The best Roman Empire books

16 authors have picked their favorite books about the Roman Empire and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire

Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire

By Ralph Jackson,

Why this book?

A wonderful account of the sometimes counterintuitive world of Roman medicine. They could treat cataracts, for instance, but couldn’t recognize appendicitis because they weren’t allowed to conduct autopsies. The chapters on Roman army medicine are excellent. There is also an excellent chapter on women’s diseases, birth and contraception.

From the list:

The best books on life in the Roman Empire

Book cover of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon,

Why this book?

I’ve been an amateur historian for as long as I can remember. The past enthralls me, especially the bits where everything goes wrong and entire societies crumble. I suppose it’s because I agree with George Santayana that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and the idea has always held a certain fascination. As downfalls go, I figure none had a greater effect on western civilization than that of the classic Roman Empire and for me, it’s the template which explains so many historical cycles of the past and will continue to explain those of the…

From the list:

The best books chronicling the rise, fall, and rebirth of galactic empires

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

Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire

By Ruth Downie,

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best historical mystery series with a touch of humor

Book cover of Emperor

Emperor

By Colin Thubron,

Why this book?

There are a great many novels about Roman emperors, and even a few about the rulers of the later age – Gore Vidal’s Julian, for example – but this one stands out for its originality. The emperor of the title is Constantine, one of the towering figures of Roman history, and incidentally quite important in my own books too. The novel covers the two months leading up to the battle of Milvian Bridge in AD312, but rather than giving us a panoramic view of the military campaign in Italy, Thubron chooses to tell the story as a collection of letters…

From the list:

The best novels set in the later Roman Empire

Book cover of At the Ruin of the World

At the Ruin of the World

By John Henry Clay,

Why this book?

The end of the Roman Empire in the west is a fascinating but notoriously vague saga, which often seems to be composed entirely of footnotes. In this novel John Henry Clay takes a handful of those footnotes and rebuilds mid 5th century Gaul and Italy on a grand scale. The empire is on its knees, but the aristocratic elites of the southern provinces are still living the good life on their villa estates, until all is thrown into turmoil by the invasion of Attila and his Huns. Part family drama, part broad-canvas military and political epic, the first half of…

From the list:

The best novels set in the later Roman Empire

Book cover of Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire

Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire

By Jerome Carcopino,

Why this book?

A historical novel has to do more than just re-tell a part of history. The author has the duty to make history come alive for the reader, even if fictionalized. That means details about daily life and customs, not just buildings and battles. This book was enormously helpful in describing everyday Roman life. What the Romans were eating and wearing in Rome, they probably also ate (as near as they could) and wore in their colonies. Here I found everything from going to the barber to going to the circus.

From the list:

The best books about Roman Britain and the Celts

Book cover of 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan,

Why this book?

The Civil War of 69 AD — aka “The Year of Four Emperors” — was a complex, pivotal moment in the history of the Roman Empire. Since it took place at a key moment in my trilogy’s timeline, and since so many of my characters were active participants, I had to understand it. Morgan expertly clarifies an interrelated series of historical threads that I needed to follow to make my three-part fictional story both historically accurate and novelistically intriguing.

From the list:

The best books on the Roman Empire in the 2nd half of the 1st century AD

Book cover of Daily Life in Late Antiquity

Daily Life in Late Antiquity

By Kristina Sessa,

Why this book?

This is the only book on the list that relates directly to my main topic of research, but that is a strong recommendation in itself. In truth, there are lots of books about ‘late antiquity’ (or ‘the later Roman Empire’), and many of them are very good indeed. But they also tell a familiar story in familiar ways: they discuss politics, military actions, transforming towns, and (increasingly) plague and climate change. Sessa’s book deals with all of these themes in some way, but flips the whole thing on its head. This book looks at the period from the bottom up,…

From the list:

The best books for thinking about history in a different way

Book cover of The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

By David Bindman (editor), Henry Louis Gates (editor),

Why this book?

While this book is problematic in that it tries to posit ancient Egyptian art as “Western art”, it includes excellent articles by esteemed scholars of Egypt and Nubia as well as copious images of ancient art from the Nile Valley (Egypt and Nubia) and Greek and Roman art depicting Black people. Despite the incorrigible racism expressed in the Introduction, the scholarly articles included in the book are replete with detailed information about the Africans who lived along the Nile River.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Nubia

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