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Roman republic

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Forum Romanum
Forum Romanum

At the end of the 6th century BCE there were signs of weakening of Etruscan rule in Italy. In the fight against the Greeks, they began to fail (under Kyme in 525 and 474 BCE), mainly due to Syracuse, which undertook to defend Greek cities threatened by Etruscan expansion. The poor balance of fighting for the Etruscans led to the fact that the last Roman king of Etruscan origin lost his support and was expelled from the city.
At the time of the overthrow of the last king, Rome had an extensive (for city-state) territory, a strong army and extensive commercial and diplomatic contacts, not only with neighboring Latin cities, but also with Etruscan cities, Greek colonies in the south of the Apennine Peninsula and the distant Carthage. These factors enabled Rome to reform political life and economic development.

The first step was the abolition of royal power and the introduction of the interrexa office, which was in office when, due to unforeseen circumstances, top officials. However, the so-called rex sacrorum, which was entrusted with the protection of religious worship. In addition, the Roman people (populus Romanus Quiritium), who exercised their right at assemblies, officially took over the sovereign power in Rome. However, this beautiful idea of ​​the democratization of public life was not quite reflected. Indirect voting by curia, centurie and tribus meant that the authorities in Rome belonged to only a small group of patricians, who with their votes could easily make decisions without asking about plebeian matters. This in turn later led repeatedly to conflicts between patricians and plebeians.
In a very early republic, the highest authority was held by one official, praetor maximus (“headed”), who served for one year and was equipped with the highest executive, judicial and military (imperium). He could only be chosen from patricians.

Curia in Forum Romanum. In this building the Senate met.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

Soon, strictly indefinite, he was replaced by two consuls (consul) who were elected for a period of one year, and were equipped with large but equal power. It was the beginning of the magistracy in the Roman Republic. However, the highest political and administrative power was exercised by patricians a senate who controlled all areas of the state’s life. One can thus say that the Roman Republic was not the state of every citizen, but an aristocratic republic, where privileges and power were in the hands of patricians.
The exceptional office that was set up right after the consuls were introduced was a dictator (dictator). This office was created mainly due to the very difficult political situation of this period when there was real internal chaos in the state. The dictator was appointed by the consul for a period of six months and equipped with unlimited power to enable him to lead the country out of the crisis.

Soon new administrative institutions appeared, which were indirectly the result of the conflict between the plebeian and patrician communities (the so-called first secession). Patricians, who had power, money and land, opposed plebeians by obstructing their access to land and preventing them from holding office. The result was the creation of a people’s tribune (in 494 BCE) and aedile.
However, the achievements of the first secession turned out to be insufficient, because in the middle of the 5th century BCE the second secession took place (449 BCE). As a result, the plebeians gained wide access to the state magistracy: in 421 BCE to the bursar, in 367 BCE to the consulate; in 364 BCE to edillate; in 356 BCE to dictatorship; in 351 BCE to censorship and in 337 BCE to the prefecture.

Holding office in the Republic did not bring any material benefits. It was just the opposite. Officials incur huge costs in order to display the right number of events for the population or provide them with the basic amenities of everyday life. In this way, an active and generous official could save himself in the memory of his countrymen and count on gratification, in the form of support for another position in his political career. The officers’ activities were assisted by lower officers. These include: writers (scribae), translators (interpretes), janitors (praecones) and bishops (viatores).
During the period of candidacy for the position, he founded toga candida and conducted the electoral campaign of bypassing (ambitus) neighborhoods and gaining support among the people. It was also normal to buy votes.


However, the internal conflict between the two groups of citizens was not the only problem of the Roman republic. In 486 BCE the war of Rome against Ekwami ​​and Wolsk lasted about 50 years, which was the actual beginning of expansionist policy. As a result, Rome took over all of central Italy.

Territory of Roman Republic in 44 BCE.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

In 390 BCE Rome survived the tragic invasion of the Gauls, who plundered the city completely. After this accident, it was decided to secure the city with new defensive walls, the construction of which began in 378 BCE (Servian walls). Instead of cooling the aggressive tendencies of the Romans, the Gauls invaded Italy only fueled it. Gradually, Rome began to deal with its neighbors, including the Etruscans. Eventually, the peninsula’s conquest ended in 264 BCE occupation of the Etruscan religious centre Veia. Conquered peoples had to become allies of Rome and support it with their own armies. Some of the captured land was settled by colonists, the rest was left to the current owners.
However, mastering the entire Apennine peninsula was not enough for Rome. Expansion began outside Italy: in Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor.

Crisis of the republic

As a result of the conquest of the Mediterranean world and the resulting social transformations, the traditional system of Rome began to break down. Although the seeds of this process have already appeared before, it was only the creation of the empire that accelerated the political crisis. Rome was formed in the first centuries of the republic based on the models of the city-state, which was characterized by the annuality (annuitas) of republican offices and the direct participation of citizens in the political life of the state. As far as Rome in the 3rd and 2nd century BCE transformed into a great empire, basic organs such as the Senate, magistracy and people’s assembly began to work defective.

The crisis of the Roman Republic became apparent in the second half of the second century BC. The amazing territorial development of the Roman state allowed high social groups to increase their wealth at the expense of the poorer strata. The rich bought large estates in which slaves worked, imported from various parts of the country. Small landowners, being the core of the army, spent a long time in the war. This fact was used by the rich who took their possessions. The loss of property led to the collapse of middle-class Romans below the property census. This, in turn, prevented them from joining the army. This situation on a mass scale could have tragic consequences for the entire state.

In the 30s of 2nd century BCE this situation became so dramatic that the people’s tribune was forced to carry out reforms. Holding in 133 BCE this office Tiberius Grakchus came out with a proposal to divide the state land among the proletariat. The idea, however, met with opposition from optimists, a conservative party that eventually killed the uncomfortable rival. Ten years later, Tiberius’ brother, Gajusz Grakchus, tried to continue the reform, but he was also murdered. Both Grakchs belonged to a political group, the popular, which sought various ways to repair the republic’s system or even to completely abolish it. Optimists, personifying the Senate, were in danger.
Grachus reforms, which were blocked with determination by members of wealthy senatorial families, proved to be the first step to the collapse of the republic.
The situation was exacerbated by the split among the ruling layers. There was a division into two groups. The optimates and popular wing was born. The rise of optimates took place in 134 BCE and their activities had a great impact on the described works of Grakchów.

The enormity of the empire and the constant struggle at all borders forced the Senate to seek a way to heal the state. Mariusz’s Gaius Marius’ reforms accepted to form a professional army. From that moment, the Roman army was mostly made up of poverty and proletariat. And it was these changes that most weakened the role of the Senate in Rome. The Roman army, in fact, became a tool in the hands of demagogic and victorious leaders. It was their personality that attracted the masses of soldiers, most of whom came from the poor. It was thanks to their genius that they gained loot and climbed the social ladder. This factor began to burst the republic from within.

Sulla. After taking over power in Rome, Sulla took over as a dictator for an unlimited period. The persecution of political opponents began, which consumed nearly 3,000 people.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

At the beginning of the 1st century BCE the advantage of great chiefs and their private armies over the senate began to consolidate. There were: Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The rivalry between them led to the outbreak of civil war, which plunged the country. Their professional armies fought not for the republic like the civic army, but for their leaders. These events opened a period called the Roman Revolution, which resulted in the departure from the republican system in favor of the monarchy.
The first new ruler was the above-mentioned Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who in 82 BCE he declared himself an unlimited dictator (dictator legibus scribundis et reipublicae constituendae) after defeating his rival. He was a supporter of the senate and tried to make some changes to the current system, which were to improve the management of the state. To this end, he increased the significance of the senate by increasing the number of senators sitting in the chamber to 600 people. He also made the title of senator lifelong. The senatorial state (ordo senatorius) was to belong to all persons holding the office of quaestor, which in turn resulted in a significant limitation of the power of censors. In addition, the Senate maintained the exclusive right to grant provinces to former proconsules and propretors.
In addition to extending the powers of the senate, Sulla also increased the number of individual officials. Thus, the number of quaestors increased to 20, and the praetors to 8. The powers of the tribal commissions were partially limited, which required the prior approval of motions submitted to the committees by the Senate.
Sulla’s repression did not bypass people’s tribunes, who after their term of office had no right to hold any other offices.

After his death there was a struggle for power, and Sulla’s resolutions were withdrawn. More names have emerged in the political arena: Pompey the Great, Gaius Julius Caesar and Macus Crassus. As Sulla’s opponent, Julius Caesar thought that the Senate was obsolete and that one should introduce the authority of one person who would have full powers. In the years 49 – 45 BCE he emerged victorious from the civil war over his rivals, including Pompey the Great, and took power in Rome.
In 46 BCE Caesar ordered him to choose himself as consul for five years. In addition, he received praefectura morum for a period of 3 years, which allowed him to independently determine the list of the senate, as well as entrusting the office of consul, praetor and quaestor to any person of his choice. In the same year, Caesar obtained a special permission from the Senate to wear purple robes and a laurel wreath, as well as the title of Emperor. The final step to full power was receiving on February 14, 44 BCE, the title of perpetual dictator (dictator in perpetum).
Caesar also made several reforms affecting the management of the state. He doubled the number of praetors from 8 to 16, quaestors from 20 to 40 and aediles from 4 to 8. In addition, he increased the number of senators to 900, which badly affected the work of the senate.
The Roman aristocracy, fearing for its position, formed a conspiracy and led to the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BCE.

Caesar’s death led to another civil war that lasted until 30 BCE. Ultimately, power was taken over by Gaius Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was later named Augustus. He defeated Mark Antony in the naval battle of Actium. Discouraged by failure and uncertain of his fate, Marek Antony committed suicide. Heir of Caesar joined Egypt to the empire, so that 3 years later the Senate gave him the title augustus, meaning divine. This event is considered the beginning of the empire.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia Rzymu, Poznań 2008

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