What Was the Pax Romana?

The Pax Romana was a time of Roman achievements in art and architecture.

An early modern representation of the Roman goddess of peace. Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons

Pax Romana is Latin for "Roman Peace." The Pax Romana lasted from about 27 BCE (the reign of Augustus Caesar) until CE 180 (the death of Marcus Aurelius). Some date the Pax Romana from CE 30 to the reign of Nerva (96-98 CE).

How the Phrase "Pax Romana" Was Created

Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is sometimes credited with the idea of the Pax Romana. He writes:

"Notwithstanding the propensity of mankind to exalt the past and to depreciate the present, the tranquil and prosperous state of the empire was warmly felt and honestly confessed by the provincials as well as Romans. 'They acknowledged that the true principles of the social life, laws, agriculture, and science, which had been first invented by the wisdom of Athens, were now firmly established by the power of Rome, under whose auspicious influence the fiercest barbarians were united by an equal government and common language. They affirm that, with the improvement of arts, the human species was visibly multiplied. They celebrate the increasing splendor of the cities, the beautiful face of the country, cultivated and adorned like an immense garden; and the long festival of peace, which was enjoyed by so many nations, forgetful of their ancient animosities, and delivered from the apprehension of future danger."

What Was the Pax Romana Like?

The Pax Romana was a period of relative peace and cultural achievement in the Roman Empire.It was during this time that monumental structures such as Hadrian's Wall, Nero's Domus Aurea, the Flavians' Colosseum and Temple of Peace were built. It as also later called the Silver Age of Latin literature.

Roman roads traversed the empire, and the Julio-Claudian Emperor Claudius established Ostia as a port city for Italy.

The Pax Romana came after an extended period of civil conflict in Rome. Augustus became emperor after his posthumously adoptive father, Julius Caesar, was assassinated. Caesar had begun a civil war when he crossed the Rubicon, leading his troops into Roman territory. Earlier in his life, Augustus had witnessed the fighting between his uncle-by-marriage Marius and another Roman autocrat, Sulla.The famous Gracchi brothers had been killed for political reasons.

How Peaceful Was the Pax Romana?

The Pax Romana was a time of great achievement and relative peace within Rome. Romans no longer fought one another, by and large. There were exceptions, such as the period at the end of the first imperial dynasty, when, after Nero committed suicide, four other emperors followed in rapid succession, each deposing the previous one violently.

The Pax Romana did not mean Rome was at peace vis-a-vis the peoples at its borders. Peace in Rome meant a strong professional army stationed mostly away from the heart of the Empire, and instead, at the roughly 6000 miles of frontiers of imperial frontier.

There weren't enough soldiers to spread evenly, so the legions were stationed at the locations thought most likely to cause trouble. Then, when the soldiers retired, they generally settled in the land where they had been stationed.

To maintain order in the city of Rome, Augustus established a sort of police force, the vigiles. The praetorian guard protected the emperor.

 

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Gill, N.S. "What Was the Pax Romana?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-was-the-pax-romana-120829. Gill, N.S. (2017, June 17). What Was the Pax Romana? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-pax-romana-120829 Gill, N.S. "What Was the Pax Romana?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-pax-romana-120829 (accessed September 25, 2017).