Imperial Rome and Britain's Language of Empire 1600–1837

History of European Ideas 26 (3):211-224 (2000)
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Abstract

Britain's pre-Victorian overseas expansion stimulated Roman comparisons. But imperial Rome was a warning as much as an inspiration to future empires, a harsh and uncomfortable model for Britain as a former Roman colony. Roman dignity was claimed for British monarchs and achievements by Dryden and others. But there were mixed feelings about identifying expanding Britain as a second Roman Empire. In the eighteenth century the British freedom-fighter Caractacus, defeated by the Romans, appealed far more to popular taste than Virgil's Aeneas or the Emperor Augustus. Sustained unease about imperial Rome, going right back to Tacitus, anticipated the liberal critique of imperialism of some Victorian and Edwardian commentators.

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