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The Roman Republic is the term used to refer to the second era of Roman history, between the kingship and the empire. The origins of the Republic are dubious and legendary at best, and utterly fictional at worst. However, the Romans had a concrete sense of the foundation date of their city, and referred to it frequently in histories. From Roman reckoning, historians place the pivotal events of the beginning of the Roman Republic at 509 B.C.
Historians also debate the time of the fall of Rome, based on their private conceptions of what Roman republicanism truly meant. In a sense, the end of the Republic was inevitable after the rise of Marius, but the true end of the Republic is often placed at either the death of Julius Caesar when Republican government first truly ceased, the Battle of Actium (Augustus' victory over Mark Antony), or the Constitutional Settlement of Augustus, which recognized that ruler as princeps, or "first citizen," with plenary power over Roman holdings. Most historians agree to use the date of the Constitutional Settlement as the date when all possibility of the restoration of the Republic finally ended, bringing the Republic to its true close, in 27 B.C.
- 1 Early Years
- 2 The Conquest of Italy
- 3 The Long Fall
- 4 Roman Legacies
- 5 References
Etruscan Influence on Rome
Rome itself was founded in the eighth century B.C. Legend said that Romulus had founded the city after killing Remus. But in actuality, it was founded by shepherds and farmers. The name means "river city" and indicates it was located on the Tiber River. In northern Italy, the Etruscans, a people from Turkey, ruled. They conquered Rome and installed kings there. A simple farming village became a civilized trading settlement. The Etruscans introduced the arch, the aqueduct, building statues of pagan gods, and brought order and a sense of pride and uniqueness to the Romans. In short, they advanced Rome.
The Overthrow of the Tarquins
One of the Etruscan kings of Rome was Tarquin the Proud. In 509 B.C., some wealthy landowners ousted him and made Rome a republic, or government where people elected their leaders. A senate was founded for the patricians (wealthy nobles and landowners) to vote in while a comitia was founded for the plebeians (middle class and poor) to represent themselves in. A constitution was written. In the republic, the patricians had more power. In the family, the father, or paterfamilias, had ultimate control over his wife and children.
The Gauls and Other Foundation Myths
Early in Republican history, the city was besieged by the Gauls, led by Brennus, and ransomed. This was the first incursion upon the soil of the city, and the last time enemies passed the sacred pomerium (border line) of the city until 410 A.D. The account is romanticized in Titus Livius|Livy's Roman History, where he describes that but for the efforts of the scorned hero Camillus, the Gauls would have utterly razed the city. Instead, the ragtag remnants of the Roman Army were held the Capitoline Hill - one of the Seven Hills of Rome - against the Gauls in stalemate, ceding the rest of the city to the advancing armies.
After this stalemate had lasted for some time, the Gauls offered to leave for a sum of gold. The Romans quickly accepted, and began to carry out their gold, and weigh out the appropriate price on a Gallic balance scale. The Romans soon discovered that the Gauls had deliberately tinkered with the scales so as to weigh the gold lighter than it actually was, to trick the Romans into paying more. As the Romans protested, and prepared to rescind the treaty, Brennus is said to have yelled "Vae Victis!", or, "Woe to the Conquered!", upon which he threw his sword onto the scales as an additional counterweight to the Roman gold. The Romans, their land savage and their gold extorted from them, set to rebuilding the city. The Gauls were never to return.
However, the rebuilding of the city proved difficult. Titus Livius Livy tells that the Romans almost considered abandoning the city of Rome, and moving wholesale to Alba Longa, the mythical nearby city of Aeneas, to begin their lives anew there. However, after an impassioned speech by Camillus, the Romans instead chose to rebuild Rome, at a breakneck pace. Livy blames this hurried reconstruction for the disorganization and haphazard layout of the Roman streets, when compared with the ordered city plans of provincial capitals and colonies.
Much of this account was likely sensationalized, to glorify the early roots of Rome in correlation with the image programme of Augustus, Livy's direct patron.
The Conquest of Italy
Early Rome was a tiny settlement surrounded by hostile kingdoms. The Romans formed alliances with neighboring cities. When they defeated an enemy, they ruled it so they would be safe. As there were always new enemies, the Romans kept conquering. In 272 B.C., all of mainland Italy was ruled by the Roman Republic.
The Struggle of the Orders: the Gracchi
The Punic Wars: Nascent Roman Imperialism
Meanwhile, Sicily and Sardinia were ruled by Carthage, a wealthy and powerful trading metropolis in North Africa. Disdaining commerce, the Romans at first did not mind the Carthaginians ruling the western Mediterranean. But after conquering Italy, the Romans feared Carthage might attack from Sicily. Plus, during a civil war in Sicily Rome and Carthage aided opposing groups. In 241 B.C. a war began. It was the first of the Punic Wars, so called because punic was the Latin word for Carthage. After developing a navy, the Romans won.
The Jugurthine War, Marius, and the Beginning of the End
The Long Fall
Sulla and Pompey: "More Worship the Rising Sun than the Setting"
The First Triumvirate
The First Triumvirate was an alliance formed between Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Marcus Crassus formed in 60 BC. The purpose of the triumvirate was for the three members to gain political power through their mutual support for each other. While the triumvirate did allow for the three to gain much political power, it ultimately fell apart due to the ambitions of each member.
The Fall of the Republic
In Janurary of 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in Northern Italy and proclaimed "alea iacta est" or "the die is cast." This was an act of treason against the Roman Republic, and so Caesar began his civil war against Pompey.
Caesar went on to crush the legions of Pompey, and then used his legions to force the Senate to declare him Dictator for life. In 44 BC, in a conspiracy led by Brutus, Julius Caesar was assassinated by a number of senators. His assassination outraged up the public, and led to the conditions for the the republic to replaced by an empire.
Caesar left his wealth to his adopted son, Octavian (later renamed Augustus Caesar). Octavian allied himself with Mark Antony and Lepidus. The three of them formed the Second Triumvirate and effectively ruled Rome. The ambitions of each member tore the alliance apart, forcing Lepidus to exile and leading to Mark Antony's suicide, leaving Octavian as the sole ruler of Rome. It took several years for Octavian to set up his government, but he ultimately ended the Roman Republic by 27 BC, reforming the Roman Republic in the Roman Empire.
From this period was derived the very word republic, plus the words senate, patricians, constitution, and plebes (plebeians). When the United States Constitution was written in 1787, the nation was modeled after Rome and became a republic. A Senate was formed, and also checks and balances, enshrined in the ancient republic, kept each branch of government from growing too powerful.
Republican Overtones in the Early Empire
Republican Terminology and Symbology Today
- Plutarch, Life of Camillus
- Titus Livius, Roman History