Pax Romana

From A History of the English Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill:

In our own fevered, changing, and precarious age, where all is in flux and nothing is accepted, we must survey with respect a period when, with only three hundred thousand soldiers, widespread peace in the entire known world was maintained from generation to generation, and when the first pristine impulse of Christianity lifted men’s souls to the contemplation of new and larger harmonies beyond the ordered world around them.

11 thoughts on “Pax Romana

  1. The only problem is that this order was maintained through slavery. And when it declined, the whole empire ceased to exist.

  2. Yes, there was extensive slavery during the Pax Romana. But before and after the Pax Romana there was slavery and war.

  3. You also have to do a fair amount of cherry-picking to find a time when “peace in the entire known world was maintained from generation to generation.” It’s a lot easier to find a time when the Roman Empire was fighting a frontier war or a civil war or both. (You might, like Gibbon, point to the Five Good Emperors, but there were wars during their reigns.)

  4. Cogitoergocogitosum

    Imil Nurutdinov… I hardly see a difference in todays world. We are still slaves. To what is the question. The end of the Pax Romana was not the end of the slavery youre talking about, nor was the start of the Pax the beginning. The modern empire will eventually cease to exist, too, and hopefully be replaced with a more novel thought.

  5. Anyone who thinks the average citizen of an industrialized country is a ‘slave’ is a moron of the first water.

  6. It is remarkable how poorly this quote has aged: who today would describe the Mediterranean basin as “the entire known world”? Who would seriously claim that the spiritual history of humanity started with Christianity?

    Perhaps what’s more remarkable is that Churchill still got away with it but half a century ago.

  7. I believe Churchill was aware that people lived outside the Roman empire. In context “known” means known to Romans, not known to Churchill. From the perspective of most people who lived in the empire at that time, their empire was the known world. If they were dimly aware of peoples outside the empire, such people were part of the unknown world.

    Churchill did not say the spiritual history of humanity started with Christianity. He said that Christianity was new at the time of the Pax Romana, which it certainly was. No one would claim that mankind had never thought about spiritual matters before, but Christianity did give them something new to think about.

    In any case, it is remarkable that for about two centuries, an army of less than half a million kept a vast area in relative peace.

  8. Seems to me that the comparison should be the size of the military in comparison to the poulation. Apparently the Empire from the 2nd to the 4th century ranged from roughly 40 million to 60 million (see here for one estimate The US has a military of around 1.4 million with a population of 300 million. So the US has close to .5 % and the Romans had on the order of .5-1% in the military depending on what numbers you use. This is order of magnitude-wise comparable. Who knows two thousand years from now they might be writing about the Pax Americana with just about as much justification.

  9. Churchill’s book series is history of the “English-speaking peoples”, and is really UK-centric, and western-centric, as influenced by the British Isles. It is notable that he begins the history with Julius Ceasar’s campaign into Britain. He understands that there was British and world history before that and during the time he covers, but his series was limited to the influence of Britain.
    I agree with John’s comments above. While there were wars, and campaigns during the Pax Romana, there was a time of peace for all those who lived in the Mediteranean area. And the peace was kept by a relatively small number of soldiers. And that peace allowed the spread of Christianity even to the remote areas like the British Isles.
    As for slavery, it is not something that Churchill condoned. In one of his other volumes, he was particularly proud the the UK put an end to slavery many years before the US.

  10. In making a modern comparison for the number of soldiers, it might be necessary to include a substantial fraction of the (modern) police forces. In addition, as the Roman roads were a substantial force multiplier, modern transportation and communication would seem to be even greater force multipliers. Weapon and surveillance technology would also be force multipliers. (On the other hand, technology can also be a threat multiplier.)

    The Roman roads may also have helped maintain peace by promoting economic activity and perhaps also by exposing people to foreign ideas and customs such that they might seem less alien. Modern transportation and communication might actually increase hostility toward the alien by increasing actual and perceived proximity (distant odd customs may seem quaint where nearby they may seem threatening) and reducing the time of change (change on the time scale of a generation can be more easily accommodated than change on the order of a decade or a few years).

    The Romans may also have encouraged dual identity: I am a Roman and an Athenian. Encouraging identification (including some degree of enculturation) without offending local beliefs is difficult, especially with exclusive beliefs like monotheism; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not tolerate burning incense to Caesar, but Jupiter would.

  11. The so-called “Pax Romana” is generally considered to have to taken place between 27 BC and 180 AD. The Romans must have had damn good public relations, because they certainly weren’t at peace during this time. During the “Pax Romana”, the Roman military increased by about 60 percent.

    I count at least 23 Roman wars, 15 rebellions or revolts, and 1 military coup in this period, or one every 5 years. Hardly a period of peace by any account. It is astonishing the blind-spot British historians have for the Romans — Churchill surely must have known that the invasions and conquests of Britain, Scotland and Wales, the revolt of Queen Boudica, and the brutal pacification of Britain, occurred during this time, to say nothing of the conquest of the Middle East, First Jewish/Roman War, the Zealot rebellion and destruction of the Temple.

    Oh, and the reason Roman was able to enforce this “peace” and fight so many wars with such a small army despite the low population at the time? Due to the use of “auxilia”, regiments recruited from Roman subjects who were not citizens, and foederati, or troops provided by client states and allies such as the Syrians, Vandals, and Visgoths. It is likely that the use of foederati in particular doubled the effective manpower of the Roman Empire.

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