Historical fiction allows authors and readers to flush out life and society in the times past. It provides possible answers to what it was like to live during the Roman Empire. There are tons of really good novels available. Here are a few you might want to try.
The Julio-Claudian Dynasty (100 BC – 68 AD) is the most famous of the Roman dynasties and has more stories written about it then all the others combined. Probably the best known was written by Robert Graves and made into a Masterpiece Classic for PBS – I, Claudius. This two book series is about one of the most notorious families that has ever been, a dynasty that included the first six emperors of Rome: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula (Gaius), Claudius, and Nero.
The five book Emperor Series by Conn Iggulden follows the life of Julius Caesar from the age of 14 thru his military career, to becoming Emperor, and his betrayal and death. The final novel illustrates the power struggle and civil war after his death.
Another trilogy taking place in the same time frame is Robert Harris’ Ancient Rome Trilogy which follows the life of the greatest orator of his time, Cicero. Imperium, Conspirata and the just published Dictator are all excellent novels showing the politics of Caesar’s rise to power and the end of the Republic. Harris also wrote Pompeii, the story of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. It is told from the point of view of the Roman aqueduct engineer responsible for the city’s water system who notices sulphur in the water days before the eruption.
Now we jump ahead to the next dynasty, the Flavians (68 – 96 AD). Simon Scarrow has written a series of novels that revolve around two Centurions of the Roman Army during the reigns of Claudius, Caligula, and Nero. They are involved in the conquering of Britain with General Vespasian (the future Emperor). Their travels take them over most of the empire including Germany, Syria, Egypt, and Crete, as they fight alongside both future Emperors Vitellius and Vespasian.
Harry Sidebottom takes us to 222 AD to pick up the tale of Emperor Severus Alexander who is the last of the House of Severus. He is on campaign in Germany to subdue the Germanic tribes when the Army mutinies and installs Maximinus I, thus starting the Age of Crisis which will see 13 emperors in 25 years.
Taylor Caldwell’s Pillar of Iron is about Cicero and Dear and Glorious Physician is about St. Luke while he was in Rome. Also, Great Lion of God is about St. Paul and Judas and takes place during the Roman occupation of Palestine.
If you like non-fiction instead, you are in luck because there are many really good biographies and works about Roman society. One of the most knowledgeable authors on Rome was Michael Grant CBE (21 November 1914 – 4 October 2004). He published over 70 works, most about the Classical world. He has written biographies of Julius Caesar, Nero, Herod the Great, Cleopatra, Emperor Constantine, the Antonines and the Severans, just to name a few.
Anthony Birley has written good biographies of the Emperors Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian and Septimius Severus. His other works cover Roman life in Britain including life at the military posts at Hadrian’s Wall.
A little known work by Marguerite Yourcenar titled “Memoirs of Hadrian” is an excellent biography of Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD). It is a classic and hard to find but well worth the search.
Most of these books are not written like textbooks and are easy and enjoyable to read. There are other authors who have written extensively on Rome and half the fun is the search for good ones. If you have a recommendation, please drop us a line so that we can share it with other members.

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