Ancient History & Civilisation


Curious history buffs, be forewarned: A vast haystack of material from ancient times has survived, with more coming to light periodically. The sheer size and geographic disarray of this historical haystack is daunting. The study needed to understand the context of what you’re reading as well as get a rough sense of its trustworthiness is equally challenging. Nevertheless, the quest is worth the eyestrain.

Primary sources for this book include Aristophanes; Arrian; Athenaeus; Aulus Gellius; Cicero, especially his letters; Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers; Dio Cassius; Diodorus Siculus; Euripides; Galen; Herodian; Herodotus; Hesiod; Josephus; Juvenal; Livy; Lucian; Lucretius; Martial; Ovid; Pausanias’ Description of Greece; Petronius; Phlegon’s Book of Marvels; Plato; the works and letters of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger; Plutarch’s Lives and Moralia; Seneca; Strabo’s Geography;Suetonius’sLives of the Twelve Caesars; Tacitus; Xenophon; playwrights and poets Aesop, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Apuleius, Catullus, Hesiod, Horace, Menandar, Pindar, Plautus, Sappho, and Sophocles. These works and more can be found in the Loeb Classical Library collection published by Harvard University Press. In recent years, Pantheon Books has begun publishing its Landmark editions of Herodotus, Xenophon, and Thucydides, with others in the pipeline. Highly recommended.

Other priceless material comes from ancient coins, period artwork, and a cornucopia of archaeological sources; from primary and secondary sources online, as noted elsewhere in this section; and from letters, inscriptions, and primary-source compilations found in books such as Shelton’s As the Romans Did, Pompeii’s Erotic Songbook, and the Loeb Library two-volume set called Select Papyri, translated by Hunt and Edgar.

The following resources (most of them secondary) offer a variety of facts, theories, perspectives, and visuals on love, lust, and longing and the stories of long-ago men and women who felt those emotions. Since sexual subject matter is often a high-voltage topic, what is presented as fact in a given book may at times be rife with prejudice and opinion. Whether you’re examining primary or secondary sources, keep in mind what noted author and distinguished historian Michael Grant had to say in his 1995 book, Greek & Roman Historians, Information and Misinformation:” The one thing certain about history is that what we are told is by no means always true.”

Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of Love. (Random House, 1994.)

Adams, Cecil. The Straight Dope (and half a dozen sequels). (Ballantine Books, 1988-1999.)

Adams, J. N. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.)

Adkins, Lesley and Roy. Dictionary of Roman Religion. (Oxford University Press, 1996.)

__________. Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece. (Facts on File, 1997.)

__________. Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. (Facts on File, 1994.)

Barrett, Anthony. Livia, First Lady of Imperial Rome. (Yale University Press, 2002.)

__________. Caligula, the Corruption of Power. (Yale University Press, 1990.)

__________. Agrippina, Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Empire. (Yale University Press, 1996.)


Brooten, Bernadette J. Love Between Women. (University of Chicago Press, 1996.)

Cantarella, Eva. Bisexuality in the Ancient World. (Yale University Press, 1992.)

Cawthorne, Nigel. Sex Lives of the Roman Emperors. (Metro/Prion Books, 2006.)

Clarke, John R. Looking at Lovemaking. (University of California Press, 2001.)

Cruse, Audrey. Roman Medicine. (Tempus Ltd., 2004.)

Davidson, James. Courtesans and Fishcakes. (St. Martin’s Press, 1997.)

__________. The Greeks and Greek Love. (Random House, 2007.)

Dover, K. J. Greek Homosexuality. (Harvard University Press, 1989.)

Dress, Ludwig. Olympia: Gods, Artists, and Athletes. (Praeger, 1968.)

Dupont, Florence. Daily Life in Ancient Rome. (Blackwell Ltd., 1992.)

Edelstein, Ludwig. Ancient Medicine. (Johns Hopkins Press, 1967.)

Faraone, Christopher. Ancient Greek Love Magic. (Harvard University Press, 2001.)

Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors. (Beacon Press, 1996.)

Flaceliere, Robert. Love in Ancient Greece. (Crown Publishers, 1962.)

Griffin, Miriam. Nero, the End of a Dynasty. (Yale University Press, 1985.)

Grant, Michael. Cleopatra, a Biography. (Barnes & Noble, 1972.)

Grmek, Mirko. Diseases in the Ancient Greek World. (Johns Hopkins Press, 1989.)

Groneman, Carol. Nymphomania. (W. W. Norton, 2000.)

Himes, Norman. Medical History of Contraception. (Schocken Books, 1970.)

James, Peter and Thorpe, Nick. Ancient Inventions. (Ballantine Books, 1994.)

Johnson, Marguerite, and Ryan, Terry. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Society and Literature. (Routledge, 2005.)

Kiefer, Otto. Sexual Life in Ancient Rome. (Dorset Press, 1993.)

Keuls, Eva. The Reign of the Phallus. (Harper & Row, 1985.)

Kraemer, Ross, ed. Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics. (Fortress Press, 1988.)

Lewis, Naphtali. The Interpretation of Dreams & Portents in Antiquity. (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishing, 1996 reprint.)

Licht, Hans. Sexual Life in Ancient Greece. (Covici Friede Publishers, 1932.)

Longrigg, James. Greek Medicine from the Heroic to the Hellenistic Age: A Source Book. (Routledge, 1998.)

Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.)

Maines, Rachel. The Technology of Orgasm. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.)

Majno, Guido. The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World. (Harvard University Press, 1975.)

Matyszak, Philip. Gladiator, the Roman Fighters’ (Unofficial) Guide. (Thames & Hudson, 2011.)

__________. Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day. (Thames & Hudson, 2008.)

__________. Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day. (Thames & Hudson, 2008.)

Mayor, Adrienne. The Poison King. (Princeton University Press, 2010.)

__________. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs. (Overlook Duckworth London, 2004.)

Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. (University of Illinois Press, 1996.)

Richlin, Amy. The Garden of Priapus. (Oxford University Press, 1992.)

__________. Richlin, ed. Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome. (Oxford University Press, 1992.)

Riddle, John. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. (Harvard University Press, 1992.)

Roach, Mary. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. (W. W. Norton, 2008.)

Salmonson, Jessica A. The Encyclopedia of Amazons. (Anchor/Doubleday, 1991.)

Scholz, Piotr. Eunuchs and Castrati. (Markus Weiner Publishers, 2001.)

Shelton, Joanne. As the Romans Did: a Sourcebook in Roman Social History. (Oxford University Press, 1988.)

Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, second ed. (Little, Brown, 1859.) Most of the Roman entries are also available, searchable, and annotated with acerbic wit online at Bill Thayer’s LacusCurtius website. Another by Smith, also recommended: A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology, and Geography. (Harper & Brothers, 1888.)

Speller, Elizabeth. Following Hadrian. (Oxford University Press, 2003.)

Stengers, Jean, and Anne Van Neck. Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.)

Tannahill, Reay. Sex in History. (Stein and Day, 1980.)

Vivolo, F. Paolo. Pompeii’s Erotic Songbook. (Plurigraf, 2001.)

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. (Castle Books, 1996.)

Zanker, P. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. (University of Michigan Press, 2001.)

Lastly, get yourself a superlative guide to place-names in the ancient world, from what they were called originally as well as what they’re called now: Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary (new or used).

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!