It's a hobby horse of mine so indulge me for a moment - this is going somewhere:
Maybe it's because I had a Roman Catholic background, maybe it's because I just have a thing for hairy 'barbarians' - but I tend to regard the Roman Empire as the root of many present day evils. Perhaps my on-going collection of iron-age tattoos is some kind of subliminal protest.
I've blogged before about how it was historians from later empires - and most notably the British one - who presented the Romans as the great civilising force of the Western world. This has increasingly been challenged by a generation of archaeologists and historians who paint a picture of indigenous peoples doing quite nicely thank you on their own before the Romans ever came along. In particular the 'Ancient Britons' have been shown to have a sophisticated and far-reaching culture based on exchange rather than conquest. The latest example of this is a road in Shropshire previously assumed to be an example of that Roman engineering that brought civilisation to the dark and savage corners of Europe - such as Britannia - but in fact has been discovered to pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain in 43CE.
But why should this matter to anybody other than people like myself with an eccentric interest in our distant past ?
Because again there is an ideological offensive around the civilising role of empires. We see this in the thinly disguised propaganda of Niall Fergusson's pompous new tv series. And most urgently we see it in the Blair-ite concept of liberal interventionism in the Middle East and the call for western nations to step in to 'help' democratise the region.
Whether in Shropshire two thousand years ago, or in Libya today, history is testament to mankind's infinite capacity to struggle to improve its environment - physical and social - and to do so best when left to it's own devices.