Pax Romana: What was it and how long did it last?
Given Rome’s chaotic history of conflicts, it seems nearly impossible to believe that the republic, and later empire, spent 200 years of stability and relative peace. But that was exactly what Pax Romana was about! The Roman Empire reached its peak from 27 BC to 180 AD, expanding its territories to cover places in England and Mesopotamia. Rome also increased in wealth and population. During Pax Romana, the empire’s population reached 70 million people!
It’s important to note that while the empire enjoyed considerable peace, it didn’t mean that Rome was free from key figures who were hellbent on using brute force, their wealth, and power to claim the throne. And the Empire was constantly under threat from rival kingdoms, including Parthia to the east.
The important thing to not is that Pax Romana wasn’t entirely focused on the physical state of the empire. Instead, the period was geared towards a cultural reset, which in turn ushered in a discussion of ideologies, as well as an appreciation for the arts, technology, and literature.
This article will delve further into the Roman Empire’s most prosperous period, paying close attention to the events that led to it as well as some of the key figures of the period.
Meaning of Pax Romana
Pax Romana means “Roman Peace”. The period began during the reign of the Roman Empire’s first emperor, Augustus Caesar, in 27 BC and ended in 180 AD, when Marcus Aurelius, who was known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, passed away.
Events that led to Pax Romana
When Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated by members of the Senate in 44 BC, the Roman Republic was plunged into a state of chaos. Many of Caesar’s supporters wanted to avenge their leader’s death by killing his assassinators and plotters. Rome also had to contend with the fierce scramble for power among Caesar’s successors and generals. Eventually, Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, succeeded the deceased dictator.
Together with Marcus Amelius Lepidus and Mark Antony, Octavian formed the Second Triumvirate to fight against Caesar’s killers, mainly Cassius Longinus and Brutus. While they managed to kill the two men, the triumvirate began to crumble due to internal fights.
By the year 30 BC, Octavian had defeated both Lepidus and Antony, ensuring that his seat of power was no longer threatened. His victory also helped Rome transition from a republic to an empire.
Octavian, now known as Augustus Caesar, was extremely powerful, and while he was aware of the immense power he held, he ensured he was careful around the Senate to avoid the same fate as his grand-uncle. Augustus reigned for 41 years, and his time as emperor brought a lot of peace, security and prosperity to the empire, the Pax Romana.
Augustan Peace makes Rome great again
Having become an absolute ruler of the empire, Augustus set about to establish what historians like to term as the Augustan Peace. Known as princeps (the first man of Rome), Augustus was determined to bring peace at all cost, even it meant conquering and slaughtering people.
The emperor would lay the foundation of an empire that would grow to become one of the largest in the ancient world, almost close to the size of the one created by Alexander the Great.
With the senate effectively muzzled, the emperor had unlimited powers and could veto many decisions taken by them. Augustus was also given authority over the provincial governors. This allowed him to centralize the affairs of the empire in Rome, allowing him to clamp down on the excesses and corrupt practices of those governors. Basically, Augustus and his successors became the law during the 200 years that empire experienced relative peace and growth.
Political, Economic, and Social Achievements during Pax Romana
There were many developments that occurred during the 200 years of the Pax Romana. These developments and leadership made the Roman Empire become the most powerful in the world at that time. Augustus had laid the groundwork for future emperors to continue his works and was rumored to have said, “I found a Rome of bricks; I leave you one of marble” on his deathbed. Following Augustus, many rulers continued to develop the empire. Here are some achievements that were chalked ruing Pax Romana:
With the empire rapidly expanding, the Romans constructed a well-planned network of roads (about 55,000 miles) to make traveling easier for troops and civilians. The stone-block roads that they Romans built were so durable that some of them lasted long after the empire fell.
They also built aqueducts in response to the empire’s irrigation issues. Those aqueducts carried water to the cities and rural areas. In terms of infrastructural development, Emperor Trajan was one of the greatest builders, as made available funds for the construction of ports and bridges. Those infrastructures in turn boosted trading activities across the empire.
The period of the Pax Romana also saw developments in architectural structures and edifices. Augustus himself built several public spaces, including the Temples of Apollo and Jupiter, as well as the Senate House, and the Theatre of Marcellus. During the Flavian Dynasty, which saw the reigns of Emperor Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, the Colosseum was built. Regarded as the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built, the Colosseum of Rome served as a main source of entertainment for civilians for many centuries. Other structures built during this period also include the Pantheon, which was built by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD. Many of these buildings were built with concrete and remnants of these structures still exist in modern times.
Rome’s Political and Military Strength
During the Pax Romana, the Roman Empire expanded its territories, as well as its population. Emperor Claudius, for example, managed to conquer Britain, while Vespasian and Titus expanded into the Middle East. The Roman army was so powerful that it a good number of its enemies to their knees.
The Golden Age of Arts & Technology
Arts and science flourished during Augustus’s reign and it was passed on to future emperors. The Pax Romana saw the birth of popular classical poets like Horace and Livy. During this period too, Roman culture spread through its territories, and many of the people living in the conquered lands adopted Roman culture.
Reduced number of revolts and civil unrest
First thing that Augustus did when he became the empire’s absolute ruler was to pay his legions well. The emperor wanted to create an army of soldiers that were motivated and would gladly ride with him to hell and back, so to speak. As a result of such policies, Rome experienced relatively fewer revolts compared to the chaotic era of the first century BC, when slave revolts, in-fighting among generals, and scramble for power were a common occurrence.
With peace attained, the empire began to reap the benefits, including in the economy, military expansion, culture, and arts. It also meant that the various provinces of the empire could be integrated effectively as there was just one dictator determining the course of the entire empire.
Imperial Dynasties of the era
The Pax Romana period witnessed four major dynasties interlaced with a period called the Year of the Four Emperors. The dynasties are as follows:
- Julio-Claudians (27 BC – 68 AD): Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, and Nero
- Year of the Four Emperors (68/69 AD): Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian
- Flavians (69-96): Vespasian, Titus, Domitian
- Nerva dynasty (96-138): Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian
- Antonine dynasty (138-192): Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus
Who were the other Influential Figures During Pax Romana
These were some of the influential figures (emperors and military generals) who helped strengthen the Roman Empire:
Trajan is credited for building two structures during his reign – the Forum of Trajan and Trajan’s Column. The forum was designed and constructed by Apollodorus of Damascus and it served as the main center for all of Rome’s legal affairs. It was also used to display artifacts that had been seized from wars. Trajan’s Column was built in 113 AD to celebrate the emperor’s victory over Dacia.
Hadrian was perhaps one of the best rulers during the Pax Romana and he was responsible for the construction of several monuments across the empire, including Hadrian’s Wall in England, Hadrian’s Arch in Greece, and Hadrian’s Temple in Ephesus. He was also an efficient military general and secured Rome’s victory in the Second Jewish War.
Emperor Antonino Pius
Antonino ruled from 138-161 AD. Unlike many other emperors, he was 51 when he was elected by the senate and ended his reign at the age of 74. Antonino’s rule was relatively quiet and he oversaw the construction of the Column of Antonius Pius, as well as the Temple of Diva Faustina built in 140 AD.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Emperor Aurelius ruled from 121-180 BC and he was an exceptional military officer as well. He was known for expanding Rome by conquering the kingdoms of Parthia and Germania. The only mistake he made was not choosing the right successor.
All that glitter was not entirely gold
In conquered territories by the Romans, the general opinion the inhabitants had about Rome was that the empire was simply a tyrannical power that paraded chaos as peace.
In Britain for example, the lives of many of its people were upended by the Romans. Roman generals were quick to crush all forms of dissent. This was evident in the uprising led by the Celtic warrior-Queen Boudicca around 61 AD, when the Roman army defeated the British tribes and restored what they called “order” and the “Roman Peace”.
A similar event occurred in the Middle East during the reign of Vespasian. Led by the emperor’s son, Titus (later Emperor Titus), Roman forces sacked the city of Jerusalem to its core, and the spoils of war were sent back to Rome as the so-called benefits of peace. It’s stated that some of the loot from from Jerusalem helped finance the construction of the Colosseum during the reigns of the Flavian emperors.
Since the Augustan era, Roman emperors had developed a skill for effective propaganda. They were able to convince their people that their military campaigns abroad were simply to the benefit of those conquered people. Rome believed that it was its sacred duty to spread its culture and “enlightened ways” to the areas it conquered, describing the Romanization process a foundation for peace, prosperity, and harmony.
Within the empire itself, the Pax Romana era experienced a bit of issues, including natural disasters, plots, and mild civil wars. For example, during the reign of Titus, the city of Pompeii and other surrounding cities were destroyed after the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Emperor Caligula’s sadistic habits ended not sitting too well with the very powerful Praetorian Guard. So, the army decided to end his reign – Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD. Similarly, Nero had his fair share wild tendencies, likewise Domitian. The reigns of those emperors were not as smooth sailing as other emperors of the golden age.
Curtain comes down on Rome’s Golden Age
The Pax Romana ended in 180 AD after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. After Aurelius died, his son Commodus took over, but he was an ineffective leader. When the new ruler was assassinated, it brought about a civil war, which marked the beginning of the empire’s eventual decline. However, it would take many years until its ultimate fall.