Lecture 5:  The Roman Republic (500 BCE-27 BCE)


Italy before the Romans:  The Etruscans


Circa1200 BCE, Indo-European "Italic" speakers with bronze weapons invaded Italy from the Adriatic.  By 800 BCE thesy had settled the Italian peninsula and established the cultures known as the Umbrians, Sabines, Samnites, and Latins. 


At about same time, “Etruscans” invaded Italy (from western Asia?) and settled in region called Etruria (hence Etruscans).  The established an urbanized culture, built walled cities and city-states.  Their city-states were monarchies, but kings deferred to councils of aristocrats who chose also annual magistrates/administrators (served one year terms). 


Circa 600 BCE, a federation of Etruscan city-states (not a centralized monarchy) conquered northern Italy.  By the mid-500s BCE, they ruled Latium, including a small town called Rome. 


Etruscans traded with Carthage and Greek city states and were influenced by Greek culture (Greek alphabet, Greek gods, Greek hoplite military tactics, Greek art).  But Etruscans also had their own distinct traditions (e.g., they did not segregate and secluded women; they engaged in combat as a spectator sport; they could build arches, etc.). 


Circa 400 BCE, Celtic invaders from Gaul (France) crossed the Alps and seized Etruscan-held territory in the Po Valley.  Not long afterwards, Rome conquered remaining Etruscan lands.


Royal Rome (before the Republic)


Rome had 2 foundation myths:  a “Greek” origin myth (Rome founded by Trojans) and an “Etruscan” origin myth (Rome founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE).   


Circa 750 BCE, Italic tribes who had settled rich farming region called Latium built
a town on seven hills that overlook the Tiber River--Rome.  Rome held a strategically important location (hills=defendable), had access to rich farmland and to the sea, and was situated between the Etruscan federation (north) and Greek colonies (south).   


Around 600 BCE, Etruscans conquered Rome.  Rome’s Etruscan kings organized a Greek-style army that made Rome a regional power.  Army officers became Rome's aristocrats and formed Rome's aristocratic Senate.   In Etruscan Rome, the Senate "elected" the king.  


Role of Etruscan kings:   Kings in Rome had power called imperium =right to command, arrest, fine, and punish any Roman.  The king was the military commander, chief priest of official (polytheistic) religious cults, and supreme judge. 


Role of Etruscan Senate:  aristocrats in the Senate served as king’s councilors.  In Royal Rome, 300 Senators served life terms.  The Senate technically had no legislative or executive powers.


Citizenship and the Curiate Assembly:  Kings used another government assembly, the Curiate Assembly, to gain citizens’ public approval of major policies.  Any man born of two Roman parents was a Roman citizen.  All citizens belonged to one of the legal citizen categories/groups, called curia.  Voting in the assembly was by curia.  Like the Senate, it had no real powers  


Citizens and legal social classes:   Royal Rome had two legally-defined social classes:  patricians (the aristocrats) and plebeians (the lower classes)—both inherited.  Only patricians could serve in the Senate, hold office, or be priests.  Patricians could only marry other patricians.  Status was based upon birth, not wealth.  Plebe=plebe, no matter how rich or poor.


Clientage linked patricians and plebeians.  Powerful "patrons" protected and assisted "clients in return for services and political support.  The patron-client relationship was based on fides (trust, fidelity, a mutual moral obligation).  Patron-client relationship was generational.  Patricians could use patronage relationships to build political power and influence.


Organization of the Roman family.  Legally, Roman fathers had imperium over the family.  In practice, a husband’s power over a wife was limited:  women were not legal equals to men, but did have some rights (e.g., widows could control property as guardians). 


Latin legal traditions in Etruscan Rome:  Legal marriage (connubium) established to protect transfer of property within families (a "traditional" right of Latium peoples).  Other traditional elements of "Latin Right" included commericum (enforceability of contracts) and migratio (transfer of citizenship between towns). 


Legal Rights and Republican Revolution:  Rome’s citizens believed they had unalienable rights.  That belief fueled aristocratic rebellion against the king in 509 BCE.  Legend says the Romans rebelled after King Tarquin's son (Sextus) raped a virtuous Roman woman named Lucretia.  This myth symbolized the untrustworthiness of kings, who violated citizen’s rights.


The Early Republic (500-150 BCE) and Constitutional Rule


The Senate.   Roman aristocrats created a constitutional form of government called a Republic.   Under the unwritten constitution of the early Republic, only the patricians exercised political power.  The Senate, which now met continuously, made state policy and controlled state finances.  It also could veto laws issued by the Assembly (below).


The Censors.  The senate picked two senators to be Censors, who served five-year terms.  Censors conducted "censuses" that recorded each man's tax category and social status.  They used the census to write lists of men who were legally citizens.  Eventually the censors also drew up lists of senators.  If the censor removed you from the lists, you lost your status as a citizen (or as a senator), so these were very powerful positions.


The Centuriate /Tribal Assembly:  For several decades, the Centuriate Assembly elected magistrates, voted on laws, declared war, and was an appeals court.  Members came from the army, which was organized into units of 100, called "centuries."  Patricians dominated the army, and so most plebeians had no political voice.   It was reorganized as the Tribal Assembly. 

The Consuls:  Each year the Assembly elected two patricians to be Consuls.  The Consuls had limited imperium: they led the army, were head priests, and served as chief judges.  But they could not invoke capital punishment inside Rome's city borders without approval of the Assembly.  They sought Senate support for policies.  An ex-Consul was senator for life. 


Dictators:  When Rome was in crisis, the Consuls could appoint a "dictator," who had imperium both within and outside city's borders for up to 6 months, and who could punish citizens freely. 


War and the Constitution:  As Rome fought longer and more distant wars, its constitution changed.  The Assembly lost many of its power to the magistrates.  It created “pro-consulship,” which extended Consuls' terms when they were leading the army.  It also created the office of Preator, generals who served for one-year terms and also had the power of imperium.


Reform and Limited Democratization in the Early Republic


For decades, the Republic was run exclusively by patricians.  But patrician families accounted for less than 5 percent of Rome's population.  The plebeians--the other 95 percent—were taxed and conscripted into the wartime army, but had no political voice.  That led to plebian rebellions in the mid-400s BCE.


The Struggle of Order and Plebian Rights:   Plebeian rebellions (the "Struggle of Orders") slowly forced Rome's government to “democratize.”  Around 450 BCE the Senate created the  Tribunes--two ombudsmen for the plebeians, with power to veto laws.  In 449 BCE, the government issued Rome's first written law code, the "Law of the Twelve Tables."  


Next, plebeians won the right to serve as low-level judges.  Then in the mid-300s, the Senate allowed appointment of plebeians as Consul.  Soon, wealthy plebeians began serving as senators.  And in 287 BCE Rome created a new legislative assembly made up only of plebeians, the Concilium Plebis (Plebian Council) which could make laws that the Senate could not revoke.


These reforms gave wealthy plebeians greater power, but the gap between rich and poor in Rome grew in the 400s-200s BCE.  And wealthy patrician families still dominated the Senate (particularly after laws were passed banning senators from participating in merchant activities). 


The Economy of the Early Republic


Rome was founded by farmers, and agriculture was the core of the Republic’s economy.  Commerce and artisan crafts were less important in Rome than in the Greek city states.  (Romans had no currency system until the mid- 200s BCE.)  In the early Republic, agricultural production depended upon small family farms. 


That changed as Rome expanded.  In the 200s BCE, Roman farmers served long tours of army duty; without their labor their families fell into debt.  "Equestrians," businessmen with strong political connections, bought land from poor farmers and built huge estates (latifundia).  


Patrician and Equestrian landowners used cheap labor—slaves—to work their latifundia.  Many poor farmers had fallen into debt slavery.  But also, as Rome began conquering lands beyond Italy, they important slaves taken as spoils of war.  Rome's economy became entirely dependent on slave labor.


Commerce also grew with territorial expansion—Rome bought and sold goods in conquered territories.  Expansion required more weapons, which required more raw materials, and also more infrastructural development (road building, canal building, ship building, etc.)  Equestrians controlled most of these ventures.  So imperial expansion meant wealth for the elites. 


The Culture of the Early Republic


Republican Rome's culture was still that of an agricultural society—for instance, fertility cults were central to household worship.  But imperial expansion also changed Roman culture.


Fathers still had household imperium, but patrician wives now could keep property inherited from their fathers and had the right to initiate divorce (the goal was to protect patrician family property). Slaves now did all work in patrician households, which altered elite women’s lives. 


Fathers still were “household priests.”  Rome had TWO forms of religion, private and public.


Private religious customs:  Each family had its own household gods, including ancestors to whom they prayed in hopes that the dead would intervene with the gods in the family's favor. 


Public Religion:  Romans publicly worshipped a pantheon of gods that included their own versions of Greek gods (Jupiter = Zeus; Venus = Aphrodite; Neptune = Poseidon; Cupid = Eros; Mars = Ares; Saturn = Kronos; Bacchus = Dionysus etc.).  Public religion was a matter for the state:  citizens were required to worship properly, and priests of religious cults were state officials.  In the 200s and 100s BCE, the Senate declared certain cults “legal” and other cults “illegal”  (e.g., it banned the cult of Bacchus and the cult of the Greek mother goddess Cybele).


Family and Education:  The family was Rome's “school.”  Fathers taught sons their family history and how to read, write, and do basic math.  Fathers taught sons how to farm, conduct religious rituals, and fight.  The goal was to teach a vocation and to instill piety and patriotism.  


In the 200s, Greek influence shifted the emphasis of education, and patrician boys were expected to learn humanitas—languages (esp. Greek), literature, and philosophy (critical thinking) from a grammaticus (a hired teacher).  


The Early Republic's Wars of Expansion


From the 390s to the 260s BCE, Rome fought wars to dominate Italy.  It used as strategy of "divide and conquer," making alliances to fracture resistance, then conquering both ally and foe.  Rome promised Italians citizenship if they were loyal, and put down resistance with brutal force.  In 295 BCE Rome defeated a coalition of Italian states and won control of all Italy from the Po Valley to Naples.  By 265 BCE it controlled the Greek colonies in southern Italy. 

The First Punic War (264-241 BCE)


“Punis/Peoni”  = Roman word for Carthage, a wealthy and powerful North African empire founded by the Phoenicians, which by 300 BCE ruled much of the western Mediterranean.  When the Carthaginian tyrant of Syracuse (Sicily) launched an attack on Messina (in Italy) in 265, the Romans believed that Carthage intended to conquer the Italian peninsula.


In 264 BCE the Roman assembly voted for the war against Carthage, which began the First Punic War (264-241 BCE).  The long costly war was fought in Sicily.  In 241 BCE, Rome's fleet sank the entire Carthaginian fleet.  Carthage agreed to pay an "indemnity" and gave Rome Sicily and several other islands (Rome's first possessions outside Italy).


The Second Punic War (218-201 BCE)


Rome now competed with Carthage for dominance in the western Mediterranean.  The most intense competition was over Iberia (Spain).  In 218 BCE, Rome launched a "pre-emptive" war against Carthage (the Second Punic War, 218-201 BCE).  The Carthaginian general Hannibal made an amazing attack on Italy, marching his army from Iberia through Gaul, over the Alps, and into the Po Valley.  Hannibal's armies repeatedly smashed the Romans (Rome lost 80,000 soldiers in the battle of Cannae in 216 BCE). 


But Hannibal ran low on supplies and could not attack key Roman cities.  In 212 BCE the Romans regrouped and went on the offensive.  Roman general Scipio attacked Iberia, then landed in north Africa.  In 204 BCE he forced Carthage to sign a peace treaty.  Hannibal's army in Italy was still undefeated; in 202 BCE Hannibal returned to Carthage and resumed the war.  Scipio defeated Hannibal at Zama, and in 201 BCE Rome took almost all Carthage's lands and forced it to pay a huge indemnity. 


Rome now ruled the western Mediterranean.  War had made the Roman Senators and their Equestrian allies richer.  The Senate distributed land in conquered territory to the politically-well connected, who also were given slaved and loot from the conquered lands.  Rome stripped Iberia of its silver and other resources and treated the Iberians as barbarians to be enslaved.  The Iberians resisted, and Rome used terror to "pacify" the local population.



The Third Punic War (149-146 BCE)


In 150 BCE, Rome's Senate again voted to attack Carthage, beginning the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE).  This time the only reason for the war was to take slaves and loot Carthage’s remaining lands.  The Roman Amry burned Carthage, butchered tens of thousands of civilians, and shipped 55,000 people back to Rome to be sold as slaves.




War in the East:  The Three Macedonian Wars


At the same time, Rome fought wars in the East.  By the late 200s BCE, the Romans considered the Alexandrian successor states (the Antigonids and Seleucid empires) as threats to Roman expansion.  Macedonian King Philip V had aided Carthage in the Second Punic War.  Rome went to war against Philip V (the First Macedonian War, 215-205 BCE), but could did not defeat him.  In 200 BCE the Romans deliberately provoked another war (the Second Macedonian War, 200-197 BCE).  This time drove the Antigonid dynasty out of Greece.  In 189 BCE Rome fought and won a war against Seleucid King Antiochus in Asia Minor (Anatolia). 


At first, Rome allowed the Greek cities to remain "independent" Roman "protectorates.  That  changed with the Third Macedonian War in 172-168 BCE.  After defeating the Macedonians again, Rome demanded huge sums in tribute and took thousands of Greek prisoners as slaves. 


A Republic That Ruled an Empire


By 150 BCE, Rome ruled six foreign provinces (North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia-Corsica, Greece-Macedonia, Near Iberia and Far Iberia).   It treated these regions as a source of income and ruthlessly exploited their people as slaves.  This further enriched the Senate and the Equestrians.


Rome's slaves often rebelled in the late Republican period.  The largest revolts were in the 130s BCE in Sicily (where a slave army defeated a Roman legion), and in the 70s BCE (when a slave army led by the slave Spartacus defeated several Roman legions).   Rome responded to rebellions with even greater brutality; after defeating Spartacus, Rome crucified 6,000 rebellious slaves.


The Late Republic (150-27 BCE)


Social and Political Conflict


By the 150s BCE, Rome had about 8 million inhabitants.  The census divided these into four legal categories:  "senatorial" aristocrats; equestrians, common citizens, and slaves. 


There were tensions between the equestrians and the senatorial aristocrats, but they generally worked together to control political and economic power in Rome.  They lived off of the labor of their slaves, and dependence on cheap slave labor hampered innovation in the Roman economy. 


Commoners were the majority.  Most still farmed, but with each war, more and more families could not afford to keep their land (their men were away fighting).  The wealthy took more and more of the land, and hundreds of thousands of landless poor ended up in the cities.   


The Gracchi:  In 133 BCE a faction in Roman senate led by Tiberius Gracchus proposed giving land to the poor and limiting the size of patrician estates.  Helping poor farmers would win plebian support for his faction and increase the number of men eligible for military service.)   Most of the Senate and the other Tribune (M. Octavius) opposed him.  When Tiberius proposed constitutional changes to weaken the Senate, senators murdered him and his inner circle. 


A few years later, his brother Gaius Gracchus convinced the Senate to pass laws helping the poor and limiting grain prices.  When Gaius tried to reform the government to weaken patrician power, there was a backlash.  Senators killed Gaius and executed thousands of his followers.  Murder was now a tool for politics in Rome.


Rule by Generals


After the Gracchi incidents, military generals dominated Roman politics. 


General Marius won fame with victories in Numidia (near Carthage) and against northern "barbarian tribes” in Gaul.  The Assembly elected him Consul in 111 BCE; he held the post for 11 years, until 100 BCE.  In power, Marius made "reforms" in the army that bound soldiers (clients) in loyalty to their "commander in chief" (patron) rather than to the Roman constitution.  Generals now could use the army to bully the Senate. 


In 88 BCE the Assembly elected General Sula as Consul; he also was reelected for year after year.  After winning another war in Asia Minor in 83 BCE,  Sulla returned to Rome and launched a civil war against his political rivals.  In 82 BCE the Senate appointed Sulla "Dictator." He then killed his political opponents and turned their wealth over to the army.  He also strengthened the authority of the patrician Senate and weakened Rome's democratic institutions.  The Republic was nearly dead.


The Rise of Julius Caesar


Sulla retired in 79 BCE.   Two generals then competed for control of Roman politics, General Pompey and Julius Caesar.   Both were famous for foreign victories; both commanded large armies loyal to them alone.  In 77 BCE the Senate gave Pompey control of the army during yet another war in Spain.  In 71 BCE he returned to Rome and crushed the Spartacus slave rebellion; this victory further increased his authority.  By allying politically with Senator Crassus, Pompey became a major force behind the scenes in Roman government.  And after each war victory, the Senate increased the scope of his military power.   At the same time, Julius Caesar had risen to great authority as commander of Rome's armies in Gaul. 


In 60 BCE, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus entered into an alliance, the First Triumvirate.  Together, they controlled the Roman government.  But Crassus died in 53 BCE.  In 52 BCE the Senate called on Pompey to put down rioting in Rome and gave him extraordinary powers as sole Consul.  The Senate then urged Pompey to attack his rival Caesar, triggering a civil war. 


When, in 49 BCE Caesar marched his army into Rome (violating Roman custom), Pompey and his forces fled.  Caesar pursued him; in 48 BCE Caesar's army defeated Pompey in Greece.  Like Alexander the Great, Caesar did not stop after vanquishing his rival; instead, he followed the remnants of Pompey's forces into Asia Minor and then into Egypt.  The civil war lasted until 45 BCE, with Caesar constantly in the field (and away from Rome). 




Julius Caesar as Dictator


During the war against Pompey’s army, Caesar arranged "reforms" that packed the Senate with his supporters.  In 46 BCE the Senate named Julius Caesar "Dictator" for a ten-year term, with full power of imperium.  In 45 BCE, he returned to Rome as a "great conqueror,"  and was appointed "Dictator for Life."  He was also elected as Consul, Tribune, Chief Priest, and Prefect of Morals.


Under Julius Caesar, Rome consolidated its conquests in Europe (his greatest achievement). 


Caesar’s victories in Gaul provided Rome with grain, but he also used conquest in Europe to solve the problem of manning Rome's armies.  He permitted men from Iberia and Gaul to gain Roman citizenship and serve in Rome's armies.  This also helped spread Roman (and through it, Greek) culture into Europe.


In 44 BCE a faction in the Senate decided that the dictator had amassed too much power.  With the help of Caesar's friends Brutus and Cassius (both republicans), they assassinated Julius Caesar at a Senate session on 15 March in 44 BCE.