When in Rome, they say, do as the Romans do. For free thinkers like us, this can often pose quite the quandary. For all its majesty, Rome has rarely been the seat of liberty. Hardly surprising, for a metropolis named for a fratricidal loon, that forged an empire and gave birth to the Caesars. Old habits die hard, especially when they are as old as Rome’s: last year, the city council banned fireworks and unlicensed centurion impersonators; a long way from burning heretics or throwing people to the lions, but not great.

Now, however, the Eternal City faces its biggest enemy in centuries. Last week, according to a report in the Times, the authorities in Rome announced that fake goods were ‘a threat to the West’. Last year, they confiscated 20,000 fake goods, from handbags to sunglasses, as well as arresting 1,200 minors, who had sailed to Italy as unattended migrants, working the streets as vendors.

This news only covers fake clothing items, but it raises serious concerns as to both how these goods reach Europe, and who is profiting from it; the Times mentions both Chinese entrepreneurs, and the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia; and that the goods are manufactured in huge quantities in Chinese warehouses. But if this trade is proving so profitable for the criminal classes, imagine what a far wider illegal trade might be worth.

If fake handbags pose a threat to the West, consider how dangerous the trade in illegal tobacco is. Already referred to by the US government as ‘a threat to national security’, European experts reckon it is fast becoming as lucrative a trade as smuggling cocaine, especially given the relatively lenient sanctions for being caught. And whilst the Camorra may profit from selling fake Moschinos, those benefiting from fake Marlboros are worse: everyone from the Islamic State Group to North Korea has been linked.

And yet, it is a trade that has been allowed to flourish, entirely because it has sprung up as a by-product of draconian tobacco legislation: as prices on fags rise, people are forced to look elsewhere to sustain their habit, giving criminals a market.

Fake goods are a threat to the West, claims the City of Rome. This is true, but it is as much cigarettes as it is knock-off labels. The barbarians are already peddling them at the gates; History tells us that, without action, the empire will fall

by Edward Baer