Friday, September 16, 2011

Five notable books on ancient Rome

Tom Holland's novels, most of which have a strong supernatural element, are set in various periods of history, ranging from ancient Egypt to 1880s London. He is also the author of highly praised works of history, including Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, and Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, Holland discussed five worthy books on ancient Rome, including:
Pagans and Christians
by Robin Lane Fox

Your final choice is Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox, which looks at pagans and Christians before the time of Emperor Constantine.

I chose this because the great revolution in moral and ethical affairs, which the Roman Empire witnessed and which Gibbon touches on as well, very amusingly and mordantly, is the rise of Christianity. We tend not to think of Christianity as being an expression of Roman civilisation but in so many ways it is, even though it radically transformed the empire. Robin Lane Fox’s book is the best modern account that I can think of which will give people the sense of how this remarkable revolution took place. The first half is looking at how pagans function in the years before the reign of Constantine, and you have glimpses into the practices and very deeply held beliefs of the pagans. And then in the second half you have the same treatment being given to Christians. It is an absolutely panoramic tour de raison of how people believed and thought, and the revolution and the convulsion that was underlying the religious life of the time.

This book was such an influential book on me because until I read it I hadn’t really thought of Christianity as being part of the Roman story. And ever since reading it I have become much more interested in the way in which the great religions such as Judaism and Islam emerged out of the world of the Roman Empire and antiquity generally. The book I am writing at the moment is about how Islam emerged from the context of the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. And Mary Beard’s book also had an influence on that because I am applying the kind of treatment she gave to the “triumph” to the stories that are told about the origins of Islam.
Read about another book on Holland's list.

Also see: Harry Sidebottom's five best books on Rome, Lindsey Davis's top ten Roman books, and Annabel Lyon's top ten books on the ancient world.

--Marshal Zeringue