The best books on the religious lives of Greeks and Romans

Rebecca I. Denova Author Of Greek and Roman Religions
By Rebecca I. Denova

Who am I?

Growing up, I could never “get” the secrets of math or science. If I could, I would have been an archaeologist. But I was always interested in “origins;” where do our modern ideas come from? My passion for reading led me to begin to uncover “origins” (or, the element of “looking for clues” in a “murder mystery”). Uncovering “ancient origins” entails thoroughly exploring ancient society. I continue to daily keep up with the research and new interpretations in the study of these fascinating worlds.

I wrote...

Greek and Roman Religions

By Rebecca I. Denova,

Book cover of Greek and Roman Religions

What is my book about?

Greek and Roman Religions surveys the origin and evolution of religious concepts and rituals in ancient Greece, to their adaptation in ancient Rome. The book highlights myth, native cults, and religious festivals. All religious concepts are integrated into the historical, social, cultural, and political contexts; the text contains brief surveys of the histories of Greece and Rome and how such historical events influenced their religious concepts.

The books I picked & why

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Pagans and Christians

By Robin Lane Fox,

Book cover of Pagans and Christians

Why this book?

I first encountered Lane Fox when I was working on my dissertation in graduate school. Working on “Gentiles” in the New Testament, I had to thoroughly understand the historical background. This book became my “pagan Bible,” in effect. The first half fully details ancient concepts and rituals, and the second emphasizes which elements were absorbed by the rise of Christianity and which were rejected and why.

The First Man in Rome

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The First Man in Rome

Why this book?

Growing up, my hobby was reading historical novels. A great writer can transport the reader into different cultures, the past as well as the future. McCullough spent 13 years researching the background. Beginning with The First Man in Rome, she surveyed the history of the late Republic (from Sulla, Caesar, and Pompey) to the reign of Augustus (seven novels). Throughout, her descriptions of both private and political life highlight the integration of “religion and society.” Eliminating the dry, jargon-loaded scholarly debates of Classicists, her novels bring the ancient world to life. I learned more about ancient Roman religion from these novels than any scholarly textbook.

Roman Blood

By Steven Saylor,

Book cover of Roman Blood

Why this book?

My other great hobby is “murder mysteries.” Steven Saylor’s mystery novels utilize real people and events in Ancient Rome, in this case, the famous advocate Cicero. Roman Blood highlights the first famous case of Cicero, defending a man accused of patricide, the worst crime in Roman culture (he won). Readers will recognize the beginnings of “forensic science,” as he and his secretary Tiro follow the clues in formulating the defense. Again, one can learn so much about Roman religion and society in this format.

Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History

By Mary Beard, John North, Simon Price

Book cover of Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History

Why this book?

Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at Cambridge University who also does popular documentaries on ancient Rome for the BBC (available on YouTube). This volume reaches back to the founding of Rome and the traditions of how Romulus and the first king of Rome, Numa, created Roman religion. It highlights the origins of the major Roman religious festivals.

Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor

By S. R. F. Price,

Book cover of Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor

Why this book?

Price traces religious concepts of Asia Province from their origins as Greek colonies to the changes adapted and introduced by Rome through Augustus’ Imperial Cult. This text highlights religious life in one of the major provinces. The advantage of this book is that Price coordinates the history with the latest archaeological excavations in Turkey

5 book lists we think you will like!

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