History of the Roman Republic

The Roman Republic is a state that emerged in the first half of the 1st millennium BC in the east of the Balkan Peninsula, it was strengthening for almost 500 years and became the leading power in the Mediterranean region, subjugating its main territory. At first in Rome, as in any ancient society, rulers were kings. But in 509 BC, the Romans expelled their king Tarquinius the Proud and established the republic (in Latin res publica - public affair). The Roman historian Gaius Sallust Crispus wrote: "When the royal power, which at first served to preserve freedom and raise the state, had turned into gross arbitrariness, the system was changed - the Romans instituted an annual change of government and two rulers."

Key Facts About the Roman Republic

During the Republic, the highest state power was divided between two consuls who were elected for one year. The right to determine laws and conduct foreign policy (represent Rome to foreigners, declare war, and make peace) belonged to the Senate. The senate was made up of the founders of the oldest families in the city. The People's Assembly, which united all free Roman citizens, also did a lot of decision making. 

At first, only patricians were considered citizens of the republic, they were the descendants of Romulus's closest associates. But, in addition to the patricians, there were other free people who lived in Rome - those who were a little late and came to the slopes of the Seven Hills when the city was already built. They were called plebeians.

  • Established: 509 BC
  • Official language: Latin
  • Form of government: Aristocratic Republic
  • Ruler title: Consul
  • Legislature: Senate
  • Capital: Rome
  • Religion: Roman pantheon
  • Area: About 2,400 thousand km²
  • Population: About 35 million people.
  • Currency: Denarius

During the 5-3 centuries, the main content of the internal history of the Republic was the struggle of the plebeians to limit the power of the patricians and the senate. As a result, the plebeians were able to achieve a number of major successes. In 494 BC, under pressure from the plebeians, the senate established the office of tribunes - the defenders of the interests of the plebeians, who had the right to veto any decision of the senate. Soon, the plebeians were admitted to public land use. By 367 BC, plebeians were admitted to the consulate. In fact, by the beginning of the 3 century, the distinction between plebeians and patricians began to fade. The elite of plebeians and patrician clans, which retained their influence, gradually formed a new ruling stratum - the nobility.

Foreign Policy of the Roman Republic

The foreign policy of the Roman Republic was characterized by continuous wars. The Roman army of the period was a popular militia, united in a kind of troops, according to the property status. The main military unit was the legion (6,000 men), divided into 30 tactical maniple units capable of autonomous actions during the battle.

In the first decades of the Republic, Rome withstood the hardest war with the Etruscan confederation. In the 5th century, having defeated their closest neighbors, the Romans asserted their power over the lower reaches of the river. Tiber. At the beginning of the 4 century, the expansion of Rome was halted by the devastating invasion of the Celtic tribes - Gauls, who ravaged Rome in 390 BC. By the end of the 4 century, Rome finally asserted its rule in the Latin Confederation - an alliance of cities founded by Latin tribes. During the Samnite Wars (343 - 290 BC) Rome subdued all of central Italy and began to threaten the Greek colonies in the south of the peninsula.

The intervention of King Pyrrhus, the ruler of the small Hellenistic state of Epirus, in the struggle between Rome and the Greek colony of Tarentum, marked the beginning of the Pyrrhic War (280 - 275 BC).

Despite the fact that Pyrrhus, using war elephants, inflicted a number of defeats on the Roman armies, the Romans were still able to oust his troops from Italy. After the victory over Pyrrhus, Rome finally extended its influence to all of Italy. After the conquest of Italy, Roman expansion went beyond the Apennine peninsula. Here the Romans had to face one of the largest states of the Western Mediterranean - Carthage. Wars between Rome and Carthage (they are called Punic Wars) lasted (intermittently) for over 100 years. As a result of the 1st Punic War (264‒241 BC), the Roman Republic acquired overseas possessions - the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and part of Sicily. These territories became Roman provinces.

During the II Punic War (218-201 BC) the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy and inflicted a number of defeats on the Romans. Despite the fact that Hannibal threatened Rome directly for 16 years, the troops of the Republic, under the command of Scipio Africanus (the Elder), managed to transfer the hostilities to the enemy territory, and as a result, defeat Hannibal at the Battle of Zama (202 BC).

As a result of the II Punic War, Rome received territories in Spain and actually became the hegemon of the Western Mediterranean.

At the end of III, Rome begins to expand into the Eastern Mediterranean. During the three Macedonian wars (215‒205, 200‒197, 171‒168 BC), the Romans extended their rule to the Balkan Peninsula. After the Syrian war (192‒188 BC) against the Seleucid king Antiochus III, the Hellenistic states of Asia Minor entered the sphere of influence of Rome. Finally, during the III Punic War (149 (146 BC) Carthage was finally destroyed. Rome has become the largest Mediterranean power.

Crisis of the Roman Republic

The victorious wars caused a huge influx of slaves to Italy. Slavery gradually became the basis of industrial relations in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of slaves are piling up in Italy, and slave uprisings become regular. So, in 138 BC, the slaves of Sicily revolted. The rebels took control of the entire island and even tried to create their own state. Only in 132 BC, the Roman army was able to suppress this movement. In 104‒99 BC, there was the second equally large-scale Sicilian uprising of slaves. In 74 BC, the largest slave uprising in the history of antiquity under the leadership of Spartacus took place. It was only thanks to the extreme exertion of forces the uprising was suppressed in 71 BC.

The development of an economy based solely on the exploitation of cheap slave labor caused a massive ruin of medium and small peasant farms unable to withstand competition and the landlessness of broad strata of Roman citizens. The pauperized Roman poor (plebs) gathering in cities became a source of constant unrest and civil strife.

In the 30s of the 2 century BC, the rights of the plebs began to be defended by a representative of an aristocratic family, the tribune of the people Tiberius Gracchus. To solve the land issue, he proposed to establish the maximum amount of permissible land ownership and to divide the surplus between the poor Romans. Overcoming the powerful resistance of the nobility, Gracchus achieved the adoption of the law, but was soon killed. In fact, the reform was not implemented.

The reformist activity of Tiberius was continued by Gaius Gracchus. To solve the land issue, he proposed to begin the distribution of the land fund of the conquered provinces among the poor Roman citizens. These initiatives of Gracchus caused unrest in Rome. In 122 BC, the reformer was killed. The death of the Gracchus brothers only intensified social contradictions.

In addition, the spread of Roman influence to distant territories contributed to the development of trade and commodity-money relations. Wealth flowed into Rome from the provinces ravaged by the Roman troops and governors. In Rome, a usurious merchant nobility appeared - horsemen, who entered the struggle for political domination with the senatorial aristocracy (nobility).

The republican political institutions that initially emerged as the authorities of a small rural community were not able to effectively manage the colossal territories that became part of the Roman state. Thus, the provinces were actually transferred to the full control of the governors appointed by the Senate, which ruined the provinces with endless and, in fact, uncontrolled extortions. In the provinces, rebellions constantly broke out against the rule of Rome.

Civil Wars and the End of Republic

The last century of the existence of the Roman Republic was a constant struggle between various strata of Roman society, periodically turning into a civil war. In 70-60 BC, the rise of Pompey the Great took place. He participated in the suppression of the uprising of Spartacus, became famous in the war with Mithridates, his campaigns in Asia Minor and Transcaucasia, the fight against Mediterranean pirates. In 60 BC, Pompey, together with the oligarch Mark Crassus and the aristocrat Gaius Julius Caesar, formed a political union (Triumvirate), whose members, relying on the army, divided power over the provinces.

Caesar was given control of Illyria and Gaul, much of which was not under Roman control. During the Gallic War 58-51. BC. the whole country was subject to Caesar. The victorious war brought the commander huge booty, which Caesar used to strengthen his political positions and popularity among the Roman plebs.

The threat of Caesar's strengthening forced Pompey to conspire with the Senate and order Caesar to disband the army and appear in Rome for trial. Caesar did not obey and crossing the border of Italy - the river Rubicon actually declared war on the Senate. During the civil war (49 - 45 BC), Caesar won a number of victories over Pompey and his supporters in Greece, North Africa and Spain. At 45 he was proclaimed the "father of the fatherland" and a lifelong dictator, virtually unlimited ruler of the Republic. More and more openly, the monarchical nature of Caesar's power aroused the discontent of the aristocratic opposition. On March 15, 44 BC, Caesar was killed by a group of conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius.

Caesar's death led to the resumption of civil wars. The supporters of the Republic were opposed by the Caesarians: an associate of Julius Caesar - Mark Antony and Caesar's great-nephew Octavian, who, in turn, also competed for the dictator's inheritance.

In 43 BC, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, who joined them, entered into an alliance (II triumvirate). The Triumvirs dealt harshly with the opposition, after which they opposed the Republicans. In the Battle of Philippi (42 BC), the Republican army was defeated, and its leaders Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. After the victory over the Republicans, a struggle began between the triumvirs Octavian and Antony, who was supported by Ptolemaic Egypt. The war between them ended with the victory of Octavian's fleet at the Battle of the Cape of Shares in 31 BC and the annexation of Egypt to Rome.

In 30 BC, Octavian became the sole ruler, and the senate presented him with the title "August" (Sacred). The state, without formally eliminating republican institutions, in fact, became a monarchy - the Roman Empire.

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