Pax Romana

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Pax Romana (Latin for "Roman peace") was the long period of relative peace and minimal expansion by military force experienced by the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Since it was established by Caesar Augustus it is sometimes called Pax Augusta. Its span was approximately 207 years (27 BC to 180 AD).[1]


Origins of the term

The concept of Pax Romana was first described by Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in Chapter II. Gibbon proposed a period of moderation under Augustus and his successors and argued that generals bent on expansion (e.g. Germanicus, Agricola and Corbulo) were checked and recalled by the Emperors during their victories favouring consolidation ahead of further expansion. Gibbon lists the Roman conquest of Britain under Claudius and the conquests of Trajan as exceptions to this policy of moderation and places the end of the period at the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD, despite the conclusion of peace by the latter's son Commodus later in the same year. During the Pax Romana, the area of Roman rule expanded to about five million square kilometres (two million square miles).

Pax Romana, according to Gibbon, would have ended with Commodus himself, whose dispendious excesses and despotic misrule destabilised central Roman politics amidst the chaos of the Germanic invasions of the Rhine-Danube frontier. Commodus's assassination led to a succession crisis, the so-called Year of the Five Emperors, which culminated in the ascension of a soldier-emperor, Septimius Severus, who, despite giving the Empire a peaceful reign, was accused by Gibbon of catalysing the Crisis of the Third Century, a period of economic, political and military crisis that, together with the Germanic invasions and the rise of the Sassanid Persian Empire in the East, almost led the Empire to collapse.

Beginnings of relative peace

Lacking a good precedent of successful one-man rule, Augustus created a junta of the greatest military magnates and stood as the front man. By binding together these leading magnates in a coalition, he eliminated the prospect of civil war. The Pax Romana was not immediate, despite the end of the civil wars, because fighting continued in Spain and in the Alps. Nevertheless, Augustus twice closed the Gates of Janus (the Roman ceremony to mark world Peace), first in 29 BC and again in 25 BC. At the time of the Ludi Saeculares in 17 BC the concept of Peace was publicized, and in 13 BC was proclaimed when Augustus and Agrippa jointly returned from pacifying the provinces. The Ara Pacis ceremony was no doubt part of this announcement.

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