The Republic

"Rome was not built in one day."

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In the Beginning

  • The Republic began in 509 B.C. with the expulsion of the Etruscan King Tarquin the Proud.
  • Pragmatically accepted their King-less state of many adjustments.
  • They went through trail and error to fix their government.
  • Left behind the oligarchy (government by the few), which became the basis of the new state
  • Plato defined it as "A government resting on the valuation of the property, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it."
  • The oligarchs, the land-owning aristocrats, established a republic with full citizenship for themselves "the patricians"
  • 90% of the population were plebeians meaning "the multitude"
  • Plebeians cannot hold office or marry into the patrician class.
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Patricians and Plebeians

  • Patricians class supplied the executive heads of the state, the two consuls who governed with full power for one year
  • The two consuls could veto each other
  • The consuls appoint other patricians to life terms in the 300 member Senate.
  • The other legislative party, Contribute Assembly, had less power than the Senate, but it did elect the consul and passed laws submitted to it by the consuls or Senate.
  • Form among the ex-consuls the Assembly would choose two consuls who determined eligibility for military service and ruled on the moral qualifications of the Senate nominees.
  • Consuls were commanders of the army but, in time of the war, their mutual veto power could jeopardize the state.
  • Therefor the Rome invented another adjustment, of course, a dictator, a supreme military commander who received his authority constitutionally and relinquished it at the end of his six-month term.
  • The Roman oligarchy kept the plebeians in an intolerable situation but their growing financial power did force the Senate to create the new office of tribune, protector of the people.
  • Later in the century the even more powerful plebeians forces accused the judges of abusing their office because there were no written laws.
  • The reaction was uncharacteristic; the Senate sent a commission to Athens to observe Solon's reformed legal system.
  • The commission return to compose the Twelve Table of Law, at which point the Roman conservationism reasserted itself.
  • Thee new laws were as harsh as Draco's fierce legal code nearly two centuries ago, the very system the Solon's humane reforms had replaced.


  • Roman pragmatists never solved the real problem of ownership of land which was a major part of the Empire's fall.
  • From the beginning, absentee landlords controlled a large part of the agricultural markets, leaving farmers with no hardly any money to make ends meet.
  • Estate holder competition plus drought and pestilence forced many into debt and into slavery decreed by the Twelve Tables.
  • Large estates grew larger because they used war-booty slaves and operated low overheads.
  • Even after reforms, many farmers ended up as urban poor: landless and unemployed.
  • Many of the farmers relied on slave labor because they were unfit for employment in the city and became part of the permanent welfare program.
  • About 80% of Rome's population was either slave laborers or subsisting on, "bread and circuses."
  • According to Plutarch, "The man who first ruined the Roman people was he who first gave them treats and gratuities."

Military: The First and Second Punic Wars

  • Roman talent for organization was mostly evidenced by their awesome military power.
  • Reducing 8,000- man phalanx to 3,600 men armed with javelin and short Roman swords, they created a mobile striking force that could march 24 miles in 5 hours, each man carrying 60 pound pack.
  • Roman conquest clearly became an end in itself during Republican days.
  • Rome set out at to conquer the world in 146 B.C., the final year of the Punic Wars with Carthage.
  • The first Punic War began with Carthage, the powerful Phoenician colony of North Africa, attempted to expand its trading empire.
  • Roman armies found themselves opposing the Carthaginian navy and were building their first fighting fleet.
  • The Romans defeat Carthage while losing more ships through ineptness than to enemy action.
  • Spain had become the Carthaginian base for the Second Punic War (218-201 BC)
  • General Hannibal crossed the Alps with his elephants and attacked Rome from the rear stating, "we will either find a way or make one."
  • Rome eventually attacked his homeland and thus ending Carthage's dominance in the western Mediterranean.

The Third Punic War

  • Marcus Porcius Cato was a senator, consul, censor, and writer, and a prime instigator of the final attack on Carthage.
  • He believed in the Roman ideals of simplicity, honesty, courage, ability to endure hardship and loyalty to Rome and the family.
  • He opposed luxury, cultivation of the arts, extravagance in any form.
  • He hated the Greeks.
  • He boasted of teaching his son reading, Roman law and history, training in in the arts of javelin, riding, armed combat, boxing and swimming.
  • Carthage was a ripe target for Cato and other land-hungry Romans who wanted fertile soil and abundant harvests.
  • Cato delivered a speech in the Senate about a resurgent foe that concluded that, "Carthage must be destroyed!"
  • In 149 BC, Rome launched an unprovoked attack on Carthage which left them scared and surprised.
  • It was described as, "preventive warfare."
  • Carthage was not only captured but demolished and the area sown with salt while the Romans killed the men and sold the women and children into slavery.
  • 146 BC was the year that another Roman army administered the same treatment to Corinth.
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Gaius Julius Caesar (102-44 BC)

  • Gaius Julius Caesar saw himself as the best man to rescue the founder Republic.
  • Not everyone agrees with him whoever, then or now, and the Caesar remains one of history's most controversial figures.
  • Caesar was a man of enormous energy and even greater ambition, his mastery of the power politics made career a textbook example of how to take over a state.
  • Caesar enjoyed spectacular success in war, politics, oratory, and statesmanship.
  • Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic campaigns were masterpieces of concise and lucid Latin and his social graces were remarkable.
  • Cicero, who hated Caesar, remarked that he would rather spend an evening conversing with Caesar than in any other way.
  • Family background was important in tradition-minded Rome, and Caesar's had a very impressive background; the Julian gens (Family, clan) were among Rome's oldest and most powerful families.
  • The patrician Caesar astutely saw the need to side with the foes if an entrenched and unpopular aristocracy and cast his lot with the popular democratic party.
  • He passed rapidly through the usual offices, made dazzling orations, and with daring speeches defending the legal rights of a treasonous conspirator with a public office, secure in one bold stroke the enmity of the Senate and the adulation of the people.
  • Caesar added the gloss to his growing reputation with a public office in Spain while reducing his staggering dept resulting, it was said, from paying huge brides to the right people.
  • He married off his daughter to Pompey, the most successful general of the time, and completed an unbeatable combination by forming an alliance with Crassus, the richest man in Rome.
  • The next step by now was inevitable: Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus became a ruling coalition called the First Triumvirate, a short-lived association, however, because, as Lucan pointed out "It is a law of nature that every great man inevitably resents a partner in greatness."
  • Caesar's self-improvement program was not yet complete because military power was the necessary base for political strength.
  • Appointed governor of the conquered portion of Gaul, his seemingly invincible army overpowered the rest of Gaul and established his reputation as one of history's most successful general.
  • What Tacitus called "the terror of the Roman name" was confirmed by Caesar: "It is the right of war for conquerors to treat those whom they have conquered according to their pleasure."
  • Though the Gaul thoroughly understood his military prowess Caesar needed strong support back Rome.
  • His inspired solution was the carefully composed Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, which was widely distributed in Rome, becoming a veritable bestseller.

Caesar's Death

  • Less than a year later, on the Ides of March, Caesar died of 23 stab wounds, with around 60 assassins.
  • Motive ranged from patriotic concerns of constitutional violations to just straight up jealousy.
  • Caesars reforms interfered with corrupt practices of aristocracy, additional incentive.
  • Caesar supporters considered him a martyr to ravenous greed of the aristocracy.
  • His will left three quarters of his fortune to his adopted grandnephew, Octavian, but his true legacy was the opportunity to acquire Rome.
  • Octavian was 18 when Caesar died, but he acted like a veteran politician.


  • Octavian formed a Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Lepidus.
  • He used terror and threat to raise fighting money.
  • He failed to stop Mark Antony from having Cicero murdered.
  • He avenged Caesar in Macedonia, defeated and drove two of his assassins to suicide, Brutus and Cassius.
  • After he dropped Lepidus, Antony and Cleopatra tried to use Ptolemy XV (Caesar's son) in their own bid for the empire.
  • Octavian won a naval battle off the Northwest coast of Greece, and the losers returned to Egypt, where Antony committed suicide.
  • Cleopatra couldn't start a relationship with Octavian, so a year later she also committed suicide.

The Die is Cast

49 BC

  • Gaul was secure
  • Crassus was dead in Parthia
  • Pompey went over to the Senate
  • Caesar and army were on the banks of Rubicon

  • The Senate reminded him of the order that all field commanders must return to Rome without troops.
  • Caesar invaded and conquered all of Italy in a few weeks time.
  • After a triumphant return to Rome, he won a war in Spain, defeated rival Pompey,in Greece.
  • Caesar campaigned in Egypt to solidify his power, and stabilized the reign of Cleopatra, fathered a child by her, and guaranteed tax revenues in Egypt.
  • In 4 years, Julius Caesar triumphed Italy, Spain, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa.
  • When he returned to Rome in 45 BC, he was master of the Roman world.