Rome Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Please choose a book on some aspect of Ancient Roman history, including the history of early Christianity (1st through 4th century CE). Book reviews should be roughly 5-8 pages long and include the following elements. In the case of shorter volumes (less than 200 pages) it is preferable to review two short works on the same topic.

1) An introduction that describes the topic covered in the book and the author’s main thesis, argument or viewpoint on the subject at hand.

2) a brief outline or overview of the contents of the book, chapter by chapter, describing briefly the author’s main points and arguments.

3) Your own critique of the author’s work that engages with the author’s work and assesses how effectively he/she makes the case for their.This is the most important part of the book review. Your purpose is not merely to criticize or nitpick, but to make an intelligent statement on the content and argumentation in the work.

Books for review come in two varieties: primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary sources consist of English translations of ancient books or texts written by authors who lived during Ancient Roman times. These will have been originally written in Latin or Greek. Standard modern translations of primary sources should include an introduction by the translator that places the ancient text in its historical and cultural context. Penguin Classics is one series that publishes many accessible and modern translations of classical texts by ancient authors including famous Romans like Cicero and Julius Caesar as well as ancient historians like Plutarch, Livy and Tacitus. Primary sources include all types of evidence from antiquity including artistic and archaeological evidence as well as written documents.

Secondary Sources include works by modern authors which discuss and interpret ancient primary sources. The best secondary sources will present and interpret a wide range of primary sources to piece together a picture of some aspect of ancient history. Ideally, a secondary source should consider all types of evidence: textual, archaeological and artistic.

List of possible books for review by topic area: Below is a suggested sample of possible books for review that you may consider. I own most of these so if you would like to examine the book before you commit to it please see me in my office. You may also choose another book that is not listed her but you should show me the volume for my approval before you start working on your review. In general, you should avoid very old books (printed before the 1960s) or general textbooks that simply duplicate your assigned text.

Primary Sources: These works are generally listed by the classical author, but keep in mind that each individual modern edition will also list the modern scholar that translated the work and edited it for publication. There may also be slight differences in the title of the work due to translation from Latin or Greek into modern English.

Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome. Although drier and less salacious than Suetonius, Tacitus’ works on the early Roman emperors remains our most important source for the history of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.

Cassius Dio’s great work Roman History is preserved only in portions but what survives is an important sources of Roman history.

Julius Caesar: Among his works are his War Commentaries on his wars in Gaul (modern France) and his self-justifying take on the Roman Civil Wars that he fought against Pompey

Cicero: This famous senator left us a number of important works including his study of the Roman Republic as well as various personal letters and public speeches that inform us about Roman life and history at the end of the Republic

Juvenal, The Sixteen Saties: Biting social commentary using satire to reveal both the splendor and squalor of Rome at its height.

Martial’s Epigrapms: These often raunchy and biting saterical poems poke fun at all aspect of Roman culture and society and reflect the values and prejudices of Elite and non-Elite Romans.

Secondary Sources Book Options by Topic Area: Most students will choose a secondary source. Keep in mind that there are many other possible books and topic areas besides those listed below. If you are looking for something different, please discuss it with me and we can find something that suits your interests.

Military and War

  • Goldsworthy, Adrian, The Complete Roman Army, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003
  • Southern, Pat, The Roman Army. A Social & Institutional History, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007
  • Webster, Graham, The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D., Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1994


  • Barrett, Anthony A., Caligula. The Corruption of Power, Yale University Press, London, 1989
  • Everitt, Anthony, Cicero. The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, Random House Trade Paperback, New York, 2003
  • ________, Augustus. The Life of Rome’s First Emperor, Random House Trade Paperback, New York, 2006
  • Freeman, Philip, Julius Caesar, JR Books, London, 2008
  • Grant, Michael, Constantine the Great. The Man and His Times, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998
  • Levick, Barbara, Claudius. Yale University Press, London, 1990
  • Osgood, Josiah, Claudius Caesar. Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011

Political & Social History, Sex and Gender

  • Alberto, Angela, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily LIfe, Mysteries and Curiosities
  • Balsdon, J.P.V.D., Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome, Phoenix, London, 1969
  • Beard, Mary, The Fires of Vesuvius. Pompeii Lost and Found. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2008
  • Berry, Joanne, The Complete Pompeii, Thames & Hudson, London, 2007
  • John Clarke, Roman Sex, 150 BC to 250 AD
  • John Clarke, Roman Life, 100 BC to AD 200
  • Dalby, Andrew, Empire of Pleasures. Luxury and Indulgence in the Roman World, Routledge, London, 2000
  • duBois, Page, Slavery. Antiquity and Its Legacy, Oxford University Press, New York, 2009
  • Edwards, Catharine, Death in Ancient Rome, Yale University Press, London, 2007
  • Eiss, Joseph Jay, The Town of Hercules. A Buried Treasure Trove, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, 1995
  • Finley, M. I., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, Penguin Books, New York, 1980
  • Galinsky, Karl, Augustan Culture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996
  • Holland, Tom, Rubicon. The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Doubleday, New York, 2003
  • Knapp, Robert, Invisible Romans
  • Skinner, Marilyn B., Sexualities in Greek and Roman Culture, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2005
  • Laurence, Ray, Roman Passions. A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome, Continuum, London, 2009
  • Lefkowitz, Mary R., Fant, Maureen B., Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. A Source Book in Translation, Second Edition, Baltimore, 1992
  • McKeown, Niall, The Invention of Ancient Slavery, Duckworth, London, 2007
  • Morgan, Gwyn, 69 A.D. The Year of Four Emperors, Oxford University Press, New York, 2006
  • Rosen, William, Justinian’s Flea. The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire, Penguin Books, London, 2008
  • Toner, A. P.  Popular Culture in Ancient Rome

Early Christianity

  • Bryan, Christopher, Render to Caesar. Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005
  • Robert Louis Wilken, Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 2nd Edition, Yale University Press, 2003
  • Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity, Harvard University Press 2013
  • Bart D Ehrman, After the New Testament: 100-300 C.E.: A Reader in Early Christianity
  • Bart D Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper One 2005
  • Ferguson, Everett, Background on Early Christianity, Second Edition, Michigan, 1987
  • MacMullen, Ramsay, Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400, Yale 2003 University Press, London, 1984

Gladiators, Sport and Spectacle

  • Beard, Mary, The Roman Triumph, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London, 2007
  • Kyle, G. Donald,  Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2007
  • Potter, D.S., Mattingly, D.J., Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire, Michigan, 2002
  • Shadrake Susanna, The World of the Gladiator, Tempus, 2005