The emperor Hadrian, born in Spain and with a previous military career spent in the Danube region and Syria, passed much of his reign inspecting the far-flung border zones of his vast empire, savouring the rich cultural life of Athens or touring the sites of Egypt. By Hadrian’s time, a high-powered career forged across a wide range of locations was by no means unusual. Quintus Lollius Urbicus, for instance, born in Algeria, was appointed governor of Britain the year after Hadrian’s death, having previously served in Germania and Asia (modern Turkey). A little later Julia Domna, daughter of the high priest of the god Elagabal, whose temple dominated what is now Homs in Syria, married the future emperor Septimius Severus (himself from Africa), travelled with him as far as Britain and oversaw building projects back in the empire’s heart. The rise and reach of imperial Rome, unparalleled before or since in the Mediterranean world, was fuelled by the incorporation and promotion of powerful families from across its provinces. David Potter and Barry Strauss, in their quite different accounts, both rightly highlight this crucial feature of Roman imperial rule.

Originally published on January 10th, 2020 in the Times Literary Supplement. Click to read full article.