Historical Fiction Spotlight is a new feature that I came up with in order to highlight some books from one of my favorite genres — historical fiction. I feel like sometimes this genre gets pushed to the wayside, but there are so many great books about so many different things! In each spotlight, I’ll share 10 books from a different time period. While I might not have read every book I show, I promise that they come fully vetted and are all on my TBR list!
10 Historical Fiction Novels Set in Ancient Rome
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran
The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two– the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander–survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
The book is written as an autobiographical memoir by Roman emperor Claudius. Physically weak, afflicted with stammering, and inclined to drool, Claudius is an embarrassment to his family and is shunted to the background of imperial affairs. The benefits of his seeming ineffectuality are twofold: he becomes a scholar and historian, and he is spared the worst cruelties inflicted on the imperial family by its own members during the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. Palace intrigues and murders surround him. Claudius’ informal narration serves to emphasize the banality of the imperial family’s endless greed and lust. The story concludes with Claudius ascending to the imperial throne.
Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress’s rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.
The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
Through vividly imagined letters and documents, Wilder brings to life a dramatic period of world history and one of history’s most magnetic, elusive personalities. In this inventive narrative, the Caesar of history becomes Caesar the human being. Wilder also resurrects the controversial figures surrounding Caesar – Cleopatra, Catullus, Cicero, and others. All Rome comes crowding through these pages – the Rome of villas and slums, beautiful women and brawling youths, spies and assassins.
The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough
Here is the story of Marius, wealthy but lowborn, and Sulla, aristocratic but penniless and debauched — extraordinary men of vision whose ruthless ambition will lay the foundations of the most awesome and enduring empire known to humankind. A towering saga of great events and mortal frailties, it is peopled with a vast, and vivid cast of unforgettable men and women — soldiers and senators, mistresses and wives, kings and commoners — combined in a richly embroidered human tapestry to bring a remarkable era to bold and breathtaking life.
The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden
In a true masterpiece of historical fiction, Iggulden takes us on a breathtaking journey through ancient Rome, sweeping us into a realm of tyrants and slaves, of dark intrigues and seething passions. What emerges is both a grand romantic tale of coming-of-age in the Roman Empire and a vibrant portrait of the early years of a man who would become the most powerful ruler on earth: Julius Caesar. On the lush Italian peninsula, a new empire is taking shape. At its heart is the city of Rome, a place of glory and decadence, beauty and bloodshed. Against this vivid backdrop, two boys are growing to manhood, dreaming of battles, fame, and glory in service of the mightiest empire the world has ever known. One is the son of a senator, a boy of privilege and ambition to whom much has been given and from whom much is expected. The other is a bastard child, a boy of strength and cunning, whose love for his adoptive family-and his adoptive brother-will be the most powerful force in his life.
Imperium by Robert Harris
A cautionary tale of orator Cicero and his struggle for power in Rome. On a cold November morning, a terrified stranger, Sicilian victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor Verres, approaches senator Marcus Cicero. At age 27, the ambitious young lawyer and orator wants imperium – supreme power in the state.
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Falco is a Roman informer who has a nose for trouble. In the Forum, where pretty Sosia flees for her life, he rashly decides to save her – and regrets the move. She has stolen Imperial ingots. Senator’s daughter Helena Justina is connected to traitors Falco has sworn to expose. The snooping plebe faces a murderous cabal.
The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen years old they are sold – Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome. 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, his entire family killed by the Romans, and he rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day.
Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray
With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, Princess Selene must save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers…In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome…Trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. Faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to honor her mother’s lost legacy.