Pax Romana: Definition, Facts & Achievements

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson will talk about the Pax Romana, a long period of peace that started at the beginning of the Roman Empire and lasted into the third century C.E.

Augustus, who initiated the Pax Romana

A Definition

A simple translation of Pax Romana is Roman peace. It sounds kind of arrogant, and so does its other name Pax Augustus, but you have to remember that Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean, most of the heavily populated parts of Europe, and almost all the known world as far as they were concerned. If the Romans were at peace, it meant that a large part of Eurasia was at peace with them.

The Beginning

The easiest date to put for the beginning of the Pax Romana is 31 B.C.E., the year Octavius (later Augustus) defeated his rival at the Battle of Actium and became the sole ruler of Rome. After that date there were a few minor skirmishes in Hispania and the Alps until 27 when the last opposition to him was defeated, but there were no empire-wide wars from 31 on and Octavius' control of the empire was never in question after Actium. In fact, it would be the same until the crisis of 235 C.E.; no major wars and only the occasional provincial revolts and rebellions for 266 years.

A Little Background

Saying that the Pax Romana was a long period of peace in Roman history doesn't really mean much unless you have something to compare it to. Rome was a warring state from about 458 until 31 B.C.E. During that period of over four centuries there was never peace for more than a dozen years at a time.

By wars I don't mean the equivalent of a Desert Storm or the U.S.'s peace action in the Middle East, nor even something like the Vietnam or Korean War. For four centuries, Rome had been fighting wars that threatened its existence. Occasionally, she had been fighting two enemies at the same time.

Techniques of Peace

Augustus understood that the biggest threat to his rule would come from inside the empire. After all, no kingdom in the world was nearly the same size, no army had soldiers so well disciplined or so nicely organized, nor did any other people have access to the same natural resources. To make sure there were no civil wars he gathered together the most powerful people in the empire, the generals. Instead of killing or threatening them he formed them into his council of advisors or a junta. As his advisors they participated in the government, and because of that they had no reason to start a civil war as had happened three times in the passed few decades.

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