In Heart of Darkness, what does Marlow say about the Roman imperial project?
Before talking about his own experiences, Marlow wonders how a Roman force sent to expand their own empire would have reacted. This is the first indication of the power which the jungle has on him; perhaps unconsciously, he foreshadows some of his experiences by placing them in the hypothetical Roman force:
"They were men enough to face the darkness.
The fascination of the abomination -- you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate."
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)
Marlow connects his own fascination with and disgust of Africa to that Roman troop, sent in a time when communication over long distances took weeks, and without knowledge that their efforts had any positive results at all. However, he also mentions that they must have been "men enough to face the darkness," having the stalwart willpower to continue even in the face of adversity. This is a direct call-forward to Kurtz; although his actions were more brutal, he continued gathering ivory and sending it upriver. The Roman troop provides a sort of historical context for the reader, the indication that many empires of the past have tried and failed to conquer Africa, and that this will be the inevitible fate of European Imperialism.
Before beginning his own story about his experience in the Congo, Marlow muses about the "old times" when the Romans first traveled to Britain. Marlow initially mentions that currently the men on the boat are living during enlightened times, but before the Romans conquered the Gauls, there was nothing but "darkness" throughout Britain. Marlow continues to comment on the feelings of the highly trained Roman soldiers traveling down the Thames for the first time into the enigmatic, dangerous wilderness, which was inhabited by savages. Marlow mentions that the Romans "were men enough to face the darkness" (Conrad, 7). Marlow continues by saying that the Romans, who had traveled into the wilderness, experienced incomprehensible savagery. However, these detestable acts had a captivating quality, which Marlow refers to as a "fascination of the abomination." Marlow concludes by mentioning that the Romans were conquerors, who robbed, murdered, and oppressed the savages on a massive scale in the name of civilization. The Roman Imperial project was conquest, which had only one redeeming idea behind it. This idea was the belief that their civilized culture and way of life could be spread among the savages, effectively bringing their enemies out of the "darkness" and into the "light."