Substantive Education

Ancient History Supplemental Reading List


Reading supplements for Ancient History


Important Information: Please read this information before you begin scanning the book list.

**The age that is recommended for each book is for how old a student should be to read the book on their own. Obviously this age could change from child to child and is intended as a general guideline.

The books can be read aloud to much younger children and I would strongly encourage you to do so.

High School students should not be discouraged from reading many of the books for younger students as they are well-written and include a lot of interesting information, in particular the books that are good for students 11 and up.

Note: Many of these descriptions are taken from the Sonlight Catalog and You can go to these sights, particularly Amazon to read more reviews which might be helpful in choosing. These books can be ordered through Sonlight, Amazon, or many are available at the library.

Obviously there are many more books than those found here. I have not included many excellent non-fiction books because my purpose was to provide literature to be used in a complimentary English program.

These books can be used in several different ways. First, as a supplement to enhance your students study of Ancient History. Secondly, as your students Literature Course for the year. A Selection of these books with connected writing assignments (and for younger students, handwriting and grammar work) will make a good English Course. High School students would label this as a World Literature Course.

I have * books that I highly recommend to those students taking my Ancient History class. Many of these are classics that were written in Ancient times, and many have won awards, including the Nobel Prize and the Newberry Award.


The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw Age: 11 and up.

Ranofer, an orphan in ancient Egypt, who desires nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps as a goldsmith, is forced into a life that he despises. A story of suspense and action in which Egyptian life from impoverished hovel to magnificent palace is dramatically portrayed.

Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw Age 11 and up

To gain her freedom, Mara, a slave, plays the dangerous role of double spy for two arch enemies–each of whom supports a contender for the throne of Egypt. Exciting story of adventure, romance and intrigue in Ancient Egypt

God King by Joanne Williamson, Daria M. Sockey.

Story of an Egyptian prince in 701 BC who reluctantly and unexpectedly succeeds to the throne and is then forced to run for his life. When he escapes he must choose alliance with either the Assyrian King or King Hezekiah of the Jews.

Pyramid’s by David Macaulay Age 9 and up.

When children catch their first glimpse of a pyramid, a sea of questions inevitably tumbles forth. “Why are they shaped like that?” “How were they made?” “Who made them?” “What were they used for?” Perplexed adults can sigh with relief now that David Macaulay has found a way to thoroughly answer all those deserving questions. His exquisitely crosshatched pen-and-ink illustrations frame the engaging fictional story of an ancient pharaoh who commissions a pyramid to be built for him. With great patience and respect for minute detail (not unlike the creators of the early pyramids), Macaulay explains the sometimes backbreaking tasks of planning, hauling, chiseling, digging, and hoisting that went into the construction of this awe-inspiring monument. Just when the narrative teeters on the edge of textbook doldrums, Macaulay brings us back to the engaging human drama of death and superstition. This respectful blending of architecture, history, and mysticism will certainly satiate pyramid-passionate children as well as their obliging parents. ALA Notable Book. (Ages 9 and older)

Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green Age 11 and up

While there is a considerable amount of overlap with the other book students are reading ‘Pharoh’s of Ancient Egypt’ this book offers more of the mythology and would be a good addition for students who are very interested in Egypt.

This is a book of short stories translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics. Some of the oldest stories in the world are told in the three different sections: Gods, Magic, and Adventures. The subject matter may be too confusing for grade school children; Egyptian stories either follow a different pattern of plot development than we are used to or else some of it is lost in translation.
One of the fun things to look for while reading this book is similarities in these stories to ones with which we are more familiar. I found similarities to Biblical stories, a unique take on the kidnapping of Helen by Paris, and my daughter found Ali Baba in one of the stories.
This book will also shine some light on the very complicated Egyptian religion as well as what they considered to be a virtue or a vice. For example, they often praise cunning–a virtue praised again and again within these stories. Have you children see what they can summarize about Egyptian priorities from these stories.
Summary: Highly recommended home school book for pre-teens and teens which will add depth to their study of this ancient civilization. A Landmark Books classic.

The Cat of Bubastes by G.A. Henty Ages 11 and up

A young Egyptian accidentally kills a sacred cat and must flee from an angry mob. Set in 1250 B.C., the time of Moses, this thrilling adventure also features fascinating details about Egyptian religion and geography, the methods by which the Nile was used for irrigation, and how the Egyptians were prepared for burial.


**The Trojan War by Olivia Coolidge Age 11 and up

A readable version of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, a glorious saga of heroism and magical adventure.This book is an excellent introduction to Homer and the Trojan War stories. It includes all of the key tales from the Trojan War epic cycle, including the judgment of Paris, the death of Achilles, the stories of Ajax (Aias) and Philoctetes, the death of Paris, the fall of Troy, the death of Agamemnon, and the homecoming of Odysseus.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching tale in the collection is the fate of the Trojan women. This story poignantly outlines the horror and anguish that afflict the innocent and unwilling participants of any war.
If you are planning to read The Iliad or The Odyssey, then I highly recommend you read this book first. It provides the proper context for Homer, and it familiarize you with all of the major characters.
If you HAVE read The Iliad or The Odyssey and are craving more Trojan War stuff, then this book will fill in a lot of gaps and point you to other source materials (Quintus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, etc).
A Tale of Troy is oriented toward middle school students, but that in no way diminishes its power or charm for adult readers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also recommend “A Tale of Troy” by Roger Greene, and “The Siege and Fall of Troy” by Robert Graves (out of print).

**D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

No education is complete without a large slice of Greek mythology. And there’s no better way of meeting that literary quota than with the D’Aulaires’ book. All the great gods and goddesses of ancient Greece are depicted in this big, beautiful classic, lovingly illustrated and skillfully told. Young readers will be dazzled by mighty Zeus, lord of the universe; stirred by elegant Athena, goddess of wisdom; intimidated by powerful Hera, queen of Olympus; and chilled by moody Poseidon, ruler of the sea. These often impetuous immortals flounce and frolic, get indiscreet, and get even. From petty squabbles to heroic deeds, their actions cover the range of godly–and mortal–personalities.

The D’Aulaires’ illustrations have a memorable quality: once pored over, they will never leave the minds of the viewer. Decades later, the name Gaea will still evoke the soft green picture of lovely Mother Earth, her body hills and valleys and her eyes blue lakes reflecting the stars of her husband, Uranus the sky. No child is too young to appreciate the myths that have built the foundation for much of the world’s art and literature over the centuries. This introduction to mythology is a treasure.

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick Age 11 and up

A delightful biography of Archimedes, the Greek mathematician who made a number of wonderful discoveries—or proved their practical application. He is the one who learned how to measure a boat’s displacement—and was so excited by his discovery, he ran naked through the streets yelling “Eureka! Eureka! (I’ve found it! I’ve found it!).” Science and history rolled up into one.

**The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum Age 12 and up

Travel back to a mythical time when Achilles, aided by the gods, waged war against the Trojans. And join Odysseus on his journey through murky waters, facing obstacles like the terrifying Scylla and whirring Charybdis, the beautiful enchantress Circe, and the land of the raging Cyclôpes. Using narrative threads from The Iliad and The Odyssey, Padraic Colum weaves a stunning adventure with all the drama and power that Homer intended.

Many reviewers commented that this book was too hard to follow. The author has tried to keep the original feel of the language which means difficult vocabulary and sophisticated sentence structure.

Theras and his Town by Caroline Dale Snedeker Age 10 and up

New reprint of 1924 novel by Caroline Dale Snedeker, including all original text. Grades 5+. Young Theras, born an Athenian, is taken to Sparta by a relative when his father is lost at war. He is forced to live like a Spartan, a brutal life with no pity for those who are not physically perfect and totally obedient to Spartan control. After enduring rigorous training and repeated cruel incidents, he escapes with a Perioikoi boy and heads for his beloved Athens. Here is the story of a hard and dangerous journey with Snedeker’s amazing historical accuracy. Caroline Dale Snedeker, twice a Newbery Honor winner, captures the authentic flavor of ancient Greek culture in a story of adventure and excitement that fully illustrates the differences between the Athenian and Spartan cultures.

Lysis goes to the Play by Caroline Dale Snedeker Ages 10 and up

Here is a gentle story, motivated by sibling love and ending happily, that explores the culture of pagan Athenian society in the time of Euripides. Lysis and his sister Callisto go to a play during the festival of Dionysus, breaking many of the societal restrictions on the roles of boys and girls, children and adults. Roles of men and women, free men of other city-states, Athenian citizens and slaves come into focus. The pantheon of Greek gods, goddesses and heroes are seen from the eyes of these children.

Black Ships Before Troy, by Rosemary Sutcliff Ages 10 and up.

Sutcliff, who died last year, authored numerous retellings of canonical texts for younger readers. Here she brings into vivid focus the mythic story of the Trojan War, with all of its visually dramatic elements. While carefully tempering the bias towards the Greeks that exists in the original poem, Sutcliff’s text leaves many of the epic’s powerful metaphors intact: “The dark tide of warriors poured through and became a river of flame.” Also preserved are a good many disturbing images (“Hector’s body was dragged behind them, twisting and lurching over the rough ground, his dark hair flying and fouled with dust and all the filth of the battlefield”); and while there is no doubt that this authenticity maintains the saga’s integrity and enhances its impact, younger or particularly sensitive readers may be disturbed by the violence. Accompanying the dense, earnestly told tale are Lee’s cool-toned watercolors, which frequently take up the greater portion of the large format double-page spreads. Dreamy, yet highly detailed and filled with representational images, these illustrations are in keeping with the story’s mythic grandeur. All ages.

The Wanderings of Odysseus, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Ages 10 and up

Sutcliff’s retelling of The Illiad, the story of The Odyssey is presented in an accessible, enjoyable format. A brief prologue sets the scene after the fall of Troy. The chapters, each of which tells of a challenge Odysseus faced, are not episodic, but rather come together as a continuing story. Sutcliff creates an intimate portrait of a man whose greatest desire is to return to his wife and home, despite great temptations. He is portrayed as a conquering hero-god, but with a touch of sadness. The reteller uses storytelling techniques to engage readers and the language and rhythm of a bard to maintain the story’s flow. The detailed watercolor illustrations are dreamlike and soft-edged. They set the mood for the essence of particular episodes and display the horrors of battle where appropriate. Reading the first book would clarify Odysseus’s entire tale, but is not necessary to the enjoyment of this volume. The pronunciation guide and map are helpful. Readers will enjoy this classic adventure, and they may be inspired to explore Greek mythology further.

**Sophocles I: Oedipus The King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies) (Paperback)

“Oedipus the King” (or, “Oedipus Rex”) is probably Sophocles’ most famous work, first performed about 429 B. C. It should be required reading for every college Freshman. As had been prophesied, Oedipus unknowingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his own mother, Jocasta. The play has great use of irony. Jocasta (or, Iocasta) recognizes the truth before Oedipus and tries to prevent him from finding out. The play has unsrpassed use of dramatic irony. It has had a great influence on later authors. “Antigone” (probably first performed about 442 B. C.) is another tragedy centered on the flaw of stubborn pride. It also presents the conflict between secular law and divine law. A stubborn King Creon of Thebes refuses to allow the equally stubborn Antigone to bury the body of her brother Polynices despite the entreaties of Creon’s wife and son. Creon orders her death but she commits suicide, as does Creon’s wife and son. The play has excellent characterizations. The well-constructed “Oedipus at Colonus” (405 B. C.) was first produced after the death of Sophocles. It shared first prize in Athens along with some other plays. It is apparently a reflection of a quarrel between Sophocles and his own sons. An aged Oedipus, nearing death, curses his sons and prophesies their own deaths.

Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature: An inductive Approach: Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. by Cyndy Shearer

I have not used this guide, but I think if you are going to attempt studying these ancient plays having a guide along to help would be prudent. Greenleaf is a Christian approach to the study of literature.

An inductive approach to representative ancient texts from Israel, Babylon, & Greece. Text is divided in six units and 24 lessons. UNIT ONE is based on a study of Daniel 1-4 and focuses on the question, “Why should a Christian study pagan literature?” The question is answered using the biblical examples of Daniel in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar and Paul on Mars Hill in Athens. UNIT TWO is a review of Genesis 1-11. UNIT THREE focuses on The Epic of Gilgamesh, and analyzes what Babylonian religion taught about creation and the nature of God. UNIT FOUR is a 6-week, in-depth study of Homer’s Odyssey, with an emphasis on the Greek notions of virtue, excellence, and the hero. UNIT FIVE is a six-week study of Sophocles’ great tragic trilogy, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonnus, and Antigone. UNIT SIX is a four-week study of the modern French playwright Anouilh’s retelling of Antigone, with a focus on how one’s worldview affects one’s notions of the heroic and the tragic.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, by Kathryn Lasky Ages 9 and up.

Grade 2-5-This picture book covers the life of Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a geographer who estimated the circumference of the Earth in around 200 B.C.. Though he was in fact a librarian, he is famous for his scientific accomplishments. Since little is known about his personal life, Lasky describes his early years in general terms. He liked to ask questions, loved learning at the gymnasium, and sailed off to Athens to further his studies. He became tutor to the son of King Ptolemy III of Egypt, and eventually became the head of Alexandria’s magnificent library. Readers don’t come to know the subject intimately, but they do get to know his times very well. The narrative is filled with fascinating details about his world. Hawkes’s illustrations make a large contribution, as they contain authentic examples of the art, architecture, and social structure of ancient life. His paintings are rich and warm and filled with touches of humor, making the people, as well as their environment, come alive. The pictures combine with the text to give a clear explanation of how the man came to make his key discovery about the Earth’s circumference. A fine combination of history, science, and biography.

Mythology by Edith Hamilton Ages 11 and up

Note: This book also deals with Roman mythology.

Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” tell the “Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” of classical mythology and this volume, first written in 1942, is now a timeless classic itself. This was the first book of mythology that I ever read and it is still the best. When Hamilton retells the love story of Cupid and Psyche or the tragedy of Agamemnon and his children, she does so with a full sense of what it meant when first told by Apuleius or Aeschylus. These are not children’s tales, but the heroic legends and religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Furthermore, the illustrations by Steele Savage have the elegance of wood block prints, which, for all I know, is exactly what they are. I appreciate Hamilton’s choice to avoid relying on Ovid, for while the “Metamorphoses” is the most comprehensive ancient text dealing with the classical myths, Ovid is an unbeliever. For Hamilton the writings of Homer, Hesiod and Pindar are more abbreviated in terms of providing details for the myths, but at least they take the tales seriously.

Another strength of the book is how she organizes the myths in her seven parts: (1) Covers the complete pantheon of deities, including the lesser gods of Olympus and Earth and the later Roman additions, as well as the earliest heroes. (2) Retells the various tales of love, between mortals and the gods or each other, along with the Quest for the Golden Fleece and other early heroic adventures. (3) Focuses specifically on the greatest heroes, Perseus, Theseus and Hercules, with Atalanta thrown in the mix in a curious but understandable editorial decision by Hamilton. (4) Puts together Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid into a giant epic stretching from the Judgment of Paris to the founding of Roman, with the Odyssey and the tragedies of Euripides. (5) Tells about the great mythological families, namely the House of Atreus (Agamemnon), the Royal House of Thebes (Oedipus and Antigone), and the Royal House of Athens. (6) Covers all of the lesser myths, most notably Midas. (7) Goes off in a new direction, providing a very brief introduction to Norse mythology that seems woefully inadequate given the comprehensive compilation of classical mythology that precedes it.

I looked over other possibilities as a basic textbook for an introductory mythology course, but I keep coming back to this one. If you want analysis of these myths, then you certainly want to look elsewhere. But if you want a solid retelling of virtually every tale of classical mythology, then Edith Hamilton’s volume is still at the top of the

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton Possible Text

Note: I’m reading this book to determine if I want to use it a text.

Who were the ancient Greeks and why do they still move us? Their society is as alien to us as their language. Yet Greece still beckons us more than two millennia since the fall of Athens. The pinnacle of Greek culture lasted a mere century, yet it has left its mark on all of western society. The great intellectual institutions, such as philosophy, science and literature, originated in Greece. Beyond these marvels, however, lies a value so fundamentally important – and enduring – that a basic understanding of the Greeks is as important today as ever.

In The Greek Way, author Edith Hamilton covers the height of Greek culture in the 5th century BC. She begins by contrasting the east and west – an approach that becomes clear as one reads along. The east, according to Hamilton, stood for faith and force, while Greece embodied the opposite values of reason and freedom. Early in the book, Hamilton writes: “In a world where the irrational had played the chief role, they (the Greeks) came forward as the protagonists of the mind.” Thus, the Greeks introduced to the world the idea that the universe was orderly, that man’s senses were valid and, as a consequence, that man’s proper purpose was to live his own life to the fullest. These are discoveries that many westerners take for granted today, but not Edith Hamilton. Throughout the book, she constantly reminds the reader of the awe and beauty of the Greek spirit.

An important corollary of the Greek view that the world is knowable was their belief in the supremacy of independence. Hamilton paints a vivid portrait of the major Greek writers, statesmen and philosophers, all of whom possessed just such an intransigent commitment to independence. She writes: “Authoritarianism and submissiveness were not the direction it (the Greeks’ spirit) pointed to. A high-spirited people full of physical vigor do not obey easily…” and further: “…each man must himself be a research worker in the truth if he were ever to attain to any share in it…”

5th century Athens was also the birthplace of political freedom. Though Hamilton does not provide a thorough analysis of this great development, she does offer hints throughout. In her chapter on the historian Herodotus, she explains his view of the Greeks during the war against the Persians: “A free democracy resisted a slave-supported tyranny.” “Mere numbers were powerless against the spirit of free men fighting to defend their freedom.” Why did Herodotus believe that free men were more powerful? Hamilton answers: “The basis of Athenian democracy was the conviction…that the average man can be depended upon to do his duty and to use good sense in doing it. Trust the individual was the avowed doctrine in Athens, and expressed or unexpressed it was common to Greece.”

The Greeks, contrary to popular myth, were not a particularly religious people. While it is true that they had their gods, it is important to note that they did not place great importance on mystical beliefs. Indeed, what gods they did revere were the opposite of the Christian doctrine that man was made “in God’s image.” The Greek gods were made in the image of man. They were neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. Hamilton contrasts the Greek and eastern views of religion: “Before Greece, all religion was magical.” She further illustrates that mystical beliefs were based on fear of the unknown, whereas the Greeks “changed a world that was full of fear into a world full of beauty.”

A minor flaw in Hamilton’s book is her overuse of examples, particularly in the chapters where she discusses the playwrights Aristophanes, Æschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Though she deftly contrasts the Greek way of writing with the eastern and modern approaches, the reader drowns in the minutiae. Hamilton was perhaps attempting to impress the reader with her depth of knowledge, but given the tone of the rest of the book, these examples disrupt her otherwise clear and concise writing.

The Greek Way is a joy to read. In it, Hamilton presents an integrated view of ancient Greece and the important legacy left for modern man. She successfully shows that the Greeks were rational, purposeful and happy people, intent on achieving their values in this world. If one could choose a single expression that characterizes the essence of Greek values, it is man worship. The Greeks worshiped man for what he was and what he could be. In Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way, we see that spirit shine brightly down through the ages.


The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare Age 11 and up.

Daniel bar Jamin is fired by only one passion: to avenge his father’s death by crucifixion by driving the Roman legions from his land of Israel. He joins an outlaw band and leads a dangerous life of spying, plotting, and impatiently waiting to seek revenge. Headstrong Daniel is devoid of tenderness and forgiveness, heading down a destructive path toward disaster until he hears the lessons taught by Jesus of Nazareth. An excellent read-aloud for the whole family!

**Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz Age High School. This book won the Nobel Prize.

Historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, published in Polish under its Latin title in 1896. The title means “where are you going?” and alludes to a New Testament verse (John 13:36). The popular novel was widely translated. Set in ancient Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero, Quo Vadis tells the story of the love that develops between a young Christian woman and a Roman officer who, after meeting her fellow Christians, converts to her religion. Underlying their relationship is the contrast between the worldly opulence of the Roman aristocracy and the poverty, simplicity, and spiritual power of the Christians. The novel has as a subtext the persecution and political subjugation of Poland by Russia.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff Age 11 and up

It is A.D. 125. A young centurion ventures among the hostile tribes beyond the Roman Wall in the north of present-day England and Scotland in hopes that he might recover the eagle standard of the Ninth Legion — men who had mysteriously disappeared under his father’s command. Great view of the Roman empire from an insider’s perspective — and from its center in Rome to the wild frontiers. Moves slowly in spots, but packs a wallop! Well-written.

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield Age 11 and up

Seven ancient Roman boys become entangled in a fast-paced and humorous, though apparently deadly-serious mystery. Includes some unbiblical practices (example: the boys visit a soothsayer).

Mystery of the Roman Ransom by Henry Winterfield Age 11 and up

A group of boys purchase a slave for their tutor on his 50th birthday. When their tutor refuses their gift, and the slave tells the boys of a murderous plot against one of their fathers, the adventure–and fun—begins.

The Ides of April by Mary Ray Age 11 and up

When a Roman senator is found stabbed to death, his secretary manages to escape arrest but knows he must find help if he is to save his mother and fellow slaves from death. Roman law says that if a slave commits murder — or is suspected of murder — then all the slaves must die. “Part Agatha Christy, part Eloise McGraw,” writes one reviewer. We agree. This is a winner.

Beyond the Desert Gate by Mary Ray Age 11 and up

This sequel to The Ides of April tells of the volatile and dangerous times in Palestine during AD 70. The book brings to life the time period of the Jews revolting against Roman authority while the Greek cities get caught in the middle.

City by David Macaulay Age 10 and up

David Macaulay’s works are always entertaining, educational and literate, and this is no exception. A multitude of black-and-white line drawings illustrate the story of Roman urban planners as they design and construct a new city on the Roman empire’s frontier. Every stage is explained thoroughly using text, illustrations and charts, from developing a master plan through construction. Tools are explained, cross-sections are used to good effect and specific projects such as a house, a road, a bridge and aqueduct, the forum and central market, public baths, the sewer system and an amphitheater and theater are represented. The book ends with a one-page glossary. If you or a student you know is interested in Roman engineering, this would be a marvelous book to read.

Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick Age 10 and up

Meet the Medical Researcher (Born in 129 A.D.) whose work and writings would be revered as a standard of authority by both Christian and Muslim worlds for the next 1300 years. One day some of Galen’s theories of human physiology would be corrected. But the foundation of all his work, a respect for the unity of the human person in body and spirit, would be handed on — as he himself had received it in the Hippocratic tradition. In this fascinating biography for young people, Jeanne Bendick brings Galen’s Roman world alive with the clarity, humor, and outstanding content we enjoyed in Archimedes and the Door of Science. An excellent addition to schools, libraries, and homes; ideal for home education.

The Forgotten Daughter, by Caroline Dale Snedeker Ages 9 and up

Young Chloe is the daughter of a wealthy Roman, but is being raised as a slave on his estate in Greece. This is her story as she matures from a young girl into womanhood. The Forgotten Daughter is beautifully written as a young girl and her Roman father must discover a relationship they were cheated out of. It is a conciliatory tale of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of ancient Rome and Greece. Its themes make it relevant today! No wonder it was a Newberry honor book!

The White Isle, by Caroline Dale Snedeker Ages 10 and up
The White Isle is Britain – a barbaric land to the patrician Claudian family exiled from Hadrian’s Rome, but an island of strange enchantment and stirring adventures to Lavinia, their daughter. Because Favonius, Lavinia’s father, had incurred the displeasure of Emperor Hadrian, he was suddenly appointed “legatus” to far away Britain. After sad farewells, the whole family began their long journey along the Roman roads through Gaul, across the channel to the white cliffs of the British coast. “The White Isle” was one of the first books to bring young people a spirited picture of Roman life in Gual and Britain and is one of Caroline Dale Snedeker’s finest books.

**Caesar’s Gallic Wars by Olivia Coolidge Age 10 and up

An account, both factual and fictional, of the Gallic War of 58 to 51 B.C., narrated by a fictitious soldier in Caesar’s army, which provides a somewhat more vivid and readable companion to Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff Ages 10 and up.

Want a riveting historical-fiction novel with a plot that is better than most? If so, the Silver Branch is a book for you. Set in Roman Britan, over a century after the first book in the series, The Eagle of the Ninth, the book paints a picture of the life of two Romans, who seek to overthrow a tyrannical emperor who has separated himself, and Britan, from Rome. Rosemary Sutcliff has indeed woven a story whose plot is exceedingly diverse and well thought-out. The book gives the reader a gripping plot in which the reader is given a picture of the Roman world. The book paints a vivid picture of a Roman town, Legion, a gladiator fight, and the Roman’s enemies the Saxon barbarians. Rosemary Sutcliff has the gift of being able to write very good historical novels.

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff Ages 13 and up

The Lantern Bearers features a a classically great and complex hero who is a tough, thorny, quiet brooder caught between old and new worlds. As both the young romantic risking all to give his world one last blaze of hope and the bitter general fighting to hold back the enemy tide, Aquila is an engrossing study of a man trying to make sense of his duties to his families, friends, and ruler. The choices he is forced to make at the twilight of British-Roman England are heartbreaking but of a piece with the man and his world.

Arguably the most complete of Sutcliff’s novels as she weaves the bits of recorded history into a tale that pulls together an important era for England, this a hard but rewarding novel. Full of great settings including the Roman lighthouse, Saxon war camp, British mountain stronghold, and various battlefields, the book also includes the dolphin ring that ties together a string of Sutcliff’s novels from early Roman Britain to Norman England as she highlights the many peoples who made England.

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff. Ages 12 and up.

An outstanding, deeply moving book,The Mark of the Horse Lord is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It is the story of Phaedrus the Gladiator, who poses as Midir, Lord of the Dalriadain (a tribe of Northern Britain). Set during the Roman period, it describes the customs and beliefs of ancient civilizations clearly and believably. Its realistic inclusion of cruelty and death, however, makes it inappropriate for very young readers. I highly recommend it for ages 12 and up–it may be classified as a “children’s book,” but it far surpasses many adult books I have read. Its central theme–the true meaning of kingship–is powerfully and beautifully developed as Phaedrus gradually grows in love for and understanding of his adopted people. Phaedrus himself is a very real person, as are the others–Midir, the true king of the Dalriadain; Liadhan, the woman who blinded Midir in order to take his throne; Conory, Midir’s closest friend, who alone recognnizes that Phadrus is an imposter; and Liadhan’s daughter Murna, who Phaedrus loves. In the end, Phaedrus recognizes the deepest meaning of kingship, and becomes the Horse Lord in truth, and not just in seeming. And, as in all the best books, the reader is left with the feeling that it all really happened–just that way–and that nothing could have happened differently.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

This play tells the story of the death of Julius Caesar and the ensuing power struggle in Rome.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

This play tells the tragic story of Antony and Cleopatra as their bid for power is crushed by Octavius.

The Roman Way by Edith Hamilton Possible textbook

Note: I’m waiting for this one to come so I can determine if I want to use it.

_The Roman Way_ (1932) by Edith Hamilton is an easily readable, highly informative account of the mindset of the Romans as illustrated in the lives and exploits of the great military and political leaders; the oeuvre of Roman poets, playwrights, and historians; and the insights of her philosophers. The Roman Way spans a period of roughly four hundred years, from 200 BC to 400 AD, the high water marks of both the republic and the empire. The breadth of the work is incredible.

In treating such a wide range of subjects, Hamilton offers a rich, dynamic story of Rome. She introduces the major figures in enough depth to make their voices come alive, in their own complexity as well as in the context of what was taking place in Roman society. As a result, _The Roman Way_ is very useful either as an introduction to Roman society for a general reader or a synthesis of knowledge for those who have already studied these authors and history in detail.

Within Hamilton’s history are two ideas, woven throughout the text. First, while demonstrating Rome’s debt to ancient Greece, she contrasts Rome’s pragmatism in the arts and sciences with the Greek interest in abstract philosophy and metaphysics. Second, she traces–often in asides–rudimentary similarities between the Roman and the American worldview (of the 1930s), particularly with respect to the arts. She points out that American pragmatism and culture often draw more from Roman values and virtues, as opposed to the Greek penchant for philosophical speculation. This latter point is suggestive but is, rightly in my opinion, not a major focus of the work.

Hamilton is skilled at quoting from writings and accounts of historical figures and then explaining the context for these words. For instance, in her chapters on Roman comedy she summarizes a number of plays by Plautus and Terrence while translating key passages. The reader is exposed to a range of plays, actually experiences the language of specific scenes, and then has a chance to consider Hamilton’s broader insights about the playwrights. In a few short chapters, Hamilton covers the nature of Roman comedy, the role of women in the plays and society, how comedy competed with gladiators and other spectacles, and the influence of Greek drama on Plautus and Terrence. She covers considerable ground while offering a direct feeling of the content of the plays and, most importantly, their humor.

For example, she notes that Roman comedies are often situational and studies of the ordinary rather than philosophical or poetic, which is more typical of Greek comedy. To show exceptions to this generalization, though, she excerpts two of the more far-reaching statements from Terrence and Plautus. Terrence remarks, “I am a man and nothing in mankind do I hold alien to me.” Plautus expresses about the poet: “The poet seeks what is nowhere in all of the world, / And yet–somewhere–he finds it.” In acknowledging these exceptions, she strengthens her point, showing the difference between the everyday and the more philosophical. Both epigrams meanwhile satisfy a reader on their own terms: they are worth contemplation.

Hamilton’s chapters on Cicero, Julius Caesar, Catullus, Horace, Augustus, Virgil, and Juvenal are similarly structured with engaging quotations and close analyses explained in their larger context. Hamilton draws comparisons to Roman contemporaries and “the Roman Way.” Hamilton’s chapters offer snapshots of Rome at specific historical moments through memorable anecdotes and quotations that give a sense of each figure’s character.

As a writer and historian, Hamilton is exceptionally clear. Her knowledge and erudition are deep, and yet her prose is direct and unadorned. The validity for her characterizations is supported by the ease with which she can discuss an entire field, from specific to general, from her own interpretations to those of others. The work has a clarity that one often finds in scholarship from the 1920s to the 1950s, which tends toward synthesis in discussions and specificity, uncluttered by qualifiers or tangents.

The final two paragraphs of _The Roman Way_ are a plea on behalf of the importance of history. Hamilton writes, “History repeats itself. The fact is a testimony to human stupidity. The saying has become a truism; nevertheless, the study of the past is relegated to the scholar and the school-boy. And yet it is really a chart for our guidance–no less than that.” Hamilton’s work, while suitable to scholars and students, appeals to a general reader who is interested in the lessons of the past. Hamilton’s book invites the reader to venture into large fields of understanding and is filled with insights about human nature and personality.

Other Ancient Cultures

Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson Age 11 and up

Uriah, a Hittite warrior, lived in the time of Deborah, 200 years before David and Saul. This is his story. It makes those ancient times, cities, and peoples — the Hittites, Canaanites, Hebrews, and Achaeans (Greeks) — all come to life once more. Well-written, intriguing.


From Publishers Weekly
The acclaimed translator of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita now takes on the oldest book in the world. Inscribed on stone tablets a thousand years before the Iliad and the Bible and found in fragments, Gilgamesh describes the journey of the king of the city of Uruk in what is now Iraq.At the start, Gilgamesh is a young giant with gigantic wealth, power and beauty—and a boundless arrogance that leads him to oppress his people. As an answer to their pleas, the gods create Enkidu to be a double for Gilgamesh, a second self. Learning of this huge, wild man who runs with the animals, Gilgamesh dispatches a priestess to find him and tame him by seducing him. Making love with the priestess awakens Enkidu’s consciousness of his true identity as a human being rather than as an animal. Enkidu is taken to the city and to Gilgamesh, who falls in love with him as a soul mate. Soon, however, Gilgamesh takes his beloved friend with him to the Cedar Forest to kill the guardian, the monster Humbaba, in defiance of the gods. Enkidu dies as a result. The overwhelming grief and fear of death that Gilgamesh suffers propels him on a quest for immortality that is as fast-paced and thrilling as a contemporary action film. In the end, Gilgamesh returns to his city. He does not become immortal in the way he thinks he wants to be, but he is able to embrace what is.Relying on existing translations (and in places where there are gaps, on his own imagination), Mitchell seeks language that is as swift and strong as the story itself. He conveys the evenhanded generosity of the original poet, who is as sympathetic toward women and monsters—and the whole range of human emotions and desires—as he is toward his heroes. This wonderful new version of the story of Gilgamesh shows how the story came to achieve literary immortality—not because it is a rare ancient artifact, but because reading it can make people in the here and now feel more completely alive.


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