We shall never know the truth about the Roman emperors. History may be written by the winners, but often the great winner is time. The destructive, surreptitiously annihilating passage of time. The deeds of the past, the truth of history isn’t available not because contrary human agency prevents them, but because the natural pull of time is entropic.
It takes a lot of effort, resources and vigilence to preserve. Left on its own, everything eventually starts to crumble like an abandoned church.
The true lives of the Roman emperors, to pick one example among countless others, may be forever lost. Scholarship is improving our knowledge of them all the time, but much of what we’d like to know is sadly beyond our reach as key historical sources simply haven’t survived the passage of time.
What we know about Tiberius, Caligula or Nero comes from sources which we now know to be problematic, biased or downright untrue. But what we’re missing are not necessarily truthful testimonies, but a greater variety of voices and views. Just like in a jury trial, historical fact-finding is based on weighing up of the evidence. And when the evidence is lacking, or when it is hopelessly confined to a narrow band of a large spectrum, facts are extremely hard to find. And two thousand years later, we become the soundboard of inherited views we take for granted.