After decades of political dysfunction, civil wars and assassinations that brought about the downfall of the Roman Republic, ancient Rome flourished for two centuries of relative tranquility and prosperity known as Pax Romana (Latin for “peace Roman “). Introduced by Augustus’ ascension as the first Roman Emperor in 27 BC, this era of political stability and security lasted until the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD.
Although relatively peaceful, the Roman Empire was hardly free from bloodshed during Pax Romana. Tyrannical emperors killed their political rivals as Rome brutally quelled revolts in provinces such as Judea and Britain. And he continued his imperial conquests, which led the Caledonian leader Calgacus to joke that the Romans “create desolation and call it peace.”
For many Romans, however, Pax Romana was a golden age of arts, literature, and technology. It was a time when the empire doubled in size to stretch from Britain to North Africa – and came to include a quarter of the world’s population, by some estimates.
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Augustus revitalized the political and military power of Rome
After purging his enemies following the assassination of his great-uncle Julius Caesar, Augustus revived the political, military and economic power of ancient Rome during his autocratic rule of nearly 50 years. By ensuring that the Roman legions received pensions from the public treasury rather than from their generals, the emperor ensured that soldiers were no longer pressured to be loyal to their commanders on Rome itself. Augustus then deployed this army to expand the empire to more easily defensible borders.
“Pax Romana didn’t just happen naturally. Augustus made deliberate decisions about where Rome should expand and where it should stop, ”says Edward J. Watts, professor of history at the University of California at San Diego and author of The Eternal Decline and Fall of Rome: The Story of a Dangerous Idea. “What Augustus could do was for the first time adjust Roman military policies around strategic goals that would take a long time to bear fruit.”
Augustus integrated the newly conquered territories into the empire by decentralizing power from the capital to local provinces. Provinces that accepted Roman taxation and military control were allowed to perpetuate local customs and religions that did not directly violate Roman law, and “client kings” were allowed to rule on local and religious matters. Augustus also gained provincial support through political reforms, such as the institution of a permanent civil service that transferred power from the nobles to the bureaucrats and the creation of a mechanism to investigate and punish corrupt provincial governors. who have exploited their positions for personal gain.
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As the Roman Empire grew, its economy flourished
Political stability encouraged money lending and allowed long-distance commerce to flourish. Maritime commerce flourished as the Roman navy under Augustus largely cleansed the Mediterranean from pirates. The Romans bought luxurious silks and precious stones from the Far East and found markets for their glass and rugs as far as India and China.
The investment of imperial resources in large infrastructure projects that would have been unaffordable with local resources integrated the provinces and brought other economic benefits. Under Augustus alone, Rome built 80,000 miles of new roads which facilitated the movement of troops, information and goods. The water flowing through Roman aqueducts allowed cities to flourish. The bridges and ports built by Trajan as part of a large public works program also boosted trade.
“There was a clear belief among the emperors that it was their role to facilitate the economic growth of the empire, especially in provinces where natural disasters or population growth may have required additional resources,” Watts said. .
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Arts and technology flourished during Pax Romana
Roman literature flourished during the reign of Augustus, who sponsored artists who glorified the empire in their works. Virgil’s epic poem “The Aeneid”, for example, not only tells the legend of the mythical founder of Rome, but draws parallels with Augustus and paints an optimistic future for the empire. It was during this time that poets like Horace wrote classical verses and Livy wrote his monumental history of Rome.
Throughout the Pax Romana, the Romans assimilated the provinces through a cultural imperialism which tried to recast the conquered peoples in their image. The spread of Roman hairstyles, clothing, literature, and drama outside the capital created a common culture among educated elites, who were encouraged to adopt Roman citizenship and even serve in the Roman Senate. This was especially true in the western regions of the empire which lacked the more sophisticated urban cultures found in the eastern provinces.
“There was a sustained effort to encourage people to adopt Roman names and behaviors and to structure the settlements in a new way that included Roman building processes,” Watts said. “The Roman emperors built infrastructures which supported a distinctively Roman way of life.” These included chariot racing stadiums, forums, amphitheatres and public baths, which were an integral part of Roman civic life. The development of concrete from a mixture of volcanic sand, high-grade lime and small stones or broken bricks enabled the construction of rounded arches and domes, which became symbols of Roman imperial power.
As Rome remodeled cities such as London and Beirut in its own image, massive beautification and construction programs implemented by the emperors transformed the imperial capital from a dilapidated city on the Tiber into a glittering eternal city. Roman monuments such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon were built during this period. Augustus enlarged the Roman Forum and supervised the construction of more than a dozen new temples, a new Senate and public halls, which made him proclaim on his deathbed: “I have found a Rome of bricks; I’ll leave you one of marble.
Pax Romana came to an end following the death of Marcus Aurelius, who broke with recent tradition by anointing his son Commodus as his successor. In the grip of decay and incompetence, Commodus’ reign ended in AD 192 with his assassination, which sparked a civil war that ended a golden age in Roman history.