Gesta Romanorum is a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales that was probably compiled about the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th. It still possesses a two-fold literary interest, first as one of the most popular books of the time, and secondly as the source, directly or indirectly, of later literature, in Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, Giovanni Boccaccio, Thomas Hoccleve, William Shakespeare, and others.
The work was evidently intended as a manual for preachers, and was probably written by one of the clerical profession. The name, Deeds of the Romans, is only partially appropriate to the collection in its present form, since, besides the titles from Greek and Latin history and legend, it comprises fragments of different origins, Asian and European. The unifying element of the book is its moral purpose, but the work contains a variety of material.
Owing to the loose structure of the book, it was easy for a transcriber to insert any additional story into his own copy, and consequently the manuscripts of the Gesta Romanorum exhibit considerable variety. Hermann Oesterley recognizes an English group of manuscripts (written always in Latin), a German group (sometimes in Latin and sometimes in German), and a group which is represented by the vulgate or common printed text.