In this two-part series, journalist, editor of The Spectator and MP Boris Johnson asks: how did the Romans run a united Europe? And why does the European Union seem to find the same task so difficult? In this first programme, Boris Johnson talks to leading historians and archaeologists, in Rome, France and Germany, to find out how the Romans actually ruled.
It wasn't all at the point of a sword. Roman government was surprisingly light. But how did the Emperor rule? Where did he get his dosh? What sort of bureaucracy was there? How did he keep the million strong populace of Rome happy and content? The answers to these questions are by turns shocking and depraved.
The Romans ran a vast empire, covering what was then half the known world. How did they control their conquered territories, containing between 50 and 100 million people, of many ethnic groups, so much so that the locals happily threw off their trousers and donned a toga? How did the Roman Empire make these people safer, and better off? How much were they taxed? What can we modern Europeans learn from what Boris Johnson calls the fish paste technique? And what about the barbarians, the Euro-sceptics of their day?
Boris Johnson's journey takes in Rome itself, the ancient harbour city of Ostia, Provence and the Rhineland.
I already have a few thoughts about how this may come out, but I shall reserve judgment at least until I see the first episode.
Additionally, those of you who like mad Roman epics may like to know that Sign of the Pagan (none madder) is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 1.50 in the afternoon.