Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Comparing America to the Roman Empire

         There are many people who often compare our 21st century America to that of the Pax Romana period during the time of the Roman Empire. What exactly was the Pax Romana period, was a two hundred year period in the Roman Empire's history that experienced a very successful peace and prosperity. The "Time of Happiness" [1] lasted during the reign of Augustus that lasted 27 BC 14 AD to Marcus Aurelius 161–180 AD[2]. After reviewing many of the characteristics of what the Pax Romana entailed, it's my opinion that there does seem to be some validity to this comparison of 21st century America having some similarities to that of the Roman Empire's Pax Romana period. For this paper, I will detail what happened during that time period and point out the similarities it fundamentally shares with our modern day America. Obviously though, Pax Romana cannot be compared directly in many respects, because of the fact that the Roman Empire existed over 2,000 years ago, and so much has happened since that time.
            A major reason for why people view America as a modern-day Roman Empire, is due to the fact that many of our political ideals were first dreamed up by the ancient Romans. They also sought freedom and a form of democracy, and America was founded with the same principles, since the Founding Fathers had drawn upon the ideas of the Roman Republic. The ancient Romans viewed the Pax Romana time period as an achievement of Rome's mission, which was the establishment of a world-state that was able to provide peace and security to its people who were deeply well civilized and had a well intentioned rule of law [3]. The exact same can be said of what America is like today, since we have been able to establish a well organized country that is fully structured through the extension of laws that every upstanding citizen upholds in their daily lives.
            Comparing the ancient Roman Empire and modern day America is fairly easy, because just as the Romans did, we tend to play a crucial part in many of the world's affairs by making a colossal impact in what happens in the countries of the world. Both Rome and America holds a power that "includes both military might and the 'soft power' of language, culture, commerce, technology, and ideas.[4]" During the time of the Roman Empire, the language of choice for the vast expanse of Roman rule was Latin. Today, so much of the world's population's second language is English. It's all for the reason that English is used as the language of official business for people. It's the most commonly used language in the sciences, for aerial and maritime communications, by world organizations,  and the world's students are taught the English language as well. Our own culture and ideals of commerce and technology tend to be idolized and widely used or reinvented throughout the world.
            The borders of the Roman Empire were strongly defended by Roman legions and it was one of the reasons for the Pax Romana period to observe a lasting peace. These Roman legions were able to fend off several invading forces that attacked from several different parts of the empire's borders. Also, any uprisings that did happen within its borders were successfully destroyed.  Comparing that to what is the United States today, there is border security in place that protects our country along the Mexico border and along Canada as well. Due to the threat of terrorism, there's a heavy presence of law enforcement and security in all of our nation's airports and at our state and federal buildings. There's even the Department of Homeland Security,  which was created following the events of September 11, 2001, that works to deter any threats against our country within our own borders.
            Even though we now have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there still is vast similarities that can be found between Pax Romana Rome and the United States. Roman generals deterred any conflict and avoided risks to limit battle casualties [5]. The same can be said of what many military personnel are now doing on the ground today in those two countries, by use of modern technology, to limit battle casualties and strike the enemy more precisely. Another very similar area between these two world leaders, is politics, since it was seen as deeply important and there were many political battles fought. Political battles have taken place throughout the course of America's history, but with the Gore v. Bush election in 2000, followed by the 2004 and 2008 elections, and with the rise of the Tea Party most recently, it hinders our inability to work things out and actually fix the things that are broken or about to break.
            The infrastructure and the economy of the Roman Empire is what kept it going for hundreds of years, and that can truly be seen in how America works today. The Roman Empire built 53,000 miles of roads, connecting cities and areas that they conquered, sending goods to all those places. Not counting the millions of miles of streets and other small roads across America, we have roughly 46,380 miles of interstate that spans the continent[6], in which trucks, as well as trains, easily distribute goods to anywhere in the country. Romans created a system of aqueducts for cities, which were used for drinking water and bathing facilities, as well as vastly improved their empire by improving harbors, clearing forests, drained swamps, irrigated deserts and cultivated undeveloped land to make it more accessible and usable[7]. This is basically what the US Army Corps of Engineers and thousands of city municipalities do every day to ensure that the country's infrastructure is sound.
            Slaves and women in both the Roman Empire and the United States, saw vast progress. Just like early America in the 19th century, Romans freed many of their slaves and became citizens and gained the same rights and privileges like everyone else, and some were even given business skills to use. Emperors even executed laws protecting slaves from their masters. But, unlike the Roman Empire, America saw fit to free all of their slaves, but it wasn't until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, that African-Americans were completely equal to everyone else. Women in the Roman Empire during Pax Romana saw many of the same rights that many American women share today. A woman in Roman times was able to own property, divorce, wasn't forced to marry someone she didn't wish to be with, and were able to go as they pleased outside the home[8]. It wasn't until the Suffrage Movement in America when women demanded these same rights, and today, women are now vastly equal to men.
            As it can be seen, there are many similarities between America today and the ancient Roman Empire's Pax Romana era. It's no surprise how close we are to the ancient Romans, especially with this last similarity. The Roman Empire saw the decaying of values before it fell, and our own country is currently in the same situation. Secular values in the Roman Empire began to not matter, and Roman people sought out religious cults and other religious expressions. This resulted in a lost creative energy and decay of values[9]. The exact opposite is currently happening in America, as the secular world dominates our everyday lives, with reality TV, pop culture, violence and sex showcased in movies and on TV, resulting in a decaying of Christian morals and values.
Sources:
            Murphy, Cullen. Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.
            "Pax Romana." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/447447/Pax-Romana. (Accessed 25 January 2011).
            Perry, Marvin & ect.. West Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society.  Vol 1, 9th Ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. Cullen Murphy (Author)
            http://www.nationalatlas.gov/transportation.html (Accessed 27 January 2011)


[1] Perry, Marvin & ect.. West Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society.  Vol 1, 9th Ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 148.
[2] "Pax Romana." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/447447/Pax-Romana.

[3] Perry, 148.

[4] Murphy, Cullen. Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.
[5]  Perry, 148
[6] http://www.nationalatlas.gov/transportation.html
[7] Perry, 148
[8] Perry, 148
[9] Perry, 157

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