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Today we’re wrapping up our favorite history books series. We’ve covered five history time periods so far: Middle Ages and Renaissance, Early Modern, Modern Times, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Greece. Today we’ll share our top living books for studying Ancient Rome. I hope these posts have been helpful to you. Leave a comment and let me know if you would like more favorite book reviews. We could cover geography books, books for teaching Bible, family read-aloud literature books—we have a lot of favorite titles! Let me know if you would like me to cover some of those in the future.
The 13 Ancient Rome titles that I’m going to share with you today are all scheduled in our lesson plan guide called Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. I love to pair our study of Ancient Rome with a study of the life of Christ and the early church. Too often those Bible accounts are taught separately, and our children miss out on the context of the world history in which those events happened. An understanding of Ancient Roman culture and history adds so much to a study of the New Testament. So that lesson plan guide combines Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. Let me give you a look at the history titles that are recommended in those plans.
For the Family
The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber, edited by Christine Miller
This is a living narrative that weaves the story of Ancient Rome in short chapters. I like to use this as the spine of our study, the main family read-aloud. Now, some of you may recall that this is the second Guerber title that we recommend; we recommend The Story of the Greeks for the Ancient Greece time period. But remember, for both of them, we use the Nothing New Press version. Those edited versions remove evolutionary comments, delineate between myth and truth, and honor the biblical accounts.
So that is your main family book, but you can use a few more family books to dig deeper into Ancient Roman life.
City by David Macaulay
This should be another familiar author to many of you. We recommend several of his books because of the living writing style coupled with fascinating details and illustrations. In this particular title, Macaulay presents the story of planning and constructing a fictional Roman city, showing how it began as a military camp, the ceremonies and superstitions that were followed, as well as how the roads were built and the aqueducts were built, the forum, the market, what the residential houses were like, the baths, the amphitheater—every kind of building and structure that went into constructing a Roman city. Take it in small chunks, because there is a lot to enjoy. It’s a fascinating book for all ages.
The Roman Colosseum by Elizabeth Mann
Similar in fashion to City, this one is also great for the whole family. It spends a couple of pages focused on how the Colosseum was built, but most of the book is focused on what happened inside that stadium. This book has color pictures, but they aren’t as detailed as Macaulay’s illustrations. It’s an interesting introduction to the Colosseum and appropriate for all ages to read together.
Peril and Peace by Mandy and Brandon Withrow
This book contains short biographies, living stories that introduce important men in church history. Now, I said you could use it with the whole family, but let me clarify. I don’t use every biography in the book with the younger students; some of them can be a bit intense, depending on the age and sensitivity-factor of your children. In the lesson plan guide, you will find some of the biographies assigned to the whole family and the rest assigned to older students as independent reading. You decide what will work best with your children. This book helps fill in the gap between the end of the book of Acts and the church in the Middle Ages. That history is not covered in the Bible, so these biographies help your students bridge that gap.
Now let’s talk about some great titles that are more grade specific.
These are both historical fiction favorites set in Ancient Rome. You can assign these for independent reading in grades 4–6, or open it up for all your students in grades 1–6 and read these books aloud. I remember reading them aloud when a cousin came to visit us for a few days. We ended up staying up late the night before she left to finish one of them, because she had to know what happened and how the mystery was solved before she went home. They’re that good. Your children will be introduced to daily life in that era even as they seek to solve the not-too-simple mysteries. One note: both books contain what I guess would be described as casual Roman-style “swearing” almost, such as “The gods be praised” and “By Jupiter”—things like that. It’s an interesting way to include the multitude of gods that the Ancient Romans worshiped, but I found it to be distracting and unnecessary. It can easily be omitted as you read aloud.
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick (grades 4–6)
We mentioned a couple of other biographies by Jeanne Bendick in our post about Ancient Greece. This one is about a scientist of Ancient Rome born in the year 129 A.D. It’s a wonderful introduction to a medical researcher and the ideas that were considered the authoritative standard for the next 1300 years.
Middle and High School
Henty was a master storyteller who wrote wonderful historical fiction across many time periods. Beric the Briton focuses on life in Britain before Rome conquered it. For the Temple is set in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when Titus desecrated and destroyed the Temple. You can find both free online or grab Jim Hodges’s audiobooks of these two great titles.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Spear (grades 7-9)
This is a classic that centers around life during the time of Christ and how one boy meets Jesus. It brings to life the idea that I mentioned before, that to get a fuller understanding of the events in the life of Christ, you need to study Ancient Rome alongside it. This title does a fabulous job of bringing those parallel worlds together.
Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster (grades 7-12)
This is another great book for your older students. The author does a wonderful job of weaving the narrative and giving a sense of all that was happening in the world during Augustus Caesar’s lifetime—not just in Rome, but in Palestine and Egypt and Gaul and Britain and Greece and South America, China, Japan, India—and she shows how what happens in one part of the world can spread to and affect other parts of the world. However, as she weaves this fantastic horizontal-history narrative, she presents all of the religious beliefs as equal. If your student is able to discern as he or she reads, this book should prove valuable and provide good discussion material. If your student is not as grounded in truth, I recommend you read it together so you can talk through those parts.
Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace (grades 10-12)
A great historical fiction for your high schoolers, this book traces the life of a young Jewish prince who is enslaved by the Romans and becomes a chariot driver. In a parallel narrative, it unfolds the story of another young Jewish man about the same age and from the same region: Jesus. How their paths cross creates a compelling tale that became a best-selling American novel.
Plutarch’s Roman Lives (grades 10-12)
Then last, let me recommend two biographies by Plutarch for this time period. In Plutarch’s Roman Lives, I like to assign high school students the biographies of Julius Caesar and of Marc Antony. Plutarch focused on the character of the men whose lives he chronicled, and his biographies are doubly valuable because he lived during Roman times himself.
There you have it, my favorite living history books for Ancient Rome. If you would like an open-and-go reading schedule that combines these books with a study of the life of Christ and the book of Acts, you’ll find that in the lesson plan guide Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. And if you would like to read about my favorite books for other time periods, be sure to check out the other living history posts as well.
Don’t forget, leave a comment and let me know if you would like to read about favorite books on other school subjects.