Magazine article The Spectator

ANCIENT AND MODERN - the Emperor of Egypt

Magazine article The Spectator

ANCIENT AND MODERN - the Emperor of Egypt

Article excerpt

Romans would have regarded Hosni Mubarak as effectively the emperor of Egypt. But they would not have thought he had played a very intelligent hand.

The Roman emperor held supreme authority. As head of state ( princeps ), he ruled the Treasury, controlled all the top political appointments, passed all laws, was final arbiter in all legal cases and selected provincial governors. As pontifex maximus , he led all the major state rituals in honour of the gods. As commander-in-chief ( imperator ), he ruled over the armed forces, chose all generals and determined military policy, often leading the army himself. To help him he had a circle of hand-picked, trusted advisers and a remarkably small civil service.

But life was far too busy to spend his days indulging in orgies. Petitions, for example, poured in from all over the empire - requests for citizenship, repayment of tax, legitimisation of children, a portion of an inheritance, and so on. It looks as if they were personally dealt with, too. And that was just the private business.

Further, there were the people of Rome to keep happy. …

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