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Review: Pax Romana

Adrian Goldsworthy

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Pax Romana

The book “Pax Romana” by Adrian Goldsworthy is an attempt at a factual analysis of the so-called “Roman peace” – a period in the history of the Roman Empire from 27 BCE (establishment of the principate) until 235 CE (death of the last Alexander Severus). This time is considered a period of stability and relative peace in the Roman state.

The author in this book – like Mary Beard in “SPQR. The History of Ancient Rome” – does not describe the history of the Roman Empire, giving dry facts, but rather leads a monologue/considerations devoted to the events and processes that occurred in the Empire during the “pax romana” and led to him. As the author himself points out, the Romans at the beginning of their existence did not foresee and did not strive to rule over almost the entire then known world. In fact, the gradual expansion resulted not only from the aggression and tenacity of the Romans; but above all from the state’s efficiency, effectiveness and ability to exert an appropriate influence on neighbouring countries and cities. Once they managed to control a huge territory, they showed great organizational and stabilization skills, thanks to which they were able to manage lands, but also to encourage the conquered communities to cooperate. Many saw Roman citizenship as an opportunity to ensure a future for themselves and their family and, above all, it gave prestige – belonging to the powerful Roman state.

Of course, “Pax Romana” is not just a glorification of the Romans. The author describes the uprisings and revolts that broke out in the Empire in a very analytical way. Significantly, however, these outbursts of disobedience were suppressed very quickly. Here the author spares no descriptions of the ruthlessness and determination of the Romans to stabilize the situation. It was largely the efficiency, efficiency and stubbornness of the Roman war machine that allowed it to maintain relative peace in the Empire for hundreds of years; a peace that no other power has been able to achieve for so long.

Interestingly, our understanding of the Romans as occupiers who control every sphere of life of subordinate inhabitants is wrong. Roman power was very willing to hand over the management and control of lands to local authorities and peoples; going back more to the role of controller and supervisory entity. It was realized that it was physically impossible to take care of everything, including, for example, it was impossible to remove the robbers, especially in the areas of present-day Turkey.

Of course, the book, apart from being nicely published, has an extensive glossary of terms, chronology and a wide bibliography at the end. The only thing I personally miss here is to embellish the position with photos and graphics, as was the case with “SPQR. History of ancient Rome”.

To sum up, the position is an extremely valuable historical analysis that allows every enthusiast to look at the world and Roman civilization in a new way. I certainly put it on the same substantive and technical level as the work of Mary Beard and I believe that every self-respecting lover of Rome should reach for it.

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