The best books on the Roman Empire in the 2nd half of the 1st century AD

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper
By Martha Marks

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

I wrote...

Rubies of the Viper

By Martha Marks,

Book cover of Rubies of the Viper

What is my book about?

Rubies of the Viper is the first novel of the Ruby-Viper Trilogy, a sprawling and suspenseful first-century family saga presented through the eyes and minds of four fictional characters: a woman named Theodosia Varro and the three most important people in her life. Theodosia and her co-protagonists face social turmoil and political treachery as a wide range of powerful men and women impact their lives with motives and results both good and bad.

The books I picked & why

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69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan,

Book cover of 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

Why this book?

The Civil War of 69 AD — aka “The Year of Four Emperors” — was a complex, pivotal moment in the history of the Roman Empire. Since it took place at a key moment in my trilogy’s timeline, and since so many of my characters were active participants, I had to understand it. Morgan expertly clarifies an interrelated series of historical threads that I needed to follow to make my three-part fictional story both historically accurate and novelistically intriguing.

Flavius ​​Josephus: Eyewitness to Rome's First-Century Conquest of Judea

By Mireille Hadas-Lebel,

Book cover of Flavius ​​Josephus: Eyewitness to Rome's First-Century Conquest of Judea

Why this book?

Hadas-Lebel’s fine biography brings to life one of history’s most charismatic and controversial authors, generals, and traitors. The Jewish scholar turned Roman collaborator known today as Flavius Josephus was born Yosef ben Matityahu. His evolution from Yosef the aristocrat of Jerusalem to Josephus the “Jew of Rome” is a classic truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale. As Yosef, he plays a key role in my second novel. As Josephus, he does the same in my third. So I had to internalize as much about his life, character, and personality as possible. This book gave me the level of detail that I needed to make Yosef/Josephus “real” in my own way.

Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome AD 66-73

By Neil Faulkner,

Book cover of Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome AD 66-73

Why this book?

The empire-shaking Great Revolt looms over my second and third novels, and Faulkner’s book illuminated it for me in a way that nothing else did. He unravels the interwoven historical, social, religious, ethnic, cultural, and political conflicts that led to the disastrous Jewish rebellion against Rome. His work is controversial in some quarters because it goes against the grain of Christian thinking about this time and place. Personally, I found it revealing and eloquent. To me, this a must-read for anyone trying to understand the “why” behind the cataclysm that befell the Jewish people between 66 and 73 AD and still impacts our world today.

Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire: A Study in Social Control

By K.R. Bradley,

Book cover of Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire: A Study in Social Control

Why this book?

My novels take place in several ancient Mediterranean lands where slavery was an accepted, unchallenged reality. It’s hard for today’s writers and readers to grasp what relationships must have been like between human chattel and their owners in a world totally devoid of modern mores. Some authors who write about that time period choose to ignore the slaves and focus on the masters, but I was determined to get into the minds of both groups and explore their lives equally. Bradley’s subtitle, “A Study in Social Control,” held the key for me. His book revealed the “carrots and sticks” at work in such societies and helped me bring them to life in my fiction.

A Monument to Dynasty and Death: The Story of Rome's Colosseum and the Emperors Who Built It

By Nathan T. Elkins,

Book cover of A Monument to Dynasty and Death: The Story of Rome's Colosseum and the Emperors Who Built It

Why this book?

A large part of the last book of my trilogy focuses on one character’s involvement in the construction of the Flavian Amphitheater, known today as The Colosseum. As with other complex issues I’ve written about — the Jewish Revolt, social constraints on women, relationships between masters and slaves — I’ve had to make sense of this grandest construction project of the first century. Elkins’ scholarly book helped me get out of the “tourist-in-Rome mindset” and into the “you-are-there-as-it’s-being-built mindset.” I’m currently writing that section, so the jury is still out, but Elkins’ in-depth research and clear exposition provide a good road map.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rome, Jewish history, and the Roman Empire?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Rome, Jewish history, and the Roman Empire.

Rome Explore 169 books about Rome
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Ben-Hur, Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire, and A Voice in the Wind if you like this list.