The stability of the Roman empire requires substantial and specific explanation. What induced the quietude and then the obedience of her subjects? Roman military power might explain the lack of protests and revolts among provincials, but it cannot account for their gradual Romanization, especially if we designate by that term the absorption and local application of the forms and structures of Roman political and legal thought. Greeks proved no less permeable to Roman influence in those spheres of activity than did the populations of Gaul, Spain, or North Africa; our answer to the question posed above must, therefore, confront the translation of symbolic forms across cultures at different stages of literacy, urbanization, and technological development. As a process that transformed the empire from an imperium, a collection of conquered provinces, into a patria, a focus for the patriotic loyalties of its subjects, Romanization thus defined cannot be measured through the spread of Roman artifacts, nor can it be disproved by the ubiquitous evidence of persistent local cultures. The study of Roman interaction with provincials at the local level likewise suggests that the internal stability of the empire relied not on Roman power alone, but on a slowly realized consensus regarding Rome's right to maintain social order and to establish a normative political culture.
In this essay I argue that the official discourse of the imperial government, and the principles of legitimation to which it gave voice, found a ready audience in the polyglot population of the Roman provinces. I analyze the nature and appeal of that discourse on two levels. First, recognizing that complex systems of belief can be neither scripted nor imposed, I seek to articulate both Rome's invocation of its subjects' obedience and their justifications for participating in their own subjugation. Second, although I focus on the tropes and arguments through which Greeks and Romans dis