10 January 2020

Free Exchange: Asa Bennett on the politics of Ancient Rome


For the latest episode of Free Exchange we’re stepping back into antiquity for a look at political life in Ancient Rome.

Our guest is the Daily Telegraph political journalist and Classics enthusiast Asa Bennett, who has just written a book entitled Romanifesto, looking at how our current crop of politicians could learn from the travails of their ancient forebears.

Click here to listen:

Asa Bennett on…the problem with sources

in effect, the the challenging half of this and trying to understand some of what went on is equivalent to trying to understand what happens in Boris Johnson’s premiership in 1000 years time when you only have Hansard and some clippings in the Morning Star and a couple of printouts from The Canary.

On…commanding a crowd

If you were going up before the courts, you could pay people to follow you and bewail your fate and beat their breasts and say how terrible this is. Some people would turn and think ‘you must be a good person. If you have all these friends’…and we see that now with, say, Alex Salmond back in the Scottish independence referendum days when he would have press conferences with activists stuffed alongside the journalists, who would be clapping at every line.

On…the consummate Roman PR man

Augustus, the first Emperor: absolute PR man like no other. Despite being Emperor, he made sure to have his wife and daughter taught how to make their own clothes and would have them be seen in the courts and the courtyards spinning at the loom. He put it about that he grew up in a modest home just near where the founders of Rome Romulus and Remus grew up.

On…the real Nero

When you look at the writers, they point out all sorts of things, for example, that he in his early days, was remarkablycritical of the state – the Taxpayers’ Alliance would love early Nero.

On…why more state schools should teach Latin

The classics, the Romans, they are such fantastic characters and stories to engage with, they teach us so much about ourselves, they hold up a mirror to us in ways that are truly remarkable. And the stories are so exciting anyway, so it’s just a shame that [in] state schools it’s such a minority endeavour.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX