Monte Testaccio is a hundred-foot high, kilometre-round pile of broken potsherds. The great mound of ceramic refuse, started in the first century BCE, was added to daily over the following four centuries. Co-existent with the Roman Empire, it grew into a mass whose sheer bulk and consistency could not be reduced. Unlike the empire, it did not fall. Pottery is an especially obdurate artefact, but every single piece of pottery in Monte Testaccio is of a particular sort: each fragment is a sherd of broken oil amphora.
Moscow, the myth of the city says, is the Third Rome. And Vladimir Putin has often been compared to the emperor Augustus. Putin, like Augustus, came to fix a cracked superpower, where rule was fracturing between warring regional governors, where democracy was manipulated by powerful oligarchs. Putin, like Augustus, centralised power, tamed the oligarchs, and shifted the political model from a corrupt democracy to a more effective form of quasi-monarchical rule. And, like Augustus, Putin retained the facade of democracy (parliament, elections) with none of its political power. Much of Mary Beard’s account of Augustan Rome in the latest LRB could apply just as well to Putin’s Russia:
Tomorrow at dusk, to mark the 1600th anniversary of the departure of the Romans from Britain, flaming torches will be lit every 250 metres along the length of Hadrian's Wall, starting at the North Tyneside end, to create a 'line of light from coast to coast'. It will take about an hour for the light to reach Carlisle, where it will be greeted with a variety of neopagan festivities: Led by the stirring sounds of street band Tongues of Fire and impressive fiery engines (from Pandeamonium) and lit by thousands of flickering flames, a parade of costumed characters and musicians will follow the elusive and beautiful airborne Heliosphere through the streets. It should all be very pretty, as long as it doesn't rain. You may be wondering, though, how the date of the end of the Roman occupation of Britain can appear to be known so precisely.