The Rise and Decline

of the Pax Romana


Marcus Aurelius (161-180)

The Last “Good Emperor”

Commodus (180-192)


Constantine (324-337)

The First Christian Emperor



Key Terms

1) The “Good Emperors”                              6) Diocletian

2) Marcus Aurelius – The Meditations          7) Neo-Platonism

3) Aqueducts                                                  8) Battle of Adrianople

4) Pax Romana

5) Commodus



I.  The Height of the Roman Empire (14 — 180 CE):  The Pax Romana


o  Augustus’ Successors:  Bad Leaders, Strong Empire

§  The Problem of Succession

§  Tiberius, Caligula, Nero (14-68 CE)


o  Stabilization:  The Flavian Dynasty (68-96)

§  Vespasian, Titus, Domitian


o  The Five “Good” Emperors (96-180)

§  Nerva (96-98) and the Adoptive System

§  Trajan and Hadrian:  Emperors on the Frontiers

§  Antoninus Pius:  The Humanist?

§  Marcus Aurelius (161-80): A Philosopher King?
            The Meditations


o  Peace and Prosperity

§  Bureaucracy, Law, and Citizenship

§  Infrastructure:  Roads (2) Aqueducts, Cities, and Sewers

§  Economic Stability and the Mediterranean Economy

§  Improvements for Slaves and Women

§  Political Stability: The Pax Romana, “The Roman Peace” or “Time of Happiness”


Š     What have the Romans done for us?”



II.  The Crisis of the Late Empire (180 - 410 AD)


o  Political Causes

§  Commodus (180-192) and the Problem of Succession

§  The New Military Politics of the 3rd Century

§  Order through Military Dictatorship: Diocletian (284-305) and the end of the Principate

Š     The Division of the Empire:  East and West

§  Constantine and the Primacy of the Eastern Empire

Š     Constantinople


o  Military Causes

§  The Problem of “Imperial Overstretch” (Paul Kennedy’s Thesis)

§  The New “Barbarian” Army

§  Invaders on the Frontiers:  The Battle of Adrianople, 378

§  Military Collapse:  Rome Sacked (410 and 476)


o  Economic Causes

§  Dependence on Slave Labor/Lack of Investment & Innovation

§  Population Decline

§  Inflation and Decline Trade

§  The Decline of Urban Life and the Rise of Rural Autarchy (Latifundia)


o  Cultural Causes

§  The New Stoicism & Political Disinterest of Elites

§  Spiritual Philosophy and the Decline of Reason: Neo-Platonism

§  Mystery Cults and Mystery Religions: Mithraism

§  The Challenge (Threat?) of Christianity: Edward Gibbon’s Thesis

Š     The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-78)