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    Early Roman History

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    1. In 140 BC Rome was a Republic but by 31 BC it had become something that was fought over and seized by rival generals and their armies. Can you help us explain the steps that led to this development and the causes of this change?

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    Please see response attached. I hope this helps and take care.

    1. In 140 BC Rome = a Republic but by 31 BC it had become something that was fought over and seized by rival generals and their armies. Can you help us explain the steps that led to this development and the causes of this change?

    A Republic was a constitution would ideally prevent any one man or group of men to seize power on their own initiative. In other words, the Republic was a government of checks and balances. This ought to sound familiar since it is the basis of our own form of government, which is not a democracy, but a democratic republic. Again, the ideal was that no one group could seize power. What happened in practice was something decidedly different. Although the Roman government was intact, the real locus of power in ancient Rome was the family. Alliances, marriages, divorces, adoptions and assassinations could make or break a family's path to political power in the Roman world. The great families or clans (gens) grew so powerful that by 100 B.C. it was nearly impossible for a man to become a consul whose ancestors had not also been consuls. The "Struggle of the Orders" - a struggle between patrician and plebeian - developed over the issue of legality. Remember, whether you were a patrician or plebeian was determined by law and not tradition or custom. As an aristocracy - that is, the rule of the few - only the patricians could belong to the Senate. The plebeians had the right to vote in the Assembly, but their votes were usually swayed by the class of patricians, their social superiors. And since the wealthier citizens of the Senate always voted first, they usually did so as an effective block against other groups. (1)
    The importance of the "Struggle of the Orders" during the formative years of the Roman Republic cannot be overlooked -- the Struggle provides a key to understanding the Roman world and the Roman mind. The key here is compromise and assimilation. Wealthy plebeians were assimilated into the patrician class. Through common sense and practicality, a compromise was reached that seemed to satisfy most citizens, regardless of which class they may have belonged. This is a hallmark of Roman civilization. Compromises were reached in the interests of stability and peace. In this way the Romans avoided outright civil war and at the same time provided all citizens with a tolerable way of life. Of course, compromise and assimilation was a Roman strength, but over time it became instead a weakness of the Roman world. A comparison with the Greeks may be necessary here. For the most part, the Greeks conducted politics in terms of principles and theory - what is the good life? What is virtue? What is the best form of government? They expended a great deal of energy trying to determine the best form of government for the city-state. By the time they had perfected their direct democracy during the Periclean Age, the Greek world was entering a period of crisis. That crisis was the Peloponnesian War. And what followed that war was Philip II, Alexander the Great and the replacement of the comfortable, virtuous life of the polis, with the much larger and more impersonal cosmopolis. (1)
    The Romans perhaps knew the Greeks best - after all, they inhabited the same Mediterranean world. But the Romans, always with an eye toward practicality and efficiency, were not apt to make the same mistakes, as had the Greeks. So, they mixed their government, bound the lives of its citizenry to a living constitution, and made compromises to insure the future life and growth of the Republic. I suppose what all this boils down to is the general statement that whereas the Greeks were thinkers, the Romans were doers, and the proof would be the success of the Roman world itself, embodied in the grandeur of the Roman Empire. By the 3rd century B.C., a new and larger class of patricians had been created. These are the individuals who would eventually dominate the Roman Senate because they held the highest positions of state and could pass their positions on to their descendants for posterity. It was also this nobility that controlled the state right down to the middle of the 1st century B.C. And although the plebeians gained the means to run the state as a democracy they chose not to do so. Their political involvement was always based on the needs of defense rather than offence. (1)
    The Roman Revolution

    From 133 to 27 B.C., the Roman Republic was engaged in a constant succession of civil wars, making up what has come to be known as the Roman Revolution. As mentioned in my last post, the acquisition of empire did have some disturbing effects on the social order and administrative structure of the Republic. The Punic and Macedonian Wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. had kept Roman soldiers away from Rome for years at a time. Many of these soldiers developed a greater loyalty to the land they were serving than they did to Rome. Others simply enjoyed the spoils and luxuries of conquered lands. Such a scenario also partially explains how a Roman strength became a Roman weakness. At the same time, the enormous wealth that Roman conquests attained became concentrated in the hands of the senatorial class. Peasants were driven off the land and into the cities where existence was hard. Most of the peasants were unemployed and lived by begging. Still others sold their votes to wealthy patricians, thus giving up one of the key features of their citizenship. By the middle of the 2nd century, there was a threefold problem brewing in the Roman Republic. First, the senatorial class, growing in number and more wealthy than ever before, wanted to maintain its political position. This meant consolidating its power and not giving in to the interests of any other order except its own. Second, the urban masses were divorced from the land as well as from their citizenship, and now were giving their political allegiance to any faction that would pay them. They literally sold themselves away to the highest bidder. Farmers fared no better -- thanks to Hannibal, there was less available land, and what was left was grabbed up by the aristocracy. And third, the army was disgusted by the senatorial class as well as by the greed and instability of the masses. By 133 B.C., Roman politics had polarized around two factions in the Senate. On the one hand were the "Optimates," the better people - aristoi, if you will - people whose only interest lay with wealth and the senatorial class. Numerically small but politically powerful, the Optimates were by all accounts conservative - they were the defenders of the good old days, defenders of the status quo. On the other hand, there were the "Populares," the champions of the depressed portion of the citizenry. The Populares demanded the redistribution of the land to the dispossessed peasants who now flooded into Rome as well as a reform of the voting procedure. (1)
    Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus

    The struggle between these two factions came to civil war when the Senate resorted to the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus (168-133 B.C.). Tiberius had been elected Tribune in 133. He proposed a land bill to the Assembly of Tribes that would effectively divide the land and give it to the Roman citizenry - he wanted the citizenry to be independent of the Senate. The bill limited the amount of land to an individual to about 330 acres -- he added an allowance for each of two sons bringing the total amount for any given family to 660 acres. The Senate would not pass his land bill and so Tiberius went directly to the concilium plebis. As a result, Tiberius and 300 of his followers were killed. The bodies were thrown into the Tiber River. The next day more supporters of Tiberius were rounded up and met a similar fate. (See Plutarch on the MURDER OF TIBERIUS.) (1)
    The program of Tiberius was taken up by his brother, Gaius Gracchus (159-121 B.C.). Elected tribune in 123, Gaius wanted to transform Rome into a democracy along Hellenic lines. In his attempt to place checks and restraints on the power of the senators, he had the near total support of the public Assembly. He also won the support of the Assembly by legislating to keep the price of grain sold to citizens permanently low. Gaius built new storehouses and his road-building program kept the citizens at work. He revised the terms of military service, which amounted to a pay raise for soldiers and he also reorganized the way taxes were collected in the provinces. The Senate would have nothing of this and so they declared martial law. Riots broke out and 3000 of the Populares, along with Gaius, were killed. Gaius was beheaded and his body thrown into the Tiber. These assassinations show the ugly realities behind Roman political life. When the selfishness of the Senate was revealed, they resorted to murder. "Corruption in high places was part of what had gone wrong," suggested Finley Hooper. (1)
    The example was set at the top. If men of old and honorable families with the best education and the highest offices were scrambling for what they could win, why should any man refuse a shore of the spoils? In much that has been written about the Gracchan era the ruling classes have been blamed for the decay of honesty and fair dealing. Yet, as the wise Solon of Athens once observed, the rich are not inherently any more greedy or corruptible than their poorer fellow citizens. At Rome, their powerful positions, overseas commands, and inside information had simply given them the first chance. [Roman Realities, (1979), p.176.] (1)
    Severe weaknesses in the Senatorial system were brought into the light during a series of invasions of the Republic by Germanic tribes to the north of the Danube River. The armies sent by the Senate to dispel this threat were poorly organized, unwilling to fight, and corrupt. The situation was saved by Gaius Marius (c.157-86 B.C.), a man born into a family recently admitted to equestrian (equites) status but who was politically well-connected. Marius managed to raise a professional army on his own. He eventually defeated the Germanic tribes and thus earned the support of the Roman army, which he then began to reform. He abolished the requirement that a solider must own property. he also accepted volunteers. As a result, the army was composed of poor men who looked to Marius as their patron. He was elected consul seven times. (1)
    • In 81 B.C., Gaius Marius and his army were overthrown by Sulla (c.138-78 B.C.), a statesman and a general who had made his reputation in the Italian War of the 90s. In the 80s civil war broke out in Rome among the factions of the Senate. One group rallied behind Sulla and in 88 B.C. he invaded Rome. The following year Sulla departed for a campaign against Mithridates, who ruled the kingdom of Pontus on the south coast of the Black Sea. While he was away, rival factions seized Rome. Returning in 82 B.C., Sulla once again occupied Rome. Hundreds of his opponents were killed and he had himself named dictator for life.
    • Sulla used his power as dictator to refashion the Roman state. He believed that there were two forces that had curtailed the Senate's power: the tribunes and strong generals in the army. So, Sulla passed legislation forbidding the tribunes to pass a law without Senate approval. He passed another law that prevented tribunes from ever holding another office -- thus effectively making the office of tribune unattractive to those men with political ambitions. Sulla then restricted the term of governor of a province to one year -- this prevented one commander from becoming a hero to his troops and lead a march on Rome. Sulla thus skillfully prevented the rise of another Sulla.
    The careers of Gaius Marius and Sulla represent the path to political power in the last century of the Roman Republic. There were three stages that both men had followed. The first was to play off the senatorial fear of the masses as well as the resentment the masses harbored toward senatorial privilege. This was followed by the appearance of a soldier/hero who would again play one class off another. A personal army would then be created and the victor would march on Rome to bring peace and prosperity to the Roman people. I mention this because this pattern was followed by Pompey in the 60s, Crassus in the 50s and Julius Caesar in the 40s.
    Mark Antony (c.83-c.30 B.C.) tried to embark on this same path in the 30s but was opposed by Octavian (63 B.C-A.D.14), Caesar's grand nephew. Antony seized power at Caesar's death and undertook the elimination of the Senate. However, when Caesar's will was read, it was discovered that not Antony but Octavian was the true heir to the throne. Rather than start yet another civil war, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus formed an alliance, the Second Triumverate (43 B.C.). The Roman world was now divided between these rulers (Antony: eastern provinces; Octavian: western provinces; Lepidus: Sicily and North Africa). (1)
    Octavian went on to present Antony as an enemy because of his alliance with Cleopatra in Egypt. He then made a solid alliance with the Senate, and then had Lepidus removed. By the time Octavian broke with Antony, the Roman people were tired. They had endured one hundred years of civil war. They wanted peace. They wanted to enjoy their world, not constantly defend it. And they were offended by Antony's supposed defection to Cleopatra. At the Battle of Actium (31 B.C.), the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated. Both patrician and plebeian rallied behind Octavian, who now preferred to be called Augustus Caesar. And with the battle of Actium, the world of the Roman Republic comes to an end, and the new world of the Roman Empire begins. (Source: http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/lecture11b.html).


    Much happened during this period as suggested in the brief outline above, so let's divide the material into FOUR SECTIONS.
    1. The Times of the Gracchi
    2. The Times of Marius and Sulla
    3. The Times of Pompey and Caesar
    4. The Times of Antony and Octavius

    The following steps are embedded under the leaders mentioned above, which are as follows:

    1. The Causes of Civil Strife
    2. The Reforms of Tiberius Gracchus
    3. The Reforms of Gaius Gracchus

    4. The Rise of Marius
    5. The Social War and the Rise of Sulla
    6. The Civil War between Marius and Sulla
    7. The Dictatorship of Sulla (B.C. 82-79)

    8. The Rise of Pompey
    9. The Growing Influence of Caesar
    10. Civil War between Pompey and Caesar
    11. The Rule of Julius Caesar

    12. The Rise of Antony and Octavius
    13. Civil War between Antony and Octavius
    14. Review of the Period of the Civil Wars

    There is a lot of information for sure, so let us begin this learning journey.


    1. The Causes of Civil Strife
    2. The Reforms of Tiberius Gracchus
    3. The Reforms of Gaius Gracchus
    1. Character of the New Period. If the period which we have just considered is the most heroic in Roman history, that which we are about to consider is one of the saddest, and yet one of the most interesting. It is one of the saddest, because it was a time when the Roman state was torn asunder by civil strife's, and the arms of the conquerors were turned against themselves. It is one of the most interesting, because it shows to us some of the greatest men that Rome ever produced, men whose names are a part of the world's history. Our attention will now be directed not so much to foreign wars as to political questions, to the struggle of parties, and the rivalry of party leaders. And as a result of it all, we shall see the republic gradually passing away, and giving place to the empire.
    2. Divisions of the Roman People. To understand this period of conflict and the steps leading to the fall, from the outset, we should get a clear idea of the various classes of people in the Roman world. Let us briefly review these different grades of society that we discussed in your last post.

    a. First, there was the senatorial order, men who kept control of the higher offices, who furnished ...

    Solution Summary

    In 140 BC Rome was a Republic but by 31 BC it had become something that was fought over and seized by rival generals and their armies. This solution explains the steps that led to this development and the causes of this change. References are provided.