His talk focussed on the career of the Emperor Octavius, who changed his name to Augustus, meaning the “Illustrious One”, to cement his standing. Augustus was the first Emperor of the Roman Empire who ruled from 27 BC to AD 14. He is regarded as one of the most effective but controversial leaders in history, the man who led Rome from a kind of democracy under the Republic to sole, autocratic rule. 

Distilling the secrets of Augustus’ success for us in an erudite and witty style, Ralph outlined “The 10 Steps to becoming a Roman Emperor”. Have the right name; stand out from the crowd; choose your friends carefully; choose your enemies wisely; have complete self-belief; be inspirational; stop at nothing, be ruthless; use the power of propaganda; learn from others especially from their mistakes (Augustus learned the lesson from Julius Caesar’s assassination, to show no mercy to his enemies); tell your story and create a legacy .   

Ralph skilfully illustrated each of these characteristics from the historical record of Augustus’ reign, with a few nods to Robert Graves’ masterpiece “I Claudius”. (In case you don’t remember, Octavius / Augustus was played in the 1977 TV series by Brian Blessed).

Ralph did not directly draw parallels with our current political scene, on both sides of the Atlantic, but his talk certainly provoked comparisons.

Augustus had limited propaganda tools available – the use of coinage to present his image and icons, and the construction of spectacular buildings in the centre of Rome - that he used to great effect to maintain his image. Imagine what he might have done with a Twittter account.

Statue Augustus