The Roman Empire, at the height of its might (117CE) was the most extensive political and social regime in Western civilisation and is considered to be one of the greatest empires in the history of mankind. The Empire grew and grew, swallowing entire countries and regimes until by 285CE the empire had grown too vast to be ruled by a central government at Rome and was divided into a Western and Eastern Empire.
The Empire began when Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome and ended in the West when the last Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic King Odacer. In the East it continued as the Byzantine Empire until the death of Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
The influence of the Empire was profound and its lasting contributions can be found everywhere from our language, food, and roads, with its influence affecting virtually every aspect of Western culture. As such, the Roman Empire is fascinating and if you’re a fan of nonfiction, fiction, or you’re looking for recommended reads for a younger audience, today we’re recommending the ten best books about the Roman Empire, for all ages.
Daily Life in Ancient Rome – Jerome Carcopino
Although written in 1939, Daily Life in Ancient Rome is an important read, even today. This classic book brings to life imperial Rome as it was during the second century A.D., the time of Trajan and Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Commodus. It was a period marked by lavish displays of wealth, a dazzling cultural mix, and the advent of Christianity. The splendor and squalor of the city, the spectacles, and the day’s routines are reconstructed from an immense fund of archaeological evidence and from vivid descriptions by ancient poets, satirists, letter-writers, and novelists—from Petronius to Pliny the Younger. In a new Introduction, the eminent classicist Mary Beard appraises the book’s enduring—and sometimes surprising—influence and its value for general readers and students. She also provides an up-to-date bibliographic essay.
I, Claudius – Robert Graves
Due to several adaptations, I, Claudius is one of the best known works on the Roman Empire, but it survives the ages and is still an informative and insightful read today. That’s because it’s based on the fictional biography of Tiberius Claudius, born 10 B.C. Considered an idiot because of his physical infirmities, Claudius survived the intrigues and poisonings of the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and the Mad Caligula to become emperor in 41 A.D.
The Twelve Caesars – Suetonius
As private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, the scholar Suetonius had access to the imperial archives and used them (along with eyewitness accounts) to produce one of the most colourful biographical works in history. The Twelve Caesars chronicles the public careers and private lives of the men who wielded absolute power over Rome, from the foundation of the empire under Julius Caesar and Augustus, to the decline into depravity and civil war under Nero and the recovery that came with his successors. A masterpiece of observation, anecdote and detailed physical description, The Twelve Caesars presents us with a gallery of vividly drawn—and all too human—individuals.
Rubicon – Tom Holland
A vivid historical account of the social world of Rome as it moved from republic to empire. In 49 B.C., the seven hundred fifth year since the founding of Rome, Julius Caesar crossed a small border river called the Rubicon and plunged Rome into cataclysmic civil war. Tom Holland’s enthralling account tells the story of Caesar’s generation, witness to the twilight of the Republic and its bloody transformation into an empire. From Cicero, Spartacus, and Brutus, to Cleopatra, Virgil, and Augustus, here are some of the most legendary figures in history brought thrillingly to life. Combining verve and freshness with scrupulous scholarship, Rubicon is not only an engrossing history of this pivotal era but a uniquely resonant portrait of a great civilization in all its extremes of self-sacrifice and rivalry, decadence and catastrophe, intrigue, war, and world-shaking ambition.
The Storm Before the Storm – Mike Duncan
The Storm Before the Storm is the most recent release on our list. The creator of the award winning podcast series The History of Rome and Revolutions brings to life the bloody battles, political machinations, and human drama that set the stage for the fall of the Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. Beginning as a small city-state in central Italy, Rome gradually expanded into a wider world filled with petty tyrants, barbarian chieftains, and despotic kings. Through the centuries, Rome’s model of cooperative and participatory government remained remarkably durable and unmatched in the history of the ancient world.
Imperium – Robert Harris
Because nonfiction isn’t for everyone, we’re recommending Imperium, the first of a trilogy of novels about the struggle for power in ancient Rome. Robert Harris lures readers back in time to the compelling life of Roman Senator Marcus Cicero. The re-creation of a vanished biography written by his household slave and righthand man, Tiro, Imperium follows Cicero’s extraordinary struggle to attain supreme power in Rome.
Roma – Steven Saylor
If you’re a fan of historical fiction then Roma is for you. Spanning a thousand years, and following the shifting fortunes of two families though the ages, this is the epic saga of Rome, the city and its people.
Weaving history, legend, and new archaeological discoveries into a spellbinding narrative, critically acclaimed novelist Steven Saylor gives new life to the drama of the city’s first thousand years ― from the founding of the city by the ill-fated twins Romulus and Remus, through Rome’s astonishing ascent to become the capitol of the most powerful empire in history. Roma recounts the tragedy of the hero-traitor Coriolanus, the capture of the city by the Gauls, the invasion of Hannibal, the bitter political struggles of the patricians and plebeians, and the ultimate death of Rome’s republic with the triumph, and assassination, of Julius Caesar.
Course of Honour – Lindsey Davis
Our final historical fiction recommendation is Course of Honour. In ancient Rome, ambitious citizens who aspired to political power, to become one of the ruling elite―a senator, had to follow what was known as “The Course of Honor.” This course had only one unbreakable rule: a senator is forbidden to marry a slave, even a freed slave. When the soldier Vespasian meets an interesting girl in the imperial palace, he doesn’t know she is a slave in the household of the imperial family. But he is inexorably drawn in by her intelligence and charisma. Yet as Vespasian slowly rises from near-obscurity and as emperor after emperor plays out their own deadly, seductive games of lust and conquest, the future is something no one could imagine. No one could believe that a country-born army man might win the throne―no one, that is, except a slave girl who, with the future Emperor, begins a daring course of honor of her own.
Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans – Terry Deary
The entire Horrible Histories series is incredible for curious children and so if you have a child looking for information about the Roman Empire, this is a great place to start.
Ruthless Romans reveals the grim goings-on of the greatest empire ever, from the terrible twins who founded Rome to the evil emperors who made murder into a sport. Read on for gory details about the cruel Colosseum and the people and animals who were massacred there… and find out how, if you upset them enough, the ruthless Romans would CRUCIFY you. Eeek!
Roman Diary – Richard Platt
The final book in our recommended list is another book for young readers.
Iliona never imagined that her sea voyage from Greece to Egypt would lead to Rome, but when she is captured by pirates and auctioned off as a slave, that’s where she lands. Readers are invited to view the wonders of Rome through Iliona’s eyes—the luxury, the excess, and the politics.