I thoroughly enjoyed this Roman Law class, to the point where I felt inspired enough to look for material outside what was assigned which might give me a better feel for the era. The following is the best of what I found:
- The new National Geographic documentary When Rome Ruled. It's up to date, and very high quality.
- The Philip Matyszak books Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day and Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual. The author of these two books is a real historian (doctoral degree in Roman history from Oxford), so these books get the facts right, but they're intended to be fun and easy to read. You're unlikely to find anything else as engaging that will teach you as much. [Note: I'm seeing the same author just came out with Gladiator: The Roman Fighter's (Unofficial) Manual, which you might enjoy more than Legionary if you've gotten yourself hooked on all those new Starz network TV shows about Spartacus]
- Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers was eye-opening for me. Until reading this book I was unaware of how much the people who framed our Constitution knew about ancient Greek and Roman history, and the degree to which they tried to incorporate lessons learned from these two civilizations into our Constitution so as to avoid their respective fates. If your time is limited, then just skip ahead in each chapter of this book to the concluding "Lessons" sections.
I also have to say a kind word for the recent television series Rome. Like The Tudors it plays up the sex, uses actors attractive enough to be contemporary models, and gives the impression that events happened much more rapidly than they did. Some characters are composites, and some historical details are changed for dramatic effect. But the overall sweep of things is correct, and if you don't know anything about these two eras you absolutely will leave knowing more than you did. These two TV shows obviously don't replace serious studies of history, but assuming what they replace is completely mindless entertainment, you come out ahead.