Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, by Adrian Goldsworthy, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2016, $32.50
Goldsworthy has given us an excellent book to complement his previous 10 dealing with Roman history. This time his subject is the Pax Romana, that period of relative peace and stability enjoyed by some 70 million subjects of the Roman empire, beginning with the Principate of Augustus (27 BC) and ending with the death of Marcus Aurelius (AD 180). Never before had such a broad cross-section of the world’s population lived in peace over so many generations.
The book seeks to answer two questions: How and why did the Pax Romana take hold over so large an area (5 million square miles), and what was daily life like for those living under the Roman banner? Goldsworthy’s account of the origins of the peace is first-rate, noting that by the time of Augustus’ Principate, Roman influence was already imperial in scope, as Rome had unified Italy, conquered Gaul, much of Spain, all of North Africa, Greece, and parts of Germany, Pontus, Syria and Egypt. A desire to protect its holdings led Rome to expand farther, first to establish buffer territories and then to incorporate them into the empire itself.
The author’s treatment of the people living under Roman rule is interesting and informative. Rome permitted local rule and law enforcement and ensured the survival of the elite class and indigenous religious practice. Taxes were generally low, services and economic growth and opportunity high, all protected by the Roman army. Rebellions were few, and over time the provincials came to appreciate the imperial bargain and even regard themselves as Romans.
Goldsworthy’s text is clear and concise, the subject matter well organized. He provides a detailed chronology, a glossary of Latin words and terms, extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. The fine maps are presented in context within the relevant passages rather than shoved to the back of the book. Students of Roman history will find Pax Romana especially valuable.
—Richard A. Gabriel