Clifford Ando, Pax Romana: Peace, Pacification and the Ethics of Empire [2017 C4eJ 1] (Public Lecture)

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Clifford Ando*

I. Introduction

This essay aims to accomplish three things.  First, at a substantive level, I ask what was meant by the term pax Romana, “the Roman peace.”  How was it secured?  Who benefitted, and in what ways?[1]  Second, the declaration of peace was not an empirical observation.  In saying this, I do not assert that Roman policy was not driven by empirically-grounded calculations of risk, say, or that the withdrawal of Roman troops from a given unit of territory was without material consequences.  So perhaps I should say, the declaration of peace was not simply an empirical observation.  It was a presumptive claim and political act; as such, it had normative entailments, about how actions in a world at peace might be described and controlled.  That has implications for us as readers of classical texts and historians of classical antiquity.

Third, the Roman case invites scrutiny in light of modern systems of evaluation—those of postcolonialism, for one, and also of peace studies.  How shall we assess responses to Rome, or the politics of local rule, in conditions of empire?[2]  Did the ancients think of peace in negative terms, solely as the absence of war?  Or did they also conceptualize it in more positive terms, in light of indices of human flourishing, for example, or the actualization of justice?[3]  And what were the politics of those acts?

Although we translate the Roman word pax as “peace,” the Romans had two different ways of understanding the term.[4] The first construed pax as deriving from the word pactum or pactio, meaning “agreement.”  This understanding finds expression in the major Latin dictionaries to survive from the ancient world, including that of Isidore of Seville, writing in the early seventh century CE:

Four things are done in war: fighting, flight, victory, and peace.  The term “peace” (pax) seems to be taken from pactum, pact. Moreover, a peace is agreed upon later; first, a treaty is entered into. A treaty (foedus) is a peace made between warring parties; it derives from fide, trust, or from fetiales, that is, the priests of that name. For through them treaties are made, just as wars are made by saeculares, by lay people.[5]

A similar definition is also offered by Festus, who write his dictionary in the second century CE—who himself cites Sinnius Capito, a lexicographer of the third quarter of the first century BCE:

Sinnius Capito thinks that pax derives from an agreement (pactio) about terms, which agreement is to be observed by each people mutually.[6]

For both Festus and Isidore, peace exists between parties in consequence of a bilateral agreement:  at most, pax is an abstraction from pactio, and might be synonymous with it.  There is peace between us because we made a peace.

This understanding of pax is also on display in the historian Livy’s narrative of negotiations between the Romans and Privernates in 329 BCE.[7]  (Whatever the sources of Livy’s knowledge of the remote past, he himself wrote under the emperor Augustus, under the influence of, and in engagement with, political ideologies of the day.)  The ambassador of the Privernates warned the Romans that, “Should they not give good pax, the pax will not last.”  Though some members of the Roman Senate denounced the ambassador as arrogant, the consul urged that conditions of peace could only be expected to last when those striking the agreement did so voluntarily.  Agreement, in other words, must be consensual and not compelled.

That said, both in this passage and elsewhere, Livy refers to the opponents of Rome as pacati, deriving from pacare:  they have been pacified, as in, “brought to heel,” “subdued.”  In the passage from Livy, those who are voluntarii pacati—meaning, presumably, those who voluntarily enter into relations of peace with Rome—acknowledge and ideally internalize of their own free will their (new) condition vis-à-vis Rome.  They might have negotiated a peace on conditions of formal equality, but henceforth they will acknowledge the greaterness of Rome.  I will explore some language that issued from this understanding later in this essay.

In speaking in these terms, I should acknowledge an argument recently advanced by Myles Lavan, who urges that uses of the term pacati to mean “pacified” (as a grammatical passive) are relatively rare, in contrast to uses of the term to mean something like “peaceable” or, more particularly, “peaceful toward us.”[8]  This is indeed a valuable corrective, and further work should now be undertaken to investigate whether this disposition toward peace is a learned behavior that the Romans understood themselves to have inculcated in the various counterparties whom they so describe.  As evidence for the importance of peace as something the Romans understood themselves to bring to the world—by force, if necessary—one need cite only the charge laid upon his Roman descendants by Anchises in Vergil’s Aeneid:  “Remember, Roman, to rule the nations with your command.  These will be your arts:  to ordain the habit of peace, to spare the conquered and beat down the proud.”[9]  It scarcely bears mentioning that “the proud”—who evidently deserve the violence meted by Rome—manifest their “pride” principally by denying Roman suzerainty over them.

To resume:  peace that is consequent upon pacification is something that the Romans can impose on the world, and it can be created through unilateral action rather than bilateral negotiation.  Just a few years before the visit of the Privernates to the Roman Senate, the Romans had considered how to treat various allied peoples among the so-called Latins who had broken their treaty with Rome in anger at their on-going subordination.  Having won the war that followed, the Romans debated how to proceed.  Livy attributes the following reflection to the consul Camillus, speaking to the Roman senate:

“The immortal gods have made you masters of the situation to such an extent that they have placed it in your hands, whether henceforth Latium will exist, or not.  Insofar as it concerns the Latins, you can therefore make a perpetual peace (pacem … in perpetuum) for yourselves either through savagery or forgiveness.  Do you want to counsel cruelly against those who have surrendered and been defeated?  It lies in your power to eliminate all Latium and create vast desolations, in a place where you often raised outstanding armies of allies, through great and many wars.”[10]

It seems to have been this passage that inspired the bitter denunciation that the historian Tacitus placed in the mouth of Calgacus, the Briton who in his narrative led the final resistance to the Roman conquest of England:  “Theft, slaughter, and plunder, they misname empire; and where they create desolation, they call it peace.”[11]

Livy’s use of pax to describe a general condition prevailing across an entire region, not created people by people, is connected to an imbricated network of transformations in culture and politics, two of which are important to the argument of this paper.  One concerns peace; the other, Roman understandings of their state.  As regards peace, under the emperor Augustus pax assumes an ideological importance largely without precedent in earlier Roman culture.  This is visible not least in the claims advanced by Augustus on his own behalf in his posthumously published autography:

[The doors of the temple of] Janus Quirinus, which our ancestors desired to be closed when peace had been obtained through victory throughout the imperium of the Roman people on both land and sea— although before I was born memory records them as having been shut only twice since the foundation of the community— the Senate decreed that they should be shut three times while I was princeps.[12]

Augustan and early imperial ideology placed heavy emphasis on peace:  it was a gift of the emperor to the world; or it was advertised as a benefaction granted by monarchy to Rome itself, exhausted as it was by the civil wars endemic to a failing republic.  This emphasis is reflected in Augustus’s claim to have surmounted republican politics by ending all war; it was granted religious and monumental expression in the dedication of the Augustan Ara Pacis (“Altar of Peace”: images); and it was articulated through public ritual when Vespasian ended his triumph at the temple of Peace.[13]  Truly, as Isidore said, the end of war was now peace.

The degree to which pax as a condition of the polity and world had become a normative good may be seen in the first fragment of Cassius Dio’s History.  Writing in the first decades of the third century CE, Dio declared an intent to narrate how the Romans conducted peace as well as war:  “I have the desire to write up everything memorable done by the Romans, as they conducted both peace and war….”[14]  How could this be, which is to say, what was there to narrate of the Romans’ conduct of peace?  According to Augustus, after all, the Republic had almost never been at peace:  on his reckoning, the gates of the temple of Janus had been closed twice in 500 years.  But by Dio’s day, the dualism of war and peace had achieved a normative status that it had never possessed under the republic, committed as it had been to a culture and project of conquest.  This same normative commitment to peace is also visible in Dio’s indictment of figures from the late Republic—perhaps especially Julius Caesar—to the effect that their pursuit of war reflected a pathology of republican politics gone terribly awry, to the woe of the world.[15]

That said, by various means Roman suzerainty did very largely end the regional and transregional intercommunal violence that had been endemic to the ancient Mediterranean, and there can be little doubt that the vast increase in population and aggregate wealth visible in the archaeological record issues from this.  Nor was this invisible to contemporaries.  In the words of second-century CE Greek orator Aelius Aristides, in a speech delivered in Rome itself:

In place of the disputes over empire and preeminence (ἀντὶ δὲ ἀμφισβητήσεως ἀρχῆς τε καὶ πρωτείων), through which all former wars broke out, some of these people enjoy a most pleasant calm like a silently flowing stream, gladly done with their toils and troubles, repenting their vain shadowboxing.[16]

“It is no longer even believed that wars ever took place, but most men hear of them like idle myths.”[17]  Aristides will shortly be our guide again, to two consequences of peace that are less often discussed.

Earlier I described Livy’s use of pax to describe a general condition obtaining throughout a territory as having two features that I wished to explore in this paper.  The first was the elevation of peace to the status of public good.  The second connects the emergence of the notion of peace as a condition of a territorial unit of rule with the emergence of a Roman notion of empire as comprised of bounded spaces, and therefore of sovereignty as exercised throughout those spaces and over the totality of their inhabitants.  For many, this transformation in Roman culture is best known via John Richardson’s study of the terms imperium and provincia, “empire” and “province.”[18]  I have myself been writing a number of studies recently about the prehistory of this revolution in cognition; this paper argues unsurprisingly that this revolution had profound implications at the level of the practice of rule.[19]

In what follows, I focus on four issues:  peace and masculinity; the prominence of order in Roman ideologies of rule; the emergence of a discourse of policing; and the instrumentalization of city-states to extend the infrastructural reach of the Roman state.

II. Peace and Masculinity

Neither Greek nor Roman political thought had a unitary conception of sovereignty.  Instead, Greeks and Romans distinguished strongly between “autonomy,” which meant exclusively and narrowly the right of a polity to use its own private law, and freedom of action in foreign affairs.[20]  This fact cannot be emphasized strongly enough, because it has clear implications for contemporary efforts to construe the politics of empire in the ancient world in the light of modern ideologies of self-determination.  Modern ideologies of rebellion make sense best in contexts where being subject to the political power of a community deemed alien to oneself entails losing the capacity to organize local life in light of locally-generated norms.[21]  But ancient empires lacked the infrastructural power to impose metropolitan norms on conquered populations, and most gave this weakness normative expression in ideologies and practices that respected and, indeed, cultivated cultural difference.[22]  As I have stressed elsewhere, one of the best ways to be a Greek or Lycian subject of Rome, was to be as Greek or Lycian as possible.[23]

Ancient notions of autonomy to one side, what I would like to trace in this context is one domestic implication, as it were, of Rome’s depriving subject populations of freedom of action in foreign affairs.  Although it is clear that city-states and some villages retained small militias or police forces,[24] the constituent communities of the Roman empire clearly ceased to field armies or go to war, nearly overnight.  In consequence, military service ceased to be a constituent of local citizenships.  To quote Aristides again, “Those who were yesterday shoemakers and carpenters are not today infantry and cavalrymen, nor as on the stage is one transformed into a soldier who was just now a farmer.”  This is not to say that aliens under Roman rule did not serve as soldiers, but they did so as auxiliaries in the Roman army, and that service effected a rupture between those soldiers and their former networks of political belonging.[25]

To be sure, ephebic rituals continued to associate young male adulthood with the symbolism of soldiering.  That said, a very tight nexus had once bound political agency to military service—citizenship to soldiering—nearly everywhere in the classical and Hellenistic Mediterranean.  With warfare as endemic as it was, it seems likely that an extraordinary proportion of adult male citizens must have witnessed death in war and, frankly, themselves have rent and cut the flesh of others.  The imposition of peace sundered the nexus that bound political agency to military violence; and this must have had effects on normative conceptions of masculinity.  The world described by Maud Gleason, for example, in which masculinity is evaluated on the basis of oratory and the ideals of physicality that go with it, is a product of this revolution.[26]  Its story has not yet been told.[27]

III.  Notions of Order in Roman Ideologies of Rule

In the emergent ideology of peace in the Augustan period, pax as (imposed) condition rather than agreement is closely associated with notions of social order, and above all with stabilitas, “stability, order.”  Social order, in turn, is closely associated with law.  In the west, in particular, this is connected with the institution of Roman forms of public authority and the imposition of Roman private law.  For example, Tacitus narrates the transition of a Germanic people, the Frisians, from a lingering state of unterminated war to pacified subjects as occurring through the wholesale reconstitution of their society along Roman norms:

The nation of the Frisians, ferocious or scarcely loyal after the rebellion that began with the disaster to Lucius Apronius, gave hostages and settled in territory prescribed by Corbulo; he also imposed a senate, magistrates and laws.[28]

The language of the last clause bears close resemblance to that used by the Romans to describe the political constitution of new Roman communities in the form of colonies.  Here I reproduce the earliest known description of the delivery of laws to a Roman colony in a text contemporaneous with the act itself—the text appears on a dedicatory inscription at the site of the colony:

Titus Annius (Luscus), son of Titus, triumvir. He provided for the construction of this temple and dedicated it; he composed and delivered laws; and three times he enrolled its Senate.[29]

The close homology between Roman administration of self and others that is observable in the language of these texts is noteworthy in and of itself.  It reflects an important, long-term cross-pollination between the technologies of republican politics and those of republican empire, which deserves more sustained attention than it has heretofore received.  An important aspect, therefore, of the history of my period that I cannot explore in this context is the degree to which the Augustan principate witnesses the domestication at Rome of forms of domination first developed for rule over aliens, henceforth to be deployed in the domination of Romans by other Romans in Rome.[30]

Just as Anchises encouraged the Romans to remember that their special talent was to inculcate in others the habits of peace, which is to say, not simply to impose peace (or create a desolation), but to bring others to want peace for themselves, so it became a minor but crucial act of Roman self-regard to believe that they brought others actively to want to live lives ordered by law.  For example, in the narrative provided by Livy of the late fourth century BCE that I have already cited, Rome punished one of its errant allies—the Antiates—by disallowing its institutions of self-governance while situating a Roman colony within its urban fabric.  According to Livy, the Antiates witnessed the stabilitas obtaining in Capua as the result of the Capuans’ having adopted Roman law (and using Roman justice), and so asked for Roman laws for themselves, too:

And after news of the stability of Capuan affairs (res Capuae stabilitas)—brought about by Roman discipline—spread amongst the allies, patrons for the establishing of laws were granted by the Senate to the Antiates also, who were complaining that they were making do without fixed laws and without magistrates; the patrons were those of the colony itself.  And so the power not only of Roman arms but also of Roman laws began to be felt far and wide (nec arma modo sed iura etiam Romana late pollebant).[31]

By the second century CE, irrespective of differences in how “Roman order” might be produced in east and west, the Roman contribution to social order had become a trope of the praises-of-empire tradition in Greek literature, too. Hence, according to Aelius Aristides, “What was said by Homer, ‘The earth common to all,’ you have made a reality … by civilizing everything with your way of life and good order.”[32]

That said, in ancient and modern historiography the theme remains closely associated with the west and in particular with the nurturing by whatever means of local use of Roman institutions.  Thus Dio describes Augustus in the early 20s as having “conducted a census of [the Gauls] and set in order their way of life and system of government.”[33] As often, however, the language and the conceit to which it gives voice are most clearly revealed in moments of failure.  One such moment is the governorship of Publius Quinctilius Varus in Germany, which came to a violent end in 9 CE; it is attested in two narratives of extended detail.  One is that of Cassius Dio:

The Romans were holding portions of (Germany)—not entire regions, but merely such districts as happened to have been subdued, so that no record has been made of the fact—and soldiers of theirs were wintering there and cities were being founded through synoecism.  The barbarians were changing their rhythm to a Roman order and learning the ways of the forum and meeting in peaceful assemblies (ἔς τε τὸν κόσμον σφῶν οἱ βάρβαροι μετερρυθμίζοντο καὶ ἀγορὰς ἐνόμιζον συνόδους τε εἰρηνικὰς ἐποιοῦντο).[34]

Our other source for this episode is Velleius Paterculus, who wrote about 20 years after the event.  He is, therefore, our best and most contemporary source for the episode, and he reveals the success of the German plot against Varus to have relied upon the Germans’ awareness of this as a Roman conceit:

But the Germans, who combine great ferocity with great craft to an extent scarcely credible to one who has no experience of them, and are a race born to lying, by trumping up a series of fictitious lawsuits, now provoking one another to disputes and now expressing their gratitude that Roman justice was settling these disputes and that their own barbarous nature was being softened down by this new and hitherto unknown method and that quarrels which were usually settled by arms were now being ended by law, brought Quinctilius to such a degree of negligence that he came to look upon himself as an urban praetor administering justice in the forum and not as a general in command of an army in the heart of Germany.[35]

In short, the Germans brought to Varus a series of trumped-up lawsuits and thanked him that quarrels that had theretofore been resolved through violence were now being settled by Roman justice.  The Germans thus flattered the Roman governor’s ego by appealing to Roman self-regard.  In consequence, Varus was brought to such a degree of negligence that he came to look upon himself as an urban praetor administering justice in the forum and not as a commander in the heart of Germany.

IV. Policing

The description by Tacitus of the imposition of order on the Frisians brings me to my next topic, which is policing, or what a modern legal theorist would call policing.  My point is that in the train of any Roman judgment and declaration that a region was now pacified would follow new frameworks for the interpretation of resistance to Roman rule.  The Romans had a number of ways of understanding these situations.  For example, when recalcitrant populations existed geographically or topographically in the shadows of emergent state power, they might be figured as bandits—not so much threatening the existence of Roman rule as establishing separate orders in mimetic relation to the configuration of the power that they resisted.[36]

It is important, however, to understand that the language of banditry amounts to a denial of politics, in pursuit of a claim to sovereignty.  That this, too, was part of an earlier imperial ideology of rule is demonstrated once again by Velleius Paterculus, in a passage that rehearses the praises of Augustus and his achievements:

Augustan peace, which has spread to the regions of east and west and to the bounds of north and south, preserves every corner of the world safe from the fear of brigandage.[37]

What stands clear, then, is that in the Roman case, the language of banditry was intimately wedded to the language of peace:  regions were rendered peaceful by the penetration of state power, which was effected discursively by the classification of political and statal action by unauthorized actors as non-political and non-statal.  We witness this also in the autobiography of the emperor Augustus, who claimed to have rendered land and sea peaceable and alike to have rid the world of pirates and bandits.[38] These conjoined claims to have established peace and order issued, in Roman imperial ideology, in legitimate sovereignty over others, and the appropriate response on the part of those within the empire was obedience.  This much is affirmed in the political rhetoric of the geographic books of the elder Pliny’s Natural History, of which I quote a representative entry:

Between this boundary and the river Ampsaga, Africa contains 516 peoples who obey Rome’s power of command.[39]

Whatever self-understanding such peoples possessed, in the Roman perspective, the proper attitude to be exhibited by such persons once peace had been declared—which is to say, once they had been described as within rather than without the structures of state power—was obedience.  (The forms taken by such mediation will be the subject of the final section of this essay.)

A little appreciated aspect of Pliny’s catalog of the communities of the empire is his insistence that the preeminent index of Roman sovereignty is that subject peoples should bring their disputes to Roman fora.[40]  That is to say, he indexes sovereignty not to a monopoly on the power to authorize violence (à la Weber) but to a monopoly on the authorizing of law-making and law-applying institutions.  But he can also say, as he does here, that the main duty of subject peoples—particularly insignificant subject peoples—is that they simply obey Rome’s power of command.

My point as regards policing is that whereas resistance to Rome in the conquest phase was a political act, or an act of war between juridically parallel and theoretically equivalent actors, once order is established, the duty of subjects is to obey agents of that order, and resistance to those agents is a moral and not a political act.  For example, a famous inscription from Sardinia records the efforts of a series of procurators to resolve a boundary dispute between two peoples, the Galillenses and Patulcenses.  The Galillenses were wise enough in the ways of Roman bureaucracy to prevent earlier judgments against them from being acted upon, in part by filing appeals.  But in 69 CE, Lucius Helvius Agrippa had had enough, and issued the following command:

The Galillenses shall depart from the territory of the Patulcenses Campani, which they have seized by force, before the next kalends of April.  If they do not obey this decision, let them know they will be guilty of long-standing contumacy and will be subject to the punishment now often announced.[41]

Contumacy is not a criminal act.  It is a disposition, the disposition that leads one not to obey when told what to do; and the moral failing involved is heightened, in proportion as one knowingly persists in error.

Exactly the same fault is, of course, attributed to the Christians whom Pliny interrogates in the famous letter that he wrote to the emperor Trajan, the earliest pagan witness to the presence of Christians in the empire:

(2) For the moment, this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. (3) I have asked them whether they are Christians.  When they confess, I have asked them a second and third time, threatening punishment; when they persevere, I have ordered them to be led away.  For I do not doubt but that, whatever it is that they are confessing, their stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy definitely ought to be punished (neque enim dubitabam, qualecumque esset quod faterentur, pertinaciam certe et inflexibilem obstinationem debere puniri).  There have been others of a similar madness whom, because they are Roman citizens, I have put down that they are to be sent back to the city.[42]

Famously, Pliny claimed not to know why Christianity was illegal.  But he is sure of the perversity of these defendants, which is manifested not in their being Christian, but in their refusal, at once stubborn and obstinate, to do what they’re told.

These frameworks of evaluation and their languages are brought together in Tacitus’s representation of a speech by the Roman general Petilius Cerealis to Gauls inclined to rebellion in the year 70 CE.  Cerealis presents the Gauls with a vision of their life before and after Rome:

Throughout the whole of Gaul there were always despots and wars until you passed under our law.  We ourselves, despite many provocations, imposed upon you by right of victory only what was necessary for our preserving peace…   Hence, love and cherish peace and the City, which victors and vanquished enjoy on an equal footing.  May your experience of the two alternatives teach you not to prefer insubordination and ruin over obedience and safety.[43]

What is notable once again, is the conjoining of transregional peace with the imposition of a superordinate system of public law, in consequence of which varied forms of political conduct—the choice to be ruled by kings or to fight each other or even Rome—are recategorized as dispositional and moral.

This shift, from a language of politics and international law, to a language of obedience and morality, is consequent upon the sovereign act of declaring Augustan peace.

V. The Ethics and Economics of Governing Through Cities

It is a truism that Rome governed its empire through cities, or by means of the cooptation of local elites.[44]  What should be more explicitly acknowledged when we say such things, is that the Romans employed such methods to solve a fundamental problem of weakness.[45]  In other words, Rome instrumentalized city-states and indigenous institutions in order to extend the infrastructural reach of the Roman state because they lacked the resources to do so directly.  This form of action is evident also in the operation of depersonalized institutions among Roman citizens, as on the Tablet of Heraclea, where the institutions and practices of local government are brought into significant homeomorphy with Roman ones, in order to serve Roman ends.[46]  In the case of non-Roman cities that served as nodal points for the extension of Roman state power, collaborating with Rome brought potentially massive benefits.  Few were the Greek city-states outside Greece that could have held territories of the size they did under Rome, had they not been backstopped by Roman power—in particular the power that Rome indisputably did have, namely, spectacular violence.[47]

Allow me now to return to a much earlier point.  As late as the late second and early first centuries BCE, Rome conceived of much of what modern maps depict as “the Roman empire” as consisting of independent states bound to each other through networks of bilateral or multilateral treaty relations.  By way of example, I cite the clauses on mutual assistance from the Roman treaty with Astypalaia of 105 BCE:

… between the People of the Romans and the People of the Astypalaians let there be peace and friendship and alliance both on land and on sea for all time; let there be no war.

  • The People of the Astypalaians shall not grant passage to the enemies and opponents of the People of the Romans through their own land and the land that the People of the Astypalaians controls, with public sanction, so that upon the Romans and those ruled by the Romans they might wage war. With regard to (Rome’s) enemies, neither with weapons nor money nor ships shall the (People of the Astypalaians) help them, with public sanction in bad faith.
  • The People of the Romans, in regard to the enemies and opponents of the people of the Astypalaia …[48]

Although it avowedly takes place in, and seeks to effect, a multilateral world, the relationship of “peace and friendship” is bilateral, and takes the form of an agreement among notional equals; their equality finds expression in the symmetry of the stipulations that bind each party.

A quarter century later, a war between Rome and King Mithridates of Pontus had convulsed Asia Minor, and Mithridates had successfully induced several Greek cities in Asia revolt from Rome.  In the aftermath of Roman victory, rewards and punishments were doled out.  In the decree of the Roman Senate regarding privileges to be awarded to Stratonikeia, which had remained faithful, the Roman approach to the landscape of empire appears very different than it does in the treaty with Astypalaia.  Here, for example, is a clause subordinating select communities and territories in the neighborhood of Stratonikeia to its administration:

[Pedasos,] Themessos, Keramos, and the lands, villages, harbors, and the revenues of the cities that the commander Lucius Cornelius Sulla for the sake of their courage and honor added and assigned to them, that it should be permitted to them to have those things…[49]

At issue here, of course, is a system of reward, by which peoples loyal to Rome were granted subsidiary suzerainty over others, whom they “had” and who were henceforth deemed sub-political.[50]  But administrative subordination also amounted to a mechanism whereby select cities were instrumentalized so as to extend metropolitan control over peoples and space, in a fashion that was profoundly not true of any network of bilateral treaties.

So understood, the effect of the administrative subordination of some communities to others is similar to the work visible in contemporaneous Roman laws on jurisdiction in the western Mediterranean.  These imply the existence and operation of kindred structures of subordination, insofar as the Romans identify and authorize institutions of dispute resolution, perforce located in monumentalized urban spaces.  Although these rarely make global claims, the lexical operations employed by the Roman laws enact totalizing claims to account for all space and populations within bounded units of rule.[51]  The clauses on jurisdiction in the lex Rupilia of 132 BCE are a case in point:  the legal landscape of Sicily was carved into jurisdictions, civitas-by-civitas, in each of which a different code of law might obtain.[52]  A clear implication of the logic and lexicology of such texts is that all spaces and peoples will be accounted for.  The Rupilian law might speak of civitates—city-states—and not of villages or non-urbanized populations; nonetheless, it is also clear that Romans did not intend there to be places and parties in Sicily unregulated by law.  Other laws used other means—most notably distributive nouns, specifying institutions to be used “in each city of each province,” for example.[53]  In these cases, the identification and interpellation of individual taxa—cities, jurisdictions, assize districts, what have you—allows for the whole to emerge to view as an aggregate of units of rule.

To return to Stratonikeia, the attraction to a Greek city-state of this form of government lay in the power that the city-state thereby received to exploit the wealth of communities that were subordinated to it.  Stratonikeia is in fact an unusual case, because the Senate directed Sulla, if he should so wish, to assess the tax burden that Stratonikeia might impose on its new dependencies.  In general, Rome paid no attention to the incidence of taxation within a poliadic community.  This allowed Greek cities to pay their Roman taxes by distributing the burden to whatever extent possible on the often non-Greek communities that they “had.”[54] This aspect of the system receives remarkable affirmation in the speech of praise given by the early imperial Greek orator Dio Chrysostom (c. 40 – c. 120 CE) to the city of Celaenae, located on the Maeander in Phrygia:

You occupy the strongest site and the richest on the continent; you are settled in the midst of plains and mountains of rare beauty; you have the most abundant springs and soil of the highest fertility, bearing, all told, innumerable products …  Furthermore, you stand as a bulwark in front of Phrygia, Lydia and Caria besides; and there are other tribes around you whose members are most numerous, Cappadocians and Pamphylians and Pisidians, and for all of them your city constitutes a market and a place of meeting.  And you hold in subordination many cities unknown to fame and many prosperous villages.  And the greatest sign of your power is the size of your tax burden.  For, I suppose, just as those beasts of burden seem most powerful that carry the greatest load, so it is reasonable to conclude that the best of cities are those paying the largest assessment.[55]

Dio is not making a sick joke about the amount of tax that Celaenae must pay to Rome; nor is he making the best of a bad situation; nor for that matter are the references to holding cities and villages in subordination and that to the size of Celaenae’s tax burden independent points.  Rather, Celaenae’s tax burden is high because it controls many communities on behalf of Rome, and it is lucky because it can abuse those communities and spare itself in setting the incidence of taxation.

We may now return to oration of Aelius Aristides in praise of Rome, delivered perhaps a half century later:

For you [Romans] are the only ones ever to rule over free men.  And Caria has not been given to Tissaphernes nor Phrygia to Pharnabazus, nor Egypt to another, nor are the people, like a household, spoken of as belonging to so-and-so, to whomever they were given to serve, although not even that man was free.[56]

Aristides praised Rome because it ruled over free persons, in contrast with the Persian empire, which delivered entire cities into the control of its friends like Themistocles, more or less in usufruct, like property.  But we can now see that Aristides was wrong:  Aristides thinks of the empire as ruling over free persons and communities because he thinks exclusively of Greek cities.  Many of these were free and did flourish under the empire, because it gave them rein to exploit those whom the Greeks despised. One can see this above all in his closing remarks on the flourishing of urbanism under Roman rule:

And the whole inhabited world, as it were attending a national festival, has laid aside its old dress—the carrying of weapons—and has turned, with full authority to do so, to adornments and all kinds of pleasures.  And all the other sources of contestation have died out in the cities, but this single rivalry holds all of them, how each will appear as fair and charming as possible.  Everything is full of gymnasiums, fountains, gateways, temples, handicrafts and schools.[57]

In his vision—which is of course partial, but I am interested in its partiality—the benefits of empire accrue to cities, by which he means Greek cities, where perhaps 15% of the population lived.  The benefits consist above all in forms of monumentalization and practices of culture associated with poliadic urbanism.  What is more, this wealth flows to those communities naturally, through the forceless force—the unweaponized power—of a pacific empire.

We are often told nowadays that we should read texts like that of Aelius Aristides in the praises-of-empire tradition with a hermeneutic of suspicion, and we probably should.  But if we do, then we should zero in on passages like this, and investigate both their politics and their political economics.  I have said enough about their political economics.  As regards politics, allow me to point out that many of the cities of the eastern Mediterranean that were placed in positions of superintendency over others were juridically non-Roman, and so functioned, to a point, as a constitutive outside to Roman power, even as they operated so as to extend it.

A great American politician is credited with the truism, “All politics is local.”[58]  In the Roman empire under the pax Romana, all domination was local.

VI. Conclusion

Michel Foucault once posed the question, whether power isn’t simply a form of warlike domination.  “Isn’t power a sort of generalized war, which assumes at particular moments the forms of peace and the state?  Peace would then be a form of war, and the state a means of waging it.”[59]  Along these lines, I have suggested that peace as an end of war in the Roman world often amounted to not much more than a turning point in the nature, location, character and characterization of violence.  My remarks on fiscality followed in this vein.  But I have also tried to draw attention to other areas of material and social relations where the passage from Ecksteinian inter-state anarchy to Roman peace was not a zero-sum game, in which inputs of domination through war produce equivalent outputs of domination through statal violence.

Nor do I want to leave the impression that wealth extraction can serve as a proxy for structures of domination writ large.  Among other things, the value of what is extracted is not nearly so important as the mere fact of extraction.  That is why Rome taxed some pastoralist tribes for a few hides per year or, in one case, for a number of pounds of beeswax.  Rather, the direction of flow of tribute rendered visible the flow of obedience and counterflow of authority.  This is true in the short and perhaps the medium term, regardless of the actual balance of transfer payments that were necessary to sustain imperial rule, and even necessary to sustain the symbolics of rule.  On my understanding, we would make a big mistake if we indicted these projects as deluded because they were “inefficient.”  The economy as metaphor for the politics of empire is problematic, not least because much language about the economy is itself metaphorical and derives from simplistic understandings of mechanics, as well as reductive notions of modeling, in which there will turn out to be a single variable that we imagine them to have sought to maximize.

This brings me to a penultimate point.  The historiography of empire often operates on the basis of interpretive dyads that oppose metropolitan claims to authority and efficacy against local “realities,” or metropolitan power to local aspirations to self-determination.  In the nineties and the aughts—perhaps less so now?—, people engaged in regional study with respect to Rome were obsessed with resistance:  they wanted “their” area to have resisted empire; to have persisted through time despite imposed imperial cultures.  They were therefore also invested in positing and investigating a distinction between the symbolics of empire and the actualities of government (its forms, density, penetration, and so forth).  I wonder if this way of thinking gets the entire project wrong.  Maybe the symbolics were the practice?  Ancient empires were not fragile or thin—or inefficient—because there was little or nothing to extract; imperial elites were therefore not deluded if hanging on to empire wasn’t profitable.  Nor should they be taken more seriously if we can claim or pretend that they generated surpluses or “growth.”  The end of empire was not growth or acculturation or conversion; the end of empire was empire.

Finally, I wonder if the distinction between negative and positive conceptions of peace doesn’t turn out to be insufficient to the Roman case.  It is not simply that Roman texts articulate a range of views on the subject, from negative to strongly positive.  More importantly, the Roman state—like all ancient states—was infrastructurally weak.  It might have stopped outright warfare, and announced an aspiration to orient local social orders to the rule of law.  But the actualization of such ideals, and the material flourishing of subject populations, were only possible through the collaborative work of local ideologies and institutions, whose homeomorphy with Roman ones itself requires substantial and specific explanation.  The good news is that contemporary efforts to understand these aspects of Roman history are now achieving a depth and complexity of very considerable power.  The opportunity for corresponding advances in contemporary understandings of the ethics of empire need only be seized.

* David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor; Professor of Classics, History and Law and in the College, University of Chicago; Research Fellow, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa (2011– ).


[1] Recent studies of peace as both concept and practice in the Roman world include John Rich and Graham Shipley, eds., War and Society in the Roman World (New York: Routledge, 1993); Kurt A. Raaflaub, ed., War and Peace in the Ancient World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007); Kurt A. Raaflaub, ed., Peace in the Ancient World: Concepts and Theories (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley, 2016); and E. P. Moloney and Michael Stuart Williams, eds., Peace and Reconciliation in the Classical World (New York: Routledge, 2017).

[2] Clifford Ando, “Colonialism, colonization: Roman perspectives,” in Daniel L. Selden and Phiroze Vasunia, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Literatures of the Roman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) = Oxford Handbooks Online (published May 2016): DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199699445.013.4.

[3] The distinction between positive and negative peace is associated above all with the work of John Galtung, many of whose seminal essays are collected in John Galtung and Dietrich Fischer, eds., John Galtung. Pioneer of Peace Research (Boston: Springer, 2013).

[4] The basic lexicographical data are collected in Thesaurus Linguae Latinae s.v. “pāx” (volume 10, fasc. 1, p. 863 line 22 – p. 787 line 2; published 1991).

[5] Isidore, Etymologiae 18.1.11.  All translations in this paper are my own unless otherwise flagged.  For a translation of Isidore’s Etymologies, with useful biographical and historical introduction, see Barney, Stephen A., W.J. Lewis, J.A. Beach and Oliver Berghof, trans., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

[6] Festus s.v pacem (260L). See also Paul s.v. pax (261L): Pax dicta est a pactione.

[7] Livy 8.21.3-7.

[8] Myles Lavan, “Peace and empire: pacare, pacatus and the language of Roman imperialism,” in Moloney and Williams (op. cit. n. 1), 102-114.

[9] Vergil, Aen. 6.851-853:  tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento / (hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem, / parcere subiectis et debellare suberbos.

[10] Livy 8.13.14-15.

[11] Tacitus, Agricola 30.5.

[12] Augustus, Res Gestae 13.

[13] Beyond the works cited in n. 1, see also Clifford Ando, Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), esp. chapters 8-9 (on Vespasian, see esp. 335); Carlos Noreña, “Medium and message in Vespasian’s Templum Pacis,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 49 (2003): 25-43; Kurt A. Raaflaub, “Peace as the highest end and good? The role of peace in Roman thought and politics,” in G. Moosbauer and R. Wiegels, eds., Fines imperii—imperium sine fine? Römische Okkupations- und Grenzpolitik im frühen Principat (Rahden: Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2011), 323-338.

[14] Dio fr. 1.1:  Ὁ δὲ Δίων φησὶν ὅτι σπουδὴν ἔχω συγγράψαι πανθ᾿ ὅσα τοῖς Ῥωμαίοις καὶ εἰρηνοῦσι καὶ πολεμοῦσι ἀξίως μνήμης ἐπράχθη…

[15] Dio 38.31.1, from his narrative of 58 BCE (trans. Cary):  “Caesar found no hostility in Gaul, but everything was absolutely quiet.  The state of peace, however, did not continue, but first one war broke out against him of its own accord, and then another was added, so that his greatest wish was fulfilled, of waging war and winning success for the whole [period of his command].”

[16] Aelius Aristides, Or. 26.29 (trans. Behr).

[17] Aelius Aristides, Or. 26.70 (trans. Behr).

[18] John Richardson, The Language of Empire: Rome and the Idea of Empire from the Third Century BC to the Second Century AD (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).  See also J.-M. Bertrand, “À propos du mot provincia,” Journal des Savants 1989: 191-215; and A. R. Lintott, “What was the ‘Imperium Romanum’?,” Greece & Rome 28 (1981): 53-67.

[19] See esp. Clifford Ando, “Hannibal’s Legacy.  Sovereignty and territoriality in republican Rome,” in K.-J. Hölkeskamp and R. Roth, eds. Empire, Hegemony or Anarchy? Rome and Italy, c. 200-30 BC. (Stuttgart: Steiner, forthcoming).

[20] Clifford Ando, Law, Language and Empire in the Roman Tradition (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 70-71.

[21] Ando, “Colonialism, Colonization” (op. cit. n. 2).

[22] Clifford Ando and Seth Richardson, eds., Ancient States and Infrastructural Power. Europe, Asia and America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).

[23] Clifford Ando, “Imperial identities,” in Tim Whitmarsh, ed., Local knowledge and microidentities in the imperial Greek world (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 17-45.

[24] Cédric Brélaz,  La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure sous le Principat (Ier-IIIème s. ap. J.-C.).  Institutions municipales et institutions impériales dans l’Orient romain (Basel:  Schwabe, 2005).

[25] Thus the basic claim of Aristides, Or. 26.75, may stand despite Aristides’s imperfect understanding of the legal status of auxiliary soldiers.

[26] Maud Gleason, Making men: sophists and self-presentation in ancient Rome (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

[27] For now see Bernardo Periñán Gómez, ed., Derecho, persona y ciudadanía. Una experiencia jurídica comparada (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2010); and Evelyn Höbenreich, Viviana Kühne, and Francesca Lamberti, eds., El cisne II:  Violencia, proceso y discurso sobre género (Lecce : Edizioni del Grifo, 2012).

[28] Tacitus, Annals 11.18.1 (trans. after Woodman).

[29] L’Année épigraphique 1996, no. 685 (169 BCE) (image).

[30] See for now Ando, Law, language (op. cit. n. 20), 81-114; Clifford Ando, Roman Social Imaginaries: Language and Thought in Contexts of Empire (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 43-44.

[31] Livy 9.20.10, purporting to describe events from 317 BCE.

[32] Aelius Aristides, Or. 26.101 (trans. Behr).

[33] Dio 53.22.5.  On the imposition of the Roman census in the west, see Béatrice Le Teuff, “Les recensements dans les provinces de la République romaine: aux origines de la réforme augustéenne,” in Nathalie Barrandon and Francois Kirbihler, eds., Administrer les provinces de la République romaine (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2010), 195-211.

[34] Dio 56.18.1-2 (trans. after Cary).

[35] Velleius 2.118.1 (trans. after Shipley).

[36] No one has done more to elucidate a Roman discourse on banditry than Brent Shaw:  see Brent Shaw, “Bandits in the Roman empire,” Past & Present 105 (1984), 3-52; idem, “Bandit highlands and lowland peace:  the mountains of Isauria-Cilicia,” Journal of the economic and social history of the Orient 33 (1990), 199-233, 237-270; and idem, “Rebels and outsiders,” in A.K. Bowman, P. Garnsey, and D. Rathbone, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, volume 11: The High Empire, a.d. 70-192 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 361-403.

[37] Velleius Paterculus 2.126 (trans. Shipley).

[38] Augustus, Res Gestae 25-26.

[39] Pliny, Nat. 5.29 (trans. after Rackham).

[40] Clifford Ando, “Law and the landscape of empire,” in Stéphane Benoist, Anne Daguey-Gagey, and Christine Hoët-van Cauwenberghe, eds., Figures d’empire, fragments de mémoire. Pouvoirs et identités dans le monde romain impérial (IIe s. av. n.è. – VIe s. de n.è.) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de Septentrion, 2011), 25-47; see also Brent D. Shaw, “The Elder Pliny’s African Geography,” Historia 30 (1981), 424-471.

[41]  Hermann Dessau, ed., Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (Berlin: Weidmann, 1892), text no. 5947, lines 20-23; translation:  A.C. Johnson, P.R. Coleman-Norton, and F.C. Bourne, Ancient Roman Statutes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961), text no. 181.

[42] Pliny, Epistulae 10.96.2-4 (trans. Radice).

[43] Tacitus, Histories 4.74.1, 4 (trans. after Wellesley).

[44] Relevant historiography in English includes David Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor to the End of the Third Century After Christ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950); A.H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1937]); and David Braund, ed., The Administration of the Roman Empire 241 b.c. – a.d. 193 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1988).  Analytically, most ancient historians have focused more on relations between cities and empire than the empire’s instrumentalization of city-state institutions to penetrate the countryside.  This is not a focus of Magie’s work, but it is one to which he pays regular attention.  Among the better works in this vein are Brent D. Shaw, “Rural markets in North Africa and the political economy of the Roman empire,” Antiquités africaines 17 (1981), 37-83; idem, “Autonomy and tribute:  mountain and plain in Mauretania Tingitana,” in P. Baduel, ed., Desert et montagne:  hommage à Jean Dresch.  Revue de l’Occident Musulman et de la Méditeranée 41-42 (1986), 66-89; and Stephen Mitchell, Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), vol. 1: 59-98, 165-226.  An exemplary recent work focused on urbanism in the high empire is Noel Lenski, Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

[45] Ando and Richardson, Ancient States and Infrastructural Power (op. cit. n. 22).

[46] The tablet of Heraclea:  Michael Crawford, ed., Roman Statutes, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 64 (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1996), text no. 24.

[47] Clifford Ando, “City, Village, Sacrifice:  The Political Economy of Religion in the Early Roman Empire,” in Richard Evans, ed., Mass and Elite in the Greek and Roman World:  From Sparta to Late Antiquity (New York: Routledge, 2017), 118-136.

[48] Robert K. Sherk, ed., Roman Documents from the Greek East: Senatus Consulta and Epistulae to the Age of Augustus (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1969), text no. 16, lines 26-35 (trans. Sherk, with modifications).

[49] Sherk, Roman Documents (op. cit. n. 48), text no. 18, ll. 53-56, from 81 BCE (trans. Sherk, with minor changes).

[50] For another example of the use of the language of ownership by one community of others, to describe a relationship of administrative subordination, see Ando, “City, Village, Sacrifice” (op. cit. n. 47), 122.

[51] Clifford Ando, “Hannibal’s Legacy: Sovereignty and Territoriality in Republican Rome,” in Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp and Roman Roth, eds. Empire, Hegemony or Anarchy? Rome and Italy, c. 200-30 BC (Stuttgart: Steiner, forthcoming).

[52] Ando, “Hannibal’s Legacy” (op. cit. n. 51); idem, “Law and the landscape of empire” (op. cit. n. 40); Georgy Kantor, “Siculus cum Siculo non eiusdem ciuitatis: Litigation Between Citizens of Different Communities in the Verrines,” Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz 19 (2010), 187–204.

[53] On distributive pronouns see Clifford Ando, “Petition and Response, Order and Obey: Contemporary Models of Roman Government,” in Michael Jursa and Stephan Prochazka, eds., Governing Ancient Empires. Proceedings of the 3rd to 5th International Conferences of the Research Network Imperium and Officium (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, forthcoming).

[54] Clifford Ando, “Empire as State: The Roman Case,” in John Brooke, Greg Anderson and Julia Strauss, eds., State Formations: Histories and Cultures of Statehood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming); see Ando, “City, Village, Sacrifice” (op. cit. n. 47).

[55] Dio Or. 35.13-14 (trans. Crosby).  On Dio see C.P. Jones, The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).

[56] Aelius Aristides, Or. 26.69 (trans. Behr).

[57] Aelius Aristides, Or. 26.69 (trans. Behr).

[58] Barry Popik wishes to assign credit for an early version of the expression to Byron Price, writing in 1932, urging that Tip O’Neill is first on record using it in 1935.  See (accessed 21 May 2017).

[59] This language derives from an oft-reprinted interview, “Truth and Power,” quoted here from Michel Foucault, Power, edited by James D. Faubion, vol. 3 in Paul Rabinow, ed., Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 (New York: The New Press, 2000), 123-124.  As often regarding Foucault’s thought in these years—most notably, perhaps, the essay on governmentality from 1978—his thought circulated in print via lectures and essays that distilled or condensed ideas and arguments that were much more fully elaborated in his lectures at the Collège.  In this case, the essential text is the lecture of 7 January 1976:  Michel Foucault, ‘Il faut défendre la société.’ Cours au Collège de France, 1976 (Paris: Le Seuil, 1997) = idem, ‘Society must be defended.’ Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976, translated by David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 1-21 at 15-16.