Around 510 B.C., a Roman king named Tarquin the Proud had lost his power. (See the Bible Timeline with World History for a full timeline of events) According to the historical records, King Tarquin wasn’t a well liked or respected ruler. He had exploited the throne and the people of Rome. The people no longer wanted to be ruled by a king who wouldn’t regard the Roman Senate or care for the well-being of the people.
The Roman Senate decided to do away with the monarchy system in favor of a republic. Under this system of government two rulers were chosen by the Roman Senate to become consuls. Once the consuls were in power, they would manage the day to day issues and challenges that is a natural part of running a government. When crises arose, or problems became too difficult to solve with ordinary processes then the consuls had the authority to elect a dictator to bring about a solution.
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Roman dictators were outstanding members of their society that usually held some type of political or military position. They were usually leaders who governed or fought battles in the past. Once these leaders were selected to become a dictator, they are usually given unlimited power and resources to resolve whatever problem that was affecting the stability of Rome. The dictators of Rome were usually selected from the patrician or wealthy class of citizens. The patrician class was educated, well known, performed civil or military service, established laws and they controlled how the rest of Roman society functioned.
The first dictator of Rome under the new Republic system was Aulus Postumius Albus Regillenis, and he was called to duty in 498 B.C. to stop the Latin’s from rebelling against Rome. The Latin’s were the allies of the Romans though they were really subjected to Rome. When they rebelled, it created problems that would have threatened the stability of the newfound republic. Once Postumius became the dictator, he managed to put down the rebellion and to have the Latin’s brought under Rome’s control once again.
Another outstanding member of Roman society was named Cincinnatus and he was chosen to become dictator around 458 B.C and once again in 439 B.C. Cincinnatus was a well-known military commander who fought in battles against various tribes that tried to overthrow Rome. After he had been chosen to become the dictator, he managed to put successfully down the rebellions and subdue the various tribes that tried to usurp Rome’s authority.
The Sabine and Aequi were the tribes that he had managed to get under control. After he resolved the matters with the warring tribes he left the office of dictator. Postumius and Cincinnatus stayed in office only long enough to resolve a particular problem. Once a conflict was resolved, they returned power back to the consuls and went back to their own lives. Both of these dictators didn’t abuse their time in power nor did they try to gain more wealth for their own personal gain.
Cincinnatus was considered a patriot by his people, and though he was a patrician, he lived a somewhat frugal lifestyle to show his fellow countrymen that he wasn’t controlled by material desires. These two dictators are important because they both represented the effectiveness of Roman government under a republic system.