The best books about classical Athens

1 authors have picked their favorite books about classical Athens and why they recommend each book.

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An Economic History of Athens Under Roman Domination

By John Day,

Book cover of An Economic History of Athens Under Roman Domination

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 I’m probably not far wrong in saying almost every other page is obsolete thanks to archaeological finds and interpretations of existing material, epigraphical, and literary evidence since it appeared.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!


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.


I wrote...

Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

By Ian Worthington,

Book cover of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

What is my book about?

What was Athens’ place in the long Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), during which the Mediterranean world open up to the east like never before and Greek culture spread as far afield as India? Usually post-classical Athens is viewed as a postscript to its great classical self, a dreary picture of decline and fall. I argue that view is wrong. Athens continued to be a vibrant city, respected in the Greek world and by the Romans, who appropriated aspects of its culture for their own civilization. Later Athens should no longer live in the shadow of its famous forerunner.

The Agora of Athens

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

Book cover of The Agora of Athens: The History, Shape, and Uses of an Ancient City Center

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.


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.


I wrote...

Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

By Ian Worthington,

Book cover of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

What is my book about?

What was Athens’ place in the long Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), during which the Mediterranean world open up to the east like never before and Greek culture spread as far afield as India? Usually post-classical Athens is viewed as a postscript to its great classical self, a dreary picture of decline and fall. I argue that view is wrong. Athens continued to be a vibrant city, respected in the Greek world and by the Romans, who appropriated aspects of its culture for their own civilization. Later Athens should no longer live in the shadow of its famous forerunner.

Courtesans and Fishcakes

By James Davidson,

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

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.


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.


I wrote...

Alexander's Lovers

By Andrew Chugg,

Book cover of Alexander's Lovers

What is my book about?

Alexander's Lovers reveals the personality of Alexander the Great through the mirror of the lives of his lovers, including his companion and deputy Hephaistion, his queen Roxane, his mistress Barsine and Bagoas the Eunuch. It includes all the intimate details and obscure references that standard modern accounts leave out and reveals a more convincing, realistic, and human picture of the king as opposed to the fake persona of a rampaging conqueror conjured up by many modern accounts. If you would like to get to know Alexander on a more personal level, then this book provides you with a unique opportunity.

Athens from Alexander to Antony

By Deborah Lucas Schneider, Christian Habicht,

Book cover of Athens from Alexander to Antony

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.


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.


I wrote...

Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

By Ian Worthington,

Book cover of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

What is my book about?

What was Athens’ place in the long Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), during which the Mediterranean world open up to the east like never before and Greek culture spread as far afield as India? Usually post-classical Athens is viewed as a postscript to its great classical self, a dreary picture of decline and fall. I argue that view is wrong. Athens continued to be a vibrant city, respected in the Greek world and by the Romans, who appropriated aspects of its culture for their own civilization. Later Athens should no longer live in the shadow of its famous forerunner.

The Athenian Experiment

By Greg Anderson,

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

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.


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!


I wrote...

Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

By Robin Waterfield,

Book cover of Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

What is my book about?

I had two main objectives in writing the book. In recent decades, there has been a great deal of movement in the various disciplines that fuel such a book – history, archaeology, art history, and so on – and it was time to catch the general reading public up with ancient Greece’s new look. So my book is, firstly, an accessible and up-to-date history of ancient Greece from about 750 BCE to 30 BCE. But, secondly, I raised the question: seeing that the Greeks recognized themselves as kin, as all Greeks together, why were they so often at war with one another? Why did it take them so long to achieve any degree of unity, and what factors brought it about? I’ve written the book as a chronological history, and the issues relating to these questions are a kind of golden thread throughout the book. 

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