Roman Republic

The Roman Republic lasted for 482 years, from 509BC to 27BC. Rome became a Republic following the fall of the Roman Kingdom which had existed for 245 years. The Republic was controlled by the Senate, who would make decisions on military, social and other political issues. The Republic came to an end in 27BC, following a chain of civil wars which resulted in Augustus becoming the first Roman emperor. Rome underwent its greatest expansion during the Republic. By the end of this period, Rome owned most of the Iberian Peninsula, France, Italy, Greece and Northern Africa.

Roman Kingdom - 753BC to 509BC

The Roman Kingdom was the first stage of the Roman civilisation. The city of Rome was founded in 753BC by Romulus and Remus, it's situated on the Palatine Hill alongside the River Tiber in central Italy.

Following the construction of Rome, Romulus encouraged men of all classes from around Italy to come and be citizens of his new city. To provide his new citizens with wives, it is said that he invited nearby towns and cities to come to a grand festival in Rome. Romulus and the men of Rome then abducted their young women and married them, this ensured that Rome's population would continue to grow. Once Rome was stable and was thriving, Romulus selected 100 of the city's noblest men to become a part of the Senate, an advisory council to the king.

Roman Aqueduct in Pont du Gard, France

The Roman Kingdom came to an end in 509BC, when the last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, pushed the people of Rome too far. The people rebelled against the king and put the Senate in control of the newly founded Roman Republic.

Roman Republic - 509BC to 27BC

The Roman Republic was founded in 509BC, following the end of the Roman Kingdom. The Roman Senate proposed that two consuls should be elected to lead the Senate for one year at a time. Two consuls were elected to stop one person having too much power, the people of Rome weren't too keen on a single ruler following the Roman Kingdom. In order to become a senator you needed:

  • To own at least 100,000 denarii
  • Be a part of the patrician class
  • Previous experience in public office
  • Accepted by current senators

There many groups of people in Rome who had plenty of power. The 'Centuriate Assembly' were a group of powerful men who would decide on whether to go to war or not, each member of this assembly would have the power of 'imperium'. The 'Tribal Assembly' would make laws and would consider matters of law.

In 494BC, the poorer people of Rome were beginning to become restless as they believed that no one representing them within the Senate. As a result when Rome was at war with a nearby city the plebeian soldiers of Rome's army marched in the opposite direction to where they were commanded to and set up camp on a hill. They demanded that they should have a representative within the Senate who would look after their best interests. The Senate had no choice but to accept the soldier's demands and role of tribune was created.

The Republic's first formal laws were written in 451BC, in Rome. They were written on twelve bronze tablets which were on public display in the Forum. These laws related to a number of things, including property rights, slave rights, inheritance and family related law.

Expansion of the Republic

The 'Latin League' was created in the seventh century BC. It was made up of cities and towns in central Italy, including Rome. In times of war they would form an alliance to fight a common enemy. However, this didn't stop the cities of the Latin League fighting amongst themselves.

In the fifth century BC, the Republic of Rome wanted to expand its borders. Rome successfully conquered the city of Fidenae, in 437BC. Rome continued its aggressive expansion by attacking and conquering the Etruscan owned city of Veii. Following these two victories Rome continued to acquire a number of smaller towns and villages. However, in 390BC, a Gallic tribe sacked and looted the city of Rome. It took over fifty years for Rome to rebuild the power and authority it had once had.

Despite the attack from the Gallic tribe, Rome continued to expand its borders and quickly became the most powerful member of the Latin League. The members of the Latin League saw Rome as a threat to their independence and thus declared war on Rome, this is often referred to as the Latin War. The war only lasted for two years, from 340BC to 338BC, and Rome won a decisive victory.

Rome now had complete control over central Italy. Rome, over the coming decades started to become more ambitious and continued to build up its military power. In 298BC, Rome sent armies north in order to conquer the Samnite Kingdom. This campaign took eight years to achieve, from 298BC to 290BC. These wars are referred to as the Samnite Wars. Following the success in the north of Italy, Rome turned its attention to the southern Greek controlled towns and cities. It took Rome five years, from 280BC to 275BC, to conquer the territories. The wars in the south are referred to as the Pyrrhic Wars.

Rome now had control over all of Italy and looked abroad to continue its expansion. Its largest rival Carthage was to be its next target. Carthage was a powerful naval civilisation who controlled the trade routes in the Mediterranean. These wars are referred to as the Punic Wars, and lasted for 118 years, between 264BC and 146BC. Control over Northern Africa and the Mediterranean meant that the towns and cities of the Roman Republic would have a steady, constant supply of goods.

The Roman Republic continued to expand and following the Punic Wars they added Syria, Macedonia, Greece and Egypt to its list of territories. However, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Rome to manage all of its territories efficiently. As a result the territories were split up into provinces which were controlled by a governor.

Fall of the Republic

The fall of the Roman Republic began in 133BC, this was when Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, an ambitious politician, was elected as the tribune of the people. Gracchus proposed that all state owned land in Italy should be distributed amongst the poorer citizens of Rome. This land had previously been acquired by Rome's elite, who were illegally using it to line their own pockets. Gracchus' second proposal was that the distribution of these lands should be paid for by the money that had been raised from the recent victory in the new province of Asia.

Gracchus' proposal was passed. However, when Gracchus attempted to stand for a second year in office he was murdered by a group of senators. The senators were a part of the patrician class and disliked the social reforms that Gracchus had put forward. This is the first event that illustrates the struggle between the plebeians and Rome's elite.

Ten years after the death of Gracchus his brother Gaius was elected into the role of tribune. Similarly to his brother he recommended a number of major social reforms, most prominently the corn rations for the poorer people of Rome. Just like his brother Gaius was murdered.

Around the turn of the century, Gaius Marius, an extremely successful Roman general was elected into the role of consul for seven consecutive years. Gaius Marius used his power to make numerous reforms to the military, most notably, allowing the recruitment of landless citizens and the restructuring of legions into separate cohorts.

In 88BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, was elected to lead an army against an invasion in the Greek provinces. Sulla managed to convince the legions that they should follow him rather than the Senate. Sulla then marched on Rome and announced himself as dictator. Sulla created a proscription list, this list saw all of his political opposition executed. Many people within Rome disagreed with Sulla's actions and the city started to become restless.

Rome in the middle of the first century BC was a dangerous and violent place. There were many conflicts between gangs in the city who supported different politicians, namely Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. Julius Caesar was a supporter of radical social reform, whereas Pompey was a traditionalist. In 49BC, the tension had climaxed and war broke out between Caesar and Pompey. The war however was short lived. In 48BC, Pompey was killed on his arrival at Egypt, by the Pharaoh Ptolemy. This was an attempt to gain favour with Caesar, he actually achieved the opposite as Caesar was offended that a lowly Egyptian killed a noble Roman.

Following this conflict, Caesar became the dictator of Rome and received a number of high honours, usually reserved for the gods. When Caesar was appointed he cancelled all debts and most importantly established the settlement of landless veteran soldiers, this ensured that on the retirement of a soldier he would receive a plot of land within the Roman Republic.

In 44BC, Caesar was killed by a group of senators. This plummeted the Republic into another ten years of civil war. Caesar's closest allies Octavian, Marc Antony and Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate, which objective was to crush those who had killed Caesar. They created a proscription list, which resulted in their political enemies killed and the land they owned seized in the name of the state.

After they had achieved their objectives, Octavian and Marc Antony split the Republic's provinces up between them. Octavian took control of the Western provinces and Marc Antony the Eastern provinces. Despite the success of the Second Triumvirate, tension was building between Octavian and Marc Antony. War broke out in 33BC between the two and lasted for two years before Octavian won a decisive victory at the Battle of Actium, in 31BC. In 27BC, Octavian was appointed as 'princeps' and awarded the name Augustus. This marked the end of the Roman Republic and the start of the Roman Empire.