The other day, in a mock Oxford interview, I asked a pupil of mine whether he agreed with the idea that the Roman Empire still, effectively, exists, or arguably has a greater extent than ever before, what with the Roman Catholic Church, the numerous legislatures calling themselves senates, the spread of Latinate languages throughout the world, and so on. The question was designed to be provocative, but there is a modicum of truth in the idea. We are still in thrall to the Romans, even if we pay no tribute to an emperor.
What started as a constantly battling frontier town built on rich, volcanic soil expanded over the centuries until it controlled swathes of the known world, enduring until the 15th century and the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire. It’s as if, says Peter Jones, with characteristic chumminess, ‘the world were