A 7 year old Belarusian boy has been appearing in British newspapers this week. Nikolai Lukashenko (Kolya for short) is the son of Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko, who has the dubious honour of ruling over what Condoleezza Rice described as ‘the last true remaining dictatorship’ in Europe. Lukashenko has been in power for 18 years, but last week he appeared to formally declare that Kolya should be considered his heir apparent (to succeed in 20 years or so!)
Kolya (who would only be starting Year 3 if he were at an English school) is the dictator’s third son; his two adult half-brothers Viktor and Dimitry have been passed over. Lukashenko has been keeping the boy close for the past few years rather like his own personal Mini-Me. ‘To be honest, if I am not at home, he doesn’t sleep or eat,’ the affectionate father explained. ‘He’s attached to me like a tail. I’m forced to take him on foreign visits because he won’t sleep if I do, he’ll wear himself out.’ Not only is the close bond between father and son constantly being emphasised, but little Kolya is also, if we can believe it, an almost miraculous child, with the power, apparently, to move the Pope to tears.
Now, I don’t pretend at all to be an expert on Belarussian politics, but the similarity between Lukashenko and Kolya, and a certain first emperor of Rome and his grandsons is striking. Like Alexander Lukashenko, Augustus needed to establish a clear line of succession for a regime that was still relatively new. He too initially passed over two adult (in his case, step-)sons, Tiberius and Drusus, in order to concentrate his efforts on his young grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, the children of his daughter Julia.
Like Kolya, Gaius, the eldest, was presented as a potential heir at the age of 7, when he took part in the Troy Game, a kind of synchronised equestrian display performed by the sons of the Roman nobles. After that, there was no stopping the rise of the two boys. Augustus, who had adopted them as his sons, took great pains to present them almost as miniature version of himself. Their official portraits were modelled on the official portraits of Augustus. The emperor, according to Suetonius, even had them imitate his own handwriting. One thinks of Kolya and his father in their matching grey suits.
It was, of course, all to end in tragedy. Both Gaius and Lucius died before their grandfather, and he was forced to acknowledge his stepson Tiberius as his heir. But that’s not the end of the Lukashenko-Julio-Claudian resonances…
In order to cement his position as heir among the Belarussian army, Kolya has his own miniature general’s uniform and gun for when he and his father inspect the troops. Another Gaius, this time little grandson of Tiberius, was similarly paraded in front of his father Germanicus’ army in miniature army boots. The soldiers affectionately named him ‘Little Boots’, and that’s the name posterity remembers him by – Caligula.
 You can read more about the presentation of Gaius and Lucius in Paul Zanker’s Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, my source.