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Early History of Rome

The Romans were the greatest conquerors in the history of the world. There are a lot of reasons for that. Once is where they were located and the geography around them. You studied Greece last year, they were a great civilization also. There were many similarities between Italy and Greece.

Mediterranean Area

  • Italy is a seven-hundred-mile-long boot ready to kick Sicily out of the Mediterranean at any moment. Italy is also peninsula just like Greece.
  • Like Greece, Italy has a mountain range running across the north, called the Alpenniens (Alps), so the northern boundaries of both were protected. About half of Italy's area is a huge fertile valley made by the Po River. Though the Apennines dominated the rest of Italy, their slopes and valleys were thick with forests in prehistoric times.
  • Like Greece, Italy has a mountain range running down its middle, called the Apennines. The mountains helped protect each city from being invaded by rivals and enemies.
  • Italy, however, had much richer soil that Greece and also more rainfall. Their agrarian economy consisting of wheat, barley, timber, orchards, the vine and the olive, herds of cattle, sheep, goats and wine made the country rich. has a few large rivers, but the most important is the Tiber River.
  • Since Greece's best harbors were on the east coast of their peninsula and Italy's best harbors were on the west coast of their peninsula, Italy and Greece focused their trading in opposite directions and had little to do with each other until their civilizations were very advanced.

The early settlers of Italy are divided into four broad groups.

  • The Italians came from Europe which was to the north, just as the Hellenes people of Greece. They settled in the central, southern and eastern parts of the Italian peninsula. There were several tribes called Latins, Umbians, Sabines, Samnites, etc. All these peoples were blond tribesmen from the north who settled in Italy were cousins to the Greeks. They spoke an Indo-European language called Latin. They were mainly farmers and herders.
  • The second group were the Etruscans. No one knows where the Etruscans came from. They were a wealthy, cultured seafaring people, had a highly developed civilization and excelled in art and architecture. It is believed that the Greek colonies on the east side of the peninsula influenced them a lot. Before the rise of Rome, they were the leading race on the Italian peninsula. The Italians thought the Etruscans were lazy and decadent because they loved luxury and spent a lot of time having fun and entertaining each other. They settled in an area called Etruria, now called Tuscany.
  • The third group was the Greeks who colonized areas in southern Italy and Sicily. These colonies taught the Romans how to use letters, read and write, Greek law, constitutional government, the arts, and the theater.
  • The fourth was a group of Gauls, a Celtic race, who came over the Alps from France and settled in the northern most part of Italy. The Gauls were a constant source of conflict with Rome.

Of all these groups, the most important were the Latins who settled in Latium. This is where Latium was. Early Latium had 30 city-states and formed an alliance called the Latin League. Rome was the leader of this league.

In ancient times, there was a lot of trade in salt from the mouth of the Tiber to the tribes of the interior. About sixteen miles from the Tiber's mouth, the river stops being navigable. At this same point there was an island that made crossing the river possible. Because of this island, the future city of Rome began growing there. The Romans say the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC. But excavations show that the first primitive settlements on the site of Rome go back to before l,000 BC.

Rome was built on the banks of the Tiber River, nestled into 7 hills and just sixteen miles from the sea. Because of their location they controlled both the river traffic and the north-south trade by way of the ford. As a little fortress town, Rome was intended as an outpost to protect the northern frontier of Latium against the Etruscans. This excellent location made Rome the natural ruler of Italy.

The Family and Society

In early Roman society, the family was often a large group consisting of the parents, unmarried children, their sons and their wives and children. When a daughter married, she became part of her husband's family. The father was the most important member of the family. His power over every member of his family was absolute. He could sell his wife or children just as he could sell a slave. He could even kill them if he chose. There were no laws to prevent him from harming anyone in his family.

The father was the only religious leader of his family. The early people of the Italian peninsula worshipped their dead ancestors, (called the Lares and Penates.) They believed that the spirits of the dead lingered near the old hearth. To make the spirits happy, the family made offering of meat and drink. This form of family structure - obedience to the father until the man himself assumed the dictatorial duties of the father, nurtured two important quality that formed the foundation of Rome's eventual success - obedience and deference to authority.

The society of early Rome was divided into four groups. At the top were the patricians. They descended from the original clans and were the rich land owners. They were the smallest group. The patricians were the only group that had all the rights of citizenship. They had the right to conduct trade (jus commercii) and the right to a religious marriage (jus conubii.) They also had the right to vote, the right to hold office, and the right to appeal, to the people, any decision made by a magistrate.

The next group was the plebeians. Plebeians were free citizens who had small farms near Rome. Their primary right was to conduct trade. They constantly struggled for social and economic equality with the patricians.

Another group that continued to increase throughout the history of Rome was the group called "clients". These were typically refugees from conquered lands. They were landless but could engage in trade if they were under the protection of a patrician. In this case, their property was really the property of the patrician. Clients were often skilled tradesmen, scribes, bookkeepers, etc.

The fourth group, and certainly the largest and most destructive were the slave class. As was the case with all other countries, slavery was an acceptable bonus of the spoils of war. As Rome became a conquering power, hundreds of thousands of slaves poured into Rome.

Politics and War

At the head of the early Roman state was a king. He was the ruler of the nation, commander of the army, religious leader, and judge. Wherever he went he was led by a group of servants that carried a bundle of sticks tied around an ax. This was the symbol of his power to punish and kill.
The sticks and ax were called frasces and the men who carried them were called Lictors.

The senate was composed of a group of fathers that represented the clans of the community. Members of the senate were called patres. Their job was to advise the king. Since these people represented the rich, they usually made decisions that favored themselves.

Rome was divided into 3 large political segments called Tribes. Each tribe had 10 curia, or precincts. Within each curia were the individual clans of loosely related families.

The popular assembly was comprised of all freemen of Rome. They came together to witness wills and authorize certain public acts. Each of the 30 curia had just one vote, regardless of how many people lived in that precinct. The fact that this was not a representative body is very important because it was impossible for "the people" to make change happen without resorting to violence and war.


The Romans, like the Greeks, had many religious festivals and games. And like the Greeks, they also believed that the gods were delighted by humans exhibiting their athletic ability and skill. Chariot races, foot races and acrobatics were some of the competitions that were held. The Roman games were called the Circensian Games, or Games of the Circus, similar to the games at Olympia, and Saturnalia, which was a festival, held in honor of Saturn, the god of sowing and planting. The Saturnalia is a festival still held in Italy today.

It's important to note that just as the Roman civilization was beginning to rise, Greece was disintegrating.

Rome Under the Seven Kings (753 - 509)

The legends of the Romans tell of the reigns of seven kings: Romulus, the founder of Rome; Numa, the lawgiver; Tullus and Hostilius and Ancus Martius, all were conquerors; Tarquinius Superbus, the haughty tyrant whose oppressions led to the abolition by the people of the office of the king.
Below is a brief timeline of these kings.

Chronology of the Roman Kings

753-716 Rule of Romulus - credited for founding Rome, for extending the city to include four of the seven Roman hills, - the Capitoline, Aventine, Caelian and Quirinal. Romulus was also said to have put on special athletic games and invited the residents of the mountain community called Sabine. Near th eend of the games, Romulus' men captured the daughters and young Sabine women because there weren't enough women in Rome, and drove the men away.

715-674 Reign of Numa Pompilius - Had a peaceful reign, the fable says, due to the influence of his adviser, the nymph and prophetess Egeria

673-642 Reign of Tullius Hostilius - Destroyed the city of Alba Longa and moved its citizens to Rome. With the destruction of this opponent Rome took over the sacred festivals of Latium and gained the regional prestige and status that came with it

642-617 Reign of Ancus Marcius - Extended Rome's power to the coast, built the first bridge across the across the Tiber and founded the city of Ostia at the mouth of that river to serve Rome as a seaport.

616-579 Reign of L. Tarquinius Priscus - Continued to conquer smaller cities and built the first sewer/canal, the Cloaca Maxima, that drained marshlands and created a public market place called the Forum, laid out the Circus Maximus which was a large stadium able to contain 150,000 spectators, and began to build a majestic temple to Jupiter on the Capitoline. The Etruscans taught the Roman engineering and architecture; most significantly, they learned to use the arch to bridge space. A feature not used by the Greeks.

578-535 Reign of Servius Tullius - Responded to the unhappiness of the plebeians and instituted a new constitution that made property and residence, instead of birth and membership to the clans, the basis of citizenship. He created new precincts based on where you lived, rather than what clan you belonged to, and required both patricians and plebeians serve in the military and own weapons. This constitution was a step forward, but it gave new responsibilities to the plebeians, but no additional rights. He repaid some of the debts that the plebeians owed and permitted the creditor to only be able to take possession of property equaling the amount he was due, rather than owning the man himself. Servius is said to have enlarged the city by building a wall around it, five miles in circumference with nineteen gates, embracing all the Seven Hills of Rome. He transferred the regional festival of Diana from Aricia to the Aventine Hill of Rome. Shortly afterwards, the massive temple to Jupiter, 60 meters in length and 50 width (begun by Tarquinius Priscus) was completed on the Capitoline Hill.

535-510 Reign of Arquinius Tarquinius (nick-named Superbus)- He gained the throne through violence, and extended the power of Rome by 350 square miles, established several colonies, which was the beginning of Rome's path to supremacy. He erected new buildings and secured the treaty with Gabii. The general movement toward a more democratic for of government enabled Brutus, a patrician whose property had been confiscated by the king, to unite the plebeians and patricians in several cities to oust Superbus and liberate Rome. Superbus escaped to the Etruscans but one Etruscan chief, known as Porsena, occupied Rome for some time. The Romans tried to kill Porsena but he escaped. From that point on, Rome was free from the domination of the Etruscans.

After overthrowing Tarquinius, Rome was in confusion. The patricians took charge and the poor plebeians got much poorer. The patricians ignored the constitution set up by Servius Tullius and again sold plebeians into slavery if they were unable to pay their debts. Finally the plebeians revolted. The story goes that they did not fight or kill the patricians, but instead, they all left Rome and decided to build their own city. The Patricians needed the plebeians because the plebeians formed the bulk of the military. The patricians sent a committee to get the plebeians to reach an agreement.

Here's what they agreed to:

  • The debts of all poor plebeians were cancelled
  • Debtors held in slavery were set free
  • 10 plebeian magistrates, called tribunes, were to be chosen to watch over and protect the plebeians (started out as only 2 but soon increased to 10)
  • The tribunes were given the right to overturn the decision of patrician magistrates if the plebeian was being treated wrongfully
  • A Tribune was sacred, no one could harm him while he was conducting business or traveling to and from the Forum on business
  • The home of a Tribune had to be open 24 hours a day to any plebeian needing help

The plebeian tribunes struggled constantly to enforce their rights, but this agreement, called the Covenant, was an extremely important step in recognition that the plebeians had some power over the patricians.

The Roman king ruled only because of the consent of the people and in conformity with tradition and the constitution and the Tarquins broke that tradition. Rather than reinstate a new Latin monarch, the Romans dismantled the institution of the monarchy. Suddenly with the power of the Etruscians broken, Romans were able to move into new lands where their agriculture could be rejuvenated and virgin natural resources tapped. The age of the Roman Republic and the age that enjoyed the greatest expansion of Roman power, Roman wars, Roman wealth, and Roman poverty had been opened.

494 BC The Early Roman Republic and Plebeian Tribune

The Latin words res publica means 'commonwealth' or 'state' and is the root of today's word 'republic'. Rome was never a democracy as we understand it today. Roman society was firmly divided by class. There were numerous divisions between free citizens, the enslaved, those who had been free from birth, and those freed from slavery.

As Rome gradually changed from a Monarchy to a Republic the early Republic was ruled by the two upper classes; those who qualified by birth and wealth and those who belonged to the equestrian class. The equestrian class was wealthy men serving as soldiers with their own arms and some got government-supplied horses. As the change to a Republic evolved the King's main functions were then taken over by two consuls (at first called magistrates) of equal rank, and elected for a one-year term.

This drawing shows the bearers of the fasces.

As the Roman population grew in complexity there was a need for more and more governmental offices to oversee and regulate all public aspects of life. In the Roman Republic the following offices were created in order to deal with the expanding demands on government. In the early Roman Republic, this is the way the government was organized:

  • 2 consuls: These chief magistrates presided over the Senate and assemblies, initiated and administered legislation, served as generals in military campaigns, and represented Rome in foreign affairs. Consuls could appoint and/or serve as dictator for up to 6 months in times of emergency when the constitution was suspended. When their term of office was completed, consuls usually governed a province as proconsul.
  • 8 praetors: These men served primarily as judges in law courts, but could convene the Senate and assemblies; they took over the administrative duties of consuls when they were absent from Rome. When their term of office was completed, praetors might govern a province as propraetor.
  • 2 censors: Censors were elected every 5 years for terms of 11&Mac218;2 years. Their duties consisted of revising lists of senators and equestrians; conducting census of citizens and property assessments for tax purposes; and they gave out state contracts for doing government projects. A censor usually moved up to praetor as the next step in the political ladder.
  • 4 aediles: Aediles were supervisors of public places, public games, and the grain supply in the city of Rome. This was one area where the common man was represented because 2 of the aediles were required to be plebeians. The other two had more status and could come from either class and were called curule aediles.
  • 10 tribunes: Tribunes had to be elected from the plebeian class because the office was established to protect the plebeians from arbitrary actions of (aristocratic) magistrates and (aristocratic) senators. The primary power that tribunes had was one of checks, (but no balances). Tribunes could veto the act of any magistrate and stop any official act of administration. A Tribune was, by law, sacrosanct, meaning that anyone who attacked them physically could be immediately and summarily killed. Their powers enabled them to convene the Senate and assemblies but could not initiate legislation, although this changed much later in the Republic.
  • 20 quaestors: Quaestors administered the finances of the state treasury and served in various capacities in the provinces. A Quaestor could come only from the aristocracy. After elected to the position of quaestor, the man automatically became eligible for membership in the Senate, though censors had to appoint him to fill a vacancy in the Senate.

Senate: The Roman Senate was composed of 600 magistrates and ex-magistrates. To become a Senator, a man, at a minimum had to qualify through election as a quaestor, which meant that all Senators came from the aristocracy. Senators served for life unless expelled by the censors. The Senate was technically an advisory body, but in effect the Senate was the chief governmental body. It controlled public finances and foreign affairs, assigned military commands and provinces, and debated and passed decrees that would be submitted to the assemblies for final ratification

Assemblies: Assemblies were composed of all males who were full Roman citizens. This is where the notion of "Roman democracy" comes from. However in order to participate in the government, men had to attend the assembly in person in order to vote. No debate from the floor was possible, and votes were counted in groups, not individually. The vote of each group was determined by the vote of the majority of individuals in that group.

The following assemblies were created to rule over Rome, her people and her empire.

  • The Senate - was considered an assembly, although elected for life.
  • Patrician Assembly - Comitia Curiata was the oldest assembly; by the late Republic had mostly ceremonial and clan functions.
  • Ward Assembly - Comitia Centuriata was composed of elected consuls, praetors, and censors. They declared war and served as a court of appeal for citizens sentenced to death. The 193 members of centuriata came from wards and were defined by wealth in the ward. The richest centuries were also the smallest number of free men in them, so individual votes in these counted very heavily. When a majority of the 193 votes was reached, voting was stopped, so some of the largest centuries rarely got to cast votes.
  • Plebeian Assembly - Comitia Tributa (Assembly of the Tribes): The Tributa elected all other magistrates. Originally the 35 tribes were divided geographically, but the representation of the tribes then passed on by birth. The Tributa voted yes or no on laws.
  • Military Assembly Concilium Plebis: This was a subgroup of the Tributa assembly and was open only to plebeians. The Plebis assembly elected the magistrates who were open only to plebeians, which included the tribunes and plebeian aediles. The decisions reached by this assembly were generally disregarded by the other government branches. But after 287 BC, the measures passed that gave the Concilium Plebis had the force of laws binding on the whole state.

(For more information be sure to review the page Government in the Republic)

The Twelve Tables, created in the years 451-450 B.C, was the Roman's first attempt to create a CODE OF LAW and is the oldest surviving piece of literature from the Romans. Romans were constantly in conflict over equality under the law. The wealthy had the money to bribe their way around the law. There was no reliable standard for civil rights. The Twelve Tables (tablets) attempted to establish in print a set of laws that bound both the patricians and plebeians and would force the consuls to enforce them without bias. A commission of ten men was appointed in 455 BC to frame these laws. The commission wrote down statutes that were mostly common law already practiced in the Roman republic. These men produced enough statutes to fill 12 tablets, thus the name Twelve Tables. The Twelve Tables provide historians with an understanding of the main bonds that held Roman society together and allow it to operate for so long. These laws also spelled out the relationship between the clans or gens, the patronage system between patron and client, the inherited right of patricians to lead in war, religion, law, and the government, and how they related to the plebian society. Eventually, plebeians were allowed to marry patricians and that laws passed by the plebeian assembly would have the force of law and would apply equally to all people.

It's important to note that the Romans did not have a police force. Therefore laws were only enforced if a group of plebeians or an influential patrician brought charges to an Assembly or to the Senate. Then the groups would take a vote whether to investigate the charges. This unbalanced form of law enforcement benefited the rich and those in power and did not protect the common citizen, whether he was a patrician or plebeian. Of course, the more wealthy the person, the more likely he could afford an experienced lawyer and stuff the Assembly with people who would cheer and boo on his behalf.

The Destruction of Rome by the Gauls

The Celtic Tribes from Gaul had long ago begun their migration into central Italy and finally entered Roman dominated territory. In 390 BC a huge army of barbarians began a swift conquest of Roman-held territory. As the barbarians advanced, a large part of the population fled taking what few belongings they could gather with them. Soon the Barbarians were in Rome itself. The Gauls tragically destroyed every work of art, every beautiful statue, every garden and even the water systems. Marcus Manlius and a small garrison of soldiers held out for seven months in a small Roman fortress while the Gauls destroyed the rest of the city. Finally, the Gauls learned that their own properties in the north were being invaded by other barbarians. As the Gauls were about to strike an agreement with the Romans, a Roman general appeared on the scene and ran the Gauls off.

Conquest and Colonization

Rome's biggest rival was the Samnites, (264 BC) who were rough and warlike mountaineers who held the Apennines Mountains to the southeast of Latium. The Samnites and the Romans fought three wars spanning more than a half-a-century and involved almost all of the other states of Italy. During this time, Rome began the construction of those remarkable highways that eventually united every corner of the Roman Empire. Rome's eventual conquest over the Samnites and other states paved the way for the social and racial unification of the Italian Peninsula. Rome's method of colonization of these conquered lands was an important feature in the unification process.

When Roman soldiers conquered new territory, they took possession of the valuable property in conquered lands, but the inhabitants were allowed to find other land to cultivate. Some of the native residents and all of the captured military were taken back to Rome to be sold as slaves, how many was up to the disposition of the commander. Rome then sent out groups of 300 people to colonize newly conquered territories under the protection of the soldiers left there. Each colony set up a government exactly like that of Rome and ruled over that territory and the native inhabitants as they ruled over the society in Rome. If the territory was rich, a consul or praetor would assume control of the new province as co-consul or pro-praetor. Wherever Romans went, they built their durable roads, efficient water systems and magnificent buildings. In this way, the social, educational, architectural, cultural and governmental traditions perfected by the Romans were adopted by the conquered territory.

The Punic Wars

Following the war with the Samnites, Rome was constantly involved in wars with their neighbors, especially the Carthaginian. Carthage was governed by an oligarchy and contained many different races, so the country was culturally divided and oppressed in all classes of people, as opposed to Rome who had developed an excellent, although unequal, government. Rome's domain was compact and extended only on the peninsula, while Carthaginian territories were scattered and hard to defend. Carthage, however, had a magnificent navy and Rome had none. The Punic Wars began when Rome landed on the island of Sicily that was held by Carthage. The wars progressed and Rome built her navy and her seamanship, although they suffered great losses in the process. Here is a timeline of the events of that period:

264 BC
- Romans land on Sicily, saying they are there to help the Greeks hold the city of Syracuse against the Carthaginians who possessed the rest of the island.

260 BC - The Romans have their first naval victory against Carthage by boarding their ships and fighting hand to hand

245 BC - A Roman fleet of 800 war ships was destroyed by a terrible storm.

241 BC - The Romans again defeat Carthage at sea and cripple their fleet. This marks the end of the First Punic War.

227 BC - The Romans were at an uneasy peace with Carthage, but continued their conquest of the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, making them her second province with Sicily being her first province.

225 BC - the Romans destroyed an army of Gauls and pushed northward to capture the city of Milan.

221 BC Hannibal, Carthaginian military leader attacked Saguntum, Spain, which was under the protection of Rome. This was in part a ruse because Hannibal had moved the bulk of his army across the Pyrennes and the Alps to invade Italy from the north. Hannibal got a number of local tribes and cities like Syracuse and Capua to join him against the Romans. He met the Romans in a great battle and won. Now the path to Rome was open. The Romans destroyed their bridges across the Tiber However, he circled around to the Adriatic Sea and into Apulia.

Back in Rome, the Senate appointed Fabius Maximus as dictator. He knew that the Romans, after the war with Gaul, were no match for Hannibal's army. Instead of going to battle against Hannibal, he sent small forces out to constantly harass Hannibal. In every possible way, Hannibal tried to force Fabius to a formal battle. By 216, however, Rome was ready with 80,0000 men. Fabius met Hannibal in battle and the Romans experienced their greatest disaster. Rome lost 70,000 men who were killed outright and another 9,000 were captured. Fortunately for Rome, Hannibal did not march on the city.

The Romans were undaunted. They raised an army to take revenge on Syracuse and Capua for siding with Hannibal. It was during the siege of Syracuse that the brilliant mathematician, Archimedes, was killed by the Romans.

In 207 BC, Hannibal's brother, Hasdrubal took part of his army that had been fighting the Romans in Spain, and tried to come to Hannibal's aid. He was killed before he could reach him and Hannibal was forced to a stand off. The Romans were afraid of Hannibal, so then landed in Africa to try to draw him out of Italy. The ploy worked and Hannibal and his army moved to Zama, not far from Carthage, and suffered his first and last defeat. This ended the Second Punic War.

Between 206 and 146, Rome fought Phillip V of Macedonia. Phillip had made an alliance with Hannibal, so Rome invaded Macedonia to circumvent Phillip from supplying troops to Carthage. The Romans fought Syria, took large sections of Asia Minor, and conquered and destroyed Corinth.

Effects of War

As the Romans became conquerors, several changes occurred in its economic and social structures.

  • the constant presence and threat of enemy invasions forced the small farmer and craftsman out of the country and into the protection of the city
  • the wealthy landowner had the currency to purchase the farms for a fraction of their value
  • the military brought in hundreds of thousands of slaves who were sold cheaply
  • slaves were usually skilled at some form of trade and were worked literally to death
  • the abundance of super cheap slave labor eliminated jobs formally filled by free peasants
  • peasants from conquered territories migrated to Rome searching for work
  • without jobs, men roamed the streets in armed gangs who mugged the unwary and sold their swords to anyone wanting an enemy eliminated

Hannibal's occupation of Italy undermined the sound industrial life of the Romans and the economy and social structure of the Romans was irretrievably altered

During their later conquests, the Romans were exposed to the Greeks and their culture. This culture was vastly superior to their own and exerted a profound influence upon life and thought at Rome. Greek manners, customs, modes of education, literature and philosophy became the fashion in Rome. They were also exposed to the germs of great social and moral evils enabled by vast wealth. The simplicity and frugality of both society's earlier cultures were replaced by the luxury and decadence introduced by Alexander's conquests of Asia Minor and his integration of the two cultures.

The Third Punic War lasted only 3 years, from 149 to 146 BC and is a cruel and ugly story of Roman arrogance and cruelty. When the Romans had finally conquered the Carthaginians, they took the small remaining population as captives, burned the city and plowed to city under after first covering the soil with salt.

By the end of the Punic Wars, Rome was the master of most of the Mediterranean.

Social Problems

The Roman governmental system, with no true checks and balances and no reliable and impartial law enforcement organization were the key ingredients to the perpetual cycle of poverty and discontent among the vast percentage of Roman society and the plebeians. Following are some of the problems that the government could not address:

  • although vast wealth poured into Rome, little money was spent on building commerce. The eventual conquests of Carthage, taking over of Greece and other tribute-paying province caused vast wealth to pour into Rome. Throughout the wars the experienced career politicians who peopled the Senate gained control of foreign policy. Since senators were barred from commercial enterprises and were themselves large land-holding farmers, they were not particularly interested in developing Rome's commerce, even though it would have benefited the entire population, especially the plebeian class. It's likely that they didn't understand the benefits of a happily employed population. Or perhaps they saw any investment that didn't bring an immediate reward for themselves as a waste
  • government contracts were typically acquired by the equites (soldiers of high birth with horses) who were related to or sponsored by senators
  • the vast tracks of government land that was suppose to be leased only to peasants. The number of acres that any one person could hold was limited, and the acres were theres if they paid their yearly taxes. This land, in fact, was gobbled up by the wealthy who used slave labor to produce large quantities of specialized products that produced the highest profits. Their cheap slave labor and efficient productions and processing methods put small, less efficient farmers out of business
  • some plebeians had gained admission to the senatorial class through advancing their political careers and were themselves very wealthy and shared the political philosophy of the aristocracy. They no longer actually represented the interests of the plebeians, yet they took up the offices set aside for plebeians. Representation of the plebeian class was greatly diminished
  • the influx of hundreds of thousands of slaves cut off labor opportunities for peasants
  • the lack of law enforcement and impartial application of the law made life precarious and demoralized everyone

It was with the hope of re-establishing the class of small land-owning citizens, who had been the military and political backbone of Rome during the wars that inspired the reforms proposed by Tiberius Gracchus. Indeed, the sad story of the Gracchi brothers is a good example of the lawlessness of Rome. Tiberius Gracchi was a tribune who proposed to the comitia tributa a law for the redistribution of all public lands held in excess of the legal limit. The Senate was furious when the law passed and persuaded a tribune to veto it. The comitia tributa was persuaded to kick out the tribune who vetoed the new law, and they passed it again. The process of redistributing the land to peasants began. The Senate was scandalized and worried. The next year when Tiberius ran for office some senators paid gangs to start a riot with the intention of killing Tiberius - they succeeded. Tiberius and 300 of his followers were murdered in the Forum and their bodies were thrown into the Tiber. No one was arrested or tried for the murder of Tiberius.

The redistribution of land proceeded for a few years but eventually came to a standstill. Tiberius' brother, Gaius Gracchi picked up his older brother's cause. Gauis had even bigger ideas than Tiberius. He got a law passed that allowed the poor to purchase corn at a reduced price, (a law that led to free grain for all Romans that resulted in vicious indolence and poverty.) He was soon murdered as well along with more than 2900 of his supporters. It later came out that a Rome consul offered an equivalent amount of gold for the head of Gauis. The Gracchi brothers, both outstanding orators, became great martyrs in Rome.


Invasion of the Cimbri and Teutons and the Social War (113-88 BC)

Terrible news came to Rome from the north that two separate nations of "horrible barbarians" were desolating the Roman province of Gaul and would soon cross the Alps. These horrible barbarians were two Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutons. They represented the vanguard of the great German migration which was destined to change the face and history of Europe. The barbarians were migrating in a horde and it must have been quite a sight to see. They traveled in the thousands, with their entire families and simple belongings loaded into crude carts and seeking new homes. They were, in fact, ferocious warriors and cut three Roman armies who came to oppose them to pieces in short order. The Romans were alarmed. They had already experienced the invasion by the Gauls who destroyed their city.

At this time Gaius Marius was the elected consul, a novo homo which meant that his family had never held a high office position. Instead of drafting the property-owning citizens, he reorganized his military legions by recruiting a volunteer army composed mostly of landless men who served as professional soldiers for pay and promises of land. His first real battle was against the Numidian kind, Jugurtha. He was elected consul for five years to prevent invasions of Germanic tribes. Marius, hurried into southern Gaul with his legions of professional soldiers and annihilated the Teutons. The Cimbri were beaten as well and thousands were taken slaves to be sold in Rome.

During the same period of time, the Italian allies of Rome as well as the Roman plebeian class were dissatisfied with the rights they had as Roman subjects. Provinces had never been given the right of full citizenship, even though they had been loyal and paid heavy taxes. They rebelled for more rights. The rebellion lasted three years and eventually all Roman subjects were given citizenship. This came at a tremendous loss of life. It is estimated that more than half a million Romans died in the Social War. Marius was a highly effective commander and not a bad consul either. However the 70 year old Marius failed to anticipate a major challenger to his power.

Cornelius Sulla was a wealthy patrician who made himself popular by introducing into the amphitheater the extraordinary attraction of 100 real lions that were a gift from a king that owed Sulla a favor. The king supposedly sent 100 Moorish slaves to be fed to the lions as entertainment.

Sulla was a soldier who, after some big successes, got half of the Senators to appoint him consul while the other half appointed Marius. Sulla marched into Rome with his army and inflicted that indiscriminate ferocity which is too often displayed by an incensed soldiery against an unarmed populace. Sulla's troops performed, with savage alacrity, the most humiliating service they could by employed on -- the butchery of their defenceless fellow citizens. Sulla's victory was brief. After he left for another military expedition, Marius' supporters found him in Carthage and persuaded him to come back. Sadly, hiss behavior was no better than Sulla's and his soldiers tood revenge on Marius' opponents. Marius was in power only briefly before he died, leaving the path open to Sulla again.

Spartacus' Slave Rebellion

A symbol of the diseased morality of the Roman people at this time was the competition between gladiators. The Romans trained slaves to fight as gladiators. In 73 BC a slave named Spartacus broke out of a gladiator training camp at Capua and hid in the hills. Other slaves followed, and the number of his band of rebels. Spartacus was a good leader and he kept his men strictly disciplined. They routed two commanders who were sent to capture him. In 72 BC Spartacus had so formidable force behind him, that two consular armies were sent against him. He destroyed both.

Spartacus' final battle was against consul Crassus who led of six legions against Spartacus, shattered his army, and killed him on the field in 71 BC. However, five thousand of Spartacus' men cut their way through the lines and escaped, only to end up in the very path of Pompey's army returning from Spain.

Pompey claimed the victory of quelling the Slave war for himself, adding to his questionable glories gained in Spain. Crassus, seeing that the popular soldier might be useful to him, did not quarrel. Crassus was by far the richest Roman. This led to the consulship of Pompey and Crassus in 70 B. C. that Julius Caesar facilitated.

Throughout the next twelve years, the riches of Rome grew and Pompey opened new fields of plunder in Syria. Rome was a parasitical state, draining the provinces of their wealth with disastrous results for herself as well as the unfortunate provinces. The great fortunes made by conquering generals, senatorial governors and tax-collecting knights (equestrians) increased the size of their own personal estates in Italy. This in turn swelled the number of small provincial farmers who, having lost their land, were forced to join the degraded city populace that lived on the wheat dole from the provincial revenues. The result of imperialism seemed to be the ruin of the provinces and the demoralization of the Roman citizens of every class. The republican government of the Roman city-state was not adequate to administer an empire.

Julius Caesar emerged at a time when a permanent dictatorship was the best answer. He was a man powerful enough to suppress party in fighting by force and to restore honest and efficient government. Caesar had the loyalty of a professional military to carry out a policy of imperialism.

His long war against the Gauls enabled him to return to Rome in 49 BC and drive his old ally, Pompey, out of Rome, along with Pompey's Optimate compatriots. The defeat of Pompey left Caesar master of the empire. Caesar's power was that of an armed dictator, although he exercised his authority through the traditional vehicle of the old republican offices and institutions. He instituted a number of important reforms and might have actually reconstructed the state on a permanent basis since he had won the loyalty of the Roman people.

On the Ides of March, March 15, 44 BC, Caesar was murdered by a group of old senatorial adversaries. Although Caesar had been warned that their was a plot to kill him, he seemed to dare fate by going about without guards.

Marc Anthony, his trusted friend and compatriot, assumed control, since he had the keys to Caesar's treasury and had acted in place of Caesar while he was away from Rome. His authority dissolved after some disastrous decisions and ultimately died in Egypt.

After 12 years of infighting, Caesar's grandnephew Octavian Caesar became permanent dictator and officially ended the Roman Republic. . Although he said he wanted to restore the old republic, and although he maintained the senate, the consuls and old machinery of government, Octavian kept complete control of the government. In 27 B.C.the senate gave Octavian the honorary title of "Augustus", meaning highest or more honored. Under the name Augustus Caesar he reorganized the Roman Empire and established the great period of Augustan peace.

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