When an Empire Withdrew from an Unwinnable War

Hadrian's Retreat From Parthia Drew Fierce Criticism—and Opened the Door to a Better Roman Future

Ending wars has always been hard for great powers. Hadrian knew this. In 117 A.D., the new Roman emperor decided to withdraw his forces from an unwinnable war against the Parthian Empire.

Hadrian had inherited the conflict with Parthia—a large empire centered in what is now Iran—from Trajan, his imperial predecessor. Trajan’s generals resisted Hadrian’s withdrawal so forcefully that the emperor feared he might lose both his crown and his life. His ending of the war brought historical condemnation upon him for centuries.

It also was a decision that made Rome stronger.

The …

What Would Cicero See in American Governance Today? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

What Would Cicero See in American Governance Today?

Before the Rise of Caesar, the Roman Statesman Predicted How the Spread of Lawlessness Could Destroy a Republic

At some point in the early summer of 54 BC, the Roman statesman Cicero set to work on his most consequential work of political philosophy: De Re publica (On the …

Complacency—Not Hubris—Is What Killed the Roman Republic

Over the Years, Democratic Norms Quietly Eroded, Not Unlike in Today's America

Representative democracies have wildly different life expectancies, but they tend not to live long.

Democratic governments have existed for more than 2,500 years, but most democracies have historically failed to survive …

How Will California Survive the End of America’s Empire?

A Trip to Rome Offers Old Lessons, Young City Officials, and Inspiration for How to Rebuild Democracy on Imperial Ruins

How will California survive the end of the American empire?

The question might seem hypothetical, but I found it inescapable last week in Rome, where I was running a global forum …

Why I’m Staying in Rome, Even While It Crumbles 

A British Novelist Will Remain in the Eternal City Because of What Its Past Can Teach About Surviving the Present

When I tell Romans I have been a resident of their city for the last 16 years and have no desire to live anywhere else, they’re often a little baffled. …

Why Are There so Many Statues of Men on Horseback?

Since the Time of Marcus Aurelius, It's Been Viewed as the Perfect Combination of Power and Virtue

Statues are created to project meaning. Contemporary public artworks, for example, use purposely veiled messages aimed to generate thoughtful exchange with the viewer and to prompt reflection. By contrast, historic …