For the Roman Empire, there was relative stability during the second century. Rome, under Trajan's rule, extended across the Danube into the Dacia and southeast into Mabia and Mesopotamia. Under Hadrian, some of the eastern gains were relinquished, but the empire was still greater than it had been ever before. Secure within its borders, The Roman State flourished in peace and in posterity. But there was no happy commonwealth. There was still a distinct class division between the peasants, farmers, and urban poor and the rich and the senators.
In the history of the Roman Empire during the 2nd century, there were significant changes from emperor to emperor, which caused new problems and concerns to the central government. Trajan was a keen military man and though the conquest of Dacia was strategically necessary, the eastern campaigns were not. Hadrian was more concerned for consolidating the frontiers rather than conquering. So there were construction of linear barriers on the frontiers, of which the most famous were Hadrian's wall in northern Britain and The Gurmen frontier between the Rhine and the Danube.
Hadrian's consolidating of the frontiers was a good policy but it marked the end of the great period of expansion and the role of the army and emperor was no longer to conquer new territory but defend their land. Hadrian's frontier policy rejected further expansion, and gave it physical expression in structures of timber and stone. The army became increasingly defensive to repel foreign invades. The momentum of expansion had halted but it was difficult to maintain stability and soon the empire found itself fighting a rearguard action against pressures from without. This pressure would ultimately lead to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West.
Government & Rebellion
Hadrian spent much of his 21-year reign traveling around the empire to gain a level of first hand experience unrivalled since Augustus. His journeys were both business and pleasure. This way he would know the concerns and needs of the people.
On his third voyage, he discovered a scene that was directly to cause the only major win of his reign. Passing through Dalstine he refound Jerusalem as the colony of Aelia Capitolina. Jerusalem had been destroyed by Titis but still held powerful associations for the Jews. The idea of a pagan settlement on their sacred land stirred them into rebellion, led by Simon Bar Cochba. They waged a four-year campaign. It was serious enough to demand the presence of Hadrian himself.
By 135, Hadrian was an old man. He was childless and Antonius "Pius" to succeed him. As part of the deal Antonius in turn adopted Marcus Aurelius to be his successor. This system of adoption served the Roman Empire well. It ensured that each new emperor had proved himself capable of government before he assumed power. Marcus Aurelius was not succeeded by an adopted emperor but his own son, the unstable Commodus.
The Antonine Age
The accession of Antonius Pius in 138 marked the beginning of the Antonine age, a period regarded as the golden age of the history of the Roman Empire. He reigned for 23 years and succeeded by Marcus Aurelius. Both were estimable rulers. Antonius Pius was a benign and paternalistic figure, for he never left Italy. A number of wars were fought on his orders, but all of them at a distance. The most important was the re-occupation of Scotland. The Antonine Wall was built between the estuaries of Clyde and Forth. Wars were also fought in the Mauritania and along the Danube frontiers, but Antonius was fortunate to face no major crisis and threats alone were sufficient to deter the Parthians, from breaking the peace.
The reign of Antonius Pius was relatively untroubled, Marcus Aurelius was less fortunate. He assumed power jointly in 161 with adopted Brother Cacius Venus, but within a year Venus had had to leave to counter a serious Parthian invasion. In 165 the Romans achieved a major victory and captured and sacked the Parthian Capital of Ctesiphon. Upon their return to Rome, they discovered they brought back a plague. An epidemic of unspecificied nature raged throughout the empire in 168. Perhaps sensing their weakness, the Germanic peoples crossed the Danube and attacked Italy.
The Germanic Wars preoccupied Marcus Aurelius for the rest of his reign. It was over 200 years since any foreign people had invaded Italy. Their descent on Italy created a crisis which took years to settle. Finally order was restored, but not before large areas of the frontier had been devastated. Meanwhile Marcus Aurelius wrote in philosophical thoughts in a notebook entitled "To Himself" which is now known as Meditation.
End of Dynasty
The last years of Marcus Aurelius were occupied by renewed attempts to conquer central Europe. that ended with his death in 180. Commodus, the new emperor, quickly showed signs of insecurity and megalomania. The work was given to the powerful officials, his regime became unpopular for its corruption. He enjoyed gladiatorial spectacles and also participated as a seductor. His behavior may not have been as mad as reported but he was a threat to his own court officials. He was assassinated on the last day of 192, poisoned and then strangled in bed. His death marked the defeat of the Antonine dynasty.
The 2nd century emperors were great builders, using the resources of the state on a range of impressive projects. Hadrian, Antonius Pius, and Commodus preferred the county villa and the official imperial palace on the Palatine. The greatest wall was Hadrian's palatial residence at Tivoli, and was very keen on Greek art, Antonius Pius had his county villa at Laurentum, Commodus had it at the villa of the Quintillii or the viasppia.
Rome remained the heart of the Empire. If received much attention in terms of new public building and monuments to imperial glory. Victories abroad were marked by the construction of triumphal arches or commerative columns. Hadrian completed the reconstruction of the city centre begun Domitian, but he is famous for the construction of the Pantheon. There are temples that defined the emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Anotonius Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.
Imperial building was not confined to Rome or Italy. One of the largest projects was the great baths built at Carthege. Hadrian donated buildings in places he visited. There was enormous effort put into military camps and the frontier and the walls Hadria and Antonius Pius in Britain.
2nd Century was the end of the greatest period of Latin literature with historical writings of Tacitus and the latter satires of Juvenal. The famous biography of the 12 Caesars by Suetonius was one of the best known works. Apuleius' comic novel The Golden Age was written as well as the anonymous and enigmatic poem called Pervigilium Veneri's (the Virgil of Venus).
Roman Society in the 2nd Century
It is said that the period in history of the world which the human race was most happy and prosperous was from the death of Domitian to the accession. In this period money was lent to land owners and the interest used by local towns and cities to feed and clothe children of need families. The state also stepped in to help cities which had borrowed any to embark on public building projects, and became bankrupt as a result.
There were also outbreaks of epidemic diseases in the 160's. There was also the division of society into honestiores (rich) and humiliores (poor), the division between the rich and poor as opposed to the previous division of citizens and non-citizens. there was harsh treatment to groups such as Christians who refused to sacrifice to the traditional gods.
Social changes come with economic decline in some regions of the empire. The capital continued to prosper at the heart of the empire, while other Italian cities became less prosperous. Gaul, The Rhineland, and Africa underwent economic boom at the expense of traditional Italian industries. As the economic geography of the empire changed, so did the politics; with provinces becoming more prominent and powerful. This and the growing pressures on the frontiers, were to be hall marks of the following century.