Sources for Roman History

Names of Historians for Different Periods of Ancient Rome

To Rome, with love
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Below you'll find a list of the periods of ancient Rome (753 BC.-A.D. 476) followed by the main ancient historians of that period.

When writing about history, primary written sources are preferred. Unfortunately, this can be difficult for ancient history. Although technically those ancient writers who lived after the events are secondary sources, they have two possible advantages over modern secondary sources:

  1. they lived roughly two millennia closer to the events in question and
  2. they may have had access to primary source materials.

Here are the names and relevant periods for some of the main ancient Latin and Greek sources for Roman history. Some of these historians lived at the time of the events, and, therefore, may actually be primary sources, but others, especially Plutarch (c. A.D. 45-125), who covers men from multiple eras, lived later than the events they describe.

  • From the Founding to the Beginning of the Punic Wars (754-261 B.C.)

    Most of this period is legendary, especially before the fourth century. This was the time of kings and then the expansion of Rome into Italy.

     

    • Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. c.20 B.C.)
    • Livy (c.59 B.C.-c. A.D. 17)
    • Plutarch's lives of
  • From the Punic Wars to the Civil Wars Under the Gracchi (264-134 B.C.)

    By this period, there were historical records. This was a period when Rome expanded beyond the borders of Italy and dealt with​ the conflict between plebeians and patricians.

     

    • Polybius (c.200-c.120 B.C.)
    • Livy
    • Appian (c. A.D.95-165)
    • Florus (c.70?-c.140?)
    • Plutarch's lives of
  • From the Civil Wars to the Fall of the Republic (30 B.C.)

    This was an exciting and violent period of Roman history dominated by powerful individuals, like Caesar, who also provides eye witness accounts of his military campaigns.

     

    • Appian
    • Velleius Paterculus (c.19 B.C.-c. A.D. 30),
    • Sallust (c.86-35/34 B.C.)
    • Caesar (July 12/13, 102/100 B.C.-March 15, 44 B.C.)
    • Cicero (106-43 B.C.
    • Dio Cassius (c. A.D. 150-235)
    • Plutarch's lives of
      • Marius
      • Sulla
      • Lucullus
      • Crassus
      • Sertorius
      • Cato
      • Cicero
      • Brutus
      • Antonius
  • The Empire to the Fall in A.D. 476

    From Augustus to Commodus
    The power of the emperor was still being defined in this period. There had been the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the Flavian dynasty, and the period of the Five Good Emperors, none of whom was the biological son of the previous emperor. Then came Marcus Aurelius, the last of the good emperors who was succeeded by one of Rome's worst, his son, Commodus.
    • Dio Cassius
    • Tacitus (c. A.D. 56-c.120?)
    • Suetonius (c. A.D.69-after 122). Lives of
    • Velleius Paterculus
    From Commodus to Diocletian
    During the period from Commodus to Diocletian soldiers became emperors and Rome's armies in various parts of the known world were declaring their leaders emperor. By the time of Diocletian the Roman Empire had grown too large and complex for one man to handle, so Diocletian divided it in two (two Augustuses) and added assistant emperors (two Caesars).
    From Diocletian to the Fall - Christian and Pagan Sources
    For an emperor like Julian, a pagan, religious biases in both directions factor into the credibility of his biographies. Christian historians of late antiquity had a religious agenda which relegated to lesser importance the presentation of secular history, but some of the historians were very careful of their facts, anyway.

    Sources:
    A Manual of Ancient History the Constitutions, the Commerce, and the Colonies of the States of Antiquity (1877), by A. H. L. Herren.
    Byzantine Historians