Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World

The Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, was an approximately 200-year period of relative stability within the Roman Empire, from the reign of its first emperor, Augustus, until a series of political and economic crises in the third century AD. The term conjures images of peaceful trade and minimal military trouble, a generally beneficial experience for Rome's subjects. But how accurate are these images?

Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy, author of multiple books on Rome, including monumental biographies of Julius Caesar and Augustus, reveals the truth behind Rome's golden age. Goldsworthy approaches the subject without an agenda--he neither wants to disprove the popular conception of a prosperous period nor refute some recent scholarship that dismisses this era as imperial banditry. Both views, he argues, are oversimplifications. Instead, Pax Romana seeks a truth that lies somewhere in between.

Goldsworthy begins in the era of the Republic, to see what life was like for Romans and the increasing number of provincials as the city's power expanded. He then moves on to Augustus and his immediate successors, the Pax proper. In both periods, he considers all strata of Roman society and those affected (or afflicted) by the Romans. This results in a nuanced portrait in which the Pax Romana was, compared to the rest of the ancient world--and Rome's own history--a preferable time to be alive. But there were clear winners and losers, both within the empire and without. Pax Romana is a fascinating work that manages to avoid becoming dry despite its detail. Readers interested in Roman history will find it remarkable. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

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