“Rome is an empire, so it was built and maintained by force.” Critics of empire, although acknowledging its benefits, also often bring up this point.

Such judgement is, however, erroneous because it fails to take into account the reality of history, that people understand a situation differently from what we would. As counter-example we could take, e.g., the Gallo-Roman civilization, product of the Roman conquest of Gaul. The very compound nature of the name indicates a reality that was at work not only in Gaul, but in many parts of the Empire as well: the voluntary adoption of Latin culture by the peoples of the Empire. Because what is meant when we speak of Gallo-Roman culture, is the fact that it took in Roman elements, while remaining Gallic. This situation occured, at a greater or lesser degree, in all provinces of the Empire (and outside as well, due to trade contacts).

Now, force alone cannot make a people adopt foreign elements: no one in Europe decided to adopt German after WWII, nor did anyone decide to adopt Russian during or after the Soviet era. Yet, today many countries speak a Romance language, and even more have adopted, and expanded, Roman law. If the Roman empire had rested only, or even primarily, on force, how would we explain the dream of virtually all of Europe (France, England, Germany), to recreate the Empire until very recent times? Nor would it explain why even foreign peoples, like the Ottoman Turks, felt attracted by the prestige of the name of Rome, and wanted to acquire it as ultimate prize. Rome, whether the old or the new, has remained a name with high prestige, the ultimate prize for some, the glory to recover for others.

If Rome had only been an empire imposed by force and unwanted, its glory would not have endured for more than a millenium. Who wants, today, to recreate the glory of the Ottoman empire? Who in Russia dreams of going back to the days of the Mongol occupation? If, in the Roman case, military force in many cases played the initial impetus, it was not the main factor of Rome’s success; this success can be explained only because Rome had something to offer, and the peoples it encountered saw in them benefits. The results of these encounters can be seen even today in the culture of millions of people.