Pax Rome, The Greatest Civilization Vs the Conquered Byzantine Empire

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The Pax Rome civilization was the period in the historical Roman Empire during which there was the longest peace and the military forces did very minimal expansion in the 1st and 2nd

centuries. This period of peace was initiated during the reign of emperor Augustus Ceasar ("The Pax Romana | Western Civilization", n.d.). This period is estimated to have lasted between 27 BCE and 180 CE. The origin of Pax Rome is linked to the victory of Augustus in 31 BCE in the Battle of Actium against Mark Antony. After this victory, Augustus created outstanding military magnates whom he bound together, leading them to have a single title and thus eliminated the possibility of a civil war. During this period, the roman empire experienced a world free of large-scale conflicts for about two centuries. There was no absolute peace due to the continuous fighting for imperial expansion as well as a one-year civil war over the succession of the empire. Augustus managed to dramatically expand the empire and even embraced diplomacy to reach a peace pact with the Parthian empire. The Romans also played a crucial role during the peace period by spreading the sense and culture of civilization. Consequently, urbanization was realized and people could travel to almost any city within the empire and enjoy a comfortable stay.

The Byzantine Empire rose from the Roman Empire’s fall and therefore it is considered as a continuation of the latter. This new empire covered large parts that had previously been within the Roman Empire territory. There are specific events that led the Roman Empire to fall and nurtured the rise of Byzantium. In 284 AD, Emperor Diocletian split the Roman Empire into two halves, that is, East and West. In the year 330 AD, the Roman Empire capital was moved from Rome, which was in the west to Constantinople, which was in the east. The western half was later taken over by Germans in AD 476 while the eastern half remained firm, and continued to grow and prosper. The prosperous east became the Byzantine Empire. The strategic location of Constantinople city as the capital played a crucial role in the prosperity of the new empire particularly on the issue of trade. The city stretched into two continents-Europe and Asia, thus allowing the empire to control trade routes between the two continents. Constantinople’s location also made it convenient to travel to numerous parts of the world through the Mediterranean and Black seas and the Bosporus strait.

Social and Economic Structures

Jongman (2002) regard agriculture as the largest sector in the historical economy of the Roman Empire. This sector had the active involvement of both the lower and upper social classes. Agriculture entailed subsistence farmers who worked on small plots as well as aristocratic and absentee landlords who employed slaves to work on vast tracks of land. The upper class viewed agriculture as one of the employment ways to occupy themselves even though they never worked on the farms by themselves. People of this status reaped good profits from crops to sustain lavish lifestyles. By conquering many regions, Emperor Augustus expanded the empire with new lands. The peace of Pax Romana inspired changes to the agricultural sector with the help from provincial administrations through policy reforms that introduced a tax system. The new tax system that was cash based, pushed farmers to trade and sell their farm produce on the market to honor their tax obligation. The entrance of farmers in a formal market together with the arrival of colonists who had money and expertise in trade precipitated an economic boom. However, although trade played an essential role in funding the empire’s governance through taxes, trade and industry constituted only a small percentage of the entire Roman economy.

Different from the Pax Romana that largely thrived on agriculture and less on trade, the opposite was true with the Byzantine Empire which prospered largely because of trade (Morrisson, 2007). Constantinople city was the largest and richest city in Europe during its time. This city exerted an influential cultural pull as well as dominated the economic life in the region. The city’s strategic position commanded trade routes and all traders in the region were drawn to Constantinople as it was a crucial marketplace as far as trade is concerned. When the emperors of Byzantine realized the influence of the capital, they taxed exports and imports at a flat rate of ten percent. Although coins were the standard payment of tax, traders were also allowed to pay with luxury goods. Byzantine Empire used a powerful navy to control the Black and Mediterranean Seas and the Bosporus strait. Tolls were regularly charged for using Byzantine roads and waterways. In both the Roman and Byzantine societies, belonging to a ruling family, being wealthy through; ownership of large tracks of land, trading and having enough money to give out short term loans earned a person a higher social status. Emperors and other leaders were very wealthy through taxation. Acquisition of more wealth could enable an individual to rise to higher social status.

Religious or Ethical Beliefs

Emperors, monarchs and other leaders in society were regarded as some sort of demi gods. As an Imperial Cult, this belief was common in the Roman Empire as a tool of ensuring the loyalty of citizens to the empire and the emperor (Anderson, 2005). During the Pax Rome, roman rulers were elevated to deities as a rule rather than an exception. The emperors were viewed as gods. Individuals were required to bring incense offerings to the emperor’s godly sprit in order for a person to be considered loyal to Rome. This practice was done in a prescribed regular basis and after its completion, a certificate was awarded to the citizen. Many Christians were persecuted based on this practice as they were accused of being disloyal because they believed sacrificing to the emperor was a form of idolatry. The same Imperial Cult was used to orient newly acquired provinces into the Roman Empire. The cult was also used to consolidate a young and most likely an under governed territory during the age of Augustus. Although the Roman Imperial Cult was used by rulers to achieve their political goals which can be considered less acceptable from the moral perspectives. A large Roman population did not only consider it a tool, but also as truth.

Whereas Christians were persecuted as the Imperial Cult hailed during the Pax Rome, Christianity was the official religion in the Byzantine Empire. Christianity began originally as a unified organization in the entire Mediterranean region but later changes overwhelmed the Christian church with the growth of the Byzantine Empire. The vast distance between Rome and Constantinople led to distinct differences in the practices in how the two regions conducted fellowships. Each region developed their own ideas about the organization of the church, how to conduct church services and the manner in which priests were to conduct their private lives. These differences led to the split of the church into two sects in 1054 AD. The sects were; 1) the Roman Catholic Church and 2) the Eastern Orthodox Church. Both sects were monotheistic, believed in one God and Jesus Christ, worshipped in churches, used the bible and celebrated Easter and Christmas holidays. The Roman Catholic was headed by the Pope and used Latin in religious services while the Eastern Orthodox was led by the Patriarch and used Greek. Whereas priests in the Roman Catholic were neither allowed to marry nor have children, those of the Orthodox were allowed to marry and have children.

Religion played a noble role both in the Roman and Byzantine societies as the church leadership was occasionally consulted on political and civil matters particularly on legal systems. For example, the idea of blasphemy was rooted on religious beliefs. In AD 313, the Edict of Milan was introduced and lifted the persecution of Christians. The lift saw an improvement in the sentiments towards Christianity as those who had lost in the past persecutions were paid reparations. With time, Christianity cemented its influence and led to Byzantine becoming an exclusively Christian empire. Theodosius I later reformed the religious policy by first suppressing and then later outlawing the Roman as well as the non-Orthodox Christian practices of worship throughout the empire and declared Byzantine a state of Nicene Christianity.   The Christian belief in equality and fairness contributed to the idea of tax reforms that saw the introduction of rational and equitable taxes.

Technological or Cultural Innovations

A notable emperor of Byzantine Empire, Justinian, who autocratically ruled from 527 to 565 AD contributed to the technological and cultural innovations in Byzantium. He built great architectural structures such as the Hagia Sophia, a Christian church. Although this church was meant for worship, Justinian built this structure as a symbol of his power and to show off how the empire was wealthy. However, the Hagia Sophia entailed several elements of the Roman art and architectural designs such as the dome shape, the use of an arch and columns, mosaic decorations and the use of marbles as building materials (Greene, 2000). Byzantine building included and addition of gold decorations to show the empire’s wealth. Such architectural designs elevated the status of Byzantine Empire against other regions. From Justinian’s architectural designs, it is clear that Byzantium shared a great deal of technological innovations from the Roman Empire.

Romans are known for technological innovations inspired by their culture of innovation with which they cultivated a knowledge infrastructure. The expansion of their political power to other places including Italy, Greece, Asia, Europe and northern Africa was made possible because of their theoretical insights as well as the technical know-how in sailing and other aspects. They familiarized themselves with other people’s technological know-hows and made such information available to the public. The Roman technological innovations were depicted in various fields such as cloth making, glass and metal works through which they produced household goods including utensils. Romans were also great builders with their innovative construction techniques. They invented concrete, introduced the vault and arch as essential elements in both private and public architectural designs and building (Adam, 2007). They also introduced the standardization of materials for building with the aim of minimizing the costs of construction. This standardization gave architects the freedom to design complex structures in large quantities as well as improved the various aspects of urban infrastructural planning.  

The different technological innovations that were used to manufacture consumer goods and to improve construction techniques came with great social impacts on the lives of citizens and shaped the way their world looked. Romans embraced technological practices and insights into a knowledge framework that shaped a culture of positively valuing innovations that improved the lives of people. Innovative ideas reduced the costs of constructing large-scale buildings. The legacy left behind by the Roman architecture dictates how scholars and the modern world think about the ancient Rome. The culture of innovation gave the Roman Empire a higher status and also enabled the empire to conquer many places and expand their territory. The knowledge of innovations was spread across the empire especially from the East to the West. Sharing of technological knowledge led to the development of new strategies and techniques which were used to produce desirable and affordable products and consequently satisfied consumer demand. Construction innovations played an essential role for architects to meet the demand for low-cost living space particularly among the political elites. Technological innovations greatly changed the Roman world by decorating the landscape with human made structures.

References

Adam J. P (2007). “Building Materials, Construction Techniques and Chronologies.” In The World of Pompeii, edited by J. Dobbins and P. Foss, 98–113. London: Routledge.

Anderson, Y. (2005). What Makes an Empire Fall and Rise? A comparison between Isaac Isimov's Empires and the Roman and British Empires. Lulea University of Technology: Department of Language and Culture, 05(049), 1-25.

Cecile Marisson (2007), The Byzantine Economy. Cambridge University Press.

Greene, K. 2000. Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World:

            M. I. Finley Re-considered. The Economic History Revue, New Series 53(1): 29-59.

Jongman, W. M. (2002). The Roman Economy: From Cities to Empire. In L. DeBlois and J.

Rich (Eds), The Transformation of Economic Life Under the Roman Empire (pp. 28-47).

The Pax Romana | Western Civilization. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory/chapter/the-pax-romana/

November 13, 2023
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Roman Empire

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Byzantine Empire

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