Rome was first ruled by kings, then became a republic. But in the end, after conquering the world, the republic collapsed. So terrible were the civil wars that the Roman people finally came to welcome the rule of an autocrat who could give them peace. Augustus, their new master, called himself “the divinely favoured one”. The lurid glamour of the dynasty founded by Augustus has never faded. No other family can compare for sheer unsettling fascination with its gallery of leading characters. Tiberius, the great general who ended up a bitter recluse, notorious for his perversions; Caligula, the master of cruelty and humiliation who rode his chariot across the sea; Agrippina, mother of Nero, manoeuvring to bring to power the son who would end up having her murdered; Nero himself, racing in the Olympics, marrying a eunuch, and building a pleasure palace over the fire-gutted centre of his capital.