10 Best 2nd Century Authors To Transport You To Ancient Europe and Asia

Experience what life was like in the classical era with these ten best 2nd century authors. 

The best 2nd century authors lived in a time that can be hard for us to imagine in present day. The Roman Empire was expanding fast, unaware that it would soon be in a position where it would need to defend its reign for centuries to come. The Jewish-Roman wars resulted in Jewish people being removed from Jerusalem. In Asia, the Han Dynasty was firmly in power, and the murder of Dong Zhuo in 192 changed the trajectory of the Chinese empire.

Reading works by the ten best 2nd century authors can help you get a glimpse into what life was like nearly 2,000 years ago. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll love our round-up of the best 3rd century authors!

Here Are The Best 2nd Century Authors

1. Justin the Historian, 100-165

Justin the Historian
Medieval-style writing on a white page

Justin the Historian provided much of the history known today regarding life in Europe in the 2nd century. Little is known about his personal life, but his work has stood the test of time. Justin is best known for writing a history of the kings of Macedonia entitled Philippic Histories.

In the preface to his work, the author explains that he worked to compile the most interesting and important aspects of the history of the time. It’s important to note that in addition to providing factual accounts of history, Justin also worked to create an entertaining story, emphasizing the dramatic aspects of history at the time rather than focusing on strictly providing factual information to the reader.

“Macedonia was formerly named Emathia, from the name of king Emathion, of whose prowess the earliest proofs are extant in those parts. As the origin of this kingdom was but humble, so its limits were at first extremely narrow. The inhabitants were called Pelasgi, the country Paeonia.”

Justin the Historian

2. Marcus Minucius Felix, birthdate unknown-250

Marcus Minucius Felix
An ancient Roman stone tablet broken into pieces arranged to create a cohesive image

Marcus Minucius Felix is a bit of a mystery to today’s historians. He’s known for his work Octavius, which provides a dialogue between a pagan and a Christian. He’s known as one of the first Christian apologists, meaning he defended the religion to non-believers. Felix was likely influenced by Stoicism. Much of his work centered on striving to be happy with the material possessions one already has rather than working to accumulate more goods. In Octavius, Felix refers to Caecilius Natalis, a figure in a Roman family that is well-known to many who study Latin today.

“The poor man is he who, having much, craves for more. Can a man be poor if he is free from want, if he does not covet the belongings of others, if he is rich in the possession of God? Rather, he is poor who possesses much but still craves for more.”

Marcus Minucius Felix
The Octavius of Minucius Felix
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3. Julia Balbilla, 72-130

Julia Balbilla
A white marble statue of a Roman-style woman’s shoulders and head with curly hair pulled under a hat

Julia Balbilla is the author of three epigrams she inscribed while visiting Thebes, Egypt. She was part of a well-off royal family and was visiting the area as a member of the imperial court of Hadrian. Balbilla was from the Kingdom of Commagene (an area that is now Turkey). In addition to her royal lineage, the poet was also Armenian, Syrian, Median, Greek, and Seleucian. While she enjoyed an affluent life, it’s possible that her fortune was not as secure as she would have liked, as her father was not a senator until later in life. 

Balbilla worked as a court poet who inscribed her epigrams on the legs of the Colossi of Memnon. While the Roman royal family approved the poems, they were seen as similar to graffiti. Balbilla’s poems included elements of humor and wit and included metaphors. 

“I’ve learned that the Egyptian Memnon, bronzed by
The bright sun, sounds out from a Theban stone.
When he gazed upon Hadrian, the kingliest king
He addressed him as much as he could before the light of the sun.”

Julia Balbilla, Two Poems

4. Claudia Severa, 97-unknown

Claudia Severa
Pieces of a wooden tablet with black writing arranged to form Severa’s birthday invitation

Claudia Severa was an anomaly as a literate woman in the second century. Her written birthday invitation to her friend is likely the oldest preserved writing by a woman. Her invitation was written to her friend Sulpicia Lepindina with ink on a thin wooden tablet. Some invitations were likely written by a scribe, with additional details penned in by Severa herself. While her writings were only intended for one person, the invitation has allowed literary scholars and historians to understand much about the writing style of the time. 

“On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival.”

Claudia Severa, Birthday Invitation of Sulpicia Lepidina

5. Cai Yan, 162-239

Cai Yan
A papyrus drawing of an Asian woman wearing a blue cloak on a rug in the forest with colorful trees in the background

Cai Yan was a Chinese author, poet, and musical composer living during the Eastern Han dynasty. Yan was taken as a prisoner of war and was later freed by a friend of her father. To this day, her poems are known for their sad tone, which has helped researchers learn more about her difficult life. She’s best known for her poems Poem of Sorrow and Anger and Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute. Cai Yan is still celebrated in popular culture today, appearing as a character in several video games. 

“Emotions stirred, I think of my parents, whilst I draw a long sigh of endless sorrows, whenever guests visit from afar, I would often make joy of their tidings, I lost no time in throwing eager questions, only to find that the guests were not from my hometown.”

Cai Yan, Poem of Sorrow and Anger

6. Kong Rong, 153-208

Kong Rong
Black and white image of a Chinese man with a beard sitting on a throne with Chinese characters in the background

Kong Rong is remembered as a Chinese warlord, poet, and politician. A descendant of Confucius, Rong was celebrated for his fast wit, ability to outsmart opponents, and detailed writings. The leader was known both for poetry and prose. Some scholars of the time argued that Rong’s literary style was simplistic and written purely for entertainment.

Many historians believe that Rong was more intelligent than his writings portrayed and that his words were often intended as sarcasm. Most of Rong’s poetry and prose have been lost over time, but much of his written criticism of Chinese leader Cao Cao has been preserved. 

“Fate, you have surprised me once again.”

Kong Rong

7. Tacitus, 56-120

Tacitus
A white marble statue of a Roman-style man wearing a toga and sandals with columns in the background

Tacitus is known as one of the greatest historians in Rome. Two of his major works have survived today: Annals and Histories. In both works, Tacitus took a critical look at the rulings of emperors, including Nero, Claudius, and Tiberius. Little is known of the writer’s life outside of his work. However, he was friends with Pliny the Younger. He was from an aristocratic family and was a skilled orator. In addition to speaking publicly, he also wrote in a dialogue format. 

“They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger… they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor… They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace.”

Tacitus, The Agricola and The Germania

8. Lucius Apuleius, 124-170

Lucius Apuleius
A drawn image of a white man with a beard and white hair wearing a white cloak on a blue background

Lucius Apuleius was a philosopher, rhetorician, and writer. He lived in Rome, as well as in what is now Algeria. The author was well-traveled, spending time in Egypt, Asia, and Italy. Much mystery surrounds the life of Apuleius, as historical evidence suggests that he was a member of several cults.

While the philosopher is well-known for his writing, he’s better known for being accused of using magic to get a well-off widow to fall in love with him. Apuleius is best known for his work Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass), the only novel that has survived to the present day. The novel surrounds the main character’s joining of a cult and is often described as an ancient fairy tale. 

“For as teares oftentimes trickle downe the cheekes of him that seeth or heareth some joyfull newes, so I being in this fearfull perplexity, could not forbeare laughing, to see how of Aristomenus I was made like unto a snail [in] his shell.”

 ApuleiusMetamorphoses

9. Lucian of Samosata, 125-unknown (after 180)

Lucian of Samosata
The first page of Luciani Samosatensis Opera, with small detailed writing underneath the title of the Opera

Lucian of Samosata was known for his blunt writing style, in which he discussed and made fun of religious practices, paranormal beliefs, and superstition. His works were completed in Greek, but historians believe it’s most likely that Syriac was his native language. Little is known about the author’s life outside of his writings, and the sarcasm in his prose makes it difficult to determine the difference between tongue-in-cheek writing and reality.

According to his works, Lucian came from a middle-class family in Syria. He likely tried to become an artist early in life but decided to pursue an education instead.

Most of Lucian’s works were written in Athens. More than 80 of Lucian’s works have survived, including A True Store, Lover of Lies, and The Dialogues of the Gods. It’s possible that Lucian was appointed to a high position in the Egyptian government, as his writing seemed to cease when he was in his fifties. 

“I see no reason for resigning my right to that inventive freedom which others enjoy; and, as I have no truth to put on record, having lived a very humdrum life, I fall back on falsehood–but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect–that I am a liar.”

Lucian of Samosata

10. Ulpian, 170-unknown

Ulpian
A marble statue of a man wearing a toga with a Roman-style staircase in the background

Ulpian was a Roman writer and juror responsible for developing many of the laws of the time. At one point, the juror was banished from Rome but was later readmitted and became the chief advisor to the emperor. He’s credited with several literary works, including Ad Sabinum, Ad dictum, De officio proconsuls libri x., and Domitii Ulpiani fragmenta

In addition to his writing, Ulpian is known for being unafraid to question others, especially regarding writing and legal matters. He was known for throwing elaborate feasts for others. Researchers are unsure of his date of death, but a papyrus document discovered in 1966 revealed that Ulpian may have passed away in 228. If you liked this guide, check out our round-up of the best 4th century authors!

“The basic principles of law are: to live honorably, not to harm any other person, to render each his own.”

Ulpian

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  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.