Most of us learned about the “basics” of ancient history in school, like Greece and Rome, Julius Caesar, and the Colosseum. But ancient history was a vital, vibrant time in history that lasted for many centuries. Recorded history of Ancient Greece began with the first Olympic Games in 776 BCE, but ancient history began as far back as 3000 BCE. The ancient timeline runs from about the third century CE to about the eighth century.
As a general rule, there was a lot more going on during this time than just Julius Caesar and The Iliad. There was a lot of history going on all over the world during the centuries that led up to the European Middle Ages.
Here are nine of the best ancient history books that will help you learn more than you already know. These books might give you a different view of history than you think.
By Barry Cunliffe
People who lived in ancient Rome didn’t like them very much, so they were considered bad people. Many people in Britain thought they were savage and unknown. Even today, many people don’t know much about the real history of Celtic peoples because they mix mythology with pure fiction. When Barry Cunliffe talks about the Celts, he doesn’t just talk about fairy tales or boogeymen. He talks about the real lives and history of this group of people who are often misrepresented and misunderstood.
By William George Aston
The Nihongi, also known as the Nihon Shoki, is the second-oldest book of ancient Japanese history that still exists. It is one of the most “human” historical documents that still exists. In Nihongi, which was written in 720 CE, Nihongi talks about how China and India influenced Japanese culture, as well as the archaeological ages of Jomon and Yayoi. It also talks about ritual myth and folk customs, as well as personal stories and imperial conflict. Scholars and emperors have turned to the Nihongi for help for centuries, and today it is still an important way to see old Japan.
By Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz
It’s a “masterful” book that explains the “complexities” of Mexico’s ancient cultures in a way that makes sense, says Library Journal. It goes from the Olmec culture to the Aztecs. This text includes new findings and insights from a wide range of fields. It includes information from archaeological excavations of some of the earliest pyramids in the city of Teotihuacan and the Huastec region, as well as some of the most recent findings from the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It’s now in its seventh edition, and it’s still the best way to learn about the ancient civilizations of the Middle East.
Early China: A Social and Cultural History
By Li Feng
Throughout human history, Li Feng, who is a professor of Early Chinese History and Archaeology at Columbia, leads readers through the roots of Chinese civilization and culture. This book is called “The Origin of Chinese Civilization and Culture.” History: From the beginnings of written language to the rise of many different religions, this fully-illustrated text is based on the best scholarship and archaeological findings. There are many parts of Chinese history that this book brings to life. It also shows how these early events shaped modern life in China and around the world. This book is easy to read for Westerners. It’s a good way to learn about a huge area.
Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi
By Timothy R. Pauketat
There are many people who know about the Mayan and Aztec civilizations from the past, but not as many people know about the largest Native American city north of Mexico. The lost city of Cahokia was once one of the busiest places in North America. It was built around a huge central plaza. St. Louis is now a city in the same place where this place used to be. People used to walk on this ground, but now very little is left to show where they once went. Archaeologist and professor of anthropology Timothy R. Pauketat has written a book that is both groundbreaking and easy to read. In this book, Pauketat uncovers a fascinating monument to ancient Native American civilization. Cahokia grew at the end of ancient history, and it grew the most during medieval times. It is some of the best evidence of a large-scale civilization in the Americas before Columbus.
By Adrienne Mayor
In the past, there were fierce warrior women. Were they real, or was this just a myth? If you want to learn more about warrior women in myth and history from the Mediterranean Sea to China’s Great Wall of China, this book by National Book Award nominee Adrienne Mayor is for you. It’s “deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated.” New archaeological findings and a “detective’s curiosity” help Mayor explain how these real-life warrior women of old became the mythical people we know as Amazons.
By Paul Kriwaczek
All but a few historians think that ancient civilization began there a long time ago, between the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The cities that were built here were home to some of the most important events in history. He shows us how people lived in Mesopotamia, and how Babylon fell in the sixth century BC. Paul Kriwaczek is the BBC’s expert on Babylon. The rise and fall of Babylon has become a metaphor and a fable in the modern world. It’s one that people use all the time. Scrapes away the myth and gets to the truth at the heart of both that story and civilization itself.
By Michael A. Gomez
To get the Martin A. Klein Prize in African History, this book had to change the “dominant narratives of empire by moving West Africa to the center of world history,” says the winner. The author of this book, Gomez, uses political and social records, as well as recent archaeological findings, source texts, and oral histories, to paint a vivid picture of empire building in early West Africa long before the days of colonialism. This text says that ideas about ethnicity, race, gender, and class were already in use when colonizers first came to Africa. Historians will have to think about this book for a long time. That’s what the American Historical Association says.