Tacitus, Peace, and Desolation
By Bryan Caplan
One of Tacitus’ most famous lines is “They make a desert and call it peace.” What I didn’t realize until I read The Agricola is that Tacitus is quoting (or paraphrasing) Calgacus, an enemy of Rome. The full speech (chaps 30-32) is awesome. Highlight:
These plunderers of the world [the Romans], after exhausting the land by
their devastations, are rifling the ocean: stimulated by avarice, if their
enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; unsatiated by the East and by the West:
the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity. To ravage,
to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make
a desert, they call it peace.
I can just imagine the Romans explaining that the slaughter was a small short-run cost dwarfed by massive long-run benefits. I’m skeptical, but don’t know enough about pre- and post-Roman Britain to speak with confidence.