Need a good book about the Romans

I’ve been wanting to Study the Roman Empire for a long time, but unfortunatly have been unable to find a good comprehensive look at the society, history, etc. of the entire run of the empire.

Perhaps something akin to Willian Shirer 's The Rise and Fall of the Third Riech. Any suggestions? I don’t mind long as long as it’s interesting and readable.

It’s old, but Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which begins in the middle of the second century, is still seen as a classic.

Durant’s Caesar and Christ has a good history of the Romans, The title in more indicative of the time periods covered.

2nd century AD?

Again, I want a comprehensive view of the roman empire, not just the decline. I’d like to know more about how it began, the crossing of the Rubicon, etc as well as changes over time.

Depends on what you are looking for.

For a straight historical chronicle, there are a number of classic texts.

For a great fictionalization - strongly researched and based in fact - I recommend Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, starting with “The First Man in Rome” set about 50 years before the rise of Caesar…

I second wordman’s recommendations. McCullough includes extensive glossaries at the end of each book and you learn a lot masses about the twists and turns of politics in late Republican Rome. I’ve just bought the latest book, which looks like it covers Caesar’s last years.

The OXford History of the Classical World is accessable and has good lists for further reading.

If you’re after primary type sources, Tacitus’ Annals covers Augustus to Nero (but in fragments) and his History covers the civil war following the death of Nero and the year of the four emperors which ended with Vespasian taking the throne.

Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars is a set of biting biographies of the first twelve emperors in all their bizarre splendour.

Michael Grant writes in a way that is very accesible he has cores and scores of books.

But His 12 Ceasars is one of the most succinct summations of the movement from Republic to Empire I have ever read – really really good and understandable (& relativly short).

The Romans and Their World by Arnott was good. I found it quick and informative. It’s probably dated by now. Still, we’re dealing with something a couple thousand years old. With that in mind, don’t discount Gibbon just because he’s long dead and the title makes his book sound limited to the end of the Empire, either. He covers the development as well and the abridged one-volume version was readable.

Durant’s Caesar and Christ is excellent. It covers from the Etruscans to Constantine, with significant time spent between the Gracchi and Augustus, in my opinion, the most interesting 150 years in world history.

For a look at the Punic Wars, nothing can beat Polybius. He was a Greek who worked with Scipio Aemilianus, and his writings are in the Penguin Classics series as The Rise of the Roman Empire. It also covers the conquest of Greece during that time period. You also might want to check out Livy’s stuff on the Punic Wars.

Ammianus Marcellinus gives a comprehensive account of Julian’s reign in the 4th century, and Gore Vidal’s Julian is a good fictional account of the same time period.

Other good fiction -

  • McCullough’s First Man of Rome series for the revolution
  • Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God for the Julio-Claudian dynasty
  • Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, detective stories set between Sulla’s dictatorship and the crossing of the Rubicon

Actually written by Romans -

  • Livy
  • Tacitus’s Annals and Histories, again, covering the Julio-Claudians. Tacitus is considered to be one of the best historians of all time.
  • Suetonius’s Lives of the Twelve Caesars is great gossip

Later historians -

  • Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the fall of Constantinople. If you care at all about the Byzantine empire, read the last three volumes. If not, they aren’t necessary.
  • Macchiavelli’s The Discourses is an analysis of the structure of Roman government under the Republic.
  • Theodore Mommsen, a German of the late 19th century, has a good, relatively short (compared to Gibbon) comprehensive history of Rome. Unfortunately, it’s slightly hard to find.

On a lighter and certainly more readable note, Isaac Asimov wrote a series of histories that are basic yet thorough. His two on Rome are The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire. They’re older but most libraries should still have them.

Jello nailed it - go to the source: Polybius, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius.

Plutarch’s Lives is an excellent read.

I’m a great fan of Will Durant, and recommend Caesar and Christ.

I, Claudius is fantastic too.

In summary, what Jello said.

It’s hard to believe that historical fiction could be an edge-of-the-seat page turner, but M[sup]c[/sup]Cullough achieves this in spades with her series. Everyone I know who I’ve loaned the books to has gone nutso over the compilation. Supposedly, M[sup]c[/sup]Cullough has the largest private library of ancient Latin documents in the world, outside of an academic institution or museum. Her writing style is completely readable and she breathes life into her characters very well. I recommend this series without reservation.

Two snaps up!

Unfortunately, no one has yet written a good book about the Ramones.

Read Colleen McCollough’s “The First Man in Rome”. It is very well researched, and takes place just before the famous Julius Caesar became… emperor or dictator or whatever it is. You all will have to forgive me, my intellectual prowess took a rather severe blow last night and I am hungover this “morning”. (It’s 2 in the afternoon for chrissakes!"

Hmmm, that will teach me to reply to a thread that I haven’t thoroughly read, but it does attest to the powerful nature of her novels.

Title, please?

The October Horse

Just so you know - the complete list of Masters of Rome titles:

The First Man in Rome
The Grass Crown
Fortune’s Favourites
Caesar’s Women
The October Horse

Not comprehensive, but a very interesting book about life in Rome, i.e. the city, is Ancient City