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Roman Empire

Historical Fiction

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1primalprayer First Message
Nov 1, 2006, 11:31am Top

Can anyone recommend a novel set in any time period of the Roman Empire? I've read The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough and I liked it.

Nov 1, 2006, 4:19pm Top


Anything by Lindsey Davis, Steven Staylor, or I, Claudius or Claudius the God by Robert Graves.

Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor write mysteries that occur in different time periods during the Roman Empire, and Robert Graves' two novels were the basis for an amazing miniseries from the 1970s.

Good Reading!


Nov 1, 2006, 4:20pm Top

Oops! I fat fingered Steven Saylor's name....

Nov 1, 2006, 4:43pm Top

You could read the rest of the series - there are 5 more books in The First Man in Rome series;
The Grass Crown
Fortune's Favorites
Caesar's Women
The October Horse

Edited: Nov 1, 2006, 4:50pm Top

Gillian Bradshaw has written a lot of books set in the ancient world. In particular, The Beacon at Alexandria takes place in the later Roman Empire, and is a really good book too.

Nov 4, 2006, 4:02pm Top

Has anyone read Memoirs of Hadrian by Yourcenar? Any good?

Nov 5, 2006, 9:57am Top

An excellent read. Very atmospheric.

Edited: Nov 6, 2006, 10:17am Top

An interesting twist on the period was in the book Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. It's about a modern day woman who get transported back to ancient Rome to experience all the issues of that era, which makes the ones she's dealing with in the modern times seem easy by comparison. Sounds hokey, but a really good read!

Nov 6, 2006, 10:59am Top

I agree with robertgreaves about Memoirs of Hadrian, well worth the effort. Despite being relatively short Yourcenar manages to pack a lot into the novel, you can learn a lot of history from it but it is the character of Hadrian that really makes the novel; he is a learned, good man who also is emperor, which is hard to reconcile.

Another writer of some literary merit who has attempted fiction based on the Roman Emperor is Allan Massie. So far, there are four volumes - Augustus, Tiberius, Caesar, and Caligula.

When I was younger I thought Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff was fantastic, but I haven't reread it as an adult.

Nov 6, 2006, 12:29pm Top

Simon Scarrow has a series following a Roman military unit, mainly in Britain under Vespasian. I think the first one is Under the Eagle.

Nov 6, 2006, 2:06pm Top

Pompeii is entertaining read; the characters aren't that fleshed out, but it really puts you in the moment of the eruption. It has some nice cameos with Pliny, too.

Nov 6, 2006, 3:29pm Top

And don't forget Wallace Breem's Eagle in the Snow and The Legate's Daughter.

Nov 6, 2006, 4:45pm Top

How about Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur? For older books and a different look ?

Nov 11, 2006, 5:39pm Top

Barbara Hambly wrote search the seven hills which is an interesting mystery, if you can lay your hands on it.

Nov 12, 2006, 7:01am Top

Rosemary Rowe has a mystery series set in Roman Britain that starts with The Germanicus Mosaic.

Edited: Nov 16, 2006, 5:18pm Top

I just picked up Robert Harris's latest novel Imperium, but I don't know yet if it's going to be good. I'm doing NaNoWriMo, so I can't start reading it until December 1. :(

Edited to add a frowny face.

17Ammianus First Message
Nov 28, 2006, 8:50pm Top

Augustus by John Williams is a fine novel, Gore Vidal's Julian is another. Death of Attila by Ceclia Holland is good (almost all her historical fiction's worth a read). George Shipway's The Imperial Governor is very good but is very military-oriented (covers the revolt of Boadicea in Britain.

Dec 2, 2006, 10:51pm Top

I'm a little more than halfway finished reading Imperium, and after a shaky start when I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue reading, I am finding it enjoyable but in a different way from Pompeii. Other than Pliny and the volcano, most of the other memorable characters in Pompeii were fictional (I think ~ it's been a couple of years since I read it), and the novel itself was, I thought, very character driven. In Imperium, on the other hand, most if not all the characters are historical, and the plot is less personal than a study of one famous historical figure and the political events of his time. As I said, I haven't finished yet, but so far I do like it.

Dec 10, 2006, 6:11pm Top

There is another mystery series by John Maddox Roberts called SPQR and it has 9 -10 books out. It is not as good or as meaty as Davis' series, more like Saylor's. It is set around the end of the Republic and the start of the Empire. He also has two books in another series that looks at the conflict between Rome and Carthage, which was back in the days of the Republic: Hannibal's Children and The Seven Hills.

Thomas Holt A Song for Nero, which is not one of his humorous books.

Conn Iggulden has a series called Emperor and is about Julius Caesar. It is very light and fluffy and not historically accurate.

Patrick Larkin has a book called The Tribune about a man in the army who gets transfered to Galilee as punishment and runs into you-know-who.

Gods and Legions by Michael Curtis Ford about the Emperor Julian the Apostate.

The Sword of Attila by Michael Curtis Ford about the battle between Rome and the barbarians who wanted to overwhelm Rome and all of Europe.

The Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi about some Legionaries from Britain who rescue the son of the last emperor after the barbarians have over run the empire. They take him to Britain and into legend. I haven't read it, but it sounds like an attempt to write the true story of the King Arthur myth.

Also 3 books (2 series, 1 standalone) The Cybelene Conspiracy, The Secundus Papyrus, The Saint's Day Deaths by Albert Noyer. They are mysteries set in the Dark Ages, where the Eastern and Western Roman Empires meet. Very well written.

Julian by Gore Vidal is also about the Emperor Julian the Apostate.

The Gardens of Lucullus by Richard L. Tierney which is set during the reign of Claudius, and has something to do with Messalina and several Goddess Cults.

Dec 10, 2006, 10:32pm Top

Hi, Ficus ~ nice to meet up with you again. I guess I keep missing you in the various groups to which you belong.

I've read all the SPQR mysteries and like them a lot. They are different from Davis's Falco series and also from Saylor's Gordianus the Finder series, not quite as funny as Falco and not quite as serious as Gordianus the Finder.

Agree with you on Conn Iggulden's series. Started the first one and put it down after a few chapters that were so inaccurate historically I wondered if I was reading a sci-fi alternate universe novel. lol

I haven't been able to get into the Noyer mysteries. Something about the writing ~ or maybe it's just been my mood when I've tried.

Read Julian by Vidal long ago and loved it. Found it the other day and was thinking of rereading it ~ after I've finished the gazillion of other books on my TBR list. :D

Dec 22, 2006, 7:41am Top

Hello, newbie here posting my second message. I'd like to recommend Roman Wall by Bryher and Eagle in the Snow and The Legate's Daughter by Wallace Breem. Actually, neither of the last two is set in Rome, though both are very fine works set in parts of the Empire.

Jan 19, 2007, 11:47pm Top

Does anyone remember reading The Female, a novel about the life of the Empress Theodora of Byzantium by Paul Wellman? It was written in the 1950s, and I know I read it at least 30 years ago but think I remember that I really enjoyed it. I think I'm going to try and locate a copy to buy (like I don't have enough books on Mount TBR already). lol

Jan 20, 2007, 7:19am Top

Count Belisarius by Robert Graves is another Byzantium novel.

Jan 20, 2007, 1:48pm Top

I like to read a nonfiction and a related fictional book at the same time - I may have overdone it this time! I'm reading Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor by Anthony Everitt and Augustus: A Novel by John Edward Williams. The Williams novel won the National Book award back in 1973. The story of Augustus's rise is told in a compilation of fictional memoirs, letters and dispatches.

Edited: Jan 20, 2007, 2:47pm Top

Doug ~ That's a great idea to read them simultaneously! I've often started with a novel and then went to non-fiction about the era, but not both at the same time. I've heard about the Everitt biography of Augustus. Let us know how the novel is.

Quartzite ~ I love Graves' I Claudius and Claudius the God, but haven't read any of his other historical novels. Many years ago, I tried to read Wife to Mr. Milton but never finished it for some reason. I recently read a review that panned Count Belisarius. Have you read it? What do you think? I find that period and its people fascinating.

Jan 20, 2007, 2:52pm Top

I think the same thing happened--I remember starting it, but not finishing it, I think because the things going on were too violent and sexual for my taste, which I suppose is saying something after the Caligula bits of I, Claudius.

Jan 20, 2007, 2:55pm Top

Violence and sex, huh? I don't remember that. I'll have to give it another try. heheh

Jan 28, 2007, 10:32pm Top

I just finished up reading both books on Augustus (see #24 above). The John Edward Williams is a really fine piece of writing, but it's not an easy read. Some prior knowledge of his life was helpful.

Feb 2, 2007, 4:36pm Top

I concur with doug on Augustus: a Novel by John Edward Williams. Good book to read in concert with the 2d season of HBO's ROME; they have an interesting Octavian in there.

Edited: Feb 2, 2007, 6:30pm Top

Storeetllr (#25): I read "I Claudius" and Claudius the God very many years ago as a schoolboy and really enjoyed them. As I did the later television adaptation by the BBC. Also enjoyed both Count Belisarius and Vidal's "Julian the Apostate" - perhaps because both related to a much later period that I was not familiar with at the time.

Feb 2, 2007, 10:05pm Top

I started reading Caesar's Women and Caesar by Colleen McCullough only because I started watching HBO's miniseries ROME and was fascinates with the 2 soldier protagonists: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. A friend told me they appeared in Colleen McCullough's books. They are not major characters in the books . . . the way they are in the miniseries but I was hooked. I intend to read the entire series now.

I also recommend watching ROME on HBO. Its plays loosely with history but I thought it captured ancient Rome perfectly.

Servilia and Atia are fascinating harpies and Caesar himself, was more of a human being in the miniseries than in McCullough's books. (He seemed a bit too perfect there.)

Feb 3, 2007, 7:43am Top

FYI, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, the 2 stalwarts of HBO's ROME, first appeared in Julius Caesar's COMMENTARIES where he relates how during the conquest of Gaul two competing centurions both rescue and are rescued by each other and are subsequently recognized by him for their daring deeds.

Feb 5, 2007, 4:30pm Top

Thanks for that pearl A. ROME (2nd series) just finished on free to air TV in Australia last week. I have been watching it closely (despite it coming on so late) and recommended it to a friend who is now hooked.

Allan Massie's books on Roman Emperors are all well worth a read. I particularly liked Tiberius, Ceasar and Augustus

Feb 7, 2007, 8:22pm Top

I found this absolutely hilariously witty synopsis of ROME by a boy called PLite in a movie forum.

This is the link to last season's ROME:

He's started on the second season of ROME-- in a different thread-- but its full of spoilers (as he has warned). I don't think British TV is showing ROME yet but the boy has access.

35yo-nige First Message
Feb 23, 2007, 5:23pm Top

I don't know if you're still looking for Roman titles, if you like detectives give David Wishart a try. Some titles are hard to get hold off but I think they're worth the attempt.

Feb 24, 2007, 6:26pm Top

Has anyone read The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie? She wrote a book about a German tribe under the Roman Empire. It has a sequel out now, too, I believe. Has anyone read it?

Feb 24, 2007, 7:25pm Top

I tried to read The Light Bearer because it was recommended to me by a couple of people, but I just could not get through it. The heroine - notice the use of that noun - is some kind of Germanic war leader marked for glory by a goddess. She somehow meets a Roman aristocrat who was raised as a slave to protect him from Nero. They fall in love. I read about a fourth of the book before I gave it up as a waste of my time. To be fair, however, several women who are literate and widely read loved it as a piece of satisfying escapist fiction. I think I like my historical fiction a little more historic. Steven Saylor is more my idea of Roman reading, or Rosemary Sutcliff.

Feb 25, 2007, 6:40am Top

I have Steven Saylors books and I do like the earlier titles, though of late I have been a little disappointed at the decreasing quality of subsequent books. For example, in The Judgement of Caesar Gordianus' wife Bethesda disappears in the Nile whilst looking for a cure for her ailment, only to pop up again at the end of the book well again. If she had cured herself, why didn't she seek out Gordianus rather than wait for him to return which he may never had done if it hadn't been for Cleopatra? Did Steven forget about her? Did he intend to 'kill her off' and change his mind at the last minute? The initial story was OK but he lost thread on the supporting cast.
I read Rosemary Sutcliffe years ago. I'm sure I still have the book somewhere....

39Panairjdde First Message
Feb 25, 2007, 8:55am Top

Julian by Gore Vidal, a masterpiece on the life of the nephew of Constantine I. Given the huge amount of historical documents on Julian, Vidal can write down his life with fair confidence it is not invented, but keeping it interesting nonetheless

Feb 25, 2007, 9:45am Top

Speaking of Steve Saylor, he has a very interesting website that naturally lists his books but also carries a very comprehensive listing of other authors, books, film etc. I've discovered a number of titles there. Regards, A


Mar 16, 2007, 6:28pm Top

#33 Macbeth ~ Read Allan Massie's Caesar and am halfway through with Augustus on your recommendation and have very much enjoyed them. They definitely have a different slant on what happened and why than others I've read, such as I, Claudius and McCullough's Masters of Rome novels. Looking forward to reading Tiberius next. Thanks for the tip!

Mar 16, 2007, 11:34pm Top

i loved A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening by Mário de Carvalho about a thoughtful Roman ruler dealing with radical changes such as the beginning of a middle class and Christianity.

Mar 17, 2007, 4:24am Top

Mar 18, 2007, 3:32am Top

#41 Storeetllr - glad that you have enjoyed the Massie novels. I liked Tiberius the best. In some ways seeing a complete reversal of the 'accepted' story that is logical and believable makes the best kind of story. David Wishart does a similar thing in his novel Germanicus where all of the incidents in I, Claudius are alluded to but interpereted differently. Makes for an excellent read. Lindsey Davis does the same thing in The Iron Hand of Mars which is my all time favourite of the Falco Novels.


Mar 18, 2007, 7:11am Top

I also thought Tiberius was probably my favourite of the Massie Roman Emperor series (though I haven't yet read Nero and his Heirs).


Mar 18, 2007, 9:04am Top

Just finished The Water Thief by Ben Pastor where a Late Roman staff officer (& historian) solves a puzzle for Diocletian, interesting read. The author cleverly works in a reference to Diocletian's cabbages at Split!

Mar 28, 2007, 2:16am Top

I too started reading Donna Gillespie's The Light Bearer and couldn't finish it. I'm not opposed to long books - in fact, most of my favorite novels are quite long - but Light Bearer seemed repetitive and overwritten to me, and the characterization was thin. It's well researched, though, and to my knowledge it's the only novel ever written that focuses on Rome's attempts to conquer Germany. Am I right, or can someone recommend one that slipped past me?

I'm crazy about Steven Saylor's mystery novels, which portray Roman politics in all their deliciously unsavory details. I've just started reading Roma and am disappointed by the similarity to Michner's novels, which I suppose I should have expected. Is anyone else reading this? Do the stories get less sketchy later on?

Mar 28, 2007, 5:02pm Top

Oh, dear, I don't know if I want to start a massive book like The Light Bearer if it's really just light, escapist reading! However, it's on my shelf, so perhaps eventually I'll take it down. But I've taken the sequel to it off my wish list, for now.

I heard about The Water Thief on the HNS newsletter- it sounds very good! Has anyone read any Marguerite Yourcenar? I hear her Memoirs of Hadrian is an excellent novel.

Edited: Mar 29, 2007, 1:23am Top

The New Yorker published an interesting article about Yourcenar a while ago that made me put Memoirs of Hadrian on my must-read list. Alas, I didn't make it to the end of the first chapter. She is praised for fully entering the mind of a Roman emperor, and if I am any judge, she thoroughly succeeds. But the book opens with Hadrian on his deathbed, eliminating most of the opportunity for suspense and establishing a rather depressing mood. Not all readers require fast pacing or the promise of a hopeful (if not happy) ending. Those who don't would probably find it a fascinating psychological and historical study.

Mar 29, 2007, 8:23am Top

#49 - I've not read this book, but it seems to me very logical that it starts with the subject on his deathbed, looking back over his life. Allan Massie's fictional memoirs of Roman emperors, plus others of this genre, do the same thing.

Edited: Apr 3, 2007, 6:42pm Top

Point taken, John, but the opening pages of Memoirs of Hadrian went on and on about the particulars of his illness, his disgust for his aging body, his relationship (if it could be called that) with his attractive young slave boy, etc. Undoubtedly an accurate reflection of the preoccupations of a dying Roman emperor. And vividly written - see how well I remember it! But not exactly zippy reading.

I'm farther along now in Steven Saylor's Roma, and am finding it much more interesting. Somewhere around p. 180, in the story of Verginia, the vignettes started getting longer and developing more psychological depth. Anyone who enjoys Michener's novels would probably like this one even better.

Apr 4, 2007, 6:38am Top

Thanks, Margad. It's certainly the case that a hard-to-read beginning can put one off a book in any genre.

I'm looking forward to Roma coming out in paperback. I expect the earlier sections are shorter and less detailed as less is known about the earlier periods of time. That tends to be the case with Michener and Edward Rutherfurd, who writes in the same genre.

Edited: Apr 6, 2007, 6:03am Top

Simon Scarrow is a firm favourite of mine - his entire Eagles series is fantastic:

Under the Eagle
The Eagle's Conquest
When the Eagle Hunts
The Eagle and the Wolves
The Eagle's Prey
The Eagle's Prophecy
The Eagle in the Sand

I can hardly wait for The Eagle's Stand which is due out next year!

Apr 6, 2007, 12:43pm Top

#53: I have the first Scarrow book, picked up in a charity bookshop, but not yet read. Your enthusiastic report tempts me to try it quite soon!

Apr 6, 2007, 12:44pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Apr 6, 2007, 4:05pm Top

#54 john257hopper - I hope you'll enjoy them all as much as I did (I say "all" because I'm certain that once you've read the first one, you'll go on to read the rest of them!).

57rjmcl First Message
Apr 8, 2007, 11:53am Top

I read a lot of different things, but I'm fairly new to Roman lit. I read Julian by Vidal and just finished Imperium by Harris. HBO's Rome is what has set me off and I want to read more but there appears to be so much to choose fromgodd news but hard to know where to start.

Edited: Apr 13, 2007, 4:12pm Top

I just finished reading Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie, a story about a a displaced 'Roman' doctor in Brittania around the time of Hadrian. He gets drawn into investigating mysterious deaths of local prostitutes. Fresh and wryly funny. Apparently it is the first in a series.

I also recently read Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor and was disappointed. I generally like Saylor's stories and hope he tries to expand his scope again, but this one fell short. He did not give himself the space to tell the history of Rome (yes, 550 pages was too short!).

Edited: Apr 25, 2007, 8:52pm Top

Just finished Roma a few nights ago, and I agree that it was way too short at 550 pages. Many of the stories in the saga were intriguing, but he just didn't have room for the delicious political maneuvering and psychological twists he's done so well in his other books. Too much of the book was reduced to characters giving capsule summaries of various Roman wars or political events to other characters. If someone hasn't read Steven Saylor's other novels, I would not recommend they pick up this book first - it's not typical of his work. The exception is if you really enjoy Michener or novels like Edward Rutherford's Russka or London. It does give a worthwhile overview of Roman history for people too daunted by the length of something like Gibbon's The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Saylor is pretty trustworthy in regard to historical accuracy (though of course no one knows what really went on in the time of the kings, for example).

There was a nice passage, I thought, toward the end of Roma, and it's not a spoiler, so I'll quote: "We know so little of our ancestors, really, even we who can name them going back many generations. . . . What did Lucius know about those who had come before him? He knew their names, from the lists kept by his family of marriages and offspring, and from the official records that listed the magistrates of the Republic. About some of them he had heard an anecdote or two, although the details often differed depending upon who told the story. In the vestibule of his father's house there were wax images of some of the ancestors, so that Lucius had an idea of what they had looked like. But of the men and women themselves - their dreams and passions, their failures and triumphs - he knew virtually nothing. His ancestors were strangers to him."

In retrospect, that passage made the rest of the book come more alive to me.

May 10, 2007, 10:09pm Top

Am in the middle of Augustus by Everitt and enjoying it very much, though I'm finding his portrayal of Octavian/Augustus to be a bit bloodless (by which I mean I haven't been able to get a good feel for him personally, though I know this isn't fiction and so shouldn't project his emotional and mental states unless they are described by the ancient sources). Still, Everitt has written a well-researched, easily accessible history/biography that has set me straight on a couple of points that I thought I understood about the social mores & political life of the Roman empire but apparently didn't quite grasp.

I'm also reading Roma by Steven Saylor now; am finding it so-so & hoping it gets better as I go along. I'm in the middle of the story about Remus & Romulus.

A couple of weeks ago, I read Rosemary Rowe's The Chariots of Calyx ~ my first by her ~ and wasn't impressed. It was okay, but I found it a little boring in quite a few parts. Perhaps that one wasn't the best of the series? If those who likes her will advise me as to their favorites, I'll give her another try.

May 14, 2007, 9:46am Top

If you can find it, I quite liked John Hersey's The conspiracy; a novel.

Concerns Nero and the death of Seneca.

Edited: Jul 8, 2007, 2:59pm Top

Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil. Not a light snack, I gather.

Jul 13, 2007, 5:14pm Top

I enjoyed The mark of the lion series by Francine Rivers. It is set in 1st century Rome and has a wealth of detail. It has a Christian message as the main figure is a newly converted Christian jewess who is captured at the fall of Jerusalem and is sold into slavery to a Roman household. The second book in the series has a lot on gladiators that some find interesting. I always recommand it to our new library patrons when they are visiting or have just moved to Rome.

64Hatricvs First Message
Edited: Jul 16, 2007, 6:31pm Top

Just re-read The Sword of Pleasure by Peter Green. A great read about Sulla Dictator of Rome. Deals with the same time period and characters as First Man in Rome but a lot more quickly! A very good read which I recommend.

Also another vote for George Shipway book Imperial Governor a real classic tale. And to finish Wallace BreemEagle in the Snow. All really good reads that are well worth the effort.

Jul 17, 2007, 2:09am Top

Finished Wallace Breem's Eagle in the Snow and was impressed by not only the scholarship but the masterful way he reveals the complex connections and divided loyalties.
Also, not much mentioned on this thread but still worth the reading are Rosemary Sutcliff's series of roman novels. Most of them are for written for young adults but Ive read and re read them for twenty years now. Particularly good is The Eagle of the Ninth as well as the lantern bearers and the silver branch. Also, check out Song for a Dark QUeen about Boudicca's revolt. Also read The Mark of the Horse Lord, recently reissued, about life in roman britain from the perspective of a freed gladiator.

Aug 1, 2007, 1:46pm Top

Good news (from my perspective, at least) ~ John Maddox Roberts has a new SPQR mystery due out in December titled "Under Vesuvius" (no touchstone yet). These may not be as critically acclaimed as Steven Saylor's Gordianus series or Lindsey Davis's Falco series, but I really enjoy them.

Aug 3, 2007, 7:46pm Top

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie was not entirely awful, but I enjoyed Imperium by Robert Harris much more.

I also own Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, but I haven't read it yet. It was written by an author who earned the Nobel Prize for Literature (for his entire body of works, not Quo Vadis in particular, mind you).

Aug 4, 2007, 1:48pm Top

The body of Henryk Sienkiewicz do not take place in the Roman period.

Quo Vadis is a good book, and if you like it, I'd recommend his other books of historical fiction that take place in Poland, With Fire and Sword, Fire in the Steppe, and The Deluge.

Aug 4, 2007, 4:49pm Top

I know quite well the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz and did not intend to suggest that all of his works took place in the Roman Period. I simply wanted to remark upon the fact that many people think Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature for Quo Vadis, rather than his entire body of works.

Aug 4, 2007, 6:24pm Top

Wow! It was just a recommendation....

Edited: Aug 4, 2007, 7:16pm Top

I don't think it's been mentioned yet, but The Druid King by Norman Spinrad is an interesting story of Roman times and Germanic/Druidic troubles for those rascally Roman legions.

*edited for verb tense!*

Edited: Feb 15, 2009, 3:08pm Top

This is just a test. I want to see if a picture will show up. (Edited to say: It worked. This is a picture I got from Webshots showing the tomb of Julius Caesar in the Forum in Rome taken in 2005. It was Uploaded by italysummer05.)

Edited to remove image information since it was removed by photobucket.

Jan 1, 2008, 11:01pm Top

> 66 Storeetllr - I'm with you and moreso will happily state that I enjoy John Maddox Roberts SPQR series far more than I do the Gordianus novels of Steven Saylor.

Of the other Roman Historical Fiction Authors, in Detective Fiction I enjoy Lindsey Davis, David Wishart and Rosemary Rowe.

Allen Massie and Ross Leckie have also written some excellent novels set in Rome.


Jan 1, 2008, 11:11pm Top

>22 Storeetllr: Storeetllr - I do have an old and battered copy of The Female City {it won't touchstone :)} that I picked up at a bookfair some time ago. I will now move it further up the "To Be Read" queue.


Jan 7, 2008, 2:18pm Top

Oh, I'm so happy to find fellow readers of Quo Vadis and Sienkiewicz's Russian trilogy here! :-) Quo Vadis is one of my all-time favorite books — but you have to read Jeremy Curtin's original translation, not Kuniczak's. I found Kuniczak's translation a little too updated for my taste... a pity the Russian trilogy hasn't been translated by someone else.

Jan 8, 2008, 5:10pm Top

Hi primalprayer.

Here are a few that came to mind; Pilate's Wife by Antoinette May I got this one for Christmas. I haven't read it yet but it sounds very interesting It's about Pilat (yes THE Pilat, his wife and her view and own life/adventures in the time of Rome during Jesus's life. (If you are in the UK, it had a different title, it is published under Claudia, Daughter of Rome)

The dawn of the Roman Empire by J.C.Yardley Covers the rise and fall and a lot in between.

Agrippina: Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Empire by Anthony a. Barrett A biography of Agrippina, a woman who attained a level of power in first-century Rome unprecedented for a woman.

And the already mentioned Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi which I liked a lot.

Hope I could help.....

Jan 8, 2008, 7:35pm Top

The Agrippina bio sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation, Pandora!

Jan 9, 2008, 10:00am Top

RE Manfredi's LAST LEGION,
the recent movie based on the novel is now out on the DVD circuit & available via Netflix.

Jan 11, 2008, 12:40am Top

I have read many of the books listed in this thread, and I would recommend any one of them! I very rarely have read a book and then been upset that I wasted my time. It seems that I get a little something from even the bad books I come across. Of course, many people don't feel that way, and I suppose I am a bit too open when it comes to my love of reading. Still, even books like The Light Bearer, mentioned above by a few folks that couldn't finish it, was a worthwhile read to me. It's true that it is a bit escapist and even a bit thin as far as characters go. Still, it is very well researched and the story is compelling enough for me to have stayed interested. Overall though, it was mostly the few interesting historical points that the book made about the Germanic tribes that kept me reading. I guess each time I learn a little something I didn't know before I got through the book, I consider the book worthy of my attention.

Happy reading!!!

Jan 11, 2008, 5:08am Top

Any opinions on the new McCullough?

Jan 11, 2008, 9:23am Top

RE Antony/Cleo: I found it to be not up to par with her others in the Masters of Rome series. I also found a number of the conversations too modern, too unbelieveable for me. Still, all in all, that series is quite a body of work and hopefully has led readers from fiction into the non-fiction realm.

Jan 11, 2008, 10:38pm Top

Re Antony and Cleopatra by McCullough, a friend loaned it to me and I started it that night, excited about the new Masters of Rome installation and eager to start it. I got a few chapters in and ~ ho hum. I went back to the other book I had been reading, finished it, and finished a couple more. I will probably get back to it and try again (maybe it was something I et, the mustard disagreed with my tummy or the fish was a little off, or maybe my mood was just not right), but it just didn't seem to spark like the earlier ones did. (Or, it just occurred to me, maybe it's because Caesar isn't in it, and whatever you think of him, he sure made a compelling & interesting character.)

Jan 14, 2008, 12:08am Top

I second Pilate's Wife by Antoinette May, I really enjoyed it.

Jan 14, 2008, 6:35pm Top

>82 Storeetllr: Interesting comment Storeetllr. I found the Ceasar heavy installments of McCullough's Masters of Rome to be a the heaviest going. Julius Ceasar in those novels, like Aiken Drum in Julian May's Many Coloured Land and Steve Brickman in Patrick Tilley's Amtrak Wars were the authour's pet. Nothing bad would stick to them.

In the case of Ceasar I think Ms McCullough read Ceasar's own commentaries uncritically.

I have a copy of Antony and Cleopatra but I haven't found the time to read it yet.


Jan 15, 2008, 10:46am Top

McCullough had a huge case of hero worship that's for sure. Have the new one in my head of things to pick up along with the new Sue Miller.

Edited: Jan 25, 2008, 8:55pm Top

I'm developing a website on historical novels and would love to get feedback on its functionality, usefulness, etc. It's still incomplete, but the Ancient History page is up, along with a few others. I'd like to hear about any significant novels I've left off the list, mischaracterized, etc. So far, I've only posted a few reviews, but plan to post more and to include "if you enjoyed this book, try ..." recommendations.

The website is at www.historicalnovels.info

Jan 26, 2008, 12:11pm Top

#86 You might want to add Reflections in the Nile and the rest of the series by her. I haven't read them yet, but I hear they're very good, although not always historically acurate (but entertaining nonetheless). Ancient Egypt with an archeologists time travel twist, kind of like a Diana Gabaldon in ancient Egypt.

Jan 26, 2008, 4:07pm Top

Thanks, ktleyed! I've added Reflections in the Nile. When I looked up the synopsis, I realized I had read it and found it pleasant, if not highly memorable.

It's tricky, sometimes, trying to figure out what to include and what not to. I started out with a decision to omit historical romance, lest the site be swamped by that huge genre, which often sacrifices historical accuracy in its overriding focus on a romantic storyline. But there are also a lot of romances (and romantic novels, which is not quite the same thing) for which the authors do take great pains to research the historical settings and make them an integral part of the story. So I have been including some of the latter.

I also started out with a decision not to include historical fantasy, and then quickly made an exception for time-travel, if the historical setting is well-researched and doesn't include a lot of fantasy elements beyond the time-travel itself. Then I had to make another exception for historical novels that include limited fantasy elements which effectively portray a culture's world view during the historical period represented. (For example, novels about ancient Greece in which gods and goddesses sometimes appear to people, especially if there's a hallucinatory quality to the appearances.)

89MycroftHolmes First Message
Jan 27, 2008, 2:26am Top

To #86/#88 margad:
I checked out your web site - great job so far.
I'll be coming back to it again, I think.
Here's some ancient Egypt titles - a series of three by Pauline Gedge (excellent historical research, no fantasy elements, and great reads):
1. The Hippopotamus Marsh
2. The Oasis
3. The Horus Road
published by Soho

Jan 27, 2008, 6:37pm Top

Thanks, Mycroft! I've added the Gedge titles you mentioned and several of her other works, as well.

Jan 27, 2008, 7:47pm Top

Hi margad,
you might want to look in on historical fiction author Steven Saylor's
website; he has a very good listing of works.



Jan 27, 2008, 9:03pm Top

Thanks, Ammianus. I'm really glad to have this link! Saylor redesigned his website recently, and I couldn't find his list of recommendations. Cheers to you, too!

Edited: Feb 5, 2008, 7:19pm Top

I'll give my vote to I, Claudius or Claudius the God by Robert Graves, and Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz.
But also you could look into "The Roman" and "the Etruscan" by Mika "Wilkari These are older books but good.
And if you like to go off the beaten path you can try The House of the Vestals: The Investigations of Gordianus the Finder by Steven Saylor
these books are sort of a roman Cadfile

Edited: Feb 6, 2008, 6:04am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Mar 4, 2008, 11:37pm Top

Lindsey Davis's one non Falco book The Course of Honor is about Vespasian.

P.C. Doherty's Domina is about Agrippina the Younger told from the perspective of her male servant.

Steven Saylor is coming out with a new Gordianus book in May The Triumph of Caesar, his first in almost five or six years.

Mar 5, 2008, 8:50pm Top

I really enjoyed The Course of Honor, though I was afraid when I started it that I'd be disappointed that it wasn't a Falco mystery, but that didn't happen at all!

Exciting news about the new Gordianus book!

Apr 9, 2008, 5:16pm Top

I'm currently reading The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough. It's brilliant! Trying to get my head around the long names in it, but other than that it is very detailed and very accurate.

Apr 9, 2008, 6:01pm Top

I love the McCullough series hero-worship and all. Have read Rubicon and Imperium in order to get things fresh in my mind for the latest installment Antony and Cleopatra. Have heard mixed things about it, but as I'm already 6 books into the series, one more can't hurt.

Imperium is pretty good for a novelization (better than Pompeii in my opinion). It will be odd though to just break off from Cicero just as he reaches his goal and miss out on all the shenanigans involving Cato, Caesar and Pompey.

Apr 9, 2008, 6:25pm Top

Hi Bookmarque et al: I thought A&C was ok but not up to her usual standards. BTW the historian, Pat Southern, has a new history of the dynamic duo hitting the presses shortly:


Apr 10, 2008, 11:09am Top

Put in on my Amazon wishlist. Could be interesting to compare & contrast the novelization w/a historical account.

Apr 11, 2008, 2:56am Top

Two interesting and contrasting novels in the same series on the Roman period; both are in the casca series. The first, Casca 1: Eternal Mercenary has the protagonist spearing Jesus on the cross and is cursed to immortality. This novel follows him through 130 years of the Empire. The second, Casca 7: The Damned has Casca returning to an Empire now Christian and rotting internally and its an interesting contrast between the two.

Aug 6, 2008, 1:38pm Top

An oldie but I don't see it mentioned is Pontius Pilate by Paul Maier. I'm reading it again and it's quite rich in detail. I never knew what he had to deal with in Judea as a reflection of the political situation in Rome.

Aug 9, 2008, 10:43am Top

Aug 9, 2008, 10:52am Top

Historical Fiction seems to be one of the areas where I do most of my rereading. I don't reread many other types of works, it seems (Tolkien being the exception). For example, I would probably never pick up one of the Michael Crichton, or Stephen King books that I've already been through...unless a movie based on a book is rumored to be in the works :)

But Historical fiction, especially in Roman Imperial times is an area that I reread many works. I have recently begun a reread of I, Claudius. It's an old favorite that seems to be on my mind every couple of years so I have to go to the library to check it out (My own copy was borrowed and never returned...guess I should buy a new one!)

Aug 9, 2008, 2:31pm Top

#105 Hi, Dano ~ I used to reread books often but, at my age, I can't afford the time if I hope to read even a small percentage of the previously unread books on my TBR list. lol Also, some of the novels I loved 30 or 40 years ago and reread in the past few years just haven't held up (I'm thinking of Dune (!), Salem's Lot (!!), and Stranger in a Strange Land, though there've been others). But...your post reminded me how much I enjoyed the I, Claudius novels. Maybe I'll make an exception for them. I have a feeling they won't have lost their magic.

Aug 9, 2008, 6:29pm Top

>106 Storeetllr: Hey, Storeetllr. Your post has me wondering about Stanger in a Strange Land. Lately, I've planning a reread of that! Maybe I'll pass on it for now in light of your thoughts, and move on to something from my TBR. But yes, I, Claudius has always been a favorite since my first reading of it years ago (Probably 12-15 years). It's one that doesn't seem to disappoint me...even as I age!

Aug 9, 2008, 11:56pm Top

I, Claudius is an amazing novel. I've read it 3 or 4 times over the years, and will probably do so again.

Sep 9, 2008, 8:56am Top

Check out Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham. There's also a trilogy beginning with Hannibal by Ross Leckie

Mar 8, 2009, 11:07pm Top

I'm reading "The Memoirs of Cleopatra " by Margaret George. It is a large tome (almost 1,000 pages), and very interesting. Lots of history of the Nile region, and the Roman Empire. I'm only part way through it, but there is much on the love affair of Cleopatra and Caesar, and the historical circumstances surrounding it.

Apr 16, 2009, 5:34pm Top

Pilate's Wife by Antoinette May is a good read. Perhaps not the greatest of all time, but worth it:-)

Apr 16, 2009, 11:11pm Top

Just started reading Hand of Isis for the LT ER group. It's about Cleopatra's half-sister. So far, so good.

Apr 22, 2009, 12:48am Top

I see that nobody's recommended Jack Whyte yet. His Dream Of Eagles Cycle, made up of The Skystone, The Singing Sword, Eagle's Brood... is really good.

The series is Arthurian in nature, but very gritty and 'real'. It starts with Merlyn's grandfather, who was mustered out of the army after Hadrian's Wall was overun, and tells of the forging of Excalibur. The books go from there in plenty of detail, and with scenery and events that I could see as I was reading them.

Apr 22, 2009, 8:15am Top

#113 - I read the first two books in this series, but I just couldn't get into it so didn't continue it. The first book was very good, but the 2nd had some bits in it that were over the top and I could barely finish the book. They're well written, but I guess just not my cup of tea.

Apr 22, 2009, 8:46am Top

For some well-written fictional takes on early Christianity in Rome's heyday, I'd recommend The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain and the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers.

Apr 24, 2009, 12:52am Top

I just remembered a couple of other favorites: Pillar of Iron and Taylor Caldwell's other book, Dear And Glorious Physician.

Both were really good, but I'd still like to know what the latin passages at the beginning of the various sections were.

Apr 24, 2009, 11:48am Top

Oh, my! The last two posts really brought up a lot of fond memories from my youth. I was lucky my mother loved to read and kept a library of current popular novels (as well as some classics), including The Silver Chalice and Dear and Glorious Physician. Around the same time, I remember also reading (and rereading) The Robe by Douglas. Those three novels began a lifelong fascination with all things ancient Roman (and Greek).

There was also a YA novel I loved back then. It was about a British princess captured in the conquest of Britain, and what happened to her when she was carried off to slavery in Rome. I remember it being a very sweet story despite its rather dire subject matter.

I wonder if I'd enjoy them in quite the same way now that I'm on the opposite end of my life cycle...

Apr 28, 2009, 9:01am Top


The YA novel you speak of sounds like The Light Bearer but I think the girl in that one was a Germanic Priestess instead of a British Princess. Still, it was a pretty decent book.

Jul 7, 2009, 11:19am Top

How about the Green Bronze Mirror by Lynne Ellison? It is about a teenage girl who finds an old mirror buried in the sand, looks in it and goes back in time to rhe roman empire at the time of Nero. She is mistaken for a runaway slave and sold into a wealthy household in Rome, and becomes involved with the early Christians and the Great Fire.

Jul 7, 2009, 12:25pm Top

#117, your mom and mine must have been members of the same book club! We had both of those on our shelves, plus The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas. Same genre, a good clean, meaty read.

Jul 7, 2009, 8:25pm Top

Oh, gmathis! I forgot The Big Fisherman! Did I read it? I know we had it there, so I probably did. I just don't recall. Urgh. So annoying not to be able to remember.

Jul 7, 2009, 8:49pm Top

The Roman History Reading Group is currently reading Allan Massie's Tiberius The Memoirs of the Emperor, ready for a live chat on 15 July (16 July for those outside the Americas).

Aug 2, 2009, 10:22am Top

I can reccomend the Simon Scarrow 'Eagle' series. These are excellent and cover the tales of Macro (Centutian) and Cate (his Optio) from their early exploits in Germany, through invasion of Britain and most recently in Middle East. Enjoy.

Aug 7, 2009, 4:23pm Top

Wow. I just joined LT and this one thread is awesome. A long list of great historical novels set in Rome. My own humble opinion:

Robert Graves is the best, hands down.

Steven Saylor's mysteries are wonderful, but I too was a little unimpressed with Roma.

Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series is great, but by the October Horse I found myself becoming bored. It's just too long. The First Man in Rome, Fortune's Favorite, and The Grass Crown are the best of the series.

I saw one or two mentions of Gillian Bradshaw's Beacon of Alexander. It was quite good.

Rosemary Sutcliffe's novels have aged very well, thank you. I read them as a youth, read them to my children (we read aloud to each other for more than twelve years), and recently reread Eagle of the Ninth for my own pleasure.

Wallace Breem's stories are very good, but as I recall, are quite bloodthirsty (as are Simon Scarrow's). Of course, Rome was a pretty bloodthirsty place so . . .

Old classics are always great to revisit (such as Graves). Personally, I find Ben Hur a little stilted (the movie is better), but Quo Vadis is wonderful. Paul Wellman's stories are all good, as is Thomas B. Costain's The Silver Chalice. One book I did not see on the list was Frank Slaughter's Constantine, which is almost historically accurate, but a fun and fast read anyway.

I agree with the criticisms of Conn Iggulden's series. Some may like it, but it just did not hold my interest at all. The characters and relationships were one dimensional and inaccurate in my opinion.

Michael Curtis Ford's books on the other hand I found quite entertaining.

Gillespie's The Light Bearer was okay, but nothing spectacular (better than Igguldsen's though).

Some here have bragged on The Pride Of Carthage, but I didn't care for it.

Pilate's Wife by May was pretty good, though.

Jack Whyte's series on pre-Arthurian Britain was far superior to The Last Legion, which I found sophomoric. Perhaps it was the mood I was in when I read it.

Everyone's glowing reviews of Lindsey Davis makes that next on my reading list.

Thanks for the vast store of knowledge, the long list of books, and the informed opinions. I very much enjoyed this thread. It has been helpful to me and I hope you.

Aug 7, 2009, 7:03pm Top

Welcome KirbyMcCord. Glad to have your input. Hope you have fun with LT and ancient Rome.

Aug 7, 2009, 7:17pm Top

Thank you.

Aug 26, 2009, 9:43pm Top

Welcome KirbyMcCord - how well your lines capture most of my opinions. I found that Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series started to trail off as Julius Ceasar got more and more face time. I have only just finished Antony and Cleopatra where McCullough's love of Julius impels her to create the character of Ceasarion as a brilliant and likable prodigy, very much the most sympathetic character - so we all know that it will end in tears.

Have you read any of David Wishart? His novel Germanicus is one of my all time favourites if for no other reason than Wishart uses the same basic source as Graves (Tacitus' Annals of Imperial Rome) and yet draws the absolute opposite conclusions about Germanicus' character, ambitions and ability.

Wishart's series - there are now 12 of them are well worth reading. I think they are on a par with Lindsay Davis.


Edited: Aug 29, 2009, 11:15am Top

Based on the past couple of posts, I did some searching for information on David Wishart's series. I'm reading Saylor at the moment, and very much enjoying it. I coudn't finish The Silver Pigs, so I can't really comment about Lindsey Davis.

Anyway, as I was saying, I found Wishart's home-page, and on the page about Ovid (the first title in the Corvinus series) there is the following extract.

"'So tell me.' I was getting pretty angry myself now. I'd had a long hard day and I wasn't taking this crap from anyone."

This has put me off completely. I cannot stand anachronistic tripe such as this. I shall stick to considering Ruth Downie as my next TBR target.

Edited: Aug 29, 2009, 1:50pm Top

Hi, omaca ~ Sorry you won't even give Wishart a try, and sorry you couldn't finish Silver Pigs, which I found an excellent if not scholarly read. I'm reading the latest in the series, Alexandria, now and loving it. Still, to each their own, and I respect your opinion and hope you don't mind my sharing mine.

Anyway, I have to jump in here to defend Wishart's use of the vernacular in his Marcus Corvinus mystery series.
First, I don't think there is anything anachronistic about the word "crap." People have been doing it forever, since long before they even called themselves human beings. Granted, ancient Roman's could not have used the exact word "crap." In fact, they spoke Latin and Greek. Not sure what word they used in place of "crap." Not "merde," which is French, or "shite," which is, I believe Anglo-Saxon in origin, but surely they had expressions that said the same thing.

If I wanted to read the exact words and expressions used by an ancient Roman, I'd go to the sources (including graffiti which was, I understand, a pretty popular form of expression of ancient Romans). I have a feeling, though, that when in the privacy of their own homes or with good buddies, even the most exalted Roman used a more casual form of speech than what was written. (BTW, I have read some translations of Roman works, including Julius Caesar's and Suetonius's, and you would be correct that the writing is much more formal than Wishart's.)

Anyway, what I've read of Wishart (quite a few are out of print and impossible to find for a reasonable price) I've enjoyed, notwithstanding the lack of "dignitas" in the speech and thoughts of some of the characters.

Edited to correct touchstone.

Edited: Aug 29, 2009, 2:08pm Top

I loved Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove! i wish they'd write a sequel.

Aug 29, 2009, 2:12pm Top

RE 129, lol, I recall a hollywood movie in which the hero told someone, "I'll meet you at 3 o'clock."

Edited: Aug 29, 2009, 7:37pm Top

> Storeetlir

Thanks for your post. I kind of expected to be taken up on my sweeping condemnation! :)

Let me be more specific. What rankles is the use of a modern (14th century) vernacular. Of course, the whole language in which the novel is written is modern compared to Latin. But why the use of modern idioms? Why could the protagonist not say "I wasn't going to put up with this rubbish?" instead? Or "nonesense" or any other term that is so obviously out of place. The sentence would have worked just as well, and would not have sounded so anachronistic.

I will probably read Ovid. I was just being grumpy I guess. But that kind of thing bugs me. My first thought was "where was his editor?"

Aug 29, 2009, 8:49pm Top

I have read Ovid and can't recommend it or any of Wishart's books for the same reason. Its the modern language and the attitude. Corvinus might as well be in modern NYC, London or LA. I understand that a modern author has to use some modern conventions or the writing would not be meaningful or intelligible to us. But there is a balance that still lets you feel you are in the ancient world. Wishart goes too far in to the modern for my taste.

Saylor, Davis, McCuullough, Graves, John Maddox Roberts, Scarrow, all worked for me. Some are light and some are meaty. Downie was also OK, but on the light side.

Aug 30, 2009, 12:24am Top

Hi, omaca ~ I understand, really I do. And differences in taste are, to my mind, preferable than everyone liking the same things. One small thing I want to comment on, tho: you wrote that "rubbish" or "nonesense" would work as well as "crap," but I disagree. If Corvinus needed to sound tough and slightly dangerous, neither of the alternatives would do the job as well as "crap." Again, just an observation/opinion. :)

Ficus ~ Yes, I remember you'd said that before about Wishart.

I also cannot abide anachronisms (an ancient Roman describing something exploding like a bomb, for instance, which was something I read in one of Wishart's mysteries and at which I took umbrage), but I think one of Wishart's aims was to make Corvinus sort of a Marlowesque detective (and, to be precise, there probably weren't detectives in ancient Rome, whether they're called Finder or Imperial Agent or whatever). So the language works okay for me. I do admit that Davis does that with Falco better, but Wishart also works for me.

Nov 19, 2009, 9:41am Top

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Try this one; The Green Bronze MIrror by Lynne Ellison

Karen is playing on the beach when she finds an ancient mirror buried in the sand. She looks into it, and is transported back in time to the Roman empire. Finding herself a slave, she faces many hair-raising adventures in her struggle to return to her own time.

Nov 19, 2009, 6:17pm Top

I recently finished Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom, and enjoyed it very much.

Nov 20, 2009, 7:07am Top

Loved The Robe and Francine Rivers Mark of The Lion series. I have the Big Fisherman on TBR pile. Is it any good?

Dec 10, 2009, 5:21pm Top

Storeetllr, Ficus Fan

whilst I agree with you regarding anachronistic quoutes referring to bomb explosions I am happy enough with more general "tough talk" that is in our present idiom.

In some of the Wishart novels Corvinus is heard to exclaim "Jupiter Best and Greatest!" which I assume to be a translation of "Jupiter Optimus Maximus", I think an appropriate quoute (although his other one "Jupiter on a See Saw!" might be less so). Personally I like this rather than occasional drops into Latin for certain words. I found that Colleen McCullough's constant peppering of her latest novel Antony and Cleopatra with complex Latin swear phrases (that needed their own glossary) whilst the rest of the novel was narrated in plain English to be a bit laboured. Why not some exclamations of joy or surprise in Latin, rather than complex allusions to excrement and penises being the only "historical flavoure".

What I liked most about Wishart was his take on Germanicus where the narrative of his life follows Tacitus and Robert Graves and yet comes to the opposite conclusions - his handling of the Legion Muntiny on the Rhine and his visit to Egypt and opening of the granaries which are used to make him a hero in the other texts is used as evidence that he really was a traitor by Corvinus.

Plus when Wishart lapses into wine snob talk while Corvinus settles down to Roman wine whilst mulling over the clues, I find well writtens and makes me want to try some of these ancient wines :) (good luck with that I can hear you say)


Dec 10, 2009, 5:24pm Top

My love affair with historical fiction began when my grandmother loaned books to me that she had just read - Macbeth the King by Nigel Tranter, The Crimson Chalice by Victor Canning and The Legate's Daughter by Wallace Breem - I finally found myself a copy of the last of these last month so that I have good copies of all three.


Edited: Dec 14, 2009, 3:25am Top

Well, I did indeed buy the first Corvinus book Ovid as I suspected I would, and the second sentence (the second bloody sentence!!!) proved my suspicions right and confirmed my negative expectations.

"I'd been at a party on the Caelian the night before. My tongue tasted like a gladiator's jockstrap...."

Oh for fuck's sake.

I will probably try to work my way through it, but it's going to be hard going reading a book that I already know I don't like.

Dec 14, 2009, 9:38am Top

I like the David Wishart books and the modern slang doen't bother me. After all Romans would have talked in modern slang and kept the formal Latin for their written work.
Has anyone tried the three books by Jane Finnis. They are set in East Yorkshire where the heroine is an innkeeper. It is set fairly early on in the Roman occupation but well after Boudicca, although the locals are not entirely happy with Roman rule. I think the first is called Get out or die.
I liked the early Steven Saylor books when he was retelling Cicero's legal cases, but the later ones lacked plot.
Colleen McCullough's early books on Rome introduced me to another side of Sulla, for which I'm grateful and I've read several non-fiction books about him since.

Dec 14, 2009, 10:51am Top

"I'd been at a party on the Caelian the night before. My tongue tasted like a gladiator's jockstrap...."


I see what he's doing there, but there has to be a way to say the same thing without using the word "jockstrap." That's not even modern slang that would have had a latin equivalent- it's a specific modern garment.

I think I'll stick to Steven Saylor.

Dec 14, 2009, 11:00am Top

I noticed and found annoying a similar problem with the swearing in Simon Scarrow's Roman Eagle series. Soldiers have always sworn, but if your reading the words of a soldier in Roman Britain and he says things you would hear today, it makes you pause and sort of stops the whole narrative.

Dec 14, 2009, 5:37pm Top

"says things you would hear today, it makes you pause and sort of stops the whole narrative"

Which was what I found with Antony and Cleopatra where you had to flick back to the glossary to find out what particular orifice and bodily function were being referred to - otherwise McCullough's Rome series was excellent, I loved the fleshing out of Marius and Sulla. Pity about Julius "Author's Pet" Ceasar, once he got a gig in the series it started to fall away.

I am surprised though that at no stage has any Roman fiction author given a centurion this pun when urging his men to fight on

{crass mode}

"C'mon you apes - are you Warriors (Bellators) or C***suckers (Fellators)"

{end crass mode}


Edited: Dec 14, 2009, 11:02pm Top

I agree EstelleChauvelin.

He's doing exactly what good writers of historical fiction don't and shouldn't do. Drop demonstrably modern characters and idioms into historical situations and assuming it works. It doesn't.

I want a nuanced, atmospheric, accurate and engaging historical narrative and story. I don't want Philip Marlowe in sandals.

Like you, it's back to Steven Saylor, and most recently Ruth Downie, for me.

Dec 14, 2009, 10:22pm Top

1956 edition of Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld has author's note saying book was inspired by grafetti found on temple wall in Pompeii uncovered in 1936: "Caius Asinus Est" which was translated into German for the first version of the novel "Caius ist ein Dumkopf"--a phrase translated in the English edition as "Caius is a dumbbell".

I think ancient Romans may have had dumbbells (I vaguely recall mural from Latin textbook showing woman in what mid 20th century text called a "bikini", aka two-piece exercise wear/ cloth wrapped around her upper and lower torso), but probably Latin word for exercise equipment wasn't also used to mean someone stupid (although they probably had "dumb jocks" back then too...)

Anyway, those are a few translations from one culture to another that were meant to help modern
readers identify with life centuries ago--but which could also distance some, depending how much they know about both cultures, I guess.

Can anyone suggest historical fiction titles set in Ancient Roman Empire (or ancient Greece or ancient Egypt) written with teens or children (probably Americans) of the 1950's or early 1960's in mind?

I've read most of Rosemary Sutcliff, Winterfeld's other Roman novel for young readers, Mystery of the Roman Ransom and Lost Queen of Egypt.

BTW, Sutcliff's autobiography, Blue hills of home relates how her believable depictions of ancient Roman soldiers was shaped by her observing her
father and men he commanded in 20th century England--another example of modern life reflected
in "recreations" of the past.

I enjoyed all four roman mysteries so far by Ruth Downie and also read a number of the Roman Mysteries series by author of Thieves of Ostia.

Looking for something lighter than many of the titles on hist fict lists; I prefer historical novels revolving around non-famous personages (i.e. with ordinary, y people--less limits to plot lines than when dealing with the like of Caesar and Cleopatra). I also like
to learn details of daily life along the way--tho will read non-fiction works to flesh out stories as well.

Thanks for any help!

Dec 15, 2009, 2:26pm Top

You could also try The Mistletoe and Sword, by Anya Seton, one of the few novels of hers that hasn't yet made it back into print.

Dec 15, 2009, 2:29pm Top

Hi, DesertIslandia,
I too read The Lost Queen of Egypt in elementary school. Although I loved it at the time, I now think it's far too favorable to Akhenaten.
I also have a copy of Eloise Jarvis McGraw's The Golden Goblet. I think it's the best of the three novels this author set in ancient Egypt; she was perhaps better at writing for ten-to-twelve-year-olds than teens or adults. And the fact that real historical characters don't figure largely in The Golden Goblet is a plus. McGraw, however, doesn't seem to have been able to imagine a society without currency, so she has her ancient Egyptians digging coins out to pay for bread and beer. The apprenticeship system she describes seems to have been lifted from medieval Europe (any medievalists out there, please correct me if I'm wrong). But I do like her descriptions of the landscape and weather in ancient Thebes.
I really enjoyed Mara, Daughter of the Nile when I was ten. But it has all the historical inaccuracies mentioned above, plus goldfish (!) in Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt, and it presents Queen Hatshepsut as a cartoon villian, kind of the original wicked stepmother. And I still occasionally have to explain to students that she didn't keep her nephew in prison, didn't neglect foreign affairs. And there's no evidence that Thutmose III murdered his aunt (not his sister, as McGraw has it).

Edited: Dec 15, 2009, 4:28pm Top

Now swearing that ISN'T based on modern ideas, I'm fine with in historical fiction. I've translated enough Catullus and Martial to know with confidence that yes, they would have had whatever word in Latin and can probably come up with a lot of them off the top of my head. It's always struck me as funny when somebody claims than an old Saxon derived word makes a scene sound too modern. The "jockstrap" thing is a completely different issue.

Dec 16, 2009, 8:05am Top

David Wishart is not one of my favourite Roman authors, though so far I have read only Sejanus, Nero and I, Virgil. I am perhaps not quite as bothered by some of these anachronisms as some of you, though the exploding bomb goes too far.

Edited: Dec 16, 2009, 4:21pm Top

I've tried just one of Wishart's books; the modern slang did bother me, because it sounds so contrived. Wishart seems to be trying too hard to make his characters believable to a modern audience--and I don't think the colloquial, slang-ridden approach is the way to do it. I didn't bother to finish the book.
As for McCullough, I don't mind the Latin swear words. Since I've read all the Roman novels, I already had the vocabulary by the time Antony and Cleopatra came out. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment. She failed to create believable, sympathetic characters (except maybe for poor Caesarion). And where, where was the intelligence and charm for which Cleopatra was famed? McCullough's Cleopatra is not only not beautiful, she's dim and uninteresting.

Dec 23, 2009, 7:28am Top

Two things put me off McCullough, and I stopped reading the first of her Roman books almost immediately as a result. First, (if memory serves me correctly) she simply gave Caesar (perhaps it may have been Pompey or Sulla?) a sister out of the blue for plot purposes. This left a stale taste in my mouth. Next, in her bibliographic (or historical context) notes, she "humbly" states that she has proved (her words) how the toga was made, folded and worn through her own research; no doubt at home on her hobby farm on Norfolk Island. As I've read much real historical research stating that no one knows for sure how the toga was worn, I found it slightly presumptious that the author of the Thorn Birds claims definitive proof due to her own fumblings.

Having said that, I believe she paints a good historical picture, so I think I'll give it another go.

I recently started Ruth Downie's first book and was immediately disappointed. The book kicked off with a vertitable port mortem being carried out on a body that could have come strait from CSI. "Cause of Death" being recorded by a military 'medic' in Roman Britain? I find that hard to believe.

Dec 23, 2009, 7:57am Top

It appears you are trying to say McCullough isn't smart enough to figure out the Toga because she is the writer of Thornbirds ? She is also a neuroscientist, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by Macquarie University in Australia because of the depth of her research into Rome.

Just because others have not been able to figure it out doesn't mean she hasn't. Even if it was on her farm. Conversely, she wouldn't be the first to have an idea and feel that it is the correct one, even if it isn't. That is simply human nature. At some point someone did figure it out because the Romans wore the Toga, so its not rocket science.

Edited: Dec 23, 2009, 8:33am Top

I couldn't care less about what she's written. Or her "honourary" qualifications. If my attempt at sarcasm didn't come across then I blame the Internet. My beef is with the arrogant tone taken in her notes. I have also met her. She is arrogant.

Dec 23, 2009, 10:11am Top

But yet you are the one that brought it up:

I found it slightly presumptious that the author of the Thorn Birds claims definitive proof due to her own fumblings.

Your complaint was not about arrogance it appears to be about gravitas and intelligence.

No sarcasm came through, just sour grapes.

Dec 23, 2009, 7:59pm Top

Changing the subject back to novels about ancient Rome, I just read one that I really enjoyed by an author I'd never heard of until someone (I think an LTer) suggested him. Anyway, The Blood of Caesar by Albert A. Bell Jr. is a novel set in Rome during the reign of Domitian. Domitian fears that Nero had a sister, through whom may exist an heir of Julius Caesar. He forces the equestrian Pliny the Younger (nephew & heir of Pliny the Historian) to investigate & find the truth. Pliny & his friend Tacitus discover more than they could ever have expected. I believe the descriptions of Rome are very accurate (at least from what I remember of the ruins of the Forum, Colisseum, etc. when I visited Rome in 2003), as well as Roman society functioned. I didn't notice any historical inaccuracies, either.

Dec 23, 2009, 10:11pm Top

Sour grapes? I think you misunderstand the usage of that term. You certainly misunderstand me.

There's nothing Ms McCollough has, or has obtained, that engenders jealously, resentment or sour grapes on my part. She's very successful. More power to her. She's also arrogant and presumptuous. Less power to her on that score.

As I said, if the intended tone of sarcasm (not sour grapes) didn't come across clearly, well then that's life.

Dec 27, 2009, 1:07am Top

I have just purchased Empire Wounds of Honour by Antony Riches (bless the inlaws for my book voucher for Xmas) and flicked through the authors note at the start.

It is interesting that he has used the translations of the names for the forts on Hadrians Wall rather than the dry latin - these were descriptive place names (eg Badger's Holes, The Arab Town) and I think it will read better for the use, unless I choose to read the whole book in Latin (not much hope of that) the "flavour" is likely to be better if all of the work is written in the language of the reading rather than lapsing between two languages.


Dec 27, 2009, 5:38am Top

check this website:

www.fantasticfiction.co.uk - very useful.

u can search the books or authors as suggested above.

Jan 2, 2010, 9:55pm Top

I assume you mean Julilla here, in the novel the sister of Julia, sister-in-law of MArius, wife of Sulla, daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar, and aunt of the famous Gaius Julius Caesar. I think this invention, done to create a familial bond between Marius and Sulla, was relatively harmless compared to what HBO's ROME or Conn Iggulden did to Caesar's family...

Jan 5, 2010, 5:00pm Top

The less said about Conn Iggulden's Emperor series the better - these are not books to be cast aside lightly, rather they should be hurled with significant force :)


Jan 5, 2010, 6:08pm Top

I think Iggulden's books would have been just fine if he would not have tried to push them off as stories about Caesar. If he would have written stories about generic citizens/senators/legionaries etc, the stories might have been readable! But trying to rewrite the Caesar/Brutus story was a really dumb idea.

Jan 11, 2010, 7:13pm Top

An obscure and out of print, but wonderful novel is The Far Arena by Richard Sapir. If it's been mentioned, I didn't see it. The premise is that a Artic oil exploration team discovers the frozen body of a Roman gladiator and resuscitates him. Once you accept this, the novel becomes a fascinating study of the similarities and differences of the two era's psychology as well as a look at the life of a successful, superstar gladiator. I highly recommend it, if you can find it.

I have no idea if this is an accurate portrayal, and don't really care.

Jan 11, 2010, 10:23pm Top

> these are not books to be cast aside lightly, rather they should be hurled with significant force :)

Wonderful! :)

Jan 12, 2010, 12:07am Top

Not my own though :) I read it somewhere on one of the other LT chat pages


Jan 14, 2010, 9:42am Top

I have just gone back to reading the SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts, I had forgotten how much I appreciated Decius Caecilius Metellus. Like Steven Saylor's Gordinus, he doesn't like Caesar and it is yet another view of the fall of the Republic. Having read both fiction and non-fiction it's like coming home to find oneself among Milo, Clodius, Cato, Pompey and Caesar.

Jan 15, 2010, 6:45am Top

I believe it was originally Dorothy Parker's.

Feb 10, 2010, 1:21pm Top

Cleopatra's Daughter by, Michelle Moran

Feb 19, 2010, 9:04am Top

re 9
I have just re read The Eagle of the Ninth, as I have several times over the years. It is still good as an adult! (A film of EOTN is coming out this year 2010) Maybe see www.rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com if you are interested in Rosemary S.

Feb 19, 2010, 9:07am Top

re 147 Just in case you need to track down more Rosemary Sutcliff see www.rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com ... or my library here in Lirary Thing which I have just joined and am finding my way around

Feb 19, 2010, 9:07am Top

re 147 PS eerily, your message was posted on Rosemary Sutcliff's birthday ...

Feb 22, 2010, 5:52pm Top

Posting this here though not Roman Empire fiction because it's a new one by Lindsey Davis of Falco fame. Rebels and Traitors is set in England during the Civil War in the mid-17th century. I read the first couple of pages while standing in the stacks at the library and think it may be a good one!

May 5, 2010, 9:36pm Top

This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
If I may be so bold as to suggest my own novel of historical fiction entitled, "A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle". The setting is the 1st century Roman Empire, and the storyline follows conflict in the early church between Paul and the Jerusalem church headed by Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. The novel has received high praise from scholars for its historical authenticity. Here is a sampling of blurbs:

"a stunning fictional account of the early church … the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles … presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings … This is a story that will both shock and inspire ..." From review by Professor Jeffrey Butz

"a powerful recreation of the world of Paul, James and Peter that pulls no punches … highly readable novel, based on contemporary scholarship … Paul comes alive as a complex individual … this book opens up the reality of the world of Paul and his contemporaries in a way no other work does … Real individuals, with passions and agendas, step on to the world stage." From review by Professor Barrie Wilson

"a compelling exploration of the Jewish and Gentile movements in the first century … A Wretched Man will help you to imagine your way into Paul's life and times … Holmen definitely captures the "feel" of first-century Roman territories … well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul … these characters leap off the page and into our imaginations." From review by Christian education consultant Tim Gossett

The novel's website also contains a wealth of background historical information. www.awretchedman.com. Click on the blog button to sign up for a free giveaway.

May 21, 2010, 11:01pm Top

I loved the Emperor series by Conn Iggulden. There are 4 books in the series.

Jul 14, 2010, 7:33pm Top

I am now about 1/3 of the way through the second of Antony Riches second installment in his Empire series Empire: Arrows of Fury is most enjoyable.


Aug 22, 2010, 4:51am Top

Just finished Roman Games, a debut novel by Bruce Macbain set in the time of Domitian and featuring Pliny the Younger as a reluctant investigator into the murder of a hated informer. Pretty good. Due out in October. My review is at http://justonemorepageblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/murder-in-ancient-rome.html in case anyone's interested.

Aug 25, 2010, 10:40am Top

I really enjoyed Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris.

It's a well researched and beautifully rendered story about Marcus Cicero's rise to power as told by his trusted slave and scribe. Cicero a self-made man, a lawyer/orator who survives by wits and a keen sense of politics, is a contemporary of Julius Caesar and a participant in Rome's tumultuous transition from republic to empire.

The story is fascinating, the pace is engaging, and the history continues to repeat itself.

Well worth the read!

RSG, Author
No Roads Lead to Rome
No time like the past to understand the present

Jun 14, 2011, 9:46pm Top

Read Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem if you fancy a literary war story. Also in the war fighting category I liked Harry Sidebottom, and his Warrior of Rome series, but it's more action than literary.

Jun 17, 2011, 10:27am Top

I would add to the many people who have suggested Robert Graves I Claudius and Claudius the God. Also I can't recomend the Robert Harris Imperium etc. I really enjoyed them, so much so that I got very annoyed watching the TV series Rome for its unflattering portrayal of Cicero and had to throw cushions at the screen :)

Jun 17, 2011, 11:12am Top

How about Roman Games by Bruce Macbain? For an interview with the author go to http://www.judithstarkston.com/reviews/interview-with-bruce-macbain-author-of-ro...
and for a short review of the book go to http://www.judithstarkston.com/reviews/review-of-roman-games-by-bruce-macbain/

It's a fun mystery with very accurate Roman history. He's a classics professor so no made up nonsense!

Jun 17, 2011, 5:10pm Top

>181 Judith_Starkston: I really enjoyed Roman Games and coincidentally just today went to see if he happened to have a new one out (I believe he plans a series.

Jun 18, 2011, 10:39pm Top

180Kay, I have to say I thought that portrayal of Cicero was very interesting. Many folk, myself included, tend to put Cicero up on a pedestal. The portrayal in the Rome series shows a Cicero whose political savvy and role fits within the known history. It's just he is shown to be rather spineless and self-seeking at times. Worth considering when you think about how potentially deadly political manoeuvring was in that time and what we know of Cicero's vanity - much from his own writings. He was the only serious player without a gang of thugs, hence it is likely that he was pushed around by the others.

Jun 20, 2011, 11:30am Top

I thought the actor who played him did an excellent job. Especially his reaction to some of Marc Antony's bad behavior.

Jun 20, 2011, 6:17pm Top

#183 & 184
Don't get me wrong I thought the actor did a great job and I am not saying their portrayal of Cicero was wrong, we don't really know what he was like personally so all interpretations are valid (ah the old Richard III argument) I just meant that having read the Richard Harris books I felt all emotionally invested in him then didn't like to see him portrayed differently, just being silly really :)

Jun 25, 2011, 10:27pm Top


Interesting reflection on literature though. Good history can lead us to know what happened, but good fiction allows us feel it.

Edited: Jun 26, 2011, 8:04pm Top

>182 Storeetllr: Bruce Macbain is writing another--the next one is set in the Black Sea area in Bithynia where Pliny was governor. He's calling it The Bull Slayer I think.

Jun 27, 2011, 1:29am Top

>187 Judith_Starkston: That is wonderful news, Judith! Can't wait. I recently read an article that talked a little about Pliny the Younger recently (can't recall what; something to do with his gov't. service) and was thinking of Roman Games and how much I enjoyed it.

Jul 26, 2011, 8:09am Top

Robert Fabbri's Vespasian: Tribune of Rome is a cracking debut book charting the future emperor's adolescence and first senior posting as a tribune.

Edited: Sep 8, 2013, 1:29pm Top

(Sorry to have posted in the wrong place, message removed)
Liz, editorial assistant

Aug 21, 2013, 10:18am Top

<144 I agree 100% with being annoyed with modern day language in the Scarrow Roman Eagle series...especially the modern day swear slang. I recall in the first book he writes that they are going to "throw the book at him"...it is 47AD and I thought to myself...no...you might throw a tablet at him or smack him upside the head with a scroll but throw the book at him....not gonna happen...I know I know the expression means something else as an idiom but it ticked me off while reading that book. As the series went on it got a bit better but never entirely disappeared and I did grow to like Marco and Cato with time though I did find it hard to believe a soft court slave could survive a battle with wild Britons in the first book.

Aug 21, 2013, 10:31am Top

I read a very old copy of "Quo Vadis" by "Henryk Sienkiewicz" and really liked it . It won a Nobel prize and I vaguely remember a movie being done of it as I read the book. It was originally written in Polish and the translation was a bit stilted but that didn't bother me as it gave the book more character. Life in the time of Nero and the rise of Christianity.

Mar 10, 2014, 1:05pm Top

Harry Sidebottom writes excellent books set in the Roman Empire in the mid 200s AD,

Edited: Jun 1, 2014, 7:06pm Top

Several older ones 1950s through 1990s I've really enjoyed; some may be hard to get ahold of though:

Boat of fate by Keith Roberts : protagonist's military career and Roman Britain Barbarian Conspiracy in 367 AD
Legions of the mist by Amanda Cockrell fate of IX Legion Hispana in Caledonia
Three legions by Gregory Solon Teutoberg Forest massacre
Legion by William Altimari Roman soldiers and Gallic village a generation after Caesar's Conquest

Edited: Jun 1, 2014, 7:11pm Top

David Wishart's mystery series w/ Marcus Corvinus is very good, but an excellent standalone book of his is:
The horse coin

Jun 1, 2014, 10:00pm Top

>194 janerawoof: Legion by William Altimari sounds like a book I would really like to read...your link was to the wrong title...Similarly you have the wrong link to Three legions by Solon....those touchstones can be tricky when you are in a hurry...but you put me in the right direction if I can find these titles.

Jun 19, 2014, 11:44am Top

I loved this book, and then tried to find more books on the subject. Do you know of any?

Jun 19, 2014, 11:56am Top

Francine Rivers is a great Author. I have read all of her books. This series was excellent.

Jun 19, 2014, 11:57am Top

Now that sounds really interesting. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jun 19, 2014, 12:16pm Top

Our Master, Caesar by Patricia Hunter Historical Fiction
A fresh look at GAIUS JULIUS CAESAR, and the people who shared his extraordinary life - Cicero the orator; General Pompey, unwilling to tolerate a rival; crafty Cassius; Servilia, the mother of Brutus; and Cleopatra, prepared to barter her body for the throne of Egypt. Revised edition, 2014.

Patricia Hunter (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). OUR MASTER, CAESAR (Kindle Location 5). Kindle Edition.

Jul 22, 2014, 12:13am Top

Robert Fabbri has an excellent series about Vespasian. Thus far the books are

Tribune of Rome, Rome's Executioner, False God of Rome and Rome's Fallen Eagle


Edited: Jul 22, 2014, 12:26am Top

There are two great series set during the lead up to the Year of Four Emperors

M C Scott's Rome Series - The Emperor's Spy, The Coming of the King, The Eagle of the Twelfth and Rome: The Art of War

Douglas Jackson's Gaius Valerius Varren's series Hero of Rome, Defender of Rome, Sword of Rome, Avenger of Rome with Enemy of Rome still to come.

Jackson also wrote two novels Caligula and Claudius which centre around an animal trainer in the Imperial Roman court.


Group: Historical Fiction

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