The Pax Romana, or “Roman Peace,” was the period in Roman history from approximately 14 B.C., when Caesar Augustus consolidated power and became the first emperor, to 180 A.D, with the accession of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius. It’s the period traditionally viewed as almost two centuries of peace, highlighted by expansion of empire, the building of the great roads, Roman law extended to a considerable portion of the known world, and the expansion of Christianity.
But was it really two centuries of peace?
Academic historians in Europe and North America have been actively rewriting all kinds of history (and some would say substituting political beliefs for history). Ancient historian Adrian Goldsworthy is no revisionist historian; instead, he is a very thorough and informed historian who writes engagingly. In Pax Romana: War, Peace, and Conquest in the Roman World, Goldsworthy has produced a comprehensive history of the period and provided a fascinating look at how the Roman Empire grew and consolidated, how it was ruled, and what daily life was like.
To understand the Pax Romana, Goldsworthy starts at the right beginning – the era of the Roman Republic. The republic provides the context for what came after. So Goldsworthy looks at the rise of the republic, how it waged war, how it made alliances, how its merchants could be found alongside its soldiers (or arrive shortly after), and how the Senate administered the republic’s growing territories.
From there he looks at the Pax Romana, including the role of the emperors, how the Romans dealt with rebellion and banditry, how the imperial governors administered the provinces, the Roman army, and what life was like under Roman rule. What emerges is a picture very different from what we understand from movies and popular culture.
Of special note is Goldsworthy’s reliance on original records. He draws heavily from Julius Caesar, Cicero, Trajan, Pliny, still existing records, Tacitus, and other writers of the time. He lets them speak in their own words, communicating how they understood the events and themes of the times they lived in.
Goldsworthy is a graduate of St. John’s College, Oxford. He was a junior research fellow at Cardiff University, and taught at both King’s College, London, and the London extension program of the University of Notre Dame. He eventually gave up teaching to write full-time.
He’s the author of Caesar: Life of a Colossus (2006); How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (2009); Antony and Cleopatra (2010); The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146 BC (2012); Caesar’s Civil War 49-44 BC (2013); Augustus: First Emperor of Rome (2014); and In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (2016). He’s also written six novels about the British soldiers who fight in the Napoleonic Wars. He lives in South Wales.
Pax Romana is an excellent history, full of insight, nuances, and deep understanding of the Romans and how they ruled the ancient world.
Top photograph: Status of Augustus Caesar.