Skip to main content.
27 B. C. - 180 A. D. The period known as the Pax Romana.

How Octavian became Augustus and founded the Pax. Deanne Winnat, University of Central Arkansas. Octavian was Julius Caesar's grand nephew, adoptive son and heir. He was as fascinating as he was controversial. Octavian deserves consideration as the most important figure in Roman history.

Being Caesar's heir meant little; being Marc Antony's friend meant everything. At the age of 19, along with Antony and Lepidus, Octavian formed the second Triumvirate ruling Rome, each taking a region to control. Rivalries arose and Octavian defeated all of his political rivals for power. He recovered the treasures that Antony had acquired from Caesar. Octavian took the name of Augustus in 17 BCE when the Senate asked him to rule Rome . He then ruled for the next 45 years.

According to Winnat:

"There were two key factors to Augustus' success as a ruler. They were his use of the army, which was under his complete control, and the Republican institutions, which he never did away with. When Augustus came to power, he had a completely loyal army supporting him and any actions he chose to take. Learning from the last one hundred years of history, he decided not to take the route that others before him, such as Sulla, and even that of Julius Caesar, had taken. Instead, he chose to create the illusion that peace had been restored to the Republic and that the Republic was once again intact. That fact alone is why the institutions of the Republic were never done away with, but made superficial to the actual running of the government.

"Under the rule of Augustus, many facets of the government ran very smoothly, thus indicating that Rome was at peace. War was a distant thing, confined only to the most rugged frontiers. Thanks to the huge amounts of wealth from Egypt that were kept by Augustus after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Augustus was able to throw elaborate feasts, festivals and celebrations for the people of Rome, to further the notion that peace had well and truly been achieved."

"...The vast Roman Empire included all lands around the Mediterranean Sea and most of Northwest Europe. Roman life was comfortable for many. Cities had water and sewage systems, theaters, and public baths. The wealthy had villas with central heating systems."

Rome led the world in the areas of government, law, engineering, and literature. For example, the Roman alphabet was adopted as the Western standard and followers of Jesus established Christianity which spread through the Roman world.

Pax Romana was not peace all the time everywhere as the following illustrates.

Augustus Caesar and the Pax Romana The History Guide provides a readable account of Pax Romana. It begins:

"In the wake of dispatching Marc Anthony at the decisive Battle of Actium, Octavian emerged as the sole master of the Roman world and would rule the Roman Empire for 45 years, until his death in 14 CE. Although his rise to power was always suspect, he succeeded in overhauling and reforming almost every Roman institution. He also put the Roman Empire on a much more rational basis. His reforms carried the Roman Empire for almost 200 years, and this, the most creative period of the Roman Empire, is often called the Age of Augustus."

In practice, a series of emperors used Octavian's enlightened means of governance. The Pax Romana was not totally peaceful, but Rome itself was largely safe and orderly even though the question of succession rose again and again. Relatively speaking, Pax Romana was the most peaceful two centuries of human history. Human frailty brought this period to an end; it is still with us.

"The Twelve Caesars" by Gore Vidal provides the flip side of Caesar.

"Most of the world today is governed by Caesar's Men and more and more treated as things. Torture is ubiquitous. And, as Sartre wrote in his preface to Henri Alleg's chilling book about Algeria, 'Anyone, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner.' Suetonius, in holding up a mirror to those Caesars of diverting legend, reflects not only them but ourselves: half-tempted creatures, whose great moral task it is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within - for we are both, and to ignore this duality is to invite disaster."

Ameer Ali, thug, killer of dozens, led a gang that killed over 700 people in India, lived a dichotomous life. He was at once angel to his family and monster and terrorist to unwary travelers in India. His life affirms Vidal's wisdom and insight.

The Siege of Jerusalem; 70 CE, Josephus.

"Jerusalem fell, after a siege, to a Roman army under Titus. Josephus was a Jew who had gone over to the Romans. [In relating the story of a starving Jewish woman, Mary, Josephus quoted]...'My poor baby, why should I keep you alive in this world of war and famine? Even if we live till the Romans come, they will make slaves of us; and anyway, hunger will get us before slavery does; and the rebels are crueler than both. Come, be food for me, and an avenging fury to the rebels, and a tale of cold horror to the world to complete the monstrous agony of the Jews.'"

A superpower in its day, Rome put the development of its citizens ahead of conquest. This was enabled by active defense of its borders. Rome's neighbors benefited from the Pax Romana as much as did Rome.

By analogy, the period between 1865 and 2001, was a Pax Americana in the sense that mainland Americans, like the Romans before them, enjoyed peace and security at home. In large measure, we still do.

Pax Romana happened in spite of human nature, not because of any particular traits of character or temperament of the Romans. Nevertheless, the mere fact that a relatively peaceful period lasted two centuries in spite of human nature gives us hope in our time.

Since Rome was able to achieve this exceptional history, we can hope that similar is our future. Not identical, for the neighbors of Rome were not peaceful. Still why can we not think of the UN behaving like Augustus, doing for the world what Augustus did for Rome? Human nature is all that stands in the way.

Are we going to resign ourselves to violence as a way of life?

Or are we going to do something about the Nature / Nuture complex that seems to drive us to violence?

Varshney provides some clues, and so does Hope.


Good Imformation but the Roman Empire

Posted by ANUSHA on Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 09:38:21

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.