Written by Frank Hamilton, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Every student of political history recognizes the role of ancient Greek and Roman societies in shaping modern political thought.
Democracy was first developed in ancient Greece, while the Roman empire developed the political concept of a republic. Both political ideas are still important today.
As ancient Greece influenced Rome, ancient Greek and Roman political philosophy has influenced the political framework of several western societies even after a millennium.
Therefore, a look into the workings of ancient political structures is incomplete without proper attention given to the political setup of ancient Greek and Roman societies.
Aristotle’s Politics and Cicero’s De Republica can guide us in better understanding the political setup of both ancient empires.
While these two works are helpful, there are several other books that explain how ancient Greek and Roman societies functioned.
Thus, without further ado: here are the 10 best books about ancient politics.
1. Politics and Society In Ancient Greece, by Nicholas F. Jones
Nicholas F. Jones is a professor of Classics at the University of Pittsburgh. He has authored four books on ancient Greek political and social history.
In this book, Jones provides a concise summation of the best historical knowledge of ancient Greece. Since several modern democracies were inspired by ancient Greece, Politics and Society In Ancient Greece helps readers understand the complexity of Greek political life and how that may reflect in the modern political landscape.
2. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon
This book comprises six volumes covering the history of the Roman Empire from 98 CE TO 1590, including the Islamic and Mongolian conquests.
In it, Gibbon traces the history of Western civilization, from the peak of the Roman Empire to its fall. He offers a critical, fairly objective analysis of history, with the occasional moralization.
“History,” he writes in The History of the Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire, “is indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortune of mankind.”
3. The Ancient City: A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome, by Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges
Published in the 19th century, this book remains French historian Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges’ most popular, and is based on texts of ancient poets and historians. In it, Fustel de Coulanges investigates the genesis of the institutions of Greek and Roman society.
He provides a fresh, accurate, and detailed picture of the religious, family, and civic life in the ancient world, covering, for example, Athens during the time of Pericles and Rome during the time of Cicero.
4. Democracy: A Life, by Paul Cartledge
Released in 2018, this is the most recently-published book on this list and in it, Paul Cartledge offers a detailed history of the ancient Greek political system.
The book also covers the disparities between ancient Greece and modern types of democracy, helping us form a better understanding of both.
Democracy: A Life traces the evolution of Greek politics — including how the political theory was invented — and the birth of democracy.
The book also traces the decline of Greek democratic institutions at the hand of the Macedonians, and ultimately the Romans.
5. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland
Published in 2003 by Cambridge-educated author Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic covers the end of the Roman republic and birth of the empire.
Rubicon refers to the river that Julius Caesar crossed with his army in 49BC before plunging the nation into civil war.
6. The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter, by Melissa Lane
In this book, Melissa Lane traces the origin of political concepts, from Socrates to Cicero. The author shows how the following political ideas from the Greco-Roman world remain influential today. These ideas are:
The Birth of Politics provides a thoughtful and challenging discussion of traditional classical political ideas.
7. The Republic, by Plato
Plato’s work is the oldest published book on this list. Authored around 375 BC, it is written in Socratic dialogue. Considered one of the most influential philosophical and political works in history, Plato’s Republic attempts to define justice and the ideal community. The work also analyzes the merits and demerits of various forms of government.
8. Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (Ancient Culture & Society), by P.A. Brunt
This is an easy-to-read book about the Roman republic. It offers a good picture of Roman history from the early republic to the time of Augustus Caesar, but lacks good sourcing. It’s good for those seeking a quick overview of the Roman republic, but is not necessarily a work of scholarship.
9. Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly
This a vividly descriptive book that offers an overview of twelve centuries of conflict spanning more than half a century, from 800 BC to 450 AD.
10. The Roman Revolution, by Ronald Syme
Published in 1939, this is a scholarly work about the final years of the Roman republic and Augustus Caesar’s creation of the Roman empire.
The books on this list will provide readers with a deeper understanding of the workings of ancient political systems and how they have influenced modern political philosophy.
Frank Hamilton has been working as an editor at essay review service Writing Judge and an author at Best Writers Online. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.