CRF Blog

The best books on Ancient Rome

by Bill Hayes

For Five Books, award-winning historian Tom Holland lists what he considers the five best books on Ancient Rome and is interviewed on his choices. His picks are:

1. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius and translated by Robert Graves.

2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

3. The Roman Revolution by Ronald Syme.

4. The Roman Triumph by Mary Beard.

5. Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox.

With all the upheavals in the world do you think there are things that we can still learn from Roman times? I think that the quality of great literature is that it contains timeless truths. It is like a kaleidoscope – our understanding of the text will change according to the way that we ourselves change. In terms of the lessons to be drawn from Roman history, of course it will always hold a mirror up to the present, for the simple reason that what is distinctive about Western civilisation, particularly compared with the other great civilisations like China or India or even the Middle East, is that in the West we have had two cracks at it. We had the first starting in BC and lasting up until the collapse of the Roman Empire and then the second, building on the ruins left by classical civilisation, continuing into the present. And all the way through our attempts to construct civilisation we are always overshadowed by the previous attempt, so we will find in Roman history what I guess we find in science fiction – that there are points of resemblance heightened and made strange by the way that they are also completely different. [more]