The Roman Republic

With Rome’s recent defeat over Carthage in the Punic Wars, the empire had expanded its size to encompass most of the Mediterranean world.  With this expansion, the Roman Republic gained more power in the world.  Since the empire was so vast, the Roman Republic had a difficult time trying to keep everyone happy and the rebellions down.  For the Roman Republic to have gained so much land in so short a period of time, it was inevitable that there would be problems with the people concerning the expansion; now the Romans had to deal with new political, economic, and social problems.

The most crucial and immediate problems the Romans had to deal with were the veterans of the army.  When most of Rome’s warriors came back to their farming communities and families, they found only destruction and devastation.  Their families had either died of starvation or left the area, leaving the veterans with nothing.  Most of them were in debt to so they had no way to start their farms back up.  This caused many problems, for one, all the veterans moved to the cities. Some of the farms were even illegally absorbed by the wealthy and government officials such as the senators.  The aristocrats exploited the land with slaves because they were cheaper and easier to find because of the war than hiring the farmers to work for them.  Secondly, since they didn’t own the lands anymore the men were unable to serve in the military.  By 133 B.C. the Roman military was not able to meet it’s military obligations because the army was so diminished.

During this period of time there were also problems in Sicily with slave revolts.  Without the able military support, Rome was slow to act on the rebellions.  Also, with having its own problems in Rome, the Romans did not see the rebellions as being priority on the list of things to do, besides slaves were easy to replace because of the war.  A slave leader of the rebellion by the name of Eunus became one of the leading figures in the rebellion.  Eunus, being a slave himself, rallied supporters for his cause and created a great many rebellions across the East.  Eventually the Roman troops did come and Eunus and his followers were repressed and he eventually died in prison.  The impact of the revolts had initial land reform effects indirectly in Rome.

The legal system of the republic also put the empire as a whole in jeopardy.  In 133 B.C., Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was a tribune chosen to represent the interest of the lower class citizens and those who thought a land reform would solve all their military problems.  The problem with this solution was that it would take away land from the private owning men, which at the time were members of the Senate, and distribute it to the landless farmers that had lost their crops.  Since this angered a great many of the aristocrats of the government, he was eventually assassinated in ensuing riots.  His younger brother Gaius became tribune ten years later and tried to continue what his brother started.  He split the Senate into to factions; the Optimates were the conservatives and the Populares who were the liberals.  Gaius political career eventually led him to commit suicide.

In the following years the two political factions became reigning bodies of the republic fighting for control of it.  This turned into a civil war from 88-82 B.C.  Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Optimate political hero, imposed his will upon the Republic and established the Senate as the dominant constitutional body.  Sulla also tries to abolish the importance of tribunes and makes the law that no public act can become law unless it has the Senates approval.  With his death in 79 B.C. his two lieutenants, Crassus and Pompey dominated politics until the late 60’s B.C.  They continued to hold power over the Roman world and dictate control of the senate.

Caesar came into power during the 60’s B.C.  With the new threat of the Germans moving into from the north into Italy the government gave Caesar control of northern Italy for five years.  Caesar ended up retaining power of northern Italy for ten years elevating his status in the political world.  He then went on to conquer France and built up his political status and power in the Roman republic.  With his new power growing the first triumvirate was founded consisting of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.  While trying to make his military advancement in Syria Crassus died, leaving Caesar and Pompey to try and rule the republic and resulting in another civil war in 48 B.C. and ending the first triumvirate.

Caesar ended up defeating Pompey’s forces.  Pompey was assassinated in Egypt, where he had fled to escape the wrath of Caesar, making Caesar the sole ruler of the Roman world in 48 B.C.  Caesar was a member of the Populares, those who sought change in the form of government the republic was taking and how it was being run.  They believed they could gain support by appealing to the commoners and supporting the popular cause.

Brutus had all his life been contradictive in his political stance.  He supported Pompey and his step uncle, Cato, on the conservative side sometimes, and then switched over to backing Caesar with his liberal, Populares beliefs for the republic.  He eventually sided with his Optimate uncle Cato siding against Caesar.  He also ended up becoming the chief conspirator in Caesar’s assassination who was against Caesar’s attempt to move towards kingship.  In the end about sixty senators were involved in the overall conspiracy against Caesar who was murdered March 15, 44 B.C.  Ironically, while trying to do something they thought the republic as a whole believed in, they really ended up alienating the republic altogether.  They had only planned the immediate moment and not considered what the people would actually think about Caesar’s death or if they had any military backing whatsoever.

The conspirators of the plot against Caesar eventually ended up having to flee Rome due to the fact that the republic was against the assassination.  By this time Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew and primary heir, and Antony, Caesar’s friend and confidant, were trying to track down Caesar’s killers.  Brutus and his fellow conspirators were eventually killed in 42 B.C. at Philippi in Greece, Brutus having committed suicide in the fashion of his uncle Cato.  Octavian and Antony along with Lepidus created the second triumvirate and they now controlled the Roman government.

The end of the republic focused mainly on Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, verses Octavian.  Cleopatra had been in Rome when Caesar had been assassinated and had allegedly had relations with Caesar beforehand and sired a son whom she named Caesarion, or little Caesar.  Neither Cleopatra or Caesarian were mentioned in Caesar’s will and both fled Rome back to Egypt, after Caesar’s assassination for fear of Roman hostilities.  Marc Antony had already met Cleopatra and met her again when he went to Alexandria to secure a base of operations for their Eastern campaign.  During this time, Antony and Cleopatra became very close and Cleopatra eventually bore Antony a couple of children.

Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra did not bode well with the Roman people nor did it do well for Antony’s political career.  The Roman people did not like Antony trusting a foreigner with the future of the Roman republic.  Even before this time when Cleopatra was with Caesar, she had Roman hostility directed towards her.  In the treaty of Brundisium of 40 B.C., Octavian and Antony divided the Roman world with Antony taking the eastern half with recruiting rights in Italy and Octavian the West and Illyria.  The pact was strengthened with Antony’s marriage to Octavian’s sister, Octavia.

As Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s relationship continued his growing affections for her presented more problems for him in the Roman republic.  Most Romans opinion was that Antony had a good faithful, Roman wife in Octavia rather than wasting his time with the foreign queen.  It was an insult to the republic as he started to spend more time with her and even accept some of their customs such as the returning victory parade.  He also allegedly bequeathed to Cleopatra and their children large portions of the Roman territories that were not even his to begin with.  Antony even supposedly went so far as to request being buried in Egypt.  His behavior during this decade was considered extremely un-Roman and this would ultimately be the reason the Roman republic loses faith in him and turn their support to Octavian.

Eventually Antony and Cleopatra went to Actium in Greece with their troops.  An impeding war was inevitable.  Since the resources of Cleopatra and Antony were already seriously depleted, this gave Octavian and his finest admiral, Agrippa, time and power to attack.  In the spring of 31 B.C., Octavian attacked Antony’s army by sea.  Fearing for Cleopatra and knowing that he was no match for the forces Octavian possessed he sacrificed most of his men so that both he and Cleopatra could escape back to Egypt.  The most serious consequence of the battle at Actium was that most of Antony’s legions were gone and there was no hope of victory for him now.  Octavian soon won the battle after and became the sole ruler of the Roman republic, however, this defeat was the end of the Roman republic which would turn into empire where Octavian, renamed Augustus, would rule as Rome’s first empire.

With Rome’s main body of power switching so many times and having so many different views of the republic it was no wonder that it did not last.  The government as a whole did not support any stability within the republic and it’s leaders did not control the republic in the best interests of the people.  There was no hope that the republic would last with the way it was being run and with so many people taking leadership within such a short period of time.

~ by wolfangel87 on February 1, 2011.

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