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Greek/Roman Historical Fiction
Hey Folks,

I've been looking for a few good books of historical fiction about Greeks or Romans. Preferably, I'd love a book that deals with the military side of things. Any recommendations? I've heard the "Forgotten Legion" and "Spartacus" books by Ben Kane are really good...has anyone read them?


Whoops, I thought I was in off-topic. Forgot I was reading the rules....
"Great Empires are not maintained by timidity" -Tacitus
Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series was why I became interested in this subject in the first place.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
Simon Scarrow - love it!
Paul Elliott

Legions in Crisis

Charting the Third Century military crisis - with a focus on the change in weapons and tactics.
OOo this is actually a topic I've had increasing interest in. When younger I used to be dismissive of them on basis of accuracy, I've now chilled out in that regard and have a broader appreciation of such books. I still think 99% are trash for either bad writing or being inaccurate and anachronicistic beyond what I can stand, but still...Arkhwmetha 8) This saves me putting this in the Classics blog we're planning. Also I'll be blunt. Are we sticking to English?

1 Mary Renault - The Praise Singer.

Ok I'm not one to recommend Renault, despite her popularity. I find certain things annoying, she's very...dated, whilst her attitude to homosexuality is suprisingly liberal her characterisation of women is often dull. Moreover she's ensconsed in the old German view of Greeks as all pale blondes disliking the dark aboriginals. Her character motivation is frequently un-Greek, her attempt at nicknames for her characters violate all rules of Greek onomastics (NO YOU CAN'T CALL HIM HERK, JESUS WOMEN!)...Anyway, you can see that despite her overwhelming popularity this is not the stuff to draw a Classicist, usually.

However this is exceptional. The above is somewhat minimised, the story is somewhat naive but at the same time this is easily the most evocative treatment of the archaic/early Classical poetic world. The power players, the patronage...even the aristocratic lilt is wonderful. There are even occasional, not too good, quotations from Simonides and the references to Bakkhylides and Pindar are wonderful. If you dislike it, you're silly. Its a brilliant book. As brilliant as her others are boring. One of my favourites.

2 Tom Holland - The Walled Orchard.

Again, based on a poet of insane importance to us yet often overlooked, Eupolis. Not much to say since I didn't finish it (thesis!) but its funny as hell with a healthy dose of history and whatnot woven into it. Fantastic. I'd kiss the man just for focusing on Eupolis though, I really would. On the lips, Roman style, as if he were my son in law. A wonderful picture of classical Athens.

3 Christian Cameron - Various

What's to say? This is a man who has read his Herodotos. Ok there are slight quirks as in K.O.M we have Arimnestos' mother singing Homer...we'd really want Hesiod or one of the others at this stage and Poseidon's spear goes off the map and we start getting modern Greek names etc (I'm guessing in deference to friends). However, probably pound for pound the best Greek books. It understands war, it quotes Homer, Herodotos and has Greek philosophy. It understands war (again) without glorifying it. It happily shows Greek aristocratic culture and there are times it lets the dissonance between its characters and our mores through. It also really, really, feels mediterranean.

Also the Marathon series mentions: Herodotos, Aeschylus, Phrynicus (!!) and a host of others. I mean Hipponax is a main character and so cleverly done we all delighted. These are the books I pass to other Classicists. A friend of mine is on Hipponax and they were delighted at the nice twist.

Ok, not read them *ALL* so quick notes. I didn't like Tyrant 3, make your own mind up. The first one was..phenomenal, as a story. I mean...fuck man...the supernatural elements, the presentation of the landscape. Philokles. The later books shift to first person, it may or may not annoy you. He's the reason I scrapped my Mycenaean novel since I can't write like this. Anyway this section is too long, so I can't go into individual detail. I didn't like Tyr.3 and am unsure about Alexander but none are less than great novels. If you're interested in fighting you'll be happy.

4 Lindsay Clarke - War at Troy/Return from Troy.

Read them years ago, not sure has well they've aged. I loved them at the time...literary novel meets Greek mythology meets pseudo-Historical background, grounded realism. They follow various epics, tragedies and handbooks. The first is better than the sequel. Pair this was Zachary Masons' "Lost Books of the Odyssey" or somesuch, you need to know the Odyssey first though. These are old and probably out of print but worth it. The fighting description and PST is nice.

Ok I've rambled too much here, I'll cut this off and do another one on Rome. OBVS all this is opinion and obvs there are other good ones out there, this is just an immediate selection.
Ok if novels on Greece are plastic and full of assumptions, Roman ones have the issue of being even more anachronistic, often soldiers are like US marines and these come off as if the author is trying to transplant the US. It gets annoying. Not sure if these are worse than the Greek ones or not, but ok. I'll be brief since I need to finish reading this crap on Roman patronage. BTW Roman cultural machinery is almost 99% totally absent, so bear that in mind with "accuracy". There's never salutatio, the myriad little religious motions, the personal names, the right names for deities. Actually...the same with Greece but its even more pronounced here. Not once have I ever seen a character receive a sportula. Seesh...Ok....

Note that these will be relatively "late" due to the preponderance of stuff on the late Republic and Augustan age, since Scarrow etc will deffo be mentioned. I'm also not touching the wonderful Greco-Roman mystery genre.

1 Gore Vidal - Julian

Almost literary, yes very American but the writing makes this worth it. I wish it were as good as his Creation terrible but...anyway its lovely, Livanios and Priskos star and there are great moments.

2 William Napier - Attila trilogy.

Ok, the Romans almost come off as effete British Imperials here "oh no one wouldn't get so tanned! ohh my hands are dirty, fancy that" etc but the pace and characterisation make this stand out and you sympathise with both Atilla and Aetius. Typical eye rolling description of the Eastern Empire , alas. The battle descriptions will annoy people here though.

3 Harry/Henry Sidebottom - Warrior of Rome series.

Ok, difficult. Set in the 3rd century where evidence is scarce, a mix of invention and real characters. It does a lot right. Its by far the most historically accurate Roman set of novels, in terms of Roman culture etc, this it achieves by remarkable understatement. Those who know surrounding periods well will get a huge kick out of the backhanded use of literature from those eras, especially the erotic tales. I laughed. However the writing is not always good and the clumsy insertion of Latin terms with English glosses breaks up the flow. So not quite the Latin version of C. Cameron but close. Wunderbar.

I do love that it slips a lot of Roman culture in, the warfare is brutal and honest and quick too. I've only read the first 3 or 4, however. I think there are 5/6 now.

Ok super long twin posts so I'll stop annoying people and wait for recommendations.
Well, I put a few Sidebottom, Scarrow, Napier, and Clarke (Love the Odyssey) in my Amazon cart. Unfortunately, the Masters of Rome series are a bit tough to snag. It's a pity for they sound really good.

The Warrior of Rome series sounds like it'll be a fun read. Perhaps I'll give Cameron and Renault a try down the road. I am familiar with Herodotus so that might be fun to get into.

I thank you Lyceum, for a wealth of information. That really helped for you gave a good summation of the books and now I feel comfortable of what I am getting into. And thanks Mithras, the Scarrow books look like really good reads as well. Again, a pity about the Masters of Rome Dan for those, from what I looked up after your say so, seem to be highly recommended.
"Great Empires are not maintained by timidity" -Tacitus
As other have mentioned, there's a terrific amount of 'ancient' (particularly Roman) fiction about at the moment - in the last five years 'Roman military adventures' have become a bit of a publishing trend.

Ben Kane and Anthony Riches (both members of RAT) were in at the start of it, and both write good stuff in the Simon Scarrow style (Scarrow himself pops up here sometimes too), there are also ongoing series by Douglas Jackson, Robert Fabbri, Nick Brown, John Stack and quite a few others.

Some of my own particular favourites include:


1. Christian Cameron - Tyrant novels. I agree with Jass here. The first Tyrant novel is fantastic, although I haven't read the more recent ones about Marathon etc. Great sense of the past, and some convincing characters.

2. Rosemary Sutcliff - The Flowers of Adonis. Sutcliff is best known for the 'Eagle of the Ninth' and other books, supposedly for kids. This is an adult novel, about Alkibiades. Less action, but really gets inside the characters and the period.

3. Steven Pressfield - Gates of Fire. About the 300 at Thermopylae. Huge gruelling battle scenes (in a good way), and some very convincing background too.


1. Harry Sidebottom. Warrior of Rome series. OK, mentioned before, but Sidebottom's an ancient history professor at Oxford and knows his stuff inside out - even when he makes mistakes, there's usually a reason for it (which is a bit of backhanded compliment, maybe...)

2. George Shipway - Imperial Governor. Mentioned here many times before, this a 'commander's eye' account of the Boudica revolt. It's from 1968, so there are a few odd bits, but the picture it presents of planning and conducting a military operation is first rate (Shipway was an army officer himself).

3. MC Scott - The Eagle of the Twelfth. This is Manda Scott, previously best known for her books about Boudica but now writing about the Roman enemy instead. This one's about the campaigns in the east leading up to the Jewish Revolt - the overall sense of real life in the legions is excellent, and the battles are good too - interesting to see the Romans drawing the short straw, victory-wise!

There's more about this subject in these old threads, meanwhile:

Most Historically Accurate Roman Novels?

An Abundance of Roman Novels

Fictional Characters

Roman authors and books
Anything by Steven Pressfield but particularly Gates Of Fire (so obviously a Greek novel on Themopolae), Tides of War (Peloponesian Wars), The Afghan Campaign (guess). He is so good that you will find him quoted occasionally on RAT.

Thanks Nathan for the suggestion and links to the old threads. That's pretty cool Ben Kane is a member here. I tossed the Spartacus books in my cart as well. As for Steven Pressfield, thank you Richard. The Gates of Fire was one I had in my hand at B&N but put back for I wasn't sure. I'll have to make a little trip back now.

Oh...and if anyone is interested, on iTunes, there is a publisher called Audio Connoisseur. They have put out several audio books with a good narrator. They have unabridged works by Suetonius, Tacitus, Polybius, Caesar, Herodotus, Livy, and more. From the samples I checked out, they sound really good. Not to badly priced either.
"Great Empires are not maintained by timidity" -Tacitus
Has anyone else read RW Peake's Marching with Caesar series? I have the first two and really enjoyed them.

No man resisted or offered to stand up in his defence, save one only, a centurion, Sempronius Densus, the single man among so many thousands that the sun beheld that day act worthily of the Roman empire.
I think Roderick Milton's "Tell Them in Sparta" knocks spots off Gates of Fire (which I really didn't like). Admittedly it is more a young adult book but it is what got me into Greek history.

I haven't found a Roman series that really grips me other than the original sources (Can't beat Suetonius' Twelve Caesars) except Lindsay Davis' Falco novels - the first six, anyway- but that's more for the atmosphere they evoke rather than historical correctness (although pretty good).
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
I picked up the first two Simon Scarrow books in his Eagle sears. I am about halfway through Under the Eagle and I'm glad I was pointed towards him. I'm really enjoying it so far.
"Great Empires are not maintained by timidity" -Tacitus

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