The Pax Romana, latin for Roman Peace, lasted approximately 206 years from the dawn of the Empire in 27 BC under Caesar Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. “The Empire experienced an unprecedented period of peace, stability, and prosperity” (“reference.com”) and was referred to as the golden age of Rome. “The Roman empire also achieved its greatest territorial extent and its population reached a maximum of up to 70 million people – a third of the world’s population.” (“www.ushistory.org”)
Augustus Caesar was the first Emperor of Rome and came to power after the assassination of his great-uncle Julius Caesar. Augustus was born on September 23, 63 BC to the name Gaius Octavian and died on August 19, 14 AD in Nola, Italy; his reign lasted 40 years, 7 months and 3 days. Augustus’s autocratic regime started out as the Principate because he did not claim the title of king, instead he refereed to himself as Princeps or the first citizen. Augustus with patience, skill, and efficiency, changed every aspect of Roman life and brought stability, peace, and prosperity to the newly formed Empire. “The aim of Augustus was to guarantee law, order, and security within the empire, even if this meant separating it from the rest of the world and defending, or even expanding, its borders through military intervention and conquest.”
(“www.ancient.eu Donald L. Wasson; Pax Romana “)
After Augustus’s death in 14 AD, Emperor Tiberius ruled with varying effectiveness. “His political inability, poor judgment and jealousy led Rome into a dark age of political purges, murder and terror.” (“https://www.pbs.org”) Tiberius had longed for the emperor-ship, however he knew he was not the preferred successor, but with Augustus dead, it he had to step up and claim power. With Tiberius being weaker than his adopted father two armies were fed up in the north and mutinied and threatened to march on Rome. Tiberius sent his nephew, Germanicus, to rallying the troops and lead them to victory against the Germanic tribes. After Germanicus came back triumphant Tiberius appointed him to be governor of the provinces of Cappadocia and Syria. Germanicus due to is great successes then died in mysterious circumstances in 19 AD. Tiberius then went looking for ad visors and was impressed by Sejanus. “He praised him as “the partner of my labors” and gave him command of the Praetorian Guard, which protected the emperor.” (“https://www.pbs.org”) Sejanus warned Tiberius that Germanicus’ family was plotting against him, so they exiled the dead hero’s widow and killed her two elder sons with only the youngest, Caligula, surviving. Thought this time Tiberius did nothing significant, was now elderly, he cut himself off from Rome almost completely with only Sejanus allowed to visit him. When Sejanus appeared ready to seize power it went terribly for him, because on 31 AD, Tiberius turned against him in favor of Caligula, the only surviving son of Germanicus. He sent a secret message to the Senate condemning Sejanus and they killed him. Tiberius reign lasted 22 years, 5 months and 27 days, and after Tiberius’s death in 37 AD, Caligula assumed power two days afterward.
Caligula’s emperor-ship was filled with a sadistic rule; he was mentally ill and regularly abused his power. “After inviting Ptolemy to come from his kingdom and receiving him with honour, he suddenly had him executed for no other reason than that when giving a gladiatorial show, he noticed that Ptolemy on entering the theatre attracted general attention by the splendour of his purple cloak.” (“penelope.uchicago.edu”) Caligula then had Ptolemy’s kingdom of Mauretania annexed into Rome and then divided into provinces. “Whenever Caligula ran across handsome men with fine heads of hair, he disfigured them by having the backs of their heads shaved. There was a certain Aesius Proculus, son of a chief centurion, called Colosseros because of his remarkable size and handsome appearance; this man Caligula ordered to be suddenly dragged from his seat in the amphitheatre and led into the arena, where he matched him first against a Thracian and then against a heavy-armed gladiator; when Proculus was victor in both contests, Caligula gave orders that he be bound at once, clad in rags, dragged though the streets, and then put to death.” (“penelope.uchicago.edu”) “Eventually, his bizarre and tyrannical behavior turned the Romans against him, and in 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by members of his own Praetorian guard.” (“www.ushistory.org”) His reign lasted only 3 years, 10 months and 6 days.
Emperor Claudius came next; he was the uncle of Caligula, nephew of Tiberius; great-nephew and step-grandson of Augustus. He was born in August 1, 10 BC at Lugdunum in Gaul (France); the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy. Because he was afflicted with a limp and slight deafness due to sickness at a young age, his family ostracized him and excluded him from public office. When Augustus died in 14 AD, Claudius appealed to his uncle Tiberius to allow him to begin the cursus honorum. Tiberius, the new Emperor, responded by granting Claudius consular ornaments. Claudius requested office once more and was snubbed. Since the new Emperor was no more generous than the old, Claudius gave up hope of public office and retired to a scholarly, private life.
After the death of Tiberius, the new emperor Caligula (the son of Claudius’ brother Germanicus) recognized Claudius to be of some use. He appointed Claudius his co-consul in 37 AD in order to emphasize the memory of Caligula’s deceased father Germanicus. Despite this, Caligula relentlessly tormented his uncle: playing practical jokes, charging him enormous sums of money, humiliating him before the Senate, and the like. According to Cassius Dio “Claudius became very sickly and thin by the end of Caligula’s reign, most likely due to stress.” Claudius’ infirmity probably saved him from the fate of many other nobles during the purges of Tiberius’s and Caligula’s reigns; potential enemies did not see him as a serious threat. His survival led to his being declared Emperor by the Praetorian Guard rather than the senate after Caligula’s assassination, at which point he was the last man of his family. Though he was inexperienced, Claudius proved to be an able and efficient administrator. He was also an ambitious builder, constructing many new roads, aqueducts, and canals across the Empire. He also added the provinces of Thrace, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia, and Judea into the empire during this time. Having a personal interest in law, he presided at public trials, and issued up to twenty edicts a day. He was seen as vulnerable throughout his reign, particularly by elements of the nobility. Claudius was constantly forced to shore up his position; this resulted in the deaths of many senators. These events damaged his reputation among the ancient writers, though more recent historians have revised this opinion. Many authors contend that he was poisoned by his wife, Agrippina the Younger. His reign lasted 13 years, 8 months and 18/19 days.
After the death of Claudius in A.D. 54 AD, Nero, with the support of the Praetorian Guard, at the age of 17, became emperor. Nero’s name at birth was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He was the adopted son of Claudius; nephew of Caligula; great-great-nephew of Tiberius; grandson of Germanicus; great-great-grandson of Augustus. He was born December 15, 37 AD and pronounced emperor October 13, 54 AD. “His father, a former Roman consul, died when he was about 3 years old, and his mother was banished by the Emperor Caligula. After the murder of Caligula in January A.D. 41, and the ascension of Emperor Claudius shortly afterward, they reunited. His mother, Agrippina, would go on to marry Claudius in A.D. 49, and she saw to it that he adopted her son, giving him a new name that started with “Nero.” In the first two years of Nero’s reign, his coins depicted him side by side with his mother, Agrippina. Nero and his mother appear to have had a falling out within about two years of his becoming emperor and he had her killed. Her face stopped appearing on Roman coins after A.D. 55, and she appears to have lost power in favor of Nero’s top advisers, Seneca and Burrus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard who advised him on military affairs. Officially, the reason given for Nero’s orders to kill his own mother was that she was plotting to kill him.
On the night of July 18, A.D. 64, a fire started in the Circus Maximus that would burn out of control, leaving little of the city untouched. While ancient writers tend to blame Nero for starting the fire, this is far from certain. Much of Rome was made with combustible material and the city was overcrowded.
After the flames died down Nero apparently tried to cast blame on the Christians, at the time a fairly small sect. Some were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired.”
While it is not known whether Nero started the fire, he did take advantage of the space it cleared. He started work on a new palace called the Domus Aurea.
In the east, Rome fought, and essentially lost, a war with Parthia, having to give up plans to annex the kingdom of Armenia, which served as a buffer between the two powers. Additionally a rebellion in Judea in A.D. 67, near the end of Nero’s reign, would eventually lead to the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the destruction of the Second Temple. One effect of this was the abandonment of Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found stored in nearby caves.
By A.D. 68, the problems Nero faced had piled up. He had killed his mother, first wife and, by some accounts, his second. Additionally, the rebuilding of Rome, and the construction of the golden palace made Rome financially unstable.
Nero’s support began to crumble. Sotter writes that in April of 64, a Roman governor in Gaul renounced Nero and declared his support for Galba for emperor. Not long afterward, the Praetorian Guard, the force charged with guarding the emperor himself, renounced their support for Nero and the now former emperor was declared an enemy of the people by the Senate on June 8. The following day, he committed suicide. His last words were said to be “what an artist dies in me!”
After Nero’s death, the Roman Empire plunged into chaos as a succession of short-lived emperors tried to gain control of the empire. “Only the year 69 AD, the so-called ‘Year of the Four Emperors’, following the fall of Nero and the Julio-Claudian line, interrupted nearly 200 years of civil order. Even this was only a minor hiccup in comparison to other eras. The arts and architecture flourished as well, along with commerce and the economy.” (“United Nations of Roma Victrix”) “The Pax Romana also saw many advances and accomplishments in engineering… To help maintain their sprawling empire, the Romans built an extensive system of roads which facilitated the movement of troops and communication.” (“www.ushistory.org”) The Romans also built aqueducts to carry water overland to cities and farms to increase the capability of harvests and provide more fortified, cleaner outposts.
The last of these emperors, Marcus Aurelius, was the final emperor of the Pax Romana. His reign was followed by the disastrous reign of his brutal son Commodus (160-192 C.E.). By this time, the Empire was struggling to hold off attacking tribes on the frontiers.