Ancient History & Civilisation

Illustrations

Children of the wolf: Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus, are suckled in the ‘Lupercal’, a cave on the side of the Palatine Hill. The River Tiber reclines on his elbow beside them. (Wikipedia)

The murderers of Julius Caesar flee the scene of his assassination, as imagined by Jean Léon Gérome in 1859. (© Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA / Bridgeman Images)

Livia Drusilla. Beautiful, clever and fabulously well-connected, she would end up garlanded with honours unprecedented for a Roman woman. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Caesar Son Of A God rests his foot on the globe. (© bpk / Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa: a supreme consigliere. (© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons)

Romulus carries armour stripped from an enemy king: the ‘spoils of honour’. He was the first of a tiny number of Roman commanders to kill his opposite number in single combat. The painting is from the outside of a shop in Pompeii, but portrays a statue commissioned by Augustus, and placed in the Temple of Mars the Avenger.

Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, pious and austere in his service of the gods. (© Tarker / Bridgeman Images)

The Temple of Mars the Avenger, dedicated by Augustus on 12 May 3 BC, many decades after he had first vowed it to the god. (Illustration by Gareth Blayney)

Rome was a city in which the phallus was omnipresent. The penis of a Roman was expected to be as masterful as it was potent. (The Art Archive / Mondadori Portfolio/Electa)

The August Family as Augustus wished it to be seen. Agrippa, toga over his head, stands on the far left; the woman next to him (although it is just possible she might be Livia) is almost certainly Julia, his wife. The two boys are Gaius and Lucius: simultaneously the grandsons and the adopted sons of Augustus. (De Agostini Picture Library / G. Dagli Orti / Bridgeman Images)

Tiberius and his mother, Livia Drusilla. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Marsyas, a satyr thought by the Greeks to have been flayed alive, was believed by the Italians to have made a narrow escape, and fled to Italy. A statue of him in the Forum served the Roman people as a venerable symbol of liberty. (De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

An altar raised at the crossroads of the Vicus Sandalarius. Gaius stands flanked by Augustus and Livia. (The Art Archive / Museo della Civilta Romana Rome / Gianni Dagli Orti)

Into the woods. The heights above the slaughter-ground which wiped out P. Quinctilius Varus, governor of Germany, and three entire legions. (Photo: Tom Holland)

A Roman cavalry mask, found on the site of the battle of the Teutoburg Pass. (Photo: Jamie Muir)

Augustus Caesar triumphant. A woman symbolising the civilised world crowns him with a wreath of oak leaves, while below him barbarians grovel as a victory trophy is raised. (© Ullsteinbild / Topfoto)

On his death bed, Augustus is said to have asked whether he had played his part well in the comedy of life. Even as an old man, he kept up his front. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Figs: reputedly, Augustus’s favourite food. (Photo: Sophie Hay)

Pianosa, the small island off the west coast of Italy to which Agrippa Postumus was exiled. It was one of a number of islands used by Augustus and his successors as prisons for disgraced members of the dynasty. (Agefotostock TIP-MO232601)

Germanicus: Tiberius’s nephew and the darling of the Roman people. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Agrippina lands at Brundisium with the ashes of Germanicus, as portrayed by Benjamin West in 1768. (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, PA, USA / Purchased with the George W. Elkins Fund, 1972 / Bridgeman Images)

Spelunca, where Tiberius fashioned a mythological theme park and narrowly avoided being crushed to death while dining outside this cave. (Photo: Tom Holland)

The steep cliffs of Capri helped to render the island an impregnable retreat for Tiberius in his final years, and foster rumours of unspeakable depravities. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Caligula addresses the Praetorian Guard. Mention of the Senate, standard on the coins issued by Augustus and Tiberius, is notable by its absence. (© bpk / Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)

‘Nature produced him, in my opinion, to demonstrate just how far unlimited vice can go when combined with unlimited power.’ Caligula, as anatomised by the philosopher Seneca. (Photo: Tom Holland)

A basement chamber on the Palatine which may, just conceivably, mark the very spot where Caligula was assassinated. (Photo: Sophie Hay)

In this 1871 painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Caligula lies dead at the base of a bust of Augustus, while Claudius is discovered cowering behind a curtain. (© Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA / Bridgeman Images)

Two captives led into slavery by a soldier. For many slaves, servitude constituted a living death; for a tiny minority, a gateway to power. (Wikimedia)

Claudius, flat-stomached conqueror of the fabulous lands beyond the Ocean, forces himself on a hapless and submissive Britannia. (© Dick Osseman)

The very model of a pious Roman matron: Messalina, with Britannicus on her arm. (De Agostini Picture Library / G. Dagli Orti / Bridgeman Images)

Gardens, in a city as crowded and polluted as Rome, were a supreme mark of status. Ownership, though, was known to spell peril as well as prestige. (Photo: Tom Holland)

The new harbour at Ostia. Begun and largely completed by Claudius, it was completed by Nero – who did not hesitate to take the credit. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

It’s complicated…Nero with his mother. (© Dick Osseman)

A ship sinks in the Bay of Naples, as portrayed in the bath-house beside the Marine Gate in Pompeii. (Photo: Tom Holland)

Gelding clamps: applied by slavers to handsome boys, and by devotees of the Syrian Goddess to themselves. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Great Fire of Rome, as imagined by Hubert Robert in the early 1770s. (Musée des Beaux-Arts Andre Malraux, Le Havre, France / Bridgeman Images)

The bronze colossus commissioned by Nero to stand guard over the entrance to the Golden House. Following his death, the statue would give its name to the great amphitheatre raised on the site of Nero’s levelled architectural extravaganza: the Colosseum. (© bpk / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius)

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. (The Art Archive / Museo Capitolino Rome / Araldo De Luca)

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