THE ROMAN PAST AND
THE ROMAN FUTURE
I shall not perish utterly, for a great part of me will escape Death. I will
grow, swollen with the praise of future generations, for as long as the priest
leads the silent virgin up to the Capitol.
(Horace, Odes 3.30.6–9)
The words are those of the poet Horace, composed in the reign of Augustus. As you read them, you surpass his wildest expectations. No pontiffs or vestal virgins are attested after the end of the fourth century AD. The Capitol has been ruined and rebuilt several times since Horace wrote. And yet we do still read Horace’s Odes. Like the rest of Roman civilization, he has not perished utterly.
My final chapter is about survival and about how we know so much about the Roman Empire. Accident and chance both play a part in this story, and more recently our own research on which most of this book is based. But there is design as well, and not just Horace’s. For the Romans have sent us many messages in bottles, consigned by generation after generation to remote posterity. We cannot take all the credit for the discovery of ancient Rome: the ancient Romans wanted to be found.