Recommended Roman historical fiction books

The following books are recommended works of fiction with a main setting of either Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece.

Recommended Reading

In the 3rd century AD, Lucerius Valerius Quincius, perfect of Tarcisis, an imaginary Roman City, begins his memoirs. His city is threatened from without and within. North African Moors are entering the Iberian Peninsular, and the prosperous, complacent Roman Towns are obvious prey. Within the city walls, members of a new religious sect known as ...

Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan
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Set in the 5th century AD, Azazeel is the tale of a Coptic monk's journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church. Azazeel highlights how the history of our civilization has been warped by greed and avarice since its very beginnings and how one man's beliefs are challenged not only by the malice of the devil, but by the corruption with the early Church.

"One sentence leapt out as I read this novel, a question Azazeel asks of Hypa but also one that provokes uneasiness in any author: “Was your soul immaculate…before you began to write?”. The answer to that can only be glimpsed when the pages of any book come to their end and a reader is able to sit in judgement on a soliloquy by form, an imagination by desire, a skill by method. I found that Youssef Ziedan spoke to me on history, on early Christianity, on politics, on logical and madness. I read of fear and hope, of joy and sadness. Watched passion and rage both within a single person and inside an entire city. Out of it all comes the theme that life is what Azazeel craves to indulge in. For Azazeel death has no meaning. For Hypa life is a voyage with several stopping points, where solitude and calm are needed and craved as much as passion and fervour. It is a novel with something for everyone, a novel that lends to the personal knowledge of the author, a novel that is accessible by the intellectual and the dreamer." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

The Eagle Series by Simon Scarrow
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It is 42 AD, and Quintus Licinius Cato has just arrived in Germany as a new recruit to the Second Legion, the toughest in the Roman army. If adjusting to the rigours of military life isn't difficult enough for the bookish young man, he also has to contend with the disgust of his colleagues when, because of his imperial connections, he is appointed a rank above them. As second-in-command to Macro, the fearless, battle-scarred centurion who leads them, Cato will have more to prove than most in the adventures that lie ahead. Then the men discover that the army's next campaign will take them to a land of unparalleled barbarity - Britain. After the long march west, Cato and Macro undertake a special mission that will thrust them headlong into a conspiracy that threatens to topple the Emperor himself...

"Cato and Macro have as much as place in the pantheon of Roman characters as Falco and Gordianus. Scarrow is as good as Davis and Saylor. Different in style, equal in success." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

Downfall of the Gods by KJ Parker
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If you visit the Temple and ask nicely for forgiveness, you might get it - assuming you aren't Lord Archias and you haven't killed the Goddess's favorite musician, Lysippus. But even goddesses are expected to follow certain rules, and as much as she wants to punish Lord Archias it seems her troublesome, all-powerful father forbids it. So the Goddess will just have to get around that by forgiving Lord Archias if he can manage some simple - or, rather, seemingly impossible - tasks. A Goddess has to do what a goddess has to do.

"This book is more about the journey, the exploration, and the arguments that lead to the titular downfall of the gods. I can't really tell you what this book has to offer because it is something you have to see for yourself. This is story that needs to be experienced, and I will wholeheartedly recommend that you experience what it has to offer."

A Gladiator Dies Only Once by Stephen Saylor
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Gordianus the Finder, famed detective of Ancient Rome, returns in a riveting of stories. Nine tales of murder and intrigue take him from the seamy streets of Rome to elegant villas on the Bay of Naples, from the spectacular backdrop of a chariot race to a domestic dispute with his Egyptian concubine Bethesda.

"This is a delightful set of small additions to the Sub Rosa series and serve well to fill in the gaps of the thirty odd years that we have followed our Finder. I sincerely hope more Gordianus come from the pen of Saylor but this may mean he has to move away from creating mysteries based on historical events as those events are fast running out, though having Gordianus involved in the most famous murder of all in 44 BC must surely lure Saylor's pen. If you're an ancient history murder mystery fan then Saylor's one of the best. Buy it." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

Rome Trilogy by Kate Quinn
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Orphaned by Rome's savage legions, Thea, a slave girl from Judaea, has learned what it takes to survive. She knows only violence until a chance meeting with gladiator Arius offers a shred of tenderness. But their bond is severed when Thea is sold again, condemned to rot in squalor. Years later, a singer known as Athena betrays no hint of her troubled past. Catching the eye of the Emperor himself, she is swept into a world of decadence and depravity. But although Domitian fears betrayal from every side, he is unaware that the greatest threat lies next to him - a slave girl who has come to be called the Mistress of Rome...

"A tale of a young woman’s journey, during a time of uncertainty, is what Mistress of Rome delivers brilliantly." Snjezana Bobic, Fantasy Book Review

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell
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Over and again, the aged seeress Tamis scried all the possible tomorrows. In every one, dark forces threatened Greece; terrible evil was poised to reenter the world. The future held only one hope: a half-caste Spartan boy, Parmenion. So Tamis made it her mission to see that Parmenion would before the deadliest warrior in the world — no matter what the cost.

Raised to manhood in Sparta, bullied and forced to fight for his life every day, Parmenion had no notion of the unseen dimensions of magic and mystery that shaped his fate. He grew in strength and cunning. His military genius earned him the title Strategos in Sparta. His triumphs for the city of Thebes made him a hero. And finally his fate led him to the service of Philip of Macedon.

As Tamis had foreseen, Parmenion's destiny was tied to the Dark God, to Philip, and to the yet-unborn Alexander. All too soon the future was upon them. Parmenion stood poised to defeat evil — or to open the gate for the Dark God to reenter the world.

"Exhilarating, captivating and set in Ancient Greece, Gemmell presents us with another first-class lead. Parmenion is a Spartan of mixed ancestry, scorned as a half-breed by other Spartans. Living a life fuelled by thoughts of vengeance his path crosses that of the Macedonian king Philip as he has to overcome ordeals both in the world he knows and against the hordes of evil in Hades." Fantasy Book Review

The Forgotten Legion Chronicles by Ben Kane
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Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman on his way home from a good night out. At 13 years old, they and their mother are sold: Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome, and their mother into obscurity and death in the salt mines. Tarquinius is an Etruscan, a warrior and soothsayer, born enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family.He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and of revenge. The lives of these four characters are bound and interwoven in a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and political enmities, but ends far away, where Romulus, Brennus and Tarquinius find themselves fighting against the Parthians and overwhelming odds.

"I thoroughly enjoyed The Forgotten Legion - so much so that I stayed up until 2am to finish it. Where others play in the rarefied world of senators, legates and upper class merchants, Kane delves into the grim underbelly of slavery, prostitution and gladiatorial carnage; a place where life is cheap and the thirst of the conquerors for the blood of the conquered knows no bounds. Here, we smell the grime, lie on the cold floors, face death daily with little to live for beyond the faint spark of hope that one day there might be revenge. His creation of the Etruscan Haruspex is fantastic - a man of a defeated nation who can yet give hope, and does so, to both Roman and captive alike... and the conclusion leaves us waiting for the sequel." Manda Scott, author of the Boudica novels

"One of the biggest compliments I can give this book is that its 600+ pages felt like only 300. The Forgotten Legion is a book that has universal appeal; a fascinating, educational and action-packed tale of bravery, suffering and hope set at the height of the Roman Empire. Fantastic entertainment." Fantasy Book Review

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
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At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other... Selene's parents are gone, her country has been taken from her and she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had. Paraded as captives and brought to live among the ruling family, Selene and her brother attend lessons, learning how to be Roman and where allegiances lie. Devoting herself to her artistic skill and training as an architect, she tries to make herself useful, in hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. But before long, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire. But all is not well in the city and when the elusive 'Red Eagle' starts calling for the end of slavery, causing riots and murder, and the Roman army goes to war, Selene and Alexander, the children of Mark Antony, Rome's lost son and greatest rival, find their lives in grave danger.

"Michelle Moran delivers a superb and accurate piece of historical fiction in a tale that will have you questioning everything you ever thought you knew about the great Queen and her children. It is delightful piece that transcends through time and will have you praising Moran for her ability to write exquisite novels based on histories greatest villains and lovers." Snjezana Bobic, Fantasy Book Review

Rome by MC Scott
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Rome is burning. Only one man can save it. The Emperor: Nero, Emperor of Rome and all her provinces, feared by his subjects for his temper and cruelty, is in possession of an ancient document predicting that Rome will burn. The Spy: Sebastos Pantera, assassin and spy for the Roman Legions, is ordered to stop the impending cataclysm. He knows that if he does not, his life - and those of thousands of others - are in terrible danger. The Chariot Boy: Math, a young charioteer, is a pawn drawn into the deadly game between the Emperor and the Spy, where death stalks the drivers - on the track and off it.

"Scott gives all characters a voice. None within are silent extras, each has a story to tell, albeit quick or long." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

Cleopatra's Daughter by Stephanie Dray
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Where Egypt fed the world, Rome tamed it. Where Egypt fostered, Rome disciplined. Egypt was as seductive as a temptress, nurturing as a mother, and wise as a crone. To me, Rome’s spirit was all male.” So speaks Selene Ptolemy, daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra, from her gilded cage in the house of Octavia in Rome. So speaks the author as to the essence of her opening novel, of what will become a trilogy, where the fading light of Isis wars with the conquering darkness of Jupiter. A novel that seeks to drive home the understanding that “without Isis, people forget female divinity.

"The novel will be well received by those who like Margaret George or Philippa Gregory. The style is very much focused on relationships within a tight circle of no more than ten. Everything else around pales into a muffled background. Whilst this means the reader comes to intimately sympathize with the fates of the caged children, the context of Rome becomes no more than ventures into popular Hollywood. Images of Elizabeth Burton come unbidden, gladiatorial combat painted in by Russell Crowe or Charlton Heston fill the roaring gaps so desperately needed when the reader needs action rather than conversation to accelerate the pulse." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

The Vestal Vanishes by Rosemary Rowe
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The marriage of a former vestal virgin is always an important event, so the anticipated arrival of such a bride in Glevum is the excuse for an even more lavish banquet than usual on the Emperor's birthday feast. However, when Audelia's covered carriage finally arrives, the lady in question is nowhere to be found. Libertus investigates and makes a gruesome discovery, suggesting that Druid rebels may have been involved. But when another lady disappears, Libertus finds himself in a race against time to ensure the safety of the 'vanishing vestals'.

"If you wish to enjoy a light read, a well constructed narrative, enough twists and clues to keep you interested, a character who is amiable if not enjoyable, then I'd recommend Rowe. I note that the Libertus novels have lessened in frequency in recent years. Is that a sign that the author is coming to a natural end for her British character? If it is, then, if you like Falco, I'd suggest you read these whilst you can." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

The Siege by Nick Brown
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270 AD. Rome has ruled Syria for over three centuries. But now the weakened empire faces a desperate threat: Queen Zenobia of Palmyra has turned her Roman-trained army against her former masters and the once invincible legions have been crushed. Arabia, Palestine and Egypt have fallen and now Antioch, Syria's capital, stands exposed. Cassius Corbulo is a young intelligence agent fresh from officer training. He has been assigned the menial task of rounding up wounded legionaries but then urgent new orders arrive. He is the only ranking Roman officer left in the line of the Palmyran advance. He must take command of the fort of Alauran, the last stronghold still in Roman hands, and hold it against the enemy until reinforcements arrive.

"The Siege is good book showing an unlikely Roman officer forced into doing something that he was not fully trained for. The Siege has an engaging and unique writing style that allowed a nice build up from the preparations to the final clash between the Romans and Palmyrans." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis
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Even as the dust settles from her last case, Albia finds herself once again drawn into a web of lies an intrigue. A mysterious death at a local villa begs may be murder and, as the household slaves are implicated, Albia is once again forced to involve herself. Her fight is not just for truth and justice, however; this time, she's also battling for the very lives of people who can't fight for themselves.

"The novel is, as Albia realises “at its heart a genuine tragedy. It mattered that I should name whoever burst into Mucia Lucilia’s bedroom, killed her man and put that rope around her neck. It mattered too, that if people should have helped her, I should identify them too.” Yes indeed. It matters also, that we readers, follow her on this mystery." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

Eagles at War by Ben Kane
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AD 9, German frontier: Close to the Rhine, a Roman centurion, Lucius Tullus, prepares to take his soldiers on patrol. On the opposite side of the river, German tribes are resentful of the harsh taxes about to be imposed upon them. Suspicious that there might be unrest, Tullus knows that his men's survival will be determined not just by their training and discipline, but by his leadership. What neither Tullus nor his commander, Governor Varus, realise is that ranged against them is the charismatic chieftain and trusted ally of Rome, Arminius, who has long been plotting to drive the Romans from the tribal lands east of the Rhine. As Varus’ legions prepare to leave their summer encampment, thousands of warriors – directed by Arminius – are massing nearby. Eager to throw off the Roman yoke, the tribesmen prepare a deadly ambush. Only the gods can save the Romans now...

"For this reviewer, part one of the novel is not bad, though it struggles as though the author is chafing to get into the action. The conversational interaction between non-legionaries is laboured at times, punctured by small vignettes of ever-growing action as we move from bar brawls to minor skirmishes. It’s clear that part one is a taster for the greater part of the novel – part two… which excels and leaves the reader well pleased and satiated. To that end, Ben Kane has produced a novel that will while away a good three or four hours of your time and will pique any reader to learn more about this infamous battle. I look forward to seeing how Centurion Tullus gets his revenge in the coming novels."

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Recommended reads by sub-genre

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High fantasy books
High fantasy

Fantasy set in an alternative, fictional world
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Epic fantasy

Fantasy with epic characters, themes, and plot
Heroic / Sword and Sorcery fantasy books
Heroic / Sword and Sorcery

Fantasy with heroic adventures
Contemporary / Urban fantasy books
Urban fantasy

Fantasy narrative with an urban setting
Historical fiction / Alternate history books
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Historical fiction with fantasy elements
Parallel worlds.
Parallel universe

Fantasy set in parallel worlds
Science fantasy / Speculative fiction books
Science / Speculative

Draws elements from both science fiction and fantasy
Children's fantasy books
Children's Fantasy

Fantasy for ages up to 12
Young adult fantasy books
Young Adult

Fantasy for ages 12+
Adult fantasy books
Adult Fantasy

Fantasy for ages 18+
Dystopian fiction
Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic

Fiction set in dark, nightmarish worlds
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Monarchy / Empire

Fantasy books with empires at their core
Gothic fiction books
Gothic Fiction

Fiction with elements of fear, horror, death, gloom and romance
Vampire fiction
Vampire Fiction

Fiction with vampiric characters
Werewolf fiction
Werewolf Fiction

Fiction with werewolf characters
Steampunk books
Steampunk

Fiction with steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology
Dragon fiction
Dragon Fiction

Fiction with the legendary, scaled, fire-breathing creatures
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Wizards / Magicians

Fantasy with wizards, witches, magicians, sorceresses...
Lore, Legend and Mythology
Lore, Legend and Mythology

Inspired by ancient folklore and mythology
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Military Fantasy

Fantasy books focusing on mailtary life
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Roman historical fiction

Explore the ancient Roman Empire
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Star Wars

Books exploring the galaxy of the ever-popular franchise
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Animal fantasy books

Fantasy with sentient animals
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The Thief / Assassin

Fantasy books starring the thief or the assassin
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Supernatural

Fiction exploring beyond the laws of nature
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Manga

Japanese comic books and graphic novels
House of Small Shadows
Horror

Liked to be scared? These books will do that...
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Comic Fantasy

For the reader who loves to laugh
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Inspired by Tolkien

Love Lord of the Rings? Now try these...
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Anthologies

The best science fiction and fantasy anthlogies