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Rome: Time of the Republic

After killing his father-in-law Servius Tullius, the Etruscan king Tarquinius Superbus killed many senators to gain more power. He brutally reigned the kingdom for years. This ended when his son Sextus raped the noblewoman Lucretia Junius Brutus. This resulted in a revolt of the population of Rome against his father which ended in Superbus’ exile along with his family. This revolt was led by Lucretia’s kinsman Lucius Junius Brutus, a member of a patrician family whose father and brothers were executed by Superbus years ago. This brought about the end of the Roman Kingdom as well as the monarchy in 509 BC and started the establishment of the Roman Republic soon afterward. This is listed on the Biblical Timeline with World History almost to 1 AD.

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Tarquinius Superbus executed many senators whose loyalty to him could be not assured and did not bother to fill in the positions of those he executed. After his reign, Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucretia’s husband, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, were elected as the first consuls of the new republic. One of the first reforms Brutus made was to replace the senators killed by Superbus. He appointed 300 senators who mostly came from the equites. These were men initially members of the cavalry, but they were later elevated to a political and administrative class who were influential in the voting assembly.

Three Branches of Government

A king used to rule over the Romans during the time of the Kingdom, but the power is now shared by many people in three branches:

  1. The Consul
  2. The Senate
  3. The Curiate and Centuriate Assembly

The highest among these positions was the consul which was shared by two people to ensure that abuse of power would not happen. Each was elected through the assembly and the power of each consul was equal to that of kings. The difference, however, is each consul’s power is checked by the other consul and the term is limited to only one year. He should also be 42 years old by the time of election and a person who came from a patrician family. The consul was not allowed to have successive terms and was free to use imperium domi (power that is not absolute while in the city of Rome) as well as imperium militiae (unrestricted power in the field).

A dictator could also be nominated by the consul during times of crises. He was a temporary magistrate with limited powers with an even limited term of six months. His nomination was endorsed by the Senate and confirmed by the popular assembly. Julius Caesar was one of those famous dictators of Rome.

An example of the most enduring legacies of the Romans was the Senate which served as an advisory council for Rome’s consuls. While the consuls held office for only one year, the Senate’s office was permanent. At the end of their terms, consuls may become Senators which was a process that became common as the Republic evolved. As an advisory council to the consuls, the Senators initially had limited powers. But two-hundred years later, the Senate had the upper hand and more powerful than the consuls in the area of legislation, finance, religion, and foreign policy.

Although the patricians held considerable power by exclusively occupying the first two branches of government, the more populous plebeians also had a say in the Republic but in a more limited form. They were allowed to form two assemblies: the centuriate assembly which voted on military matters and the non-military tribal assembly that exercised power in civil life.

Law of Twelve Tables

By 451 BC, the Law of Twelve Tables were drafted and inscribed on bronze tablets which were displayed in the Roman forum. This code of law covered every aspect of Roman life including procedure for courts and trials, settling debts, inheritance, land rights, family, public, and more.

Wars and Expansion

Rome was plundered in 390 BC by the Gallic tribe Senones led by Brennus who caught the Romans by surprise. Although the Romans raised a small army in defense, they were easily routed at the Battle of Allia. The Romans retreated into their city; men of fighting age took refuge in the citadel and most of the citizens fled from the city. The Gauls, founding the city almost empty, proceeded to destroy and plunder it. Negotiations between two parties were conducted later on and the Gauls demanded a ransom of 1000 pounds of gold.

The time of the Roman Republic was also a time of expansion within and outside of the Italian peninsula. Rome gained control of most of their territories through conflict which included the Latin, Samnite, Pyrrhic, and Punic wars. The Romans also wrestled territories from the declining Seleucid empire established hundreds of years before by Alexander the Great which included Macedonia, Egypt, and the Levant.

Fall of the Republic

There were several factors that contributed to the gradual decline of the Roman Republic which would eventually give way to the rise of the Roman Empire. First was the inequitable distribution of the spoils of war between the patricians and the plebeians with the upper class getting much of the wealth. As the possibility of profiting from war increased, many tried to be elected or appointed in high offices which lead to bribery and abuse of power.

Republic
“Being a soldier in Rome was not exactly the most rewarding”

As wealth increased, excessive consumption by the ruling class and the rich landowners took its toll on Rome. In addition, the Republic was involved in a series of foreign wars where it was victorious. As victors, Roman soldiers would destroy a whole city (such as in the case of the Battle of Carthage) leaving the survivors as homeless captives. Naturally, Rome and neighboring cities would absorb these captives of war into their society as slaves, creating a surplus population in the city. The life of a slave was not easy and they had little to no rights in the Republic. Masters were free to do anything they wanted with their slaves and some were prone to inhumane treatment. This, combined with a stagnant economy, set the stage for the series of Slave Wars.

Another war that contributed to the fall of the Republic was the Social War. Being a soldier in Rome was not exactly the most rewarding of occupations and because of this, many of the possible soldiers evaded drafts. To fill in the gap, the government decided to draft soldiers from Italic allies who, however, had little citizenship rights and privileges. Marcus Livius Drusus capitalized on this and pushed for reform, but was later killed because of this unpopular stance. This ignited the Social War when the Italian allies revolted after his assassination.

As Rome conquered cities around the Mediterranean and beyond, the financial burden of supporting an empire took its toll. Add to that the greed of the tax collectors and a revolt was inevitable.

By the time of the rise of the First Triumvirate led by Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar, Rome was politically unstable and wracked with revolts. The three worked together to help Caesar attain the position of Roman consul and oppose legislation that might not work in their favor. Crassus was killed in Mesopotamia during a battle with the Parthians and Pompey became Caesar’s enemy. He was later defeated by Julius Caesar and killed while in Egypt. Caesar became Rome’s dictator but was assassinated in 44 BC. Competition erupted between Caesar’s heir Mark Antony and Augustus after Caesar’s death. Following a loss in the Battle of Actium which resulted in Mark Antony’s suicide, Augustus won and was proclaimed “emperor” by the Roman senate.

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