Marius' Excellent Historical-Fiction Reading-List!
Bulwer-Lytton, Sir Edward. The Last Days of Pompeii.
- A moralistic but classic tale set in the Roman resort town, soon to be buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Caldwell, Taylor. Pillar of Iron.
- An adulatory portrait of statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero and the Roman Republic (shown here as a "proto-democracy"--huh??) that he tried to save.
- Caesar's Gallic War.
- Caesar, of course, left his Commentaries; this account presents the story as it might have been told by some of the troops.
- Roman People.
- Short-story vignettes of Roman society in all its complexity; a Senator, a charioteer, an explorer, a tradesman and many others each get a moment in the spotlight.
Gann, Ernest K.
- Roman general Flavius Silva faces off against Zealot leader Eleazer ben Yair, who has turned King Herod's mountain palace into a nearly-impregnable stronghold. Well-researched, which doesn't keep it from being a thumping good read. Previously published as The Antagonists.
- The Triumph.
- Flavius Silva returns to Rome--and to a future made suddenly uncertain by the tides of Imperial politics.
- The Last Rainbow.
- Young missionary Patricius Soccatus has a problem: He's convinced that God wants him in Ireland, but the Church insists on first sending him to late-Roman Britain to preach to the Picts, with less than spectacular results--until he encounters the even more primitive Prydn, whom the Picts call Faerie. Imaginative portrayal of the future Saint Patrick.
- King Arthur as he really was: a Romano-British warlord who fought off the invading Saxons--for a time--and tried as best he could to preserve Roman Britain after the withdrawal of the Legions.
Graves, Ralph. The Lost Eagles.
- When Quintilius Varus and his three Legions are wiped out by the Germans at Teutoburger Wald, young tribune Severus Varus sets out to recover the lost standards and avenge his uncle's defeat. I really like the character development in this one.
- I, Claudius.
- This literary classic is the "autobiography" of the frail, bookish lad who, dismissed as a dunce by the rest of his family, nevertheless finds himself Emperor of Rome.
- Claudius the God.
- Sequel to the above, in which Claudius narrates the events of his reign, and several other notables tell what happened afterwards.
- Count Belisarius.
- Biographical novel of the Romano-Byzantine general who recaptured Rome from the Ostrogoths under the Emperor Justinian. I like this one better than the Claudius books, actually...
Hunter, Damion. The Centurions.
- Two half-brothers--one the legitimate son of a famous general, the other his offspring by a slave girl--try to make a name for themselves in the Roman Legions. There is a sequel, Barbarian Princess, which takes place in Britannia; another is rumored.
Koestler, Arthur. The Gladiators.
- Less preachy than Howard fast's Spartacus, this is another account of the Spartacan rebellion.
Maier, Paul L.
- Pontius Pilate.
- Was Pilate's career as Governor of Judaea really such a disaster as is commonly supposed? What in fact happened to him afterwards? The author decided to research these questions, and this novel is the result--complete with references, and a good story besides.
- The Flames of Rome.
- Another look at early Christianity in a Roman context, this time focusing on the apostle Paul and the persecutions under Nero.
- The First Man in Rome.
- The Grass Crown.
- Fortune's Favorites.
- Caesar's Women.
- Caesar: Let the Dice Fly.
- The October Horse.
- Epic historical novels of the last century of the Roman Republic--the time of Gaius Marius, seven times Consul, and his archrival Lucius Cornelius Sulla; of the revolt of Rome's Italian allies, civil war between Marius and Sulla, and the rise of Pompey and Caesar. The author sometimes puts modern sentiments in the mouths of ancient Romans; but the major historical figures and (especially) ordinary folk are very well-drawn, and the maps of Rome and beyond keep the novels firmy rooted in a sense of place. The books are illustrated by the author from Republican-era portrait busts. Extremely well-researched; the Glossary alone is worth the price of your Western Civ textbook.
Michener, James. The Source.
- As archaeologists excavate an ancient city-mound in Israel, flashbacks tell the stories of the people and events that made its history over the several thousand years of its existence. Typical Michener--big and sprawling and absolutely wonderful.
Mitchell, Kirk. A.D.: Anno Domini.
- Rome during the reign of Tiberius, as seen by a Praetorian Guardsman who converts to Christianity. This was made into a TV movie. While rooting for the Christians, both the novel and the show were among the first of their kind to portray the Romans in a somewhat sympathetic light (versus the usual iron-fisted oppressors).
Pater, Walter. Marius the Epicurean.
- This little-known classic relates the thoughts and experiences of Marius, a gentle, introspective youth who tries each of the schools of philosophy on for size in his quest for meaning. The story itself unfolds at a leisurely pace, as if to remind us that readers have not always been in such a hurry.
Radin, Max. Epicurus, My Master.
- Another philosophy treat, this time "written" by Atticus, the dear friend of Cicero, who very sensibly kept out of politics and so outlived everyone from Sulla to Caesar.
Sapir, Richard ben. The Far Arena.
- A Roman gladiator is revived after being found frozen in glacial ice, and must now confront the challenge--tougher than anything he ever faced in the arena--of adapting to a new and utterly different world. The so-so science-fiction backdrop does not obscure a first-rate historical novel, told about 50-50 by the Roman himself and by the people who found him.
Sienkiewicz, Henryk. Quo Vadis.
- The classic tale of Rome under Nero and the first Christian persecutions. The hero converts, escapes, and gets the girl--what else is new? But it's still a good story, one of the better variations on the theme.
- The Eagle of the Ninth.
- The Silver Branch.
- The Lantern Bearers.
- The series follows the fortunes of the Marcus Flavius Aquila family through the last three hundred years of Roman Britain. A lost Standard, an Imperial usurper and the final withdrawal of the Legions are the respective focal points of each novel. Illustrated, so usually found in the childrens' section--but don't let that fool you. (The hardbacks are out-of-print; but the series was recently reprinted in trade paperback, without the illustrations.)
- Sword at Sunset.
- A rewarding look at the historical Arthur, making a valiant last stand against the Saxons in the twilight years of Roman Britain.
Van Wyck-Mason, Henry. Return of the Eagles.
- A young Roman officer, descendant of a noble family, joins Belisarius' expedition to take back the Eternal City from the barbarians. Not very accurate; kind of pulp-fiction, in fact; but still lots of fun.
Vidal, Gore. Julian.
- America's best historical novelist takes on the emperor Julian the Great (or "the Apostate", depending on your perspective), the son and successor of Constantine, and leader of a last-ditch revival of the traditions and values of pagan Rome. (It is worth noting here that Nova Roma had its earliest roots in the Julian Society.)
Wallace, Lew. Ben Hur.
- The famous story of a Jewish prince who became a galley slave, then a Roman citizen, and finally a charioteer; and of his rivalry with his old Roman ex-friend, Messala.
Yourcenar, Marguerite. Memoirs of Hadrian.
- "Autobiography" of the Emperor who travelled the length and breadth of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent, visiting every province so he might better understand the peoples under his rule; one might consider him the father of cultural anthropology.
- Silver Pigs.
- Shadows in Bronze.
- Venus in Copper.
- The Iron Hand of Mars.
- Poseidon's Gold.
- Last Act in Palmyra.
- Time to Depart.
- Fascinating (and funny!) mysteries set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Vespasian, featuring the scrappy Marcus Didius Falco, freelance detective-in-a-toga.
Roberts, John Maddox.
- SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy.
- SPQR III: The Sacrilege.
- SPQR IV: Temple of the Muses.
- More whodunits, this time taking place in the late Republican era and puzzled out by rising patrician Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger.
- Roman Blood.
- Arms of Nemesis.
- Catalina's Riddle.
- The Venus Throw.
- I'm not much of a mystery buff, but these are good! Gordianus the Finder sticks up for runaway slaves, one of Cicero's impoverished clients and other too-obvious suspects.
Fantasy and Science FictionEdit
Anderson, Poul and Karen. The King of Ys: Roma Mater.
- Centurion Gratillonius, serving with Britain's Second Legion in the waning years of the Roman occupation, finds himself heir to a mystical kingdom in Gaul run by nine druid priestesses. Talk about cultural exchange...! There are three other books in this series, but I haven't read them yet and so shall not try to review them here.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan and the Lost Empire.
- Tarzan and archaeologist friend Erich von Harben discover two relic Roman outposts in Sub-Saharan Africa which are slugging it out for what's left of the Empire. Surprisingly good!
Cherryh, C.J., and Jan Morris. Legions of Hell.
- Hell didn't want Julius Caesar--they were afraid he'd take over, and he did... (And then Brutus shows up, not remembering a thing about that little incident on the Ides of March. That's Hell for you.)
- Vettius and His Friends.
- This man actually writes Roman science fiction! These short stories show some of the possibilities; a few of them have since been expanded into novels.
- Ranks of Bronze.
- Survivors of Crassus' defeat in Parthia are drafted by aliens to fight low-tech wars on distant planets. The plan is a considerable success--until the Romans decide they're going home, dammit...!
- Birds of Prey.
- The Roman Empire is in chaos, with every Gaius, Lucius and Publius out to put himself on the throne; Imperial agent Aulus Perennius is contacted by extraterrestrials and given the means to put a stop to the madness.
- The Eternal City (ed.).
- Short-story anthology gives Poul Anderson, C.J. Cherryh, Gordon R. Dickson and other notables the chance to strut their Roman stuff. Don't miss this!
Esther Friesner. Child of the Eagle.
- Venus shows up on pridie Idibus Martiis and persuades Brutus not to do it. In exchange for...? --Ahh, that's the fun part. I've never read and enjoyed a better revelation of the whole dynamic between men and their Gods.
Kennealy, Patricia. The Copper Crown. (The Keltiad.)
- And now for something completely different... Persecution by Christian priests sends the Druids and their followers to the stars. Two thousand years later the Celts have the empire they so richly deserve in the reaches of space; and Earth is about to make first contact with her long-exiled offspring.
Killian, Crawford. Rogue Emperor: A Novel of the Chronoplane Wars.
- Imperial Rome still exists on an alternate time plane; and when the Emperor Domitian is killed by an anti-tank missile, someone has to find out who's smuggling off-world technology into the city--and why.
Llywelyn, Morgan. The Horse Goddess.
- A noted Celtic writer takes a fictional look at the woman whose life and travels may have given rise to the legend of Epona, the Horse Goddess.
McMullen, Sean. The Centurion's Empire.
- What happens when the Romans figure out time travel and one of 'em decides to pay us a little visit...? This is not the typical fish-out-of-water story; Vitellan has already been to medieval France, where he showed one noble house how to withstand and overcome a siege; by the time he comes to our world, he has less to learn than he has to teach.
- New Barbarians.
- Cry, Republic.
- Pontius Pilate spares Christ, and the Empire never falls... Rome discovers the New World; goes to war with the Aztecs; and finally, swelled with the power, riches and pride of conquest, must struggle not to lose Her soul.
Norton, Andre. Empire of the Eagle.
- A handful of prisoners from Crassus' vanquished Legions are sold to a Chinese ambassador as a souvenir; they must somehow regain their honor as they are marched ever further eastwards into realms of legend. Gets a little weird.
Somtow, S.P. The Aquiliad: Aquila in the New World.
- Procurator meets Dances With Wolves...? A humorous look at the Roman discovery of North America--populated by dinosaurs, Bigfeet and a wily Indian who helps a less-than-clever general survive the hazards of his new duty assignment.
- The Misplaced Legion.
- An Emperor for the Legion.
- The Legion of Videssos.
- Swords of the Legion. (The Videssos Cycle.)
- A Roman Tribune crosses enchanted swords with a Gaulish chieftain and finds himself, the Gaul, and three cohorts of Caesar's finest transported to a world rather like Byzantium where magic works. Rival priests, warring cultures, and imperial intrigue abound, with a seemingly-indestructible evil wizard brooding over all. Best picture I've seen of how a Roman Legion might handle living with and fighting against magic.
Wolfe, Gene. Soldier of the Mist.
- A Roman mercenary fighting alongside the Greeks sustains a head injury which leaves him with no memory from day to day except for the journal he keeps, while at the same time making him susceptible to messages from the spirit world. Spooky and touching.
Shaw, George Bernard. Caesar and Cleopatra.
- A lighthearted look at this famous romance.
White, Theodore H. Caesar at the Rubicon.
- The author of the Making of the President series turns his attention to ancient politics in this thoughtful exploration of questions which transcend time and place: Is it sometimes necessary to break the law in order to preserve it? And what has to happen inside a man before he can do so?
Wilder, Thornton. The Ides of March.
- Not exactly a play, this story is presented as a series of letters written by Caesar in the last months of his life and by those around him who were influenced by his activities: family, friends, supporters, opponents, rival reformers, fence-sitters, and of course the men who were conspiring against him.