Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Let the Right Ones In

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Let the Right Ones In

Article excerpt

As the UK prepares for Brexit into the big wide world outside, it has been pointed out that the Foreign Office is sadly lacking in people with hard experience of that world, and even more lacking in people from that world. But if the Romans can do it, surely we can too.

Whatever else the Romans were, they were not hung up about race. That did not mean they admired all foreigners. The satirist Juvenal was cynical about the Greeks, who would happily turn into anything you wanted them to at the drop of a hat; and doctors observed that different environments produced not only different physical make-ups but also different mentalities -- often unattractive ones.

But Romans seemed to think that none of that mattered as long as Johnny Foreigner learned the Roman way. That would turn him into a good, honest Roman, as people from all over the empire discovered, from Britain to Syria, from Africa to Armenia, from Greece and Asia to the Danube.

To take one example: the Roman army was full of provincials, who found it a very good way to become a Roman citizen and make (with luck) a decent living. …

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