In a recent discussion of politics, a friend asked me if I knew what signs of trouble appeared during the Pax Romana that weakened Rome. I had an idea about the decline and fall of Rome, but he further shaped my thoughts about the issue. Essentially, from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180 the full-fledged Roman Empire reveled in the fulfillment of their chief aims. They had created what they thought to be a utopian like society. None would argue the advances in science, literature, improved conditions for women and slaves, art, engineering, entertainment and the like engendered by this Greco-Roman world order. In hind-sight, what is obvious now, however, are the under currents of trouble that were pervasive even amidst the time of Rome’s greatest period, the Pax Romana.
The Pax Romana, or the “Time of Happiness,” as it was known, was characterized by peace within the Roman Empire during this two hundred year span. Rome was ruled by light handed emperors, and the people enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. Several troubles were brewing, however, chief of which were economic weakness, and weak cultural allegiances.
By economic weakness, we mean poor trade and employment conditions. Although the roads that connected Rome to the ‘world’ were legendary, they were found to be poor for shipping the goods of merchants to different areas of the empire. The shipping costs, being prohibitive, led to price hikes, and eventually lost revenues. The increased use of slave labor throughout the empire led to vast unemployment among the governed inhabitants. This, in turn, led to decreased spendable cash, and again, contributed to weak sales. Needless to say, the people grew increasingly angered by these conditions.
Perhaps, during the Republican era, before the introduction of rule by the emperors, the consuls would have addressed these civic issues head on and found appropriate remedies. Fat on her own prosperity, and drunk from her lavish entertainments, however, the new Roman Empire of this Pax Romana Period ignored these early uprisings, to its peril.
Additionally, weak cultural allegiances undermined Rome’s extended hand as well. The Empire had conquered a broad range of peoples, each with their own heritage, values, cultures and religions. The temporary benefits of the Empire placated these core instincts for a while, but when the virtues of Roman rule began to be questioned by the unsatisfied masses, the people simply reverted to their primal roots. This splintering effect was deep, and substantial.
Outwardly, each province and city appeared Roman during the Pax Romana Period. Underneath the veneers were the people themselves, disenchanted with the intellect, so revered by Greco-Roman thought. As the Greco-Roman idea of humanism lost its footing among the people, Mithraism and other eastern cults and religions took its place and began to shape the minds and actions of the people. The decline of the Roman Republic had begun.
The roots of the Roman Empire were withering. As the nature of roots is, this decay went on largely unnoticed. The fall of the Roman Republic was eminent. The might of Romans was being challenged, the wisdom of its economical practicality was failing, and its base, wisdom and intellect was seen as insufficient in the face of the common ills of the day. The writing was on the wall. The peace would end, Rome would fall and the Pax Romana Period would pass.