Lindsey Davis’ choice of ten books on Rome

The Guardian

The Guardian celebrates Lindsey Davis’ 19th book by asking her what she keeps on her bookshelves. (The 19th Falco novel, Alexandria, has just been published.)

I have nine shelves of Roman books. For this selection I’ve left out learning Latin, the classics and guidebooks to individual sites, and I have also had to leave out specialisms – glass, gardens, cookery, law … These are ten that are scholarly but user-friendly. They are all books I have enjoyed, all influenced my love of ancient Rome and most of them are in regular use for my work.

1 Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jérôme Carcopino

This dense depiction of the great, bustling, aromatic, highly superior city of Rome is now 90 years old but because it draws extensively on classical authors, it has never gone out of date, and remains an excellent introduction to how Rome worked and how its people thought of themselves. Every sentence is packed with examples. The first part is general background, the second takes us through a typical Roman day.

2 Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome by Lesley Adkins and Roy A Adkins

I have always found this an excellent encyclopaedia of Roman facts, people, places and habits. It has good photos, drawings and maps. The gazetteer, which gives the modern equivalent of Roman provinces and towns, is particularly useful, and the book answers all those tricky questions about time, numbers, personal names. And whether the Romans wore underwear.

3 Rome and Her Empire by Barry Cunliffe

This chunky and beautifully photographed book begins with Rome itself, its roots and history, and its fabulous high point. It has a fold-out depiction of the famous Peutinger Table, then covers the major provinces of the Roman Empire. Finally it discusses how the empire that must have seemed so strong came to disintegrate.

4 Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Amanda Claridge

I have used the Time Out and Blue Guides, which cover all periods, but for ancient world purists nothing can beat this travel guide to more than 150 sites. Even the famous locations are sometimes a jumble of broken stone, but this book unravels the mysteries, with photographs or drawings of most features. There are also good introductory chapters so you can march about knowing your Second “Architectural” period of fresco design from your Fourth “Fantastic” – thus avoiding unseemly social gaffes.

5 The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard

Narrowing the focus, Rome’s most famous monument was built by the Emperor Vespasian to win the hearts of the people, who had no football but loved a good spectacle. This engagingly written account tells of its long history as a venue for bloodthirsty sports and other uses (cattle pasture, glue factory …) and how it has inspired artists, authors and even botanists. The Colosseum is a must for tourists; you will find here all you need about the complex archaeology – but first read the sound advice on making a visit.

6 Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe

Not much is new; almost everything was invented a very long time ago. I fell in love with this book instantly. I trust it absolutely on everything from catapults to hodometers, though the gynaecological instrument found at Pompeii always gives me a bit of a turn. (I only balk at the alleged use of iron filings as a contraceptive which I suspect is an April Fool.) Arranged thematically, the book covers all periods, delighting in human ingenuity from Aztec chewing gum to 2,000-year-old snow goggles.

7 The Lost World of Pompeii by Colin Amery and Brian Curran Jr

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, which destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding areas, left us a unique snapshot of Roman life, as ash and mud preserved so much at that terrible moment. Ever since, this poignant event has had a huge impact on travellers, while the still-unfinished story of uncovering the scene is critical to the development of archaeology and heritage management. Pompeii books abound, but this is one of the best, with wonderful colour illustrations.

8 Roman Britain by Keith Branigan

This is another chunky volume, my favourite on “our” stuff. There is no doubt that the Romans viewed Britain as particularly exotic and mysterious. We have remained just as fascinated by them. They occupied for 400 years and though much disappeared quickly after they left, still our roads, towns and the fabric of our lives owe a very great deal to them.

9 The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

“Somewhere about the year 117AD, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eboracum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again.” Hooked? If not, there’s no hope for you. A wonderful novel, for children of all ages.

10 I, Claudius by Robert Graves

One for grown-ups, or two if you include Claudius the God. For the TV generation it’s now almost impossible to read this without thinking of Derek Jacobi et al, but that’s no hardship. There is no better way to get to grips with the complicated family tree of the early emperors, who are so vital to understanding how imperial Rome came about. And rarely has a male novelist created such a subtle female character as here in the devious Empress Livia. The modern chaps hardly do women at all – they could learn from Graves.

Refresher Day INSET March 7th – latest

Tracey Headland our Administrator for the day has just sent me the latest update for Saturday 7th March, including last-minute contact details for anyone who has missed the deadline for registering.

The update is here:

Tracey adds

If people want to apply last minute, they can either call me on 01223 321118 or email

I am hoping I may be able to attend myself – suffering poor health, but I’d love to be there.  (David writing)

Support for Latin from Barbados

Good to read this well-written piece from somewhere I don’t think I’ve ever quoted on this blog.

The Barbados Advocate

Latin still on our lips


IN an increasingly interdependent international community, it is no longer sufficient to master a single language. Even so, standard English is the one most countries are striving to learn and Latin is quietly reasserting its influence in some of the world’s main English-speaking countries.

Educators and policymakers who worry about the poor standard of English in our school system may want to have a look at the effect Latin is having on students in parts of North America and Europe.

Don’t for a moment believe its positive influence will inspire a return to that “ancient”, “irrelevant” subject in today’s classrooms, especially on developing countries where things European have suffered relentless bombardment. Even so, there can be no harm in noting that doctors, lawyers, scientists, pharmacologists, etc., are among several high achievers who appreciate the benefits Latin gives their careers,
although some were extremely uneasy with it during their early school years.

Classical scholars support courses in that language, explaining that the Greeks and Romans first developed popular concepts of people’s freedom, democracy and citizenship, which are highlighted in politics today.

Unconscious use

Some of that ancient Roman tongue is still on people’s lips today even though they may not realise it when using abbreviations such as etc. [et cetera], e.g. [for example], or words and phrases: deity [Latin “deus” = God], verbatim [word for word], via [by way of], in memoriam [in memory], ad hoc [toward this], bona fide [good faith or genuine], quid pro quo [something for something], non sequitor [it does not follow], alma mater [“bountiful mother” i.e., former school, college or university], summa cum laude [with highest praise], status quo [existing state of affairs], vox populi [voice of the people], caveat emptor [let the buyer beware], ad nauseam [to the point of sickness], via [through].

Interestingly, while Latin remains particularly prominent in Roman Catholic liturgy, and to a lesser extent in Anglicanism, it is making a comeback in Britain. At the same time, some local councils have ruled that teachers should not use various common words and phrases in that language “because it confuses people”. One example: “e.g.” is being mistaken for “egg”!

However, it thrives in some United States and Canadian schools. Among others, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Philadelphia institutions continue to offer courses which record high literacy outcomes for their graduates.

Latin’s principal promoters contend that students’ grades in English, especially grammar, improve as a result of discipline required to achieve competence in Latin, though many youngsters do not need to continue reading or researching the language after graduating.

They also suggest that modern teaching too often takes short cuts, and blame popular trends toward quick-fix development or correction for deficiency in English as being responsible for poor literacy that not only causes problems in private and public business places, but is also spreading within the academic community.

One may argue that the near-98 per cent literacy [i.e., competence in English] often cited for Barbados was achieved when Latin was a staple on secondary schools’ curricula. That rating has since been in dispute, as is any suggestion that our society would readily take lessons in – and from – that old Roma language.