“I don’t like the Romans much,” says the renowned classics historian Mary Beard to surprised laughter from the audience at the Cape Town launch of her new book, Emperor of Rome. A few minutes later, of the emperors, she adds, “I hate them. But I think they are absolutely so interesting, enough to keep me going for a lifetime.”

This is the 20th book by the Cambridge University professor emerita, most of which have investigated and interpreted the ancient world, Rome in particular. She has also written and presented a number of BBC TV series, notably Meet the Romans and Civilisations, which have contributed to ensuring ancient history remains accessible...

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