The Roman Republic

According to ancient Roman sources, the Roman Republic was founded in 509 B.C., following the deposition of the last Roman monarch. The definitive end of the Roman Republic, according to many modern historians, occurred in 27 B.C., when Octavian, who had risen to become Rome’s emperor, was awarded the title “Augustus” (which means “revered one”) by the Roman senate.

The Roman Republic was an era of geographical expansion overseen by a government aiming to represent affluent and impoverished Romans. While this system provided certain benefits for Roman citizens, it frequently resulted in severe punishment for non-Romans.

Expansion of Rome

According to surviving historical and archaeological evidence, it took Rome centuries to conquer all of Italy. Even the conquest of a single city could take a century. Not until 396 BCE was Veii “conquered and destroyed,” according to Bringmann. In 390 B.C., the Gauls attacked Rome, eradicating any joyful spirit.

In the fourth century B.C., however, the Roman military battled against both the “Samnites” and a collection of cities known as the “Latin League,” according to Bringmann, who also noted that Rome was sometimes associated with Carthage, a city against which it would later wage a series of battles.

Bringmann observed that Rome steadily seized cities and regions in Italy through several strategies. Occasionally, Rome established colonies on the freshly acquired territory. Sometimes, a city might join Rome, its population gaining full or partial Roman citizenship. Occasionally, a city agreed to create an alliance with Rome and committed to supplying troops when Rome needed them. During the fourth and third century B.C., Rome would progressively seize control of much of the Italian mainland through these strategies.

Using these strategies, Rome amassed many warriors who were either Roman citizens or inhabitants of ally towns. The Greek historian Polybius (about 200 B.C. — 118 B.C.) said that by 225 B.C., Rome could muster nearly 700,000 men. Bringmann stated, “None of the great Mediterranean countries with whom Rome waged wars in the third or second century B.C. could match these statistics.”

This vast supply of military personnel allowed Rome to replace soldiers who had been slain or injured quickly. This proved crucial during several confrontations. For example, between 280 and 275 B.C., Rome conducted a war against King Pyrrhus, who governed a kingdom known as “Epirus” that included portions of modern-day Albania and northern Greece. Pyrrhus gained several military triumphs during this conflict, which resulted in severe deaths on both sides. Nevertheless, although the Romans could quickly replenish their casualties, King Pyrrhus could not do so, and his armies were finally decimated and lost throughout the conflict. Today, “Pyrrhic triumph” describes a victory so costly to the victor that it may prevent them from winning the war.

The Roman Republic System

The Roman Republic utilized a system comprised of a senate, consuls, magistrates, tribunes, a dictator, and other public authorities. This system evolved through time, embracing the interests of the patricians (Roma’s noble, aristocratic families) and the plebeians, Roman citizens who were not noble and typically came from impoverished backgrounds.

By 366 B.C., this system consisted of two consuls; a praetor, plebeian tribunes (who could wield considerable power); quaesters (who specialized in financial matters); two aediles (who were in charge of public safety, grain supply, Rome’s markets, and public religious games); censors (who kept track of Rome’s population); a senate; several magistrates; a plebeian By 321 B.C., the republic required one consul to come from a patrician background and the other from a plebeian background.

According to Bringmann, residents were frequently separated into centuries and tribes for voting reasons, with a person’s wealth or geographic location influencing which century and tribe they belonged to. As time progressed and Roman territory grew, the republic system deteriorated, resulting in frequent power struggles between two or more strongmen.

Roman Wars

Rome waged three battles against the North African city of Carthage, which resulted in Rome acquiring control of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and portions of Spain and North Africa. During the first war, which lasted from 264 B.C. to 241 B.C., there were conflicts in Sicily, Malta, Lipara, the coast of mainland Italy, North Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea, according to Bringmann. During this protracted conflict, Rome expanded its navy. During the last battle of the first war, Rome achieved naval dominance and encircled a Carthaginian army in Sicily. Carthage relinquished significant land to Rome, including Sicily.

Between 218 and 201 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal led an invading army across the Alps and into Italy, allied with the Celts. This army advanced across southern Italy, conquering several cities but suffering significant losses. The Romans simultaneously attacked North Africa, forcing Hannibal to retire. Bringmann stated that the Romans successfully conquered Carthage, compelling the city to relinquish its remaining land and sovereignty to Rome.

During the third Punic War, which lasted from 149 B.C. to 146 B.C., a Roman force invaded North Africa and annihilated Carthage. This damage led to the belief that the Romans “salted the land” following Carthage’s fall, making it more difficult for locals to cultivate crops where Carthage previously stood.

Although the tale is false, and the Romans eventually built a new city on the site of Carthage, the conflicts left Rome as the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, allowing it to spread its influence into the Balkans, Greece, and the Middle East.

Rome’s triumph hinged on the fact that it could call upon a considerably greater armed force. Polybius said that during the second Punic war, the Carthaginian leader Hannibal invaded Italy with fewer than 20,000 troops, although the Romans could muster more than 700,000 to repel this invasion.

Bringmann remarked that during the Punic Wars, Carthage attempted to bolster its forces by using mercenaries, which placed a financial strain on the city because it had to come up with the funds to pay the mercenary force.

Rome advanced throughout the Balkans and Greece between the second and third Punic Wars, acquiring territory under its direct or indirect authority. In 146 B.C., Rome destroyed not only Carthage but also Corinth, a Greek city that had fought Roman expansion in the eastern Mediterranean.

Rome conquered a vast area that comprised Sicily, Sardinia, much of Iberia, sections of North Africa, and a substantial portion of Greece after the destruction of Carthage and Corinth. Additionally, it possessed land in the Balkans.

Beard noted that in 149 B.C., a permanent court was established in Rome so foreigners could seek redress against Roman governors who had seized their property. Roman governors typically administered freshly captured provinces, often benefitting directly from the land they oversaw.

Beard said private enterprises that competed on contracts occasionally collected taxes in freshly captured territory. Beard said that the corporation would attempt to earn a profit by retaining everything beyond the amount it bid on, creating an incentive to mistreat individuals.

End of the Roman Empire

Rome’s territory continued to expand after 146 B.C., but the city’s republic government collapsed. Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian contested Rome’s leadership. During this period, civil conflicts and severe instability happened.

Sallust, a Roman historian who lived from 85 B.C. to 35 B.C., claimed that the rising riches in Rome, acquired in part by Rome’s conquests, contributed to the development of these strongmen and the demise of the Roman Republic. First, the desire for wealth, and later the desire for power, arose inside them; these, I would say, were the basis of all ills, according to Sallust (translation by John Carew Rolfe).

“Roman historians lamented the deterioration of peaceful politics throughout time. As a political weapon, violence was becoming widely accepted. One by one, traditional restrictions and traditions disintegrated, until swords, clubs, and riots replaced the ballot box, “Beard authored a book.

During the time after the fall of Carthage and Corinth, tensions between Rome’s lower and richer groups grew to a fever pitch. Beard said that in three instances, Roman senators murdered tribunes of the people who advocated for land reform or the provision of free food to Rome’s impoverished. Following the assassination of tribune Gaius Gracchus in 121 B.C., those who backed the senators and carried out the murder went on a murdering spree. Beard noted that according to Roman historical sources, “thousands of [Gaius Gracchus’] followers choked the river.”

Many groups in Italy had limited or no citizenship, leaving them unrepresented in the republic’s administration and more susceptible to exploitation. During the “social war” waged between 91 and 88 B.C., several Italian villages rebelled against Roman power.

Rome offered citizenship to Italians who had not taken up arms or were willing to lay them down.

Taking advantage of the instability, the soldiers under the command of the Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla marched on Rome. Sulla desired leadership of a military campaign against Pontus, a Black Sea country. Beard stated that he received the order and, four years later, after conquering Pontus, marched on Rome and was appointed dictator.

Beard claimed that Sulla then “presided over a terror reign and the first coordinated purging of political foes in Roman history.” Beard said that the names of thousands of individuals, including almost one-third of all senators, were posted around Italy with a massive bounty on their heads for anybody nasty, greedy, or desperate enough to kill them. Sulla resigned in 79 B.C. and passed away the following year.

In the aftermath of Sulla’s death, Rome fought battles in Spain, Thrace, and most significantly in Italy, where an escaped gladiator named Spartacus may have amassed an army of 40,000 men. It consisted of enslaved people who had fled from their Roman enslavers and freedmen who joined their cause. Spartacus destroyed many Roman troops before his fall in 71 B.C.

The strongmen would continue to ascend. In 66 B.C., Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (commonly known as “Pompey”) became the commander of a Roman army that battled and conquered Pontus. Pompey also fought in Judea, capturing Jerusalem in 63 B.C., and returned triumphantly to Rome in 60 B.C.

The triumvirate of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Licinius Crassus oversaw Rome and its expanding number of possessions. Crassus was one of the wealthiest men in Rome, if not the wealthiest, and he utilized his fortune to increase his political influence.

Between 58 B.C. and About 50 B.C., Caesar expanded his power base by becoming the leader of an army that invaded Gaul and fought in Britain. Crassus also attempted to be a military commander, but he was unsuccessful and was slain in 53 B.C. while fighting the Parthians in the Middle East.

Caesar and Pompey’s disagreements grew after Crassus’ death, and in January 49 B.C., Caesar led his troops across the Rubicon (the northern Italian border) and into Rome. 

Pompey encountered Caesar in Greece in 48 B.C., having fled to the east to raise troops, and was soundly defeated in the Battle of Pharsalus. Pompey fled to Egypt to secure the support of Ptolemy XIII, the young pharaoh of ancient Egypt; instead, the pharaoh chose to have Pompey put to death and give his head to Caesar. Cleopatra VII was made co-regent of Egypt when Caesar was there for a while. In 47 B.C., Ptolemy XIII tried to stand up to Caesar and Cleopatra, but he was either killed by Roman soldiers or drowned while trying to escape Rome’s army.

Caesarion was born as a result of the connection between Cleopatra and Caesar. On the question of whether or not the child was Caesar’s, historians are split.

Wars were waged in North Africa and Spain against these Pompey adherents because they continued to reject Caesar’s authority even after Pompey’s death. One such senator was Cato the Younger. Additionally, battles were fought with Pontus, the Black Sea kingdom that Pompey had earlier devastated. Caesar is reported to have exclaimed in Latin, “I came, I saw, I conquered” or “I arrived, saw, and conquered,” following a successful battle with a Pontic force. Despite Caesar’s victories, many Romans detested the idea of one man wielding such power.

In 44 B.C., the Roman Senate proclaimed Caesar “dictator for life.” While Brutus and Cassius were among the senators who opposed giving Caesar the title, Caesar had enough support in the Senate to pass the measure. Several senators stabbed Caesar in the Senate on the Ides of March, which fell on March 15 that year.

Three enormous organizations grabbed control of Rome following Caesar’s death. Octavian led one, Caesar’s great-nephew, designated as his adopted son and successor in the late Roman general’s testament. Mark Antony, one of Caesar’s generals, led the other group, while Brutus and Cassius were in charge of the other faction.

Before the two men agreed to create an alliance against Brutus and Cassius, Octavian and Antony’s forces briefly engaged in combat in northern Italy and Gaul. Brutus and Cassius’ force in Greece was confronted by the united Octavian and Antony troops as they marched east; in the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C., the two were soundly defeated.

Octavian and Antony formed an uncomfortable triumvirate with a politician called Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Because of his unfortunate marriage to Octavia, the sister of Octavian, Antony fell in love with Cleopatra VII, and the two eventually had three children together.

Within ten years, the ceasefire was broken, and Octavian, who oversaw soldiers stationed in the western part of the Roman Republic, found himself at odds with Antony and Cleopatra. Their combined powers led Egypt’s military and Rome’s forces in the Middle East. At the Battle of Actium on September 31 B.C., Octavian forces decimated Antony and Cleopatra’s naval forces. After some struggle, Octavian’s men could reach Egypt and take Alexandria.

In 30 B.C., Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide because they did not want to be captured by Octavian’s army. Then, Egypt came under the hands of Octavian armies, becoming a Roman province.

Octavian succeeded as the final strongman following decades of practically continual civil strife. According to Beard, the Senate awarded him the name “Augustus” in 27 B.C., which might be interpreted as “revered.” Some contemporary historians believe that the Roman Republic officially ended in 27 B.C.

Some contemporary historians have made the rather arbitrary choice to date the founding of the Roman Empire to 27 B.C. Even though Octavian was given the title “Augustus,” he had already effectively taken over as the only emperor in 30 B.C. following the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra VII.

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