10 books like Emperors and Biography

By Ronald Syme,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Emperors and Biography. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The World of Late Antiquity

By Peter Brown,

Book cover of The World of Late Antiquity

The third century is the least known era of imperial Rome, but it’s also the hinge between a world that still had distant roots in the city-state that Rome was under the republic, and the world empire it had become. So many changes took place in the hundred or so years between Septimius Severus (r. 193-212) and Constantine (r. 306-337) that it’s impossible to understand later European, North African, and Middle Eastern history without considering them. Peter Brown was one of the first people to recognize that to understand the late Roman empire and early medieval Europe all the way up to Mohammad and Charlemagne, you had to understand the third century. This book inspired a generation of scholars to broaden their horizons to understand the Roman empire in all its colorful diversity.

The World of Late Antiquity

By Peter Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

These centuries, as the author demonstrates, were the era in which the most deeply rooted of ancient institutions disappeared for all time. By 476 the Roman empire had vanished from western Europe; by 655 the Persian empire had vanished from the Near East. Mr. Brown, Professor of History at Princeton University, examines these changes and men's reactions to them, but his account shows that the period was also one of outstanding new beginnings and defines the far-reaching impact both of Christianity on Europe and of Islam on the Near East. The result is a lucid answer to a crucial question…


Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph

By Jas Elsner,

Book cover of Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph

Very few books put the history in art history with as much success as this one does. Instead of telling a linear story, in which the third century is a precipice over which Classical art falls into decline, Elsner picks out the many different strands and streams of artistic production that run in parallel with one another, and gets you to think about how they interact with contemporary social developments.

Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph

By Jas Elsner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Western culture saw some of the most significant and innovative developments take place during the passage from antiquity to the middle ages. This stimulating new book investigates the role of the visual arts as both reflections and agents of those changes. It tackles two inter-related periods of internal transformation within the Roman Empire: the phenomenon known as the 'Second Sophistic' (c. ad 100300)two centuries of self-conscious and enthusiastic hellenism, and the era of late antiquity (c. ad 250450) when the empire underwent a religious conversion to Christianity. Vases, murals, statues, and masonry are explored in relation to such issues as…


Hellenism and Empire

By Simon Swain,

Book cover of Hellenism and Empire: Language, Classicism, and Power in the Greek World

This is a dense study of what was once cordoned off as ‘the Second Sophistic’, the flourishing of a revived Classical Greek culture under Roman hegemony. It’s the first really successful transformation of that perspective to a much broader vision of ‘being Greek under Rome’. It gets you to take seriously the many different ways in which language shapes identity, and places the medical writings of Galen and the sprawling histories of Cassius Dio back into the mainstream of Greek cultural history.

Hellenism and Empire

By Simon Swain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hellenism and Empire explores identity, politics, and culture in the Greek world of the first three centuries AD, the period known as the second sophistic. The sources of this identity were the words and deeds of classical Greece, and the emphasis placed on Greekness and Greek heritage was far greater now than at any other time. Yet this period is often seen as a time of happy consensualism between the Greek and Roman halves of the Roman Empire. The first part of the book shows that Greek identity came before any loyalty to Rome (and was indeed partly a reaction…


Septimius Severus

By Anthony Birley,

Book cover of Septimius Severus: The African Emperor

Writing a good biography is very different from writing a narrative history – they’re different art forms. Septimius Severus is the last Roman emperor about whom we can build up a fully rounded biographical portrait until Julian the Apostate, a century and a half later. In Birley’s meticulous telling, Severus comes across as a transformative political genius, a soldier of great skill -- and a monster of a human being.

Septimius Severus

By Anthony Birley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this, the only biography of Septimius Severus in English, Anthony R. Birley explors how 'Roman' or otherwise this man was and examines his remarkable background and career.
Severus was descended from Phoenician settlers in Tripolitania, and his reign, AD 193-211, represents a key point in Roman history. Birley explores what was African and what was Roman in Septimius' background, given that he came from an African city. He asks whether Septimius was a 'typical cosmopolitan bureaucrat', a 'new Hannibal on the throne of Caesar' or 'principle author of the decline of the Roman Empire'?


Dynasty

By Tom Holland,

Book cover of Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

Dynasty is just a good historical read, one I enjoyed thoroughly. This is the place to go for a readable researched, thoroughly engaging story of the final collapse of the Republic under Caesar and how his heirs ushered in a new political system. The pivotal period where Octavian, adopted son of murdered Gaius Julius Caesar, survived in a cutthroat political and military arena and made himself Princeps, the first emperor, is just fascinating. The subsequent men and women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and all of their political, and sometimes murderous, machinations come to life under Holland’s pen. An excellent choice for navigating imperial politics, often family politics.

Dynasty

By Tom Holland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'This is a wonderful, surging narrative - a brilliant and meticulous synthesis of the ancient sources . . . This is a story that should be read by anyone interested in history, politics or human nature - and it has never been better told' - Boris Johnson, Mail on Sunday

Rome was first ruled by kings, then became a republic. But in the end, after conquering the world, the Republic collapsed. Rome was drowned in blood. So terrible were the civil wars that the Roman people finally came to welcome the rule of an autocrat who could give them peace.…


Constantius II

By Peter Crawford,

Book cover of Constantius II: Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist

Dr. Crawford, a specialist in ancient history and religion, offers a detailed and readable account of the life and reign of Constantine's longest surviving son and successor in the mid-4th century (A.D. 324-361). Often criticized by ancient sources and modern scholars alike for not being as great a soldier as his father and for favoring Arian-leaning bishops, the author tries to rehabilitate the reputation of Constantius as a capable ruler in difficult times.

Constantius II

By Peter Crawford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The reign of Constantius II has been overshadowed by that of his titanic father, Constantine the Great, and his cousin and successor, the pagan Julian. However, as Peter Crawford shows, Constantius deserves to be remembered as a very capable ruler in dangerous, tumultuous times. When Constantine I died in in 337, the twenty-year-old Constantius and his two brothers, Constans and Constantine II, all recieved the title of Augustus to reign as equal co-emperors. In 340, however, Constantine II was killed in a fraternal civil war with Constans. The two remaining brothers shared the Empire for the next ten years, with…


Master and God

By Lindsey Davis,

Book cover of Master and God

This lengthy story covering many years is set in Ancient Rome, during the reign of the despot Domitian. It follows two particular characters—a young hairdresser who has clients at the Imperial palace, and the scarred soldier devoted at first to the service of the Emporer.

The historical facts of Domitian’s reign of terror are very real and are set against the hard lives of our two main characters, the passion, the love, and sometimes the hate are very powerful.

Lyndsey Davis writes with humour, honesty, and some fine knowledge.

I have read this book over and over again, each time learning more and enjoying it freshly each time.

Master and God

By Lindsey Davis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Afflicted by classic paranoia, the self-styled Master and God sees enemies everywhere. As he vents his suspicions, no one is safe.

A reluctant hero, Gaius Vinius Clodianus is hand-picked for high rank in the Praetorian Guard a brave man striving for decency in a world of corruption and deceit.

Flavia Lucilla, tending the privileged women at court, hears the intimate secrets of a ruler who plays with the lives of his subjects as if he were indeed a careless god.

In the dark shadow of Domitian's reign, Clodianus and Lucilla play out their own complex tale of resilience, friendship and…


Caligula

By Aloys Winterling, Deborah Lucas Schneider (translator), Glenn W. Most, Paul Psoinos

Book cover of Caligula: A Biography

Few books challenge conventional knowledge about a historical figure like this one. This might be bad business for me personally. After all, my book about Evil Roman Emperors likes to wallow in the more salacious aspects of Roman history, and this book undermines some of those narratives where Rome’s third emperor is concerned. Winterling’s book takes a deep and critical look at the life of this maligned figure from history. While he stops short of vindicating Caligula, the author does a great job of giving a more complete and nuanced perspective of who he was and what made him tick. Was he truly crazy? Did he really think himself a god? Should his name be inextricably linked with violence and debauchery? Read and find out.

Caligula

By Aloys Winterling, Deborah Lucas Schneider (translator), Glenn W. Most, Paul Psoinos

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The infamous emperor Caligula ruled Rome from A.D. 37 to 41 as a tyrant who ultimately became a monster. An exceptionally smart and cruelly witty man, Caligula made his contemporaries worship him as a god. He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered in gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and committed incest with his sisters. He wanted to make his horse a consul. Torture and executions were the order of the day. Both modern and ancient interpretations have concluded from…


Theodosius and the Limits of Empire

By Mark Hebblewhite,

Book cover of Theodosius and the Limits of Empire

Dr. Hebblewhite, a specialist in late antique military history, provides a new biographical narrative on the life and reign of the Christian emperor Theodosius the Great (A.D. 347-395). He covers the emperor's struggles against the Gothic barbarians, his attempts to unify Christians around the orthodox Nicene Creed, and his outlawing of paganism and establishment of Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the late Roman Empire. Solid and readable.

Theodosius and the Limits of Empire

By Mark Hebblewhite,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Theodosius and the Limits of Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The emperor Theodosius I (AD 379-395) was one of the most remarkable figures of the late antique period. In the face of religious schism, political turmoil, and barbarian threats he managed to maintain imperial power and forge a political dynasty that would dominate both east and west for over half a century. This study, the first English language biography in over twenty years, traces his rise to power and tumultuous reign, and examines his indelible impact on a rapidly changing empire.


The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

By Herwig Wolfram, Thomas Dunlap (translator),

Book cover of The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

Herwig Wolfram is the Grand Master of Germanic history. His mighty History of the Goths is a work cited perhaps more than any other by any author writing about this period, and its influence of study of Early Middle Ages is unparalleled. But History of the Goths is a heavy, dense, scholarly work, and not easy to find these days. The Roman Empire is a more popular synthesis, focusing not just on Goths, but on all Late Antiquity Germanic tribes – Franks, Burgundians, Saxons, and others – providing a rich view of the barbarians from the perspective of their Roman neighbours. 

The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

By Herwig Wolfram, Thomas Dunlap (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The names of early Germanic warrior tribes and leaders resound in songs and legends; the real story of the part they played in reshaping the ancient world is no less gripping. Herwig Wolfram's panoramic history spans the great migrations of the Germanic peoples and the rise and fall of their kingdoms between the third and eighth centuries, as they invaded, settled in, and ultimately transformed the Roman Empire. As Germanic military kings and their fighting bands created kingdoms, and won political and military recognition from imperial governments through alternating confrontation and accommodation, the 'tribes' lost their shared culture and social…


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