Choosing a History of Ancient Rome

The Baldwin Project currently offers four different comprehensive histories of ancient Rome, two of which have been republished through Yesterday's Classics. Although they all cover the same basic period, there are important differences in their styles, and in the audiences to whom they are directed.

The most basic introduction to Rome, readily accessible to grammar school children, is Haaren and Poland's Famous Men of Rome. Starting with the legend of Romulus and the early kings, it introduces history through biographical sketches of most of the great men of Rome. Most of the characters are drawn from the more romantic days of the republic, rather than that of the empire. (280 pages, ages 9-12)

[Illustration] Mary Macgregor's The Story of Rome is also written at a level that is accessible to older grammar or middle school students, but it takes a different approach. Macgregor's work is broken up into over 100 short chapters, each of which details a certain person or incident in Roman history. It presents in story form virtually all of the important events and persons of the kingdom and republic but concludes with the Battle of Actium and the beginning of the reign of Augustus, with no treatment of the empire at all. (594 pages, ages 10-14)

[Illustration] H. A. Guerber's The Story of the Romans is similar to the Macgregor book in that it is a continuous chronological narrative focusing on both the characters and events of ancient Roman history. Where Macgregor's treatment is more romantic, Guerber's is more matter-of fact. As a result the length of the Guerber book is a little over half the size of the Macgregor book. In short chapters it covers the history of Rome from its founding all the way to the fall of Rome, including the major events of imperial Rome, which many Roman histories directed at a youthful audience omit. Since it is more concise, Guerber may be the better choice for the student who is studying both Greece and Rome in a single year, while Macgregor might be the better reference for an entire year dedicated to Rome. (350 pages, ages 10 to 14)

Unlike the other books that are directed toward younger students, Charles Morris's Historical Tales: Roman was composed with older teens or young adults in mind. Written in an engaging style, it tells 38 of the most important stories in Roman history. Although Morris does put his stories in context, he does not attempt a comprehensive history, but rather, develops each of his stories in much greater detail than any of the other histories listed. Instead of just an outline of important points, and major characters, it is filled with descriptive anecdotes, elaborate plot turns, and secondary characters that bring Roman history to life. The Morris book is especially recommended for adults who missed Roman history in their own schooling and would like to learn about it now. (500 pages, ages 15 to 99)

Although each of these history books of ancient Rome could be read in just a few sittings, the amount of information each contains is so great that we recommend for most students a moderated pace so that they have time to review and absorb the material through a slow and careful reading of it.

In addition to these comprehensive histories, the Baldwin Project offers many other books relating to Ancient Rome, including biographies, legends, adapted literature, historical fiction, mythology, and more at Books for Ancient Rome.