The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides

The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides

The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides

The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides

Excerpt

The Roman Empire reached the peak of its organization and material prosperity in the second century after Christ. In the eyes of the most civilized non-Italians it now generally appeared as a great blessing to mankind. Tacitus gives a dark picture, but Tacitus writes about the first century after Christ, and his dissatisfaction sprang partly from the long outdated spirit of an older Rome which would never have won the allegiance of the Greeks as the Rome of Hadrian and the Antonines won it. A student of the empire needs an antidote to Tacitus. The correspondence of Pliny and Trajan has of course the greatest value, but it does not take us far into the second century and does not represent the attitude of the people ruled. Dio Cassius, who wrote a history of which for our period a mere epitome has survived, came later and was a member of the Roman senate like Tacitus and Pliny. There is a paucity of literary evidence for the history of just the period between the accession of Hadrian and the death of Marcus Aurelius. Precisely from the intervening reign of Antoninus Pius, however, we do have one precious literary document, which is relatively unread. Mommsen remarked to Wilamowitz that it needed to be reedited. It is the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides. Of course it must be read critically, but so must other documents.

Our subject, therefore, is how the Roman Empire looked, not to Italians, not to Roman senators, but to the educated people who sat or might have sat in the town councils of Greek cities during the second century after Christ. Their history had made them feel that there should be one paramount city to act as leader in the world. For this role Rome had outstanding qualifications, the Parthians had none whatsoever.

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