BSR Online Lecture | Mary Beard on Nero: the face of power

FRIDAY 24 SEPTEMBER, 18.00 – 19.30 UK time


A discussion between Mary Beard (Cambridge) and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill (Cambridge), with an introduction from the new BSR Director, Abigail Brundin. Presented in collaboration with the British Museum as part of the major exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.

This event will be in English.

This free online event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please sign up here to reserve your place.

Mary Beard joins Andrew Wallace-Hadrill to explore how Nero has been imagined and reimagined by artists through time, with reference to themes from her latest book Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern.  For more than two millennia, portraits of the rich, powerful and famous in the western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors. The image of Nero, among others, has persisted in painting and sculpture, from antiquity to the Renaissance to today, to symbolise a ruthless tyrant or hapless ruler.

But what makes the image of Nero so powerful that it has continued to be relevant and recognisable in political contexts up to the present day? And why have certain individuals sought to align themselves with Nero despite his murderous and megalomaniac reputation?

Against a background of today’s ‘sculpture wars’ we also look back to the ways the Romans reacted to statues of leaders who had fallen from favour, and the problem of heroizing those in power. This debate will prompt us to ask: in the 21st century, what is public statuary really for? And how will today’s heroes be judged by future generations?

This event is part of the BSR UK events programme, which showcases the work of BSR alumni, celebrates new and continuing partnerships with British universities and cultural organisations and presents a forum for debate on broader questions facing the arts, humanities and social sciences throughout the UK today. 

Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Newnham College. She is also Professor of Ancient Literature at the Royal Academy, Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a Fellow of the British Academy and International Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Beard has written numerous books and articles on ancient history and archaeology, including  Laughter in Ancient Rome (2014), SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015) and Women and Power: A Manifesto (2017). Her forthcoming book Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern will be published in September 2021. Beard has presented many BBC documentaries on Roman history and art more generally, from Meet the Romans (2012) to Civilisations (2018) and Shock of the Nude (2020). She currently presents the BBC Two arts series Inside Culture. As well as a DBE (2018), Beard was awarded the Wolfson History Prize (2009), the Bodley Medal (2016), the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Science (2016) and the Getty Medal (2019). 

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill is the Principal Investigator of a European Research Council project on the Impact of the Ancient City in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge and former Director of the British School at Rome (1995–2009) and of the Herculaneum Conservation Project (2000–16). His publications include Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (1994), Rome’s Cultural Revolution (2008) and Herculaneum: Past and Future (2011). He has held visiting fellowships at Princeton University and the Getty Museum and is a frequent contributor to radio and television broadcasts, presenting series for the BBC including Building the ancient city: Athens and Rome, and The other Pompeii: life and death in Herculaneum. He was awarded an OBE in 2002 for services to Anglo-Italian cultural relations. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2010 and appointed Professor of Roman Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2010.