Roman Empire

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What features made the Roman empire successful during its peak in the second century, and what seeds of future problems can be identified?

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There are many defining features of the Roman empire during the second century CE. First of all, the Roman empire reached its largest extent in the early years of that century when Trajan was emperor. It encompassed around five million square kilometers and was home to as many as 100...

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million people. This presented some strengths as well as some challenges. With such a large territory, Rome had access to vast resources and labor pools. This allowed the empire to rely on domestic trade, which was far more reliable and inexpensive than international commerce. However, it also meant that internal communication could be slow and cumbersome. Provincial governors ruled their far-flung provinces with little direct oversight from Rome. It also became increasingly difficult to defend these distant borders. While these issues were managed during the prosperous years of the second century, they became untenable later on and helped contribute to the fall of the empire.

This was also a period of increasing autocratic rule. While the emperors of the previous century ruled with a great degree of power, they were still nominally part of a republican system. However, political changes in the second century saw a distinct shift towards unabashed absolute monarchy. This led to the decay of long-established republican systems. The emperors stopped issuing decrees through the Senate and began making laws directly through their own office. The edicts and judgments of the emperors were no longer up to debate or appeal. This allowed effective emperors to rule quickly and efficiently. This was often necessary for such a large empire. However, as time went by, inept and callous emperors lost the ability to rule effectively. This eventually led to a weakening of the political structure of Rome and left it more susceptible to rot from within and invasion from without.

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