|Res publica Romana|
The Roman Republic in about 38 B.C., shortly before its transition into the Roman Empire.
|Historical Era||Classical Era|
|•||Ousting of the Roman Monarchs||509 B.C.|
The Roman Republic was the political regime that Rome and its conquered territories functioned under during the period of about five hundred years since the fall of the Roman monarchy and the establishment of the Roman Empire. The Republic was in practice a government for the upper classes of Roman society, although over time more and more lower class interests made their way to the Senate. Eventually struggles for power over the government led to more and more Dictators-for-Life and civil wars that later would birth the Empire that would control most of the known world.
The Republic had its early beginnings after the fall of the Roman monarchy of Etruscan origins. Following the monarchy's removal, the Republic began to both gradually expand its influence amongst the other Latin city-states and also set up the aristocratic rules and institutions that would govern it for some time. Over time, Rome became the dominant power in Latium and the lower Plebeian class gained more and more influence, rendering the authority of the Patrician class increasingly less and less absolute.
Over time, the Republic began to expand its territorial control, largely due to winning either defensive or punitive wars. The wars of the Latin League, Samnites, Pyrrhic War, Sicilian War, and the Punic War enabled the Romans to become the most powerful state in the Western Mediterranean. With no effective rival, Rome would begin to expand north and east as its generals and senators desired more land, wealth, and glory. Increased militarization, decentralized control of the military to its generals, and the consolidation of political power amongst a small cadre of officials would lead to both the Sullan War and the Triumvirate War that would end with the creation of the Roman Empire under the general Caesarion Augustus.
Following the expulsion of the monarchy the new republic was still small when it compared to other tribes in the region. The city was surrounded by other Latin and Sabine towns and cities and none of them appeared to hold the advantage over the other. Much of Rome's early military history was the same as the monarchy's, where wars were fought for the defense of the city and the establishment of a local polity to better protect and support the city's needs.
These wars took a considerable amount of time, but after one hundred fifty years Rome had established control over much of central Italy through military power and the development of crucial alliances like the Latin League. This developing hegemony was challenged multiple times, most notably by the invasion of the Senones under the Gaul Brennus in 390 B.C., who nearly succeeded in sacking the city. Roman victories allowed them to begin looking beyond the region of Latium and explore alliances and conquests in other regions of Italy like Etruria and Campania.
Control of ItalyPreviously the dominant power of Italy, the Etruscans were increasingly being overshadowed by Rome and alliances and occasional military campaigns were enough to bring the region under Rome's sphere of influence. The regions to the south were much more difficult to bring under Rome's sway, as the local Samnites and Greek city-states were more able to resist both each other and Rome. The ties of the Greek cities to mainland Greece thanks to their previous allegiance to Alexander the Great's empire were of special concern to Rome, and Roman policy towards the Greek cities was aggressive yet cautious.
Rome seriously began to expand south in 343 B.C., when the city of Capua requested Roman assistance in driving back the Samnites, who had begun to encroach on the city's independence. Despite this concern, the Romans and Samnites were suddenly thrust onto the same side as the Latin War broke out, pitting Rome and Samnium against various Latin cities. Following this war, relations between the two oscillated until 327 B.C., when the Samnites seized the Greek city of Neapolis. Believing this to be a threat, the Romans evicted the Samnites, who angrily declared war the year after. Since then, relations between Romans and Samnites was consistently hostile, even after Rome's final victory in 290 B.C. Once the Samnites were defeated, only the Greeks and northern Cisalpine Gauls posed any threat to Rome's Italian borders.
Wars with Carthage and Greece
The Greek cities of southern Italy had been under the control of the Aeacids, Diadochi successors to Alexander the Great and his empire. However, many of the Aeacid kings preferred to look east towards Macedon and other Diadochi states, hoping to reclaim Alexander's empire for themselves. This allowed Rome to steadily advance upon Magna Graecia slowly. This prompted concern amongst the Greeks, who lobbied their King to little effect. This would eventually change with the ascension of Pyrrhus of Epirus, who was forced to address the concerns of the Italian Greeks after Carthage captured the city of Syracuse and subjected its people to Punic rule in 316 B.C.
Understanding the gravity of the threat, Rome and Carthage entered into an alliance to combat Pyrrhus, the best general the Greek world had to offer. Despite this, it wasn't enough, and Pyrrhus routinely defeated both Rome and Carthage in battle, albeit at heavy cost. Pyrrhus came close to breaking Rome and Carthage, but their superior ability to reinforce their armies made it impossible for Pyrrhus to defeat them completely. With few strategic options, Pyrrhus withdrew from Italy in 275 B.C. after the battle of Kroton. The final independent Greek city in Italy, Taras, fell to the Romans three years later, while Carthage regained control of Syracuse and Sicily.
Despite the alliance between the two powers, the situation was not conducive to a long term settlement and tensions soon grew. By 268 B.C., these tensions were at a boiling point, and a plea to the Romans by native Sicilians for protection was all it took for the conflict to start. The Romans had difficulty early in the war, as Carthage's superior navy allowed for better movement of troops and supplies. This changed as Rome gained control of Sicily and developed the Corvus ram, allowing them to utilize their martial superiority at sea. Rome soon seized Sicily in 260 B.C. and integrated it into the Republic, earning considerable enmity from Carthage.
Carthage's ruling class was soon overthrown in the midst of the Mercenary War rebellion and a coup by the prominent Barcid family put Carthage back on track for confronting Rome. Carthage understood that it was not yet strong enough to challenge Roman power just yet, so agreed to treaties that divided the Western Mediterranean, and more specifically Spain, between the two powers. This maintained peace for years even as tensions remained high over the previous conflict. By 218 B.C., however, war erupted again as Rome believed Carthage had intruded upon its agreed sphere of influence. Carthaginian king Hannibal immediately launched an attack on Roman possessions in Spain, swiftly capturing them and marching his army across southern Gaul and the Alps, something that most thought suicidal.
To the surprise of many, Hannibal was successful, albeit at considerable cost, and brought the war to Italy, forcing the Romans to scramble together a response. The Romans were completely devastated at the battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Carrae, losing entire armies in the process. Despite these victories, Hannibal was unable to siege Rome and was unsuccessful in swaying many of Rome's allied cities to his side. For their part Rome avoided Hannibal, leaving him stuck in Italy, and instead began to target his allies in Spain and Epirus, winning victories against them and turning the tide of the war.
By 202 B.C., the war had decisively turned in favor of Rome and Scipio, the general in command of the Spanish campaigns, was chosen to lead an attack on Carthaginian Africa. Hannibal rushed to defend and the two met at the Battle of Zama, which resulted in a Carthaginian defeat. Rome had won the war, claiming much of Africa and all of Carthaginian Spain as their territory. Carthage remained as a small remnant capable only of trade. Scipio earned the title of Africanus for his victory and soon became Consul-for-Life while Hannibal was narrowly allowed to remain king in Carthage.
By the end of the Punic War Rome was the dominant power in much of the Mediterranean and this began to imperil the positions or agendas of other powers such as the Argolids or Macedonian Diadochi states. Carthage also attempted a resurgence later on in order to reclaim Africa and regain its total independence. Roman armies easily defeated them, the Argolid Hegemony, and the Antigonids by 146 B.C., effectively controlling most of Africa and all of Greece. By this point there was no power in the Western Mediterranean that could oppose the Republic, and the states of the east like Argead Egypt or Ptolemaic Syria were more interested in their own dynastic squabbles than stand against Rome.
Continued Expansion and Instability
Rome would continue to defend its borders from the occasional barbarian invasions or attack. Increasingly, however, the threat to Rome came from within, as political struggles between the Populares and the Optimates began to reach a boiling point. In addition, after Scorpio Africanus' appointment to Consul-for-Life, politicians increasingly tried to centralize power around themselves and were not above resorting to assassination or military force to do so. This was first noticed as both Tiberius and Marcus Gracchus, Populares with plans to distribute grain to the lower classes, were assassinated by their opposition in the Senate.
Gaius Marius built new power by reforming the army, eliminating the traditional method of drawing manpower from the wealthy noble classes of Rome but instead by targeting the poor and small landowners with offers of higher pay and resettlement. A significant consequence of this was instilling the soldiers with more loyalty towards their generals, their paymasters, rather than the state. Marius used these reformed armies to defeat the Teutones and Cimbri in the Cimbrian War. One of his junior officers, Sulla, would later use his own armed forces to expand the Republic in Cappadocia and even force Marius and the Populares from Rome in 88 B.C. in the first of Rome's civil wars, the Sullan War. The war swung back and forth as Marius returned and served a short seventh term as Consul while Sulla was again campaigning in the east. Marius died soon after and Sulla returned, defeating Marius' son Marius the Younger and proscribing many of his supporters, becoming Dictator-for-Life for a short time before retiring and dying shortly afterwards in 78 B.C.
After Sulla's death, there was no clear leader within Rome. Two different members of the Optimates, Pompey and Crassus, rose to prominence for their roles in the Second Cappadocian War of 74 to 64 B.C. and the Third Servile War of 73 to 71 B.C. Both of the men hated each other, and to that end they formed a political alliance called the Triumvirate in 60 B.C. with a rising member of the Populares named Julius Caesar to balance themselves. Through their respective resources and popularity amongst different segments of Rome's populations, the three rapidly centralized power amongst themselves in government, supporting each other for Consul and different military commissions to conquer neighboring lands and enrich themselves. For the next eight years, the three men led campaigns in Anatolia, Egypt, Gaul, and Mesopotamia, expanding Roman influence and swelling the treasury with loot. At the same time, the three generals also spread their own influence within the territories they conquered.
This political situation eventually became untenable, as Pompey and the other Optimates in the Senate began to feel that Caesar and Crassius were becoming too powerful and exceeding the limits of their military commissions. In 49 B.C., the Senate ordered both generals to return to Rome without their armies. Both men understood this to be a death sentence and refused, marching on Rome shortly after the Senate declared them enemies of the state, beginning the Triumvirate War. Caesar quickly crossed the Rubicon and captured Rome while Pompey and Crassus battled it out in Anatolia. By 46 B.C. both Crassus and Pompey had been defeated and committed suicide, although holdouts of pro-Pompey forces in Anatolia and Spain would resist Caesar until 43 B.C. In 42 B.C., Caesar had consolidated so much power around himself that he was given the titles of Dictator-for-Life and Consul-for-Life. Not long after, Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March the same year by Senators and other public officials who felt he was becoming too monarchical and a threat to Republican governance.
Caesar's death led to a power vacuum that was rapidly filled by Caesar's illegitimate eighteen year old son Caesarion. Although politically inexperienced, Caesarion gained the loyalty of Caesar's army and used his lineage as son of Caesar and descendant of Alexander the Great to gravitate the public towards him. By introducing the so called Caesar's Will, he quickly seized power and forced the conspirators to flee to Greece, where Caesar's lieutenant Marc Antony defeated them in 40 B.C. With no effective rival and Antony under the impression that he could be controlled, Caesarion rapidly centralized power around himself yet ensured it was covert, clearly aware of what happened to his father. Five years after the defeat of the conspirators Caesarion was given the titles of Augustus and Princeps. While these two titles were officially republican, ancient Romans and historians agree that 35 B.C. represents the beginning of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Pax Romana.
The Roman government was established as a constantly shifting and evolving set of unwritten guidelines and precedents created by previous administrations. Although not fixed, the government was effectively split into three different branches. The Senate was mostly concerned with foreign policy and military matters. The Legislative Assemblies governed the rights of the people and engaged in law making, although this weakened over time and more legislative ability moved to the Senate. Finally, the Executive Magistrates directed the state and enforced its agenda. The most powerful members of the Magistrates were Consuls, senators elected to a year long term. Consuls had the ability to steer the agenda of the Republic, conduct foreign policy, and lead armies.
The Republican economy was dominated by trade between the urban centers and different regions of the periphery. Typically most of these food were either sent to Rome or sent to other cities for further production of finer goods. Provinces like Cyrenaica and Africa were highly valued for their grain imports which supported the rapidly growing population of Rome. Other resources like olives, marble, copper, tin, papyrus, iron, gold, and silver were highly valued as well. Roman mines were some of the most advanced in the world and were able to exploit the rich deposits of Spain and Illyria. As with the Roman Empire, the Republic was very dependent upon slave labor for its domestic economy. Slaves were typically captured and sold following Roman military campaigns and were mostly used for hard labor, agriculture, education, and housework.
Religion and religious practice was a central component of both public and private life in Rome. Many of Rome's deities were either drawn from or inspired by Greek counterparts, resulting in heavy similarities. The gods Jupiter and Mars were the most important ones, while other gods like Minerva and Juno were also of considerable importance. Sacrifices and festivals were done in order to please the gods, which the Romans believed was necessary to protect Rome and ensure success against their enemies.
In addition, the Romans believed that the gods of other cultures existed as well. The practice of these other gods was often tolerated as long as their worship did not include any practices Romans found abhorrent, such as human sacrifice, and that natives acknowledged the presence and superiority of Rome's pantheon. Sometimes the Romans would pray to a hostile culture's gods, asking that they abandon their followers and support Rome with promises of devotion in return. As a result of all of these policies, the Roman Republic became increasingly diverse in the number of deities and pantheons worshipped as it expanded throughout the Mediterranean world.