100 books like Septimius Severus

By Anthony Birley,

Here are 100 books that Septimius Severus fans have personally recommended if you like Septimius Severus. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The World of Late Antiquity

Michael Kulikowski Author Of The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy

From my list on Rome in the third century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up playing with toy Roman legionaries, marveling at Roman coins, and poring over diagrams of Roman military equipment and their astonishing feats of engineering, went back and forth between wanting to be a medievalist or a Classicist and ended up settling into the study of the late Roman empire and the way it completely transformed its Classical heritage. Along with writing books on that period, I love writing on much wider ancient and medieval themes in the London Review of Books and the TLS.

Michael's book list on Rome in the third century

Michael Kulikowski Why did Michael love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph

Michael Kulikowski Author Of The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy

From my list on Rome in the third century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up playing with toy Roman legionaries, marveling at Roman coins, and poring over diagrams of Roman military equipment and their astonishing feats of engineering, went back and forth between wanting to be a medievalist or a Classicist and ended up settling into the study of the late Roman empire and the way it completely transformed its Classical heritage. Along with writing books on that period, I love writing on much wider ancient and medieval themes in the London Review of Books and the TLS.

Michael's book list on Rome in the third century

Michael Kulikowski Why did Michael love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Emperors and Biography

Michael Kulikowski Author Of The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy

From my list on Rome in the third century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up playing with toy Roman legionaries, marveling at Roman coins, and poring over diagrams of Roman military equipment and their astonishing feats of engineering, went back and forth between wanting to be a medievalist or a Classicist and ended up settling into the study of the late Roman empire and the way it completely transformed its Classical heritage. Along with writing books on that period, I love writing on much wider ancient and medieval themes in the London Review of Books and the TLS.

Michael's book list on Rome in the third century

Michael Kulikowski Why did Michael love this book?

Ronald Syme was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, and probably the greatest Roman historian. This may seem like one for specialists only, unlike his classic Roman Revolution, but it’s got his distinctive style – florid and lapidary all at once – and is a master class in how to wring valuable information out of poor and deceptive sources.

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

Michael Kulikowski Author Of The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy

From my list on Rome in the third century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up playing with toy Roman legionaries, marveling at Roman coins, and poring over diagrams of Roman military equipment and their astonishing feats of engineering, went back and forth between wanting to be a medievalist or a Classicist and ended up settling into the study of the late Roman empire and the way it completely transformed its Classical heritage. Along with writing books on that period, I love writing on much wider ancient and medieval themes in the London Review of Books and the TLS.

Michael's book list on Rome in the third century

Michael Kulikowski Why did Michael love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Julian

Christopher Harris Author Of Mappamundi

From my list on getting right inside the minds of historical people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the author of the Byzantine Trilogy (in 4 parts). These books depict the difficult beginning, decadent apogee, and sad end of the Byzantine empire. I think it is important to make historical fiction vivid, to immerse the reader in a distant time and place, with all its sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, as experienced by someone who was really there. I am also interested in what people believed, and why. For that reason, my historical novels are all first-person narratives, stories told by the people who lived through them. Here are some of the fictional memoirs that inspired me to start writing.

Christopher's book list on getting right inside the minds of historical people

Christopher Harris Why did Christopher love this book?

The short reign of Julian the Apostate is one of the “what ifs” of history. Raised as a Christian, Julian was a secret pagan. When he unexpectedly became emperor, he reversed the privileges of the Church and promoted his own Neo-Platonist cult, intending to restore paganism. Even though we know how things really turned out, it is fascinating to speculate about what might have happened if he had succeeded. 

Gore Vidal has filled this novel with war, politics, sex, religion, heresy, and philosophy. I have tried to follow his example (though I have been more sympathetic to eunuchs than he was).

By Gore Vidal,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Gore Vidal's fictional recreation of the Roman Empire teetering on the crux of Christianity and ruled by an emperor who was an inveterate dabbler in arcane hocus-pocus, a prig, a bigot, and a dazzling and brilliant leader.


Book cover of Theodosius and the Limits of Empire

Charles Matson Odahl Author Of Constantine and the Christian Empire

From my list on the 4th century Roman world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Charles M. Odahl earned a doctorate in Ancient and Medieval History and Classical Languages at the University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on Roman imperial and early Christian studies. He has spent his life and career traveling, living, and researching at sites relevant to his interests, especially in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia. He has taught at universities in Britain, France, Idaho, and Oregon, and published 5 books and 50 articles and reviews on Roman and early Christian topics.

Charles' book list on the 4th century Roman world

Charles Matson Odahl Why did Charles love this book?

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.

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.


Book cover of Nero: The Man Behind the Myth

Humphry Knipe Author Of The Nero Prediction

From my list on Nero (the man and the myth).

Why am I passionate about this?

The deeper I looked into Nero’s history the more references I found to astrology about which I knew nothing except that it was a “pseudo science”. Then an idea hit me like the proverbial lightning bolt. It didn’t matter that astrology was mere superstition. All that mattered was that Nero and his contemporaries believed in it. Nero’s birthday and time are known so it must be possible to re-create his horoscope. With this mysterious wheel in hand, anyone familiar with ancient astrological lore should be able to make some very intelligent guesses about what Nero’s astrologer would have been advising his imperial client on perhaps a daily basis.

Humphry's book list on Nero (the man and the myth)

Humphry Knipe Why did Humphry love this book?

Written by a veteran London Times journalist this exciting book reads like a fast paced thriller. What I found most interesting is his detailed description of Nero’s most notorious action, the murder of his mother. He writes “It is in the realm of abnormal psychology that an explanation may lie.” He is clearly unaware that what best explains the spooky full moon melodrama played out on a cosmic stage was the blind faith both Nero and his mother had in astrology (see Nero's astrology chart here). 

By Richard Holland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Richard Holland's biography looks at Nero from a different perspective and encourages readers to see the man rather than the monster.


Book cover of Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome

Gordon Anthony Author Of In the Shadow of the Wall

From my list on Roman history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had a lifelong love of history, especially ancient history, and have spent years studying it for both interest and pleasure. I also love stories, so I decided to put my knowledge of Roman history to good use, providing what I hope is an authentic backdrop to my novels.

Gordon's book list on Roman history

Gordon Anthony Why did Gordon love this book?

I found this book very easy to read yet packed with historical detail. Paul Pearson presents superbly researched history in an engaging narrative style. This book provides a fascinating insight into the life of one of Rome’s least known emperors, and suggests some thought-provoking theories about his character and reputation.

By Paul N. Pearson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Maximinus was a half-barbarian strongman 'of frightening appearance and colossal size' who could smash stones with his bare hands and pull fully laden wagons unaided. Such feats impressed the emperor Severus who enlisted him into the imperial bodyguard whereupon he embarked on a distinguished military career. Eventually he achieved senior command in the massive Roman invasion of Persia in 232 and three years later became emperor himself in a military coup. Supposedly over seven feet tall (it is likely he had a pituitary disorder), Maximinus was surely one of Rome's most extraordinary emperors. He campaigned across the Rhine and Danube…


Book cover of Caracalla: A Military Biography

Alex Gough Author Of Caesar’s Soldier

From my list on biographies of powerful and important Ancient Romans.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've had a passion for all things Roman since visiting various ancient Roman sites around Britain as a child with school and with my dad. Over the last fifteen years I've been writing novels set in Ancient Rome. I now have ten published Roman historical fiction novels to my name spanning three series, as well as a short story collection and a novella. My Carbo of Rome series, set in the reign of Tiberius, follows a traumatised veteran of the legion as he tries to retire in peace in Rome, but is constantly dragged into the criminal underworld of the poorest parts of the city.

Alex's book list on biographies of powerful and important Ancient Romans

Alex Gough Why did Alex love this book?

Caracalla was described by Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as the “Common Enemy of Mankind.”

But much of what is known about this third-century Emperor was written by Cassius Dio, a Senator who served under him, and hated him. Caracalla certainly committed his fair share of evil deeds, but arguably not to any greater extent than some Emperors who are lauded today such as Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine.

Ilkka Syvanne, a Finnish history professor, attempts to rehabilitate Caracalla’s reputation, with mixed success. You may not agree with all his arguments and conclusions, but you will learn a lot about a fascinating Emperor.

My own copy is covered with notes and highlights as a vital source for my Imperial Assassin series. 

By Ilkka Syvanne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Caracalla has one of the worst reputations of any Roman Emperor. Many ancient historians were very hostile and Edward Gibbon later dubbed him 'the common enemy of mankind'. Yet his reign was considered by at least one Roman author to be the apogee of the Roman Empire. Guilty of many murders and massacres (including his own brother, ex-wife and daughter) he was, however, popular with the army, improving their pay and cultivating the image of sharing their hardships. Surprisingly this is the first full-length biography of this colourful character in English. Ilkka Syvanne explains how the biased ancient sources in…


Book cover of Nero: Matricide, Music, and Murder in Imperial Rome

Jennifer Burke Author Of Sub Rosa: A Valerius Mystery

From my list on bringing Ancient Rome alive.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved history ever since I was a kid when I first had the realisation that it was made up of stories. Ancient Rome has always fascinated me, not the battles or the emperors or the big picture stuff, but the daily lives of the ordinary people. You only need to read some of the rude graffiti from Pompeii to realise that people have never really changed where it counts! I studied English and History at university, neither of them as thoroughly as I could have, but at least now when people ask me what I’d ever use an Arts degree for, I can point to my book. 

Jennifer's book list on bringing Ancient Rome alive

Jennifer Burke Why did Jennifer love this book?

So, just how bad was Nero? After 2000 years, it’s a question that we’ll probably never be able to answer with any certainty.

This non-fiction book makes a fantastic effort at trying to dig through a lot of the biases against Nero to find a more balanced view. While there’s no question that Nero was a monster in his later reign (certainly by our modern standards), it’s often forgotten that he started off incredibly popular with the common people, while his disregard for established traditions made him a lot of enemies amongst the patricians.

And, of course, it’s those patricians who got the final say when it came to writing down his history. It's a really fascinating read!  

By Anthony Everitt, Roddy Ashworth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A striking, nuanced biography of Nero—the controversial populist ruler and last of the Caesars—and a vivid portrait of ancient Rome

“Exciting and provocative . . . Nero is a pleasure to read.”—Barry Strauss, author of The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium

The Roman emperor Nero’s name has long been a byword for cruelty, decadence, and despotism. As the stories go, he set fire to Rome and thrummed his lyre as it burned. He then cleared the charred ruins and built a vast palace. He committed incest with his mother, who had schemed and…


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