The most recommended books about classical Athens

Who picked these books? Meet our 6 experts.

6 authors created a book list connected to classical Athens, and here are their favorite classical Athens books.
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Book cover of The Agora of Athens: The History, Shape, and Uses of an Ancient City Center

Ian Worthington Author Of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

From my list on post Classical Athens.

Who am I?

Ian Worthington, FSA, FRHistS, is a Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and has written and edited 21 books and over 100 articles on Greek history, oratory, and epigraphy. He also has a Great Courses DVD and CD course titled The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World. Away from academic work, he is addicted to reality TV and is an unpaid taxi driver for his two children.

Ian's book list on post Classical Athens

Ian Worthington Why did Ian love this book?

Another book getting on in years, but which remains an essential resource for the history and topography of the Agora, the economic and social heart of Athens. Here people came to shop, trade, chit-chat, discuss political affairs, attend some public institutions including the law courts, and ‘hang out’. The time period covered is very wide, from 600 BC to AD 267. The authors’ discussion of the buildings and monuments in the Agora with copious and detailed drawings brings alive what this vital area was like and what its architecture tells us about the Athenians.

By Homer A. Thompson, R.E. Wycherley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The subtitle, The History, Shape and Uses of an Ancient City Center, suggests the general character of this volume, which provides an overview of the area that served as the civic center of Athens from about 600 B.C. to A.D. 267. After a general resumé of the historical development of the Agora, the monuments are treated in detail, grouped by their use and purpose. Each monument is discussed in the light of both the literary and the archaeological evidence for its identification and its restoration. In the light of the topographical conclusions the route of Pausanias is traced. A chapter…


Book cover of Athens from Alexander to Antony

Ian Worthington Author Of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

From my list on post Classical Athens.

Who am I?

Ian Worthington, FSA, FRHistS, is a Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and has written and edited 21 books and over 100 articles on Greek history, oratory, and epigraphy. He also has a Great Courses DVD and CD course titled The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World. Away from academic work, he is addicted to reality TV and is an unpaid taxi driver for his two children.

Ian's book list on post Classical Athens

Ian Worthington Why did Ian love this book?

The late Christian Habicht was one of the foremost authorities on Hellenistic Greece. His book is both a synthesis of his research and publications on this period and an incisive and in-depth narrative of Athens down to 30 BC, anchored in the ancient, especially inscriptional, evidence. He shows among other things how Athens remained a vital city in Greece and how its intellectual and social life continued to flourish but how limited its democracy was. Habicht’s book could not take into account recent and much-needed epigraphical publications of the city’s major state decrees and laws and new insights into chronology, but it is still an indispensable read.

By Christian Habicht, Deborah Lucas Schneider,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Athens from Alexander to Antony as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The conquests of Alexander the Great transformed the Greek world into a complex of monarchies and vying powers, a vast sphere in which the Greek city-states struggled to survive. This is the story of one city that, despite long periods of subjugation, persisted as a vital social entity throughout the Hellenistic age. Christian Habicht narrates the history of Athens from its subjugation by the Macedonians in 338 BC to the battle of Actium in 31 BC, when Octavian's defeat of Mark Antony paved the way for Roman dominion over the Hellenistic world. For nearly three centuries Athens strove unsuccessfully for…


Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers

From my list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity.

Who am I?

When I voyaged into the ancient world in the readings of my youth, it led me to realize that the gay-straight divide in modern perceptions of sexuality and relationships is an artifice. It was constructed by the conceit of the ascetic religions that the only legitimate purpose of sex is the production of children within a sanctified marital relationship. In Antiquity, the divide followed a more natural course between the groups who were the sexually active partners (mainly adult men) and those who were sexually passive (mainly women, youths, and eunuchs). My hope is to disperse some of the confusion that the obscuration of this historical reality has caused.

Andrew's book list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity

Andrew Chugg Why did Andrew love this book?

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

By James Davidson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex.

Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style.

This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights - especially fish - fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians' careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes.

James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented…


Book cover of An Economic History of Athens Under Roman Domination

Ian Worthington Author Of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

From my list on post Classical Athens.

Who am I?

Ian Worthington, FSA, FRHistS, is a Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and has written and edited 21 books and over 100 articles on Greek history, oratory, and epigraphy. He also has a Great Courses DVD and CD course titled The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World. Away from academic work, he is addicted to reality TV and is an unpaid taxi driver for his two children.

Ian's book list on post Classical Athens

Ian Worthington Why did Ian love this book?

This book is about eighty years old. I’m probably not far wrong in saying almost every other page is obsolete thanks to archaeological finds and interpretations of existing material, epigraphical, and literary evidence since it appeared. But it’s a wonderful book to read and appreciate how the author uses the evidence available to him to paint a brilliant image of Athenian and indeed Greek economic and commercial life in this period with many fascinating insights. The subject matter might seem unexciting, yet the author brings it alive and makes it really interesting!

Book cover of The Athenian Experiment: Building an Imagined Political Community in Ancient Attica, 508-490 B.C.

Robin Waterfield Author Of Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

From my list on ancient Greek history.

Who am I?

I’m a British scholar – a former university lecturer, many moons ago – now living in rural southern Greece. In fact, I have Greek as well as UK citizenship, which really pleases me because I’ve loved Greece and things Greek since boyhood. I started to learn ancient Greek at the age of ten! I’ve written over fifty books, mostly on ancient Greek history and philosophy, including many volumes of translations from ancient Greek. But I’ve also written children’s fiction in the form of gamebooks, a biography, a book on hypnosis, a retelling of the Greek myths (with my wife Kathryn) ... I’ll stop there!

Robin's book list on ancient Greek history

Robin Waterfield Why did Robin love this book?

At the very end of the sixth century BCE, the Athenians took a leap of faith and turned their city into the first democracy – or proto-democracy, anyway: much tweaking went on over subsequent decades. In terms of European history as a whole, this has probably been the most important event to come out of ancient Greece. It has of course been much studied – so it is remarkable that Anderson’s book is filled with fresh insights into the background of the “Athenian experiment,” what actually happened, and why. The results are often surprising. Above all, he demonstrates that it was not a bottom-up spontaneous revolution by the masses, but a deliberate piece of social engineering by members of the Athenian elite.

By Greg Anderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


In barely the space of one generation, Athens was transformed from a conventional city-state into something completely new--a region-state on a scale previously unthinkable. This book sets out to answer a seemingly simple question: How and when did the Athenian state attain the anomalous size that gave it such influence in Greek politics and culture in the classical period? Many scholars argue that Athens's incorporation of Attica was a gradual development, largely completed some two hundred years before the classical era. Anderson, however, suggests that it is not until the late sixth century that we see the first systematic attempts…


Book cover of Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity

John O. Hyland Author Of Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE

From my list on Achaemenid Persia and its Greek neighbors.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with ancient history since childhood, but really fell in love with the Achaemenids in college while taking classes on Greek history and wondering about the other side’s perspective on familiar stories of the Persian Wars. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to study both Greek and Persian history in graduate school at the University of Chicago, a leading center of scholarship on the Achaemenid world since the Persepolis excavations in the 1930s. Since 2006, I’ve taught in the History department at Christopher Newport University, a liberal arts university in Newport News, Virginia. I’m currently working on my next book, a new history of Persia’s Greek campaigns. 

John's book list on Achaemenid Persia and its Greek neighbors

John O. Hyland Why did John love this book?

This remarkable study views the encounters between Persia and Athens through the movement of artwork and material artifacts. Beginning just after Xerxes’ invasion with the Athenian acquisition of Persian objects as wartime spoils, it explores other avenues for cultural dissemination in the contexts of economic exchange, diplomatic gifts, architectural influence, and the emulation and transformation of selected Persian fashions in status-signaling by wealthy Athenians. Carefully illustrated and argued, it expands the horizons of Persian-Greek studies from conflict to culture, driving home Lewis’ maxim that there was no “Iron Curtain” across the Aegean. 

By Margaret C. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is a commonplace of modern scholarship that the Athenians hated and despised the Persians, but the claims of contempt are disproved by the evidence of archaeology, epigraphy, iconography and literature, all of which reveal some facet of Athenian receptivity to Achaemenid Persian culture. The Athenian response was as richly complex as the spheres of interaction: both private and public, elite and sub-elite. It appears in pot shapes, clothing, luxurious display and monumental architecture. This innovative study, the first comprehensive collection of evidence pertaining to the relations between Athens and Persia in the fifth century BC, aims to make this…