The best books on the ancient Mediterranean

Kathryn Lomas Author Of The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars
By Kathryn Lomas

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.

The books I picked & why

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S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome

By Mary Beard,

Book cover of S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome

Why 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.

The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others

By Paul Cartledge,

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

Why 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.

Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

By Sybille Haynes,

Book cover of Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

Why 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.

The Carthaginians

By Dexter Hoyos,

Book cover of The Carthaginians

Why 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.

Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian

By Angelos Chaniotis,

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

Why 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.

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