Prince Harry: the Roman solution
I’ve found the adulation of Prince Harry -- who appears to have spent a couple of months driving a lap-top and something called a “Spartan vehicle” in Afghanistan -- a bit hard to take. OK, it’s easy for me to sneer, as I haven’t been in the Taliban firing line, but you know what I mean. Wouldn’t it actually have been more honourable if he had faced danger on some humanitarian project rather than pushing forward whatever military folly we’re committing in Afghanistan.
Almost equally insufferable were the interviews with the said youth, including his memorable comment about how he didn’t like England much. To this, I had two reactions. One is that it is Harry’s job to like England. The rest of us are allowed to feel as ambivalent as we like. But, as third in line to the throne, he doesn’t have that luxury (though he has plenty of other ones). So he’d better just get on with it.
Second is that, if it’s the paparazzi who are bothering him, then may be fewer late night romps at Boujis could do the trick.
But further thought suggested that there was a Roman angle to this trip of the young prince to the military front line. In fact, Roman emperors knew a thing or two about the problems of sending the son and heir off to war.
The emperor Augustus had particularly bad luck. Two of his grandchildren and chosen heirs were sent to the front and never came back. Young Lucius was off to fight in Spain, but died at Marseilles on the way out. That was in 2 AD. In 4, his brother Gaius died in the east, after a war wound.
At least we’ve got Harry back.
Tiberius had bad luck of the opposite kind. He sent his adopted son Germanicus to the German frontier. The glamorous prince didn’t manage to round up Arminius, the chief terrorist of the region -- who was presumably holed up, Osama like, in a cave somewhere. But he did score a number of successes which went down rather too well in Rome for the peace of mind of his jealous father.
Tiberius’ answer was to declare the war resoundingly finished (even though it wasn’t) and bring him back home for a triumph in 17 AD. It must have been uncomfortable for the emperor, putting on a grateful face at the ceremony. But at least it had put a stop to his victories.
Not that it was more than a temporary solution. Germanicus went off to the eastern frontier in 18 AD. The next year he died in suspicious circumstances in Antioch (Poussin's version above). The Roman governor of Syria was tried for his murder. Gossip on the street was that he had been poisoned at Tiberius’ orders.
Whatever the awkwardness of Harry’s current position, this story reminds us that his seniors must be grateful that he didn’t pull off any really major heroics. Imagine that, armed only with his lap-top and Spartan vehicle, he had single handedly rescued 20 wounded men under Taliban fire. The tabloids would have loved it. But the political problems of what to do with him next would have been a lot worse.
And who would have played Tiberius?