|Roman Empire under the Rule of Emperor Hadrian.|
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)
by Marguerite Yourcenar
This is a historical novel written about the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian ruled during the period after Christianity had been invented but before it was adopted by the Roman Emperor. This period of late antiquity is both interesting and rarely a focus of Roman era histories which tend to focus on either the rise of Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire or the period of the Republic. Written in the form of a missive to his successor (Marcus Aurelius), Hadrian's memoirs cover his dimly remembered childhood, his live as a soldier (general) fighting in the endless border skirmishes in Eastern Europe, his rise to power as Emperor, his career as Emperor, also largely consisting of endless border skirmishes from Parthia to Scotland, where he built Hadrian's wall.
I would have thought there would be more historical fiction from the Roman Empire in the 1001 Books project, but other than Ben Hur I can't think of another novel set in that time period. Perhaps that's because so much of Roman history takes place prior to Christianity and so much of the novel relates to the literature of Christianity. I found myself wondering how many compelling non-Christian characters even exist in the history of the novel between the 18th and 20th century. Even as voices began to multiply in the 20th century, female voice, African American voices, Latin American voices, LGBT voices, Christianity was a central concerns for authors, both in positive and negative ways.
As a truly non-Christian lead character, Hadrian stands almost alone and personally I found his mixture of stoicism and Roman paganism to be compelling. I'm a sucker for stoicism, truth be told.