Today you get one of my listy filler posts – I hope you don’t mind. Too much time spent blog tinkering and pootling around the garden means not enough time reading books. I didn’t even get any reading done this morning when I woke up as my brain was full of a bad dream which was set off by the story on Ashes to Ashes last night!
Today I will share some books from my library set in Ancient Roman times. All of us at Gaskell Towers have a slight obsession with things Roman so I’ve quite a list to choose from…
I, Claudius by Robert Graves.
I couldn’t do a list without this one. It actually features in my Desert Island Library above.
Sejanus by David Wishart.
Using Tacitus’ annals as his principal source, and filling in the gaps, Wishart creates a great fun novel of plot and counterplot in ancient Rome concerning Sejanus’ plot to whack Tiberius and supplant Caligula on the Imperial throne. His chosen sleuth, Marcus Corvinus is a young noble recently returned from Athens for his father’s funeral, and is drawn into the thick of it by a command from the grave of Livia. Anyone familiar with “I Claudius” will know all the main characters. Unlike Graves though, they talk with a modern vernacular – which immediately draws comparisons with Lindsey Davis’ Falco detective novels. Corvinus is posher than Falco, but otherwise these books are very similar in tone – both bringing a distinctly grubby Rome to life with its criminal underclass well to the fore. Wishart has written a dozen Marcus Corvinus mysteres now, and they’re great fun, with labyrinthine plotting based on real events.
Pompeii by Robert Harris.
Reading this novel, one is reminded of the classic Monty Python scene in Life of Brian where when asked “What have the Romans done for us?” one of the rebels answers “Aquaducts.”
Harris’ impressive research teaches us all about them as the plot centres around the imminent eruption of Vesuvius cracking the aquaducts that bring water to the city. Pompeii itself is a minor character in this rather thinly plotted story, but I was pleased to see Pliny in there – for his account survived. Enjoyable enough but ultimately forgettable.
Augustus, Tiberius, and Caesar by Allan Massie.
Fictionalised lives of the Roman emperors. Massie’s style takes a little getting used to, but they are entertaining. Tiberius was the best of these three for me. He’s since added Caligula, Anthony and Nero’s heirs to the series.
The Poems of Catullus.
I studied some of Catullus’ poems for O-level. Needless to say when I got to read proper translations these poems of relationships, love, hate, and gossip were a revelation.
The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius.
Born around AD69, Suetonius was private secretary to the emperor Hadrian and had access to all the archives, and eyewitness accounts and the Twelve Caesars is very colourful account full of anecdotes from Julius Caesar onwards which really brings the period to life. I also have Tacitus and Livy.
Are there any other must-read novels set in Ancient Rome?