The Library - Historical Fiction set in the Classical World

My Favorite Historical Fiction

The following are books that I have read and enjoyed. All of the stories take place in the ancient world, and some were even written during that era. Many of them were written decades ago but I still consider them among the best of historical fiction.

I hope that you find a few you would like to try, or perhaps you have already read some of these or have other suggestions - if so, I would love to hear your comments!

1) Probably the most vivid and accurate book set in Ancient Rome that I have ever discovered is Confessors of the Name, written by Gladys Schmitt and published in 1952. It is rather long and some people feel the style is a bit wordy, but it is full of complex, utterly believable characters and a great sense of place. It is set in the reign of Emperor Decius (250 AD). The Goths, extreme wealth and poverty, philosophy (Stoicism), Early Christianity, politics, and government are all dealt with in a complete manner. I highly recommend it! I have linked to it on Amazon where you can purchase a used version for less than a dollar.

2) No King But Caesar, by Anne Powers. Subjects: Early Christianity, the Reign of Tiberius Caesar, the story of a marriage of convenience that ends happily. Another one you can buy for a ridiculously low price.

3) The Last Days of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer Lytton. I have to preface this one with a warning that Lytton has a very flowery style of writing, which will probably be enough to put many people off. However, it is still an excellent story of the lives of people affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

4) Flames of Rome, by Paul L. Maier. The story of Flavius Sabinus, the brother of Vespasian.

5) Three Greek Romances, by Longus (Daphnis and Chloe), Xenophon (An Ephesian Tale), and Dio Chrysostom (The Hunters of Euboea). These Romances were actually written between the first and third centuries AD, and provide us with an idea of what the earliest novels were like. They are interesting reading, although most of the plots contain events which we would consider unbelievable. To me, they are fascinating pieces of ancient life.

6) The Satyricon, by Petronius. Another novel actually written in ancient times, this one in the first century AD. Concerns the wrath of the god Priapus - a comic motif based on the wrath of Poseidon against Odysseus in the Odyssey. Probably the most famous of ancient fictional writing.

7) The Course of Honor, by Lindsey Davis. Published in 1997. The story of the Emperor Vespasian and the freedwoman he chose as his mistress, Caenis. If you like the writing of Davis, be sure to also check out her series of fiction that centers around the ancient Roman detective, Marcus Didius Falco.

8) The House of the Vestals, by Steven Saylor. This is a book of short stories centering around Gordianus the Finder, detective of Ancient Rome. Takes place in the first century BC, and Cicero appears often.

9) The Beacon at Alexandria, by Gillian Bradshaw. This story takes place in the fourth century. A wealthy girl runs away from her upcoming arranged marriage, and goes to Alexandria to become a doctor. Another of my favorites; very intelligent fiction.
Also by Gillian Brandshaw and highly recommended:
The Bearkeeper's Daughter (Byzantine Empire, 6th century)
Imperial Purple (Byzantine Empire, reign of Theodosius II)

10) The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault. Excellent. Takes place in Athens, during the last part of the Peloponnesian War. Socrates also appears.
Also by Mary Renault:
The Mask of Apollo (Greece, 4th Century BC, concerning the story of an actor)
The Praise Singer (6th Century BC, the Persian Wars, much about the lyric poets)

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