Novels by Carol Ashby
The Light in the Empire Series follows the interconnected lives of the members of three Roman families of the senatorial order during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian. Each novel can be read stand-alone.
To create characters that are true to their times, I happily immersed myself in many facets of that ancient culture, from political affairs to the details of home life. The research I performed to write this series is the source of the detailed information shared at this website.
The nine novels of the series will take you around the Empire, from Germania and Britannia to Thracia, Dacia, and Judaea and, of course, to Rome itself.
Are some wounds too deep to forgive?
With a ruthless father who murdered for the family inheritance, Marcus Drusus plans to do the same. In AD 122, Marcus follows his brother Lucius to Judaea and plots to frame a zealot for his older brother’s death. But the plan goes awry, and Lucius is rescued by a Messianic Jewish woman. Her oldest brother is a zealot and a Roman soldier killed her twin, but Rachel still persuades her father Joseph to put his love for Jesus above his anger with Rome and hide Lucius until he heals. More
Sometimes you have to almost die to discover how you want to live.
It’s AD 114 in the Roman province of Germania Superior, and being a Christian carries a death sentence. Tribune Decimus Lentulus is on the fast track for a stellar political career back in Rome. When he’s robbed, blinded, and left for dead, a young German woman who follows the Way finds him. More
When Rome has taken everything, what’s left for a man to give?
Betrayed by a ruthless son who’ll do anything for power and wealth, Publius Drusus faces death with an unanswered prayer―that his treasured daughter, Claudia, and honorable son, Titus, will someday share his faith. But who will lead them to the truth once he’s gone? More
Is the price of true friendship ever too high?
In AD 122, Adela, the fiery daughter of a Germanic chieftain, is kidnapped and taken across the Roman frontier to be sold as a slave. When horse-trader Otto wins her while gambling with her kidnappers, he entrusts her to his friend and trading partner, Galen. Then Otto is kidnapped by the same men, and Galen must track them half way across the Empire before his best friend loses a fight to the death in a Roman arena. More
Must the shadows of the past destroy the hope of the future?
In AD 122, Cornelia Scipia, proud daughter of one of Rome’s noblest families, learns her adulterous husband plans to betroth their daughter to the vicious son of his best friend. Over her dead body! Cornelia divorces him, reclaims her enormous dowry, and kidnaps her own daughter. She plans to start over with Drusilla a thousand miles away. No more husbands for her. But she didn’t count on meeting Hector, the widowed Greek captain of the ship carrying her to her new life. More
The chains we cannot see can be the hardest ones to break.
When Aulus runs up a gambling debt to his father’s political enemy, he’s desperate to pay it off before his father returns to Rome. His best friend Marcus suggests they fake the kidnapping of Aulus’s sister Julia and use the ransom money. But when the man they hired kidnaps her for real, Aulus is catapulted into a desperate search to find her. More
Can the deepest loss bring the greatest gain?
Rome’s conquering army took Ariana’s family and freedom, but nothing can take her faith in Jesus. When she rescues a tribune’s wife from certain death, her reward is freedom and a chance to free her brother and sister. But first she must catch up with the slave caravan before they vanish forever, and tracking them from Dacia to the coast seems impossible for one woman alone.
Honor had forced him to protect her. Time would tell if he’d regret it.
Marcus Brutus owns estates, ships, and gladiator schools that increase his fortune daily, but his greatest treasures are his honor and his wife. When she reveals her faith in Jesus before dying after the birth of their son, he’s consumed by hatred for the unnamed Christian woman who led his beloved to abandon the Roman gods, making him lose her in this life and the next.
Must the secrets we hide destroy our hope for a future?
For a gladiator slave, each time you step on the sand, it’s kill or die. When Ursus decides to follow Jesus, he must choose to die the next time he’s ordered to fight…or run away. He runs, taking again his childhood name, Matti. But he isn’t just trying to escape. He’s running to Thessalonica, where he hopes to find other Christians like the woman who led him to faith.
Duty and honor had anchored his life, but only truth could set him free.
Devotion to duty and dogged determination make Tribune Titianus the most feared investigator of the Urban Cohort. Honor drives him to hunt down anyone who breaks Roman law, but it becomes personal when Lenaeus, his old tutor, is murdered in his own classroom. Why kill a respected teacher of the noble sons of Rome, a man who has nothing worth stealing and no known enemies? Had he learned something too dangerous to let him live?
When faced with impossible choices, how do you decide what matters most?
For ten years, the incorruptible Tribune Titianus enforced Rome’s laws. He’s four days from leaving the Urban Cohort to teach at his brother-in-law Kaeso’s school when Emperor Hadrian and the Praetorian Prefect draft him to secretly investigate and thwart an assassination plot…one that might involve his own commander. He can’t refuse, but if Hadrian’s enemies discover his Christian faith, will it mean death for everyone he loves?
Inspirational Historical Fiction Index
This index includes many Roman-era novels. It also includes many other historical periods and has an excellent topical search feature.
Some of my favorite inspirational authors writing about the Roman era include Tessa Afshar, Roseanna White, Carole Towriss, Tracy Higley, Nancy Kimball, Francine Rivers, Angela Hunt, Brock and Brodie Thoene, Janette Oke and Davin Bunn, and Diane Wallis Taylor.
Roman historical novels I’ve enjoyed recently
Update of 2/7/2024: I’ve added a separate webpage listing many books that are Roman-era Christian fiction. It includes novels that focus on Roman society and different parts of the empire and others that focus on Jewish society and events in Judea and Galilee.
The following are Roman-era novels novels I read and enjoyed before 2017. Some are general fiction and some are inspirational fiction.
Good historical novels are firmly grounded in a background of historical people and places, but they vary in how closely they are tied to once-living people. Some characters are purely fictitious while others are fictional embellishments of what is know of real men and women.
I’ve sorted the novels reviewed here into two categories: those where the main characters are fictitious beings created by the author’s imagination and those where at least one of the main characters is a person who appears in the historical records.
Novels about fictitious people
Medicus by Ruth Downie
Gaius Petreius Ruso , the hero of this first novel in a series of seven, is a medical officer serving in the XX Legion in Roman Britain in AD 117. He’s a decent man who can’t quite stop himself from doing the right thing even when he knows it’s likely to cause him a lot of trouble and might even prove deadly. This Roman mystery delivers a good dose of suspense and humor as Ruso gets drawn, at first unwillingly, into solving a set of murders that might lead to him being the next victim. The main characters, Ruso and the severely injured slave, Tilla, that he bought with the last of his money because he couldn’t leave her to certain death with her abusive owner, are a fun study in contrasts between the Roman and British ways. Every time I picked Medicus up, I found it hard to set it down. I’m definitely going to read more in this series. This is a secular book with all the characters being pagans, not Christians.
The Eagle by Rosemary Sutcliff
Previously published as The Eagle of the Ninth
Rosemary Sutcliff was brought to my attention by a fellow Romanophile and author, and her writing is certainly worth attention. Originally published in 1954 as The Eagle of the Ninth, this novel was republished in 2010 as The Eagle and made into a movie in 2011. It is Book One of Sutcliff’s Roman Britain Trilogy republished at that time.
The story is a classic quest set in Roman Britain and the regions north of the limits of the Empire during the reign of Hadrian. The writing style is omniscient narrator, as you would expect in 1954, and the rich descriptions of places and people are a delight to read. Sutcliff was famous as a young-adult writer, and this novel should appeal to young men as supplemental reading for history or Latin courses. It’s a very satisfying read for adults as well. I enjoyed it as a classic quest that is historically plausible.
The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff
This second novel of Sutcliff’s Roman Britain trilogy occurs between 293 and 296 AD while Britain was an empire unto itself under the popular Carausius and then his finance minister and assassin, Allectus. Like her first book in the trilogy, this novel is filled with lots of action, vivid descriptions, and characters you really care about. A great story about brave men in dangerous times living up to the highest standards of honor―that’s a book worth reading.
Did You Catch It?
During the first 15 years of Diocletian’s rule (beginning in AD 284), the army was purged of Christians. In AD 303, Maximian in the West and Diocletian in the East began a systematic empire-wide persecution of Christians. For a free e-copy of Forgiven, can you identify the character in The Silver Branch who was secretly a Christian? Enter your answer in the comment box here.
A Stray Drop of Blood by Roseanna M. White
This is a story of cross-cultural conflicts between Roman, Jew, and Christian and between slave and free in 1st century Judea and Rome. It’s also a story of a woman trying to find peace and love when her dreams keep getting shattered through no fault of her own. I’m a night owl, but even I don’t usually stay up reading past 2:00 a.m. This book forced an exception. On our camping trip to Yellowstone and the Oregon Coast, I turned on my Kindle when the rest of the crew went lights out, then proceeded to read past 3:00 a.m. three nights running. Not the easiest to get up at seven when you do that, but it was worth the sleep deprivation!
Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers
This classic series has already inspired nearly 2 million readers. First published in 1993, it still sets the bar for Christian historical fiction. If you read the first, A Voice in the Wind, you’ll find the emotional intensity of the ending compels you to read the second, An Echo in the Darkness, as soon as you can get your hands on it.
A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
“The first book in the bestselling Mark of the Lion series, A Voice in the Wind brings readers back to the first century and introduces them to a character they will never forget―Hadassah. Torn by her love for a handsome aristocrat, this young slave girl clings to her faith in the living God for deliverance from the forces of decadent Rome.”
An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers
“Turning away from the opulence of Rome, Marcus is led by a whispering voice from the past into a journey that could set him free from the darkness of his soul.”
As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers
“Atretes. German warrior. Revered gladiator. He won his freedom through his fierceness . . . But his life is about to change forever.”
The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley
Following the heroine from the service of Cleopatra in Egypt to Rome to the court of Herod the Great, this is a story of political intrigue, spiritual struggle, costly dedication, and love. The care with which Higley conveys the historical times and locations of her story makes for delightful reading.
Palace of Darkness by Tracy L. Higley
Previously published as Petra: City in Stone
Another great story by Tracey Higley filled with political intrigue, emotional turmoil, and spiritual warfare that kept me reading when I should have been doing something else. Higley’s extensive travels in the locations of her stories make for a delightful sense of place in her writing.
Novels about historical figures
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Grave’s novel follows the life of Claudius from his birth in 10 BC to his elevation to Emperor in AD 41. Written in 1934, it was selected by Time magazine as one of the best 100 novels written in English between 1923 and 2005. I can well understand its rank among the greats. Although its classic style of writing might seem a bit slow in places for readers accustomed to the fast-paced movie-scene style of writing so common today, I found it very difficult to put down. For a historically accurate fictional presentation of the time, it’s probably unbeatable.
Graves was a highly respected translator of classical Greek and Latin literature, and his own translations of Tacitus and Seutonius served as the historical basis for the novel. His translation of Seutonius’s The Twelve Caesars is available from Kindle today. Tacitus’s The Annals (Ab Excessu Divi Augusti) covers the Roman Empire from Tiberius through the fall of Nero (AD 14 to 68). Seutonius’s work, De Vitae Caesarum, is a set of twelve biographies spanning from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Graves tried to remain true to the historical facts as presented by the ancient historians while creating characters that feel as human as the rich and powerful of today. I think he succeeded brilliantly. This is a secular book, not Christian fiction.
Imperium by Robert Harris
This is one of those books that you shouldn’t leave lying next to a path you walk frequently through your house. I’d have to pick it up, intending to read for a ten-minute break, and then next thing I knew it was more than half an hour.
It’s the first novel of a trilogy following the career of Cicero: lawyer, senator, consul, and lover of the Republic that was doomed. As Cicero’s personal slave and then freedman, Tiro served Cicero from his education in Athens through his political career. After Cicero’s death, Tiro wrote his biography, unfortunately lost. Harris has done a brilliant job of recreating what that biography might have told. I’m eager to read the next two in the trilogy (Conspirata and Dictator). This is a secular book, not Christian fiction.
Pontius Pilate by Paul L. Maier
First published in 1968 and republished in 2014, it’s easy to understand why there are more than 500,000 copies of Pontius Pilate in print. Written to be faithful to the limited historical records that survive, Maier does a compelling job of filling in the gaps with totally believable characters and events. Written in the classic omniscient-narrator literary style, it satisfies with beautiful descriptions and well-rounded characters that make the book hard to put down.