The best books on Emperor Hadrian

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Emperor Hadrian and why they recommend each book.

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Memoirs of Hadrian

By Marguerite Yourcenar, Grace Frick,

Book cover of Memoirs of Hadrian

This splendid work of fiction recreates the times of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. I list it as one of the perceptions I relate in my book is how when I began reading intensely from 12 on I did so first to escape the reality around me, and then, with growing astonishment, to explore how extraordinarily varied reality was, and that what seemed impossible, or fantasy, had in many cases and at other times, been real—as the life of Hadrian had been. This had the effect of reducing the force of the claims of those around me that our reality was Reality: I began to realize 'Reality' contains multiple realities, both in the past and present, and that I need not be bound by the one I found myself within.


Who am I?

Quite young, I realized my life was based on the fantasies and wish-fulfillments of my parents. As a teenager I turned to science fiction and fantasy whose stories so often engaged imaginatively and decisively with fundamental issues of good and evil, truth and falsity, courage and deception, unlike my reality. In my struggle to portray that reality and its transformation something Freud wondered about proved helpful, whether our careful effort to reconstruct the past was wholly true or in part illusory. If it was effective as an explanation, then he felt it was valid, and I have written in the same spirit.


I wrote...

Family Matters

By Lance Lee,

Book cover of Family Matters

What is my book about?

Family Matters is a generations-long reckoning with family myth, loss, and transformation from 1865 to the 1970s, showing how family suffering metamorphosized into comedy on an abiding public, cultural scale in the original The Addams Family television series of 1964-1966 created by the author's father, David Levy, from the original Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons. It is also the story of how the author's parents though drawn from widely divergent backgrounds strove to realize the American Dream. Levy's ancestors derived from Jewish Eastern Europe, Lucille Wilds' from Anglo-Welsh aristocratic, and German roots. The breakdown of that effort both as a slow ebbing and with an abrupt jolt provides the narrative drive and climax of Family Matters.

The Quest for Corvo

By A.J.A. Symons,

Book cover of The Quest for Corvo

Before Symons published The Quest for Corvo in 1934, many biographies were little more than hagiographies, or boring tomes about unblemished saints. Symons redefined biography by writing a mystery story, featuring himself as a historical detective seeking to understand how a character as disagreeable as Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, could have authored beautiful novels like Hadrian the Seventh.

Who am I?

I am a historian of sexuality who is fascinated by unknown stories that reveal the past to be way more complicated than we expect. I’ve written about same-sex marriage in early America, a teenage female poet of the American Revolution, a masculine woman who founded her own college, and a notorious British pederast. Now I’m working on the tale of a forgotten American sexual adventuress and jewel thief. I also have a longstanding research project about the history of food and sex from the eighteenth century to the present day.


I wrote...

Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality

By Rachel Hope Cleves,

Book cover of Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality

What is my book about?

The life of the writer Norman Douglas presents an impossible paradox: how could a man who was well known during his own lifetime for his sexual obsession with children have been so beloved by famous authors like D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, and Nancy Cunard, as well as by countless readers on both sides of the Atlantic? Answering that question puts the biographer (me) in an impossible situation, as I trace the social history of pederasty and discover that attitudes towards sex between men and children were far more accommodating in the first half of the twentieth century than they are now. Unspeakable is not just a sexual biography of a man who would now be considered a monster, it’s a reflection on how historians of sexuality can write about practices that are more taboo today than they were in the past.

Hadrian's Wall

By Brian Dobson, David J Breeze,

Book cover of Hadrian's Wall

When I’m researching a historical novel, I always find that I have what I think of as my ‘bible’, the go-to book I turn to when I am stuck for the kind of detail that gives a book layers and makes people think, or even for inspiration. Breeze and Dobson were my go-to experts when I was writing The Wall, which is set in the twilight years of a dying Roman Britain. Hadrian’s Wall places these island’s greatest and most fascinating Roman monument in the context of the Empire and examines in forensic detail its construction, development, function and decline over a period of almost three hundred years, introducing along the way the men who built it and garrisoned it. The Wall as we know it is very different from that originally envisaged by Hadrian and we know, from the alterations that took place over the centuries, that its purpose…


Who am I?

Douglas Jackson is the author of eleven historical novels, including the 9-book Valerius Verrens series, which involves his Hero of Rome in conspiracies, battles, and intrigues from the Boudiccan rebellion in 60AD to the battle of Mons Graupius in 84AD. His next book, appropriately titled The Wall, will be published in 2022. His first job when he left school at sixteen was helping to restore one of Julius Agricola’s marching camps in the Cheviot Hills. The Romans have fascinated him ever since, to the point where he's managed to make a living out of writing about them. With Hadrian’s Wall almost on his doorstep, there was never any doubt he'd set a book there.


I wrote...

Hero of Rome

By Douglas Jackson,

Book cover of Hero of Rome

What is my book about?

Rome's grip on Britain is weakening. Roman cruelty and exploitation has angered their British subjects; the Druids are on the rise; the warrior queen Boudicca will lead the tribes to war. The Roman Tribune, Gaius Valerius Verrens must lead the legionary veterans at Colonia in a last stand against the rising tide of rebellion and the unstoppable horde of Boudicca's rebel army.

The Wall

By Alistair Moffat,

Book cover of The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier

A non-fiction book with the same title as my novel, well why not? Alistair Moffat is an old friend and fellow Borderer who grew up not so far north of Hadrian’s Wall and has an abiding passion for history, language and place. What I love about The Wall is the way it manages to encompass the grand theme of the Romans in Britain and at the same time shine a spotlight on the fascinating minutiae of life in those ancient times. Thus we learn about the games the Roman soldiers played, the food they consumed and the building techniques they used to construct the Wall. Fair enough, you say, but … where else would we discover that the historian Suetonius, whose Life of the Twelve Caesars helped inform several of my earlier novels, was sacked by the Emperor Hadrian. That WH Auden wrote a poem called ‘Roman Wall Blues’. Or…


Who am I?

Douglas Jackson is the author of eleven historical novels, including the 9-book Valerius Verrens series, which involves his Hero of Rome in conspiracies, battles, and intrigues from the Boudiccan rebellion in 60AD to the battle of Mons Graupius in 84AD. His next book, appropriately titled The Wall, will be published in 2022. His first job when he left school at sixteen was helping to restore one of Julius Agricola’s marching camps in the Cheviot Hills. The Romans have fascinated him ever since, to the point where he's managed to make a living out of writing about them. With Hadrian’s Wall almost on his doorstep, there was never any doubt he'd set a book there.


I wrote...

Hero of Rome

By Douglas Jackson,

Book cover of Hero of Rome

What is my book about?

Rome's grip on Britain is weakening. Roman cruelty and exploitation has angered their British subjects; the Druids are on the rise; the warrior queen Boudicca will lead the tribes to war. The Roman Tribune, Gaius Valerius Verrens must lead the legionary veterans at Colonia in a last stand against the rising tide of rebellion and the unstoppable horde of Boudicca's rebel army.

An Archaeological Guide to Walking Hadrian's Wall from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend

By M.C. Bishop,

Book cover of An Archaeological Guide to Walking Hadrian's Wall from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend

The only way to see Hadrian’s Wall properly is to visit it on foot. Only then can you experience it as the Roman soldiers who garrisoned it between 122AD and 410AD experienced it, especially when the freezing hail comes howling in from the north. If Breeze and Dobson have written the definitive book on Hadrian’s Wall, Mike Bishop, who has walked, cycled, driven and flown along the Wall, is undoubtedly the font of all knowledge, immersed in every detail. Backed by a lifetime of archaeological experience, this guide allows you to see the monument through his eyes, with a host of historical and physical detail that most people miss. It follows the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, which Mike was involved in from the start, but where the path deviates from the Wall, this account stays with it, allowing the reader to experience and examine remains most other walkers don’t. I was…


Who am I?

Douglas Jackson is the author of eleven historical novels, including the 9-book Valerius Verrens series, which involves his Hero of Rome in conspiracies, battles, and intrigues from the Boudiccan rebellion in 60AD to the battle of Mons Graupius in 84AD. His next book, appropriately titled The Wall, will be published in 2022. His first job when he left school at sixteen was helping to restore one of Julius Agricola’s marching camps in the Cheviot Hills. The Romans have fascinated him ever since, to the point where he's managed to make a living out of writing about them. With Hadrian’s Wall almost on his doorstep, there was never any doubt he'd set a book there.


I wrote...

Hero of Rome

By Douglas Jackson,

Book cover of Hero of Rome

What is my book about?

Rome's grip on Britain is weakening. Roman cruelty and exploitation has angered their British subjects; the Druids are on the rise; the warrior queen Boudicca will lead the tribes to war. The Roman Tribune, Gaius Valerius Verrens must lead the legionary veterans at Colonia in a last stand against the rising tide of rebellion and the unstoppable horde of Boudicca's rebel army.

Terra Incognita

By Ruth Downie,

Book cover of Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire

An unlikely pair fight crime and corruption in second-century Britain. 

Meet Ruso and Tilla. He’s an educated, idealistic Roman serving as an army medic with the 20th Legion. She’s a feisty, pragmatic Briton and former slave. Together they fight injustice, solve murders, and share an endearing talent for getting themselves into awkward pickles by misconstruing each other’s intentions. 

In Terra Incognito, Ruso travels to the British frontier, where he is the outsider and Tilla the one who understands the rules. Can a tough Roman soldier learn to take advice from his barbarian housekeeper? Can he trust her not to betray him or run away to rejoin her people? Tilla proves trustworthy, and a great crime-fighting partnership is formed.


Who am I?

I enjoy authors who craft twisty mystery plots with vivid historical settings filled with memorable characters. I enjoy them even more when they make me laugh out loud. When I read for pleasure, I don’t want books filled with gritty realism or tragic stories. I want a bit of fun, but my dry sense of humor is left wanting by many novels purported to be funny. I often find their main characters either annoyingly frivolous or painfully cynical. Give me intelligent characters, stories filled with hope, and an occasional one-liner that tickles my funny bone. I hope this list has introduced you to authors who do just that.


I wrote...

Fountains and Secrets

By Lisa E. Betz,

Book cover of Fountains and Secrets

What is my book about?

A quirky mystery set in first-century Rome. When her husband’s friend goes missing, spunky Livia Aemilia eagerly joins the search for clues. She discovers two key facts: A) the missing man is tied to more serious crimes and B) her husband does not appreciate her sleuthing behind his back. 

Oops. Livia makes amends, but her curiosity soon gets her into trouble again. Worse, her husband discovers the mastermind behind the crimes is a ruthless longtime enemy. He orders her to cease investigating without explaining why, which only infuriates her into reckless action. Can they learn to trust each other and work together before their enemy identifies the pesky woman who’s been asking too many questions?

Theft of Swords

By Michael J. Sullivan,

Book cover of Theft of Swords

The bromance in this series is between two longtime friends that are also independent thieves. A running joke between them is Hadrian’s insistence on constantly doing “good deeds” instead of simply taking jobs that pay well. Despite Royce’s complaints about Hadrian’s apparent charitable streak, it becomes clear that he also has a penchant for doing the right thing. The banter between them is fluid and speaks of a shared history that keeps me reading, hoping to dig more into their past and discover how they became such a strong team. I also adore books with humor in the midst of drama or stress and this book definitely delivers.


Who am I?

For me, “bromance'' is simply two (or more) men having a bond that extends deeper than mere friendship. It is usually not romantic (sadly, in some cases), and is often between cousins or even brothers, but I absolutely love it when a hero is willing to die for his friend/soulmate/brother/mortal enemy. Men have been discouraged from saying the dreaded “I love you,” especially to other men, so they have been forced to disclose their feelings through action. I find a special delight in bonds that develop between two people who initially dislike one another; they must first reach “like” before they can achieve real emotional connection.


I wrote...

The Gauntlet Thrown

By Cheryl Dyson,

Book cover of The Gauntlet Thrown

What is my book about?

With a varied cast of characters, bromance, and epic worldbuilding, The Gauntlet Thrown is heavily influenced by an assortment of fantasy novels that feature the same. When Brydon leaves his home to fulfill a quest that will lead to him becoming the next king, Toryn is determined to stop him. When he bungles the job and Brydon spares his life, they forge an uneasy alliance that leads them into a web of deception, magic, unexpected friends…and enemies.

Beloved and God

By Royston Lambert,

Book cover of Beloved and God: Story of Hadrian and Antinous

This book is about the sublimation of an erotic relationship between a teenage boy and the emperor Hadrian that led to the creation of the last classical religious movement of Antiquity. The murky sacrificial drowning of Antinous in the River Nile prompted the emperor in his role as chief priest of Rome to deify the youth, setting up temples in his name and going so far as to define a celestial constellation in his image. Lambert’s posthumously published investigation rigorously rakes through the still glowing embers of this affair to define how it was ignited.


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.

Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides)

By Amanda Claridge,

Book cover of Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides)

I am a Roman historian and spend as much time as I can in the eternal city. This is absolutely the best guidebook. Amanda lived in Rome for many years, knows every fragment of ancient architecture, and is fantastic at explaining the most complicated ruins. The book is short enough to carry with you everywhere and is full of wonderful maps and plans. Absolutely essential.


Who am I?

I learned to dig as a teenager in the school holidays and studied the ancient world at Oxford and Cambridge before beginning my career as a university teacher. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world for my work, and have spent time living in some amazing cities including Paris, London, Madrid, and Rome. I love exploring new urban landscapes from Moscow to Lusaka, Såo Paulo to Toronto and I am looking forward this summer to moving to another great metropolis, Los Angeles.


I wrote...

The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History

By Greg Woolf,

Book cover of The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History

What is my book about?

The growth of cities around the world in the last two centuries is the greatest episode in our urban history, but it is not the first. Three thousand years ago most of the Mediterranean basin was a world of villages; a world without money or writing, without temples for the gods or palaces for the mighty. Over the centuries that followed, however, cities appeared in many places around the Inland Sea, built by Greeks and Romans, and also by Etruscans and Phoenicians, Tartessians and Lycians, and many others. Most were tiny by modern standards, but they were the building blocks of all the states and empires of antiquity. The greatest--Athens and Corinth, Syracuse and Marseilles, Alexandria and Ephesus, Persepolis and Carthage, Rome and Byzantium--became the powerhouses of successive ancient societies, not just political centers but also the places where ancient art and literatures were created and accumulated. And then, half way through the first millennium, most withered away, leaving behind ruins that have fascinated so many who came after.

Hadrian's Wall

By Matthew Symonds,

Book cover of Hadrian's Wall: Creating Division

The northern border of Roman Britain came to define much of the occupation in the province, given the far north of the main island of Britain was never fully conquered. This meant the north and west of the province featured an exceptionally large military presence, with the whole local economy there bent on maintaining it. By far the most enigmatic manifestation of this is Hadrian’s Wall, the physical northern frontier for much of the Roman period. In this brand new work, featuring much new research, Matthew Symonds of Current Publishing goes into great detail about the history of the fortification, its purpose, and the impact it has had on British history following Rome’s departure. 


Who am I?

Dr. Simon Elliott is an award-winning and best-selling historian, archaeologist, author, broadcaster, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent, Trustee of the Council for British Archaeology, Ambassador for Museum of London Archaeology, Guide Lecturer for Andante Travels, and President of the Society of Ancients. He frequently appears on broadcast and social media as a presenter and expert regarding the ancient world, and currently has 12 books on sale on similar themes, with three more due later this year. He is also a PR Week award-winning, highly experienced communications practitioner who has advised a wide variety of clients at a senior level on their interaction with the world of the media and politics. 


I wrote...

Roman Britain's Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana?

By Simon Elliott, Simon Elliott,

Book cover of Roman Britain's Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana?

What is my book about?

Legio IX Hispana had a long and active history, later in its career founding both Lincoln and York in Britain, from where it guarded the northern frontiers in the Roman province. However, it is last mentioned in history in AD 82 and epigraphy in AD 108, after which it completely disappears. The mystery of its disappearance has inspired debate and imagination for centuries. In his new best-selling work, Dr. Simon Elliott analyses whether it was most likely lost in the north of Britain, in the south here, on the Rhine or Danube, or in the east.

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