Swordsmen and Caesars aren’t the only characters in Roman history. It’s also the narrative of freedmen selling vegetables in the Forum Holitorium and patrician ladies seeking vengeance for their dead relatives in the absence of their husbands.

Roman antiquity mirrors the truths we now live out today for the writers and historians unearthing these tales and coaxing them back to life via the power of their prose.

It depicts the bravery of families standing together, the dangers of authoritarianism, and the silent horrors of navigating a world where justice is frequently denied.

The Romanists on our list are smart but never stuffy, and they represent the peak of nonfiction writing, making the distant past feel current and vivid without polishing down its details.

You’ll learn about not just ancient Rome, but multiple Romes, as their combined efforts expose an ancient culture in all its complexities.

Here is a list of the best Roman history books for you.


Best Books to Read

1. The Twelve Caesars

1. The Twelve Caesars
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About the Book

A significant primary source on Roman history as well as a fascinating scholarly achievement covering a crucial period in the Empire’s history.

Suetonius, as Emperor Hadrian’s private secretary, had access to the imperial archives, which he utilized (together with eyewitness reports) to write one of history’s most colorful biographies.

From the creation of the empire under Julius Caesar and Augustus to the descent into depravity and civil war under Nero and the recovery that came with his successors, The Twelve Caesars covers the public careers of the men who exercised authority over Rome.

The Twelve Caesars is a masterwork of observation, story, and meticulous physical description, presenting us with a gallery of vividly drawn—and all-too-human—individuals.

Robert Graves’ now-classic translation has been gently updated by James B. Rives, who has reinserted Latin phrases and updated language while maintaining the original’s vibrancy.

Book Review

If you’re on the fence regarding Roman History or want to see if you’d enjoy the subject, it is strongly advised you to read ‘The Twelve Caesars.’

It’s fascinating to consider that the Roman Empire expanded, prospered, and survived despite the rulers’ and their entourage’s complete lack of discipline.

The sense of devotion to the state, as well as the personal and civic orderliness that pervade the Roman citizen society, spring to mind.

Suetonius’ famous history of the first 12 Roman emperors is now available in a new translation and edition. This is a great place to start learning about Roman history because it’s gossipy, scandalous, and easy to understand.

Key Takeaways from the Book

A new chronology, additional reading, glossaries, maps, notes, and an introduction detailing Suetonius’ life and works are included in this edition.

About the Author

Suetonius was a Roman biographer and antiquarian whose works include De viris illustribus (Concerning Illustrious Men), a collection of brief biographies of famous Roman literary luminaries, and De vita Caesarum (On the Life of Caesar).

Book Details

You can purchase this book in Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook, and Hardcover versions.

  • Author: Suetonius
  • Pages: 464 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Ancient Roman History, History of Western Europe.

2. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics)

2. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics)
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About the Book

The six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88) by Edward Gibbon is one of European literature’s most majestic and ambitious narratives.

Its focus is on the fate of one of the world’s greatest civilizations over the course of thirteen centuries, including its rulers, wars, and culture, as well as the circumstances that led to its catastrophic collapse.

Gibbon graphically chronicles the waves of barbarian invasions led by commanders such as Alaric and Attila who overran and eventually destroyed the West in volumes three and four.

He then turns his attention to developments in the East, where even the Byzantine emperor Justinian’s triumphs and the wars of the outstanding military leader Belisarius couldn’t hide the empire’s underlying flaws.

Book Review

The author is a rogue in every sense of the word. He was appointed to Parliament later in life, and during his eight years there, he never rose to be recognized or to speak!

He was undoubtedly exhausted from this endeavor, which was a multi-volume epic on human progress and decay.

HDFRE is a footnote-heavy, side-margin-notes extravaganza. Checking and absorbing references will take you longer than reading the main content! And this is a substantially trimmed and condensed edition.

Every line and paragraph is well-crafted and chock-full of useful information. If you were born in the eighteenth century, it might also assist to put things in context.

Key Takeaways from the Book

All in all, it is a masterpiece that should be read by anybody interested in not only a viewpoint on the mid-to late-nineteenth centuries in Europe and its environs but also one that is particularly pertinent to American grandeur.

There are a lot of cautions for us all here. Is history going to repeat itself?

About the Author

Edward Gibbon was born in 1737 in Putney, England, and was his parents’ only child to survive childhood. Even though his education was constantly interrupted by illness, his knowledge was extensive.

Book Details

This book is available in Paperback, Kindle versions.

  • Author: Edward Gibbon
  • Pages: 795 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Ancient Indian History, Ancient Roman History.

3. The Roman Revolution

3. The Roman Revolution
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About the Book

The Fall of the Republic and the Decline of Freedom in Rome Between 60 BC and AD 14, and the Rise to Power of the Greatest of the Roman Emperors, Augustus, The Roman Revolution is a profound and unconventional treatment of a great theme.

The transformation of state and society, the violent transfer of power and property, and the creation of Augustus’ authority are depicted in an unorthodox narrative that uses old facts, rarely refers to modern authorities, and openly expresses contentious views.

As a result, we have a book that is both new and intriguing.

Book Review

The most comprehensive and challenging history of its topic has appeared in England for many years, possibly at any time. This book isn’t just for experts; the subject is crucial, and the content is the best that current research has to offer.

His work is the best book on Roman history that has appeared in many years, and it is highly documented and well written, as well as extremely persuasive and intriguing.

In histories without detail, perfection is impossible to find. Syme offers it, leaving you hungry for more.

Key Takeaways from the Book

Mr. Syme avoids biographies, but he paints unforgettable portraits of countless deserving women and men as he chronicles Rome’s transformation into a global Empire.

He complete with a corps of capable administrators, jurists, and public servants — both in the army, navy, and a virtual civil service administration based in surprising measure on merit.

About the Author

Sir Ronald Syme (1903-1989), Camden Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, was one of the most illustrious Roman historians. He received honorary degrees from eleven nations on five continents, in addition to several accolades and distinctions.

Book Details

You can buy this book in Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle versions.

  • Author: Sir Ronald Syme
  • Pages: 592 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Ancient History, Ancient Roman History.

4. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician

4. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician
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About the Book

Bestseller in the United States, This is a fantastic introduction to a pivotal period in Rome’s history. Cicero appears to be much what he must have been in life: contemplative, attractive, and a little conceited.

He fought Caesar and was pals with the young Brutus. He counseled Pompey on his disastrous transition from military glory to a politician.

He slandered Mark Antony and was a maestro of the smear campaign, feared as much for his wit as for his vicious debates. Cicero was Rome’s most feared politician, one of the greatest lawyers and statesmen of all time.

Brilliant, voluble, irritable, a genius of political manipulation but also a true patriot and idealist, Cicero was Rome’s most dreaded politician, one of the finest lawyers and politicians of all time.

Cicero comes to life as a clever and shrewd political player, the most eloquent and astute witness to the closing days of Republican Rome, thanks to his famed speeches as well as an unequaled collection of unguarded letters to his close friend Atticus.

Book Review

After two millennia, Everitt brings his subject—brilliant, vain, principled, opportunistic, and courageous—to life.

Vivacious and dramatic… By the end of the book, he’s managed to put enough flesh on Cicero’s old bones that you don’t mind when his bitter foe, Mark Antony, assassinates him.

Everitt is a meticulous biographer who meticulously rehearses and refines his explanation of his subject’s motivations… His accomplishment is that he has replaced the austere classroom effigy with a more rotund, ungainly, and the human figure.

Mr. Everitt gracefully exposes the man to a new generation and will endear him all over again to those who never understood the meaning, let alone the beauty, of that multi-clausal prose.

Key Takeaways from the Book

Anthony Everitt immerses us in the fascinating, scandal-ridden world of ancient Rome in its heyday—when senators were continually filibustering legislation and exposing one another’s sexual exploits to discredit the opposition—in this lively biography.

About the Author

Anthony Everitt’s interest in ancient Rome began when he was in high school and has continued ever since. He studied English literature at Cambridge University and worked for the Arts Council of Great Britain for four years.

Book Details

You can get this book in Paperback, Kindle, Hardcover, Audiobook formats.

  • Author: Antony Everitt
  • Pages: 400 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Historical Italy Biographies, Historical Greece Biographies, Ancient Rome Biographies.

5. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

5. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
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About the Book

A detailed description of Rome’s social world as it transitioned from republic to empire. Julius Caesar crossed a minor border river named the Rubicon in 49 B.C., the 700th year since Rome’s establishment, and plunged Rome into apocalyptic civil war.

Tom Holland’s riveting tale relates the story of Caesar’s generation, who lived through the end of the Republic and the brutal transformation of the Republic into an empire.

Here are some of history’s most iconic personalities brought to life, from Cicero, Spartacus, and Brutus to Cleopatra, Virgil, and Augustus.

Book Review

This engrossing story brings to life some of the long-forgotten people and events that created who we are. It allows the reader to relive the system’s slow, bloody demise, not just as a riveting drama in and of itself, but also as a morality story.

 Holland writes history with the intensity and rhythm of a writer, and with a sense of immediacy. His engrossing, hilarious narrative captures the republic’s scope and drama, fusing its many aspects into a unified whole.

Holland’s engaging style of narrative history is a praiseworthy rendering of one of history’s most complicated periods.

Informative, balanced, and accessible, Holland’s captivating brand of narrative history is a praiseworthy rendition of one of history’s most complex periods.

Key Takeaways from the Book

Rubicon is not only an engrossing history of this pivotal era, but also 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.

About the Author

Tom Holland is an ancient world historian and translator. Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire, In the Shadow of the Sword, and The Forge of Christendom are just a few of his works.

Book Details

You can obtain this book in Paperback, Kindle, Audio CD, Hardcover versions.

  • Author: Tom Holland
  • Pages: 464 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Political History, Military History, Ancient History.

6. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

6. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
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About the Book

“SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome” written by Mary Beard is the New York Times bestseller, A New York Times Notable Book, named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Mary Beard describes the history of Rome “with passion and without technical jargon” in SPQR, an immediate classic, demonstrating how “a rather shabby Iron Age town” evolved to become the “undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean”.

This “highly informative, highly readable” (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but challenges the comfortable historical perspectives that “bring the distant past vividly to life”.

It spans nearly a thousand years of history and is hailed by critics as animating “the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life” (Economist).

Book Review

Mary Beard unpacks the secrets of the city’s success with crisp and brutal clarity that you have not seen duplicated anywhere else in SPQR, her brilliant compact history.

Beard is a sure-footed guide through arcane stuff that would become boring in other hands.

She enlivens and expands scholarly arguments by demonstrating how the Romans themselves molded their fabled beginnings to short-term political purposes, sifting myth from fact in dealing with the city’s early history.

Beard accomplishes what few popularizers dare to attempt and many dons fail to do: She captures the joy of deciphering equivocal texts and occurrences, and she confuses conventional thinking in the process.

Key Takeaways from the Book

SPQR will alter our understanding of Roman history for decades to come, with its nuanced attention to class, democratic conflicts, and the experiences of entire groups of individuals missing from the historical narrative for generations.

About the Author

Mary Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge University and the author of the best-selling SPQR and Women & Power, as well as Confronting the Classics, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Book Details

This book can be obtained in Paperback, Kindle, Hardcover, Audiobook versions.

  • Author: Mary Beard
  • Pages: 608 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Ancient Roman History.

7. The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World Book 2)

7. The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World Book 2)
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About the Book

The Fall of the Roman Empire is a magnificent recounting of one of the most important chapters in human history.

The Fate of Rome is the first book to investigate the disastrous impact of climate change and infectious illnesses in the fall of Rome’s power—a tale of nature triumphing over human ambition.

Kyle Harper weaves together a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science to show how the fate of Rome was determined not only by emperors and barbarians, but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, and deadly viruses and bacteria.

He takes readers from Rome’s apex in the second century, when the empire appeared to be an unstoppable powerhouse, to its disintegration in the seventh century, when the empire was politically fractured and materially impoverished.

The Romans were tenacious in the face of great environmental stress until the beleaguered empire could no longer survive the combined pressures of a “little cold age” and periodic outbreaks of bubonic plague, according to Harper.

Book Review

Inventive and daring… A broad overview of the late Roman Empire is seen through the eyes of one historian’s sharp, perceptive, and inquisitive mind.

In his sweeping recounting of the development and fall of an empire, Kyle Harper contends that ‘germs, as well as Germans’, were responsible for the fall of Rome.

The Fate of Rome belongs on the same shelf as Gibbon’s masterpiece. It will likely be regarded as a vital text in the future.

Key Takeaways from the Book

The Fate of Rome is a comprehensive narrative of how one of history’s greatest civilizations confronted and endured but ultimately succumbed to the accumulated burden of nature’s brutality.

It is a melancholy reflection on humanity’s intimate relationship with the environment. The example of Rome serves as a current reminder that climate change and germ evolution have impacted our environment in unexpected and significant ways.

About the Author

Kyle Harper is a University of Oklahoma professor of classics and letters. Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275–425, is one of his publications.

Book Details

This book can be bought in Paperback, Kindle, Audible, Hardcover forms.

  • Author: Kyle Harper
  • Pages: 440 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Ancient Roman History, Viral Diseases, Communicable Diseases.

8. The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

8. The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World
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About the Book

“The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World” written by Catherine Nixey is a New York Times Notable Book, A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, named a Book of the Year by the Telegraph.

Locals in Harran refused to convert. Their limbs were dissected and strung along the town’s main street. Zealots dragged the elderly philosopher-mathematician Hypatia from her chariot and flayed her to death with broken ceramic shards in Alexandria.

Not long earlier, their fellow Christians had assaulted the city’s most important temple, destroying all was remained of Alexandria’s Great Library and smashing its world-famous statues. The conquest of the West by Christianity is now referred to as a “triumph.”

However, this triumph was accompanied by an orgy of destruction, in which Jesus’ followers assaulted and destroyed classical culture, contributing to the collapse of Western civilization over a thousand years.

Book Review

The Darkening Age is a fascinating and captivating book that questions our entire picture of Christianity’s early years and the medieval society that followed.

This work represents the debut of a formidable classicist and historian, and it is a remarkable mix of gripping narrative and incisive scholarly judgment.

Catherine Nixey has written a daring, fascinating, and challenging book that questions how and why early Christianity spread so far and swiftly in its early days.

Nixey is a funny and outspoken guide to a world that will be unexpected, startling, and troubling to many readers.

Key Takeaways from the Book

Catherine Nixey beautifully resurrects this buried history in The Darkening Age, providing a heartbreaking account of the rise of Christianity and its tragic cost.

About the Author

Catherine Nixey is a classicist and journalist. Her mother was a nun, and her father was a monk, and she was raised in a Catholic household.

She studied classics at Cambridge and taught the subject for several years before joining the Times (UKarts )’s desk, where she now works.

Book Details

This book can be purchased in Paperback, Kindle, Audio CD, and Hardback versions.

  • Author: Catherine Nixey
  • Pages: 368 (Paperback)
  • Category/Genre: Religious Intolerance & Persecution, Ancient Greek History, Ancient Roman History.

Final Verdict

These 8 of the best Roman history books, one for each of the Caesars mentioned in our first pick. Take a look at one right now and see if you can cross the Rubicon to become a true history geek!


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