique language. They were an influential people in Italy before the expansion of Rome and their culture which had a profound influence on that of Rome and other Italian peoples. As such, they are central to our understanding of early Italy. Haynes presents an approachable account of the origins and development of the Etruscans, integrating complex historical, archaeological, and art historical evidence into a readable account.

She weaves together a chronological survey of the Etruscans, their origins, expansion, and eventual decline, with an appreciation and explanation of their stunning visual and material culture to present a work that combines history, archaeology, and art history.

By Sybille Haynes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Etruscan Civilization as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This comprehensive survey of Etruscan civilization, from its origin in the Villanovan Iron Age in the ninth century B.C. to its absorption by Rome in the first century B.C., combines well-known aspects of the Etruscan world with new discoveries and fresh insights into the role of women in Etruscan society. In addition, the Etruscans are contrasted to the Greeks, whom they often emulated, and to the Romans, who at once admired and disdained them. The result is a compelling and complete picture of a people and a culture.
This in-depth examination of Etruria examines how differing access to mineral wealth,…

Book cover of The Carthaginians

Kathryn Lomas Why did I love this book?

Carthage, founded by the Phoenicians in the late 9th century BC, was one of the major powers of the western Mediterranean, establishing domination in North Africa, western Sicily and the Mediterranean islands, and Spain. Its struggle with the Greeks for domination of Sicily in the 4th century and wars with Rome in the 3rd-2nd centuries were seminal events in Mediterranean history. This book offers an excellent introduction to the Carthaginians and their culture. It traces the development of the city from its foundation to its destruction by Rome in 146 BC, presenting a wealth of archaeological and written evidence and explaining many of the complexities of Carthage’s history and society.

Although aimed at an academic readership, it presents this material in a manner that is accessible to anyone with an interest in the ancient Mediterranean.

By Dexter Hoyos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Carthaginians reveals the complex culture, society and achievements of a famous, yet misunderstood, ancient people. Beginning as Phoenician settlers in North Africa, the Carthaginians then broadened their civilization with influences from neighbouring North African peoples, Egypt, and the Greek world. Their own cultural influence in turn spread across the Western Mediterranean as they imposed dominance over Sardinia, western Sicily, and finally southern Spain.

As a stable republic Carthage earned respectful praise from Greek observers, notably Aristotle, and from many Romans - even Cato, otherwise notorious for insisting that 'Carthage must be destroyed'. Carthage matched the great city-state of Syracuse…

Book cover of Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian

Kathryn Lomas Why did I love this book?

The later period of Greek history, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, is considerably less well known that the history of Classical Greece, but it was a fascinating period that radically changed the society and culture of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. This book covers the period of Alexander's conquests, the fragmentation of his empire into multiple kingdoms after his death, and the Roman conquest and domination of the Greek world.

It outlines the rise and fall of dynasties and kingdoms, the Roman conquest, and the transformation of the region, firstly by the Greek culture promoted by Alexander and his successors, and then by Roman rule. It provides an accessible and informative narrative of a period in which the Middle East and Greek world underwent transformational changes.

By Angelos Chaniotis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The world that Alexander remade in his lifetime was transformed once more by his death in 323 BCE. His successors reorganized Persian lands to create a new empire stretching from the eastern Mediterranean as far as present-day Afghanistan, while in Greece and Macedonia a fragile balance of power repeatedly dissolved into war. Then, from the late third century BCE to the end of the first, Rome's military and diplomatic might successively dismantled these post-Alexandrian political structures, one by one.

During the Hellenistic period (c. 323-30 BCE), small polities struggled to retain the illusion of their identity and independence, in the…

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By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

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Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

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In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…

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