High above the island of Capri, overlooking the Bay of Naples, stand the ruins of the Roman Emperor Tiberius’ summer villa. It's a two-hour hike up a winding narrow roadway to the top, and when you finally make it, the vistas are stunning. Even more impressive, however, is the villa itself, really a gargantuan palace that, even in its fragmented condition, creates a powerful impression of majesty, might, and fear. Vaulted paths lead you through a winding labyrinth of chambers, until you emerge on what would have been a shaded, colonnaded terrace onto which the main rooms of the palace opened – a terrace that was an entire mile in length, capturing and funneling the breezes off the Bay. Here the Emperor, his family, and his entourage would have relaxed in the shaded cool. Even higher up, and the crown of the whole site, is a huge circular platform where Tiberius received delegations from his throne. Preserved intact because a Christian church was built there, with the entire Bay of Naples and the Neapolitan coast as its backdrop, standing there you truly feel you are on the top of the world – on top, in fact, of Mount Olympus. Not coincidentally, the villa was called The Villa of Jupiter, and trembling officials and ambassadors brought into the Emperor's presence in the clouds must truly have felt they were in the presence of the King of the Gods. It was a calculated effect. And Tiberius was fully capable of a god's capricious wrath. It was said that when someone displeased him (and that didn't take much), he would order him thrown off there and then, plunging to his death in the rocky surf far below.
The Roman Empire was in many ways the greatest state the world has ever known. Most historians would agree that it was well into the modern era before Europe even approached its architectural sophistication and city planning. But the greatness of Rome was based on a thinly disguised tyranny. The Emperor was the apex of all power, the source of all strength, patronage, and honor.