The horrors of dining with a Roman emperor

Emperor of Rome? Is there a typo in the title? Mary Beard’s latest book is about not one but 30 Roman emperors, from Julius Caesar (assassinated 44 BCE) to Alexander Severus (assassinated 235 CE), so why the singular? The answer is that Emperor of Rome is a study of autocracy and one autocrat, as Marcus Aurelius put it, is much the same as another: ‘Same play, different cast.’  Beard’s subject is emperors as a category, because it was the symbol of rule rather than the ruler himself that mattered to the 50 million imperial subjects between darkest Britannia and the Saharan desert in the first three centuries of the Christian

Can Italy reverse its falling birth rate? 

Anne McElvoy is on the road again, exploring the state of modern Europe. Following her Radio 4 programme, The Reinvention of Germany in April, the Politico journalist has travelled to Padua, in northern Italy, where reactions to the rise of the right-wing populist Giorgia Meloni appear to vary. Is the 46-year-old PM a breath of fresh air – the best chance Italy has for a future – or a hypocritical dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist? The reinvention (or rather restoration) of Italy is very much Meloni’s goal. Clinging to the familiar principles of faith, flag and family, she has eschewed measures that would allow those born in Italy to define themselves as Italian,

How did the ancients cope in a crisis?

When a major crisis strikes in the modern world, the state and international bodies such as the IMF and World Health Organisation come to the rescue. The ancients in such situations had recourse only to a culture of personal or public benefaction, self-help and (where relevant) legal action: when in ad 27 a ramshackle stadium built for a gladiatorial show at Fidenae collapsed with 50,000 maimed or killed, the impresario was exiled and new building regulations passed. It was the first emperor Augustus (d. ad 14) who created a template for imperial intervention, establishing a rudimentary fire service, putting in extreme measures to deal with famine in Rome and initiating