Numismatic and History Discussions > Books and References

Recommended Reading Thread...

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Jay GT4:
Thought it would be good to have a thread where we can recommend books and Documentary series.  I hate buying a book or DVD and finding it out of date or boring or just painful to read.

Here are a few that I've found particularly interesting and informative:

"Augustus" by Anthony Everitt is fantastic.  A joy to read.  His conclusions are reasonable and well thought out.

"Cicero" by Anthony Everitt is just as good as Augustus.  I've read it twice.

"Rome and Jerusalem" by Martin Goodman gives great info on what led up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ramifications from that event on Christianity and world history.  Very good read.

I will warn everyone about the "new" DVD called "Legions of Rome" it is supposedly a new DVD from 2007.  I bought it only to find it was actually made in the early 80's but put on DVD in 2007.  It was simplistic and featured state of the art (for 1980) computer graphics.  I returned it and to my surprise got a full refund.

I can recommend the PBS series "Secrets of the Dead" especially the one entitled "Headless Romans" very well done.  I'm trying to find a copy for myself.

Those are just a few.  What about you guys?  Any suggestions?

David Atherton:
One of the best fictional accounts of Flavian Rome I've read is 'Domitia and Domitian' by David Corson. Endorsed by no less than the eminent Flavian historian Brian Jones, the book creates a plausible account of Domitian's reign and goes a long way to explain his tyrannical behavior.

When I get more time, I will list a few more books that have greatly enhanced my understanding of ancient Rome.

Jay GT4:
I will definately look for that book!  Thanks!  I know you love the Flavian era so you will enjoy the above mentioned book "Rome and Jerusalem"

I'm about half way through "Pompeii: the Living City" by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence.  It combines historical facts in the context of a fictional narration.  Half the book is in italics (fictional) the rest tells why they can speculate that is what happened through inscriptions, scrolls and other historical facts.  Very interesting read.

On a side note I'm also reading "Wonderful Tonight...George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me" by Pattie Boyd.  I'm on the first chapter and I'm already fascinated...she hasn't even gotten to the good stuff yet! :)  and I just finished "John" by Cynthia Lennon, that really changed my view of Lennon, just when I was starting to like Yoko! :)

I haven’t read too many fictional accounts of ancient Rome so I can’t really add much there, except to say that Robert Graves’s I Claudius and Claudius the God are excellent – truly classics – and the novels of Steven Saylor are most enjoyable and seem to be well researched for overall accuracy.  Also, there is Lord Lytton’s 19th century classic (still widely available) The Last Days of Pompeii, which influenced my interest in Roman history as a youth, though it is a true Victorian novel and is filled with much hyperbole.

On non-fiction works I am better qualified to comment, having read so many.  For general works on Rome, among the most useful (in my opinion) are as follows:

Philip Matyszak’s Chronicle of the Roman Republic (Thames & Hudson, 2003),

Chris Scarre’s Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (Thames & Hudson, 2004),

Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola, and J. A. Talbert: The Romans: From Village to Empire (Oxford, 2004),

Lesley and Ray Adkins: Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (Oxford, 1998),

And, for a fun book with a good deal of useful information, there is Philip Matyszak’s recent Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day (Thames & Hudson, 2007).

Of histories of Rome perhaps the most famous (and one of the very best) is Edward Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published in multiple volumes between 1776 and 1788). There are many editions available of this work, some better than others. The problem here is that most editions presently in print are abridgements. The original is very long but well worth reading in its entirety as the abridgements all leave out a great deal of important material (in some cases the original work has been reduced by as much as two-thirds).

A favorite of mine is the Loeb Classical Library series, which pairs ancient texts in their original language with modern English translations of the same. The series is huge and contains both Greek and Roman works. My personal favorite books of the series are those of the four volume set Remains of Old Latin, translated by E. H. Warmington (originally published 1940 and still in print by Harvard University Press). Of these, volume IV is particularly interesting, having as it does a very fine section on Republican coinage (indeed, among the best treatments of the subject I have read).

Will Durant’s 1944 Caesar and Christ is a fine one-volume treatment of Roman history as well. It is part of the “Story of Civilization” series (volume 3, in fact) but stands alone. It remains in print today and is widely available.

Less widely available but extremely good is Basil Kennet’s Antiquities of Rome, often known simply as Kennet’s Rome, first published in London in two volumes in 1713 but continuously published (often in a single volume edition) for the next 150 years. Well worth it if you can track one down.

In my personal opinion, however, the definitive history of Ancient Rome is without question the 16 volume (actually 8 volumes, each volume being split into two books) monumental work by Victor DuRuy entitled History of Rome, first published in French around 1880 and published in English in 1884. This is an amazing work and, although considered “popular” in its day, far outstrips most later “scholarly” works in terms of academic quality. It also has copious illustrations, including many of coins.

Then there are the many books on specific areas of Roman history and culture (i.e. literature, poetry, the army and military campaigns, law, architecture, the early Church, etc., etc., etc…). I’ve found I can’t go wrong with anything written by Michael Grant, John R. Clarke, Anthony Everitt, or Edith Hamilton.

And, of course, let us not forget the writings of those who were there! Much Roman history and literature written by Romans themselves has come down to us. There are the books of Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch (who was Greek but writes about the lives of both Greeks and Romans), the two Plinys, Cicero, Julius Caesar himself, and many others...

Robert Grant's 'Augustus to Constantine' is still well worth reading (it was published in 1970) if you're interested in religion at all. It's a scholarly, but readable, account of the history of the early church within the empire, and gives as gives a picture as you'll get of the shifting relationships between church and state. Just what's needed for debunking the old stereotype of bloodthirsty pagans throwing every Christian in sight to the nearest lion!


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