The perils of being pope

Rome in the 1st century AD pulsated with religion. The knowledge that they lived in a sacred city, protected by the gods, permeated the daily lives of its citizens. They would see oxen being led down cobbled streets to be sacrificed on marble altars or offerings of incense and wine being made when the gods or the emperor demanded. There were constant religious festivals. At the Lupercalia, childless women were beaten with goatskin thongs that promised fertility; at the Saturnalia, Romans shed their togas, drank heavily and gambled. Even non-citizens and slaves were obliged to take part in these religious ceremonies. In the darkened rooms of brick-and-stone tenements in the

The emperor as ruler of heaven and Earth

Geography, climate, economics and nationalism are often seen as decisive forces in history. In this dynamic, original and convincing book Dominic Lieven considers emperors and their dynasties as motors of events. Defying constrictions of time and space, ranging from Sargon of Akkad, the ruler of what is now northern Iraq (r. 2334-2279 BC), to the Emperor Hirohito of Japan (r. 1926-89), he believes that ‘for millennia, hereditary sacred monarchy had been the most desirable and successful form of polity on Earth’. (Inhabitants of city states, from Athens to Venice, might not have agreed.) Emperors could create and extend states more easily than impersonal forces, as Lieven shows in chapters on