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The Decline And Fall Of The Re

Essay, Research Paper


In all of Rome s conquests, Rome grew so large so quickly that crises in society, government and morals began to develop beyond control. The final result ended in the fall of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. There are many reasons as the final fall, and I will elaborate on a few that I think are most pertinent.

So Many Rulers, So Little Time

Rome had the pleasure of encountering its first civil war in 133 BC, and part of the cause for this was due to ruling of the Empire and problems between the ruler and the senate. The first to encounter such a problem was Tiberius Gracchus, elected as a tribune to the assembly. Bypassing the senate, Gracchus had a reform that would revert Rome back to its original greatness passed, which greatly displeased those in the senate. This reform was beneficial to small farmers, and most of those in the senate were large landowners. When Gracchus planned to run for a second term, senators at the election did what they felt was their only hope, and had him assassinated. (4)

After Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus was elected tribune. Quite popular throughout all of Italy for reformation steps, Rome was not so pleased. He was defeated in his running for a second term, after which the senate made use of martial law and had Gaius and many followers killed. This use of force paved the way to further violence. (1 and 4)

Marius and Sulla followed Gaius Gracchus causing more problems for the Republic. Marius recruited volunteers for the army with the promise of land, which made them loyal to the ruler than to Rome. After Marius, Sulla was made consul, but while commanding over the war against Mithridates, Marius came back into view and Sulla s power was bestowed back to Marius. Upon this news, Sulla marched on Rome and Marius fled which returned the power again to Sulla s hands. Once again, Sulla left for war, and once again, Marius came back to Rome this time with the help of consul Cinna. Marius held consulship until his death, after which Cinna took over power. Sulla returned seizing Rome one last time and proclaimed himself dictator. Once things had calmed, he restored power back to the senate. (4)

Even after Sulla s overtaking of the government, problems still persisted once he was relieved of command. Everything that he had accomplished was torn apart with the First Triumvirates formed with Crassus, Pompey and Julius Caesar. With such power held between the three, they dominated all politics. Crassus was later killed in battle, and when the senate asked that Caesar lay down arms and return to Rome as a private citizen, he refused beginning a civil war between Caesar and Pompey, which Caesar one and became dictator. Having never wanted Caesar to rule, the senators again took matters into their own hands and assassinated him. (2)

After Caesar s death, his grandnephew Octavian took command of his forces and joined up with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus forming the Second Triumvirate. Lepidus was later pushed aside leaving Rome split between Octavian and Mark Antony ensuing conflict between the two. This conflict began the last of the civil wars, and the last of the Republic with Octavian defeating Mark Antony and controlling Rome. (2)

Political and Societal Mayhem

Not only was their terrible strife in ruling government from a leader standpoint, but also from the structural makeup of the government proved to cause terrible problems for Rome as a Republic. The senate was developed during the rule of monarchy and served as the main component of the Roman Republic government. Two consuls were chose to rein as leader/ruler. There are several officers below the senate and consuls, but these two parties controlled majority of the power. Initially, all positions were available to only the wealthy patrician class, and the lower-class plebeians were not allowed to participate. The strife and struggle between the two classes is what ultimately lead to the fall of the Republic. This struggle of the orders reached a slight compromise when plebeians were slowly given more rights, but the patrician class still dominated control. (2)

Where control didn t cause strife, the Punic and Macedonian Wars finished the cycle. After Hannibal laid waste to all he crossed paths with throughout Italy during the Second Punic War, the poorer plebian farmers and laborers could do nothing other than run to the city of Rome for help. With no one to work or own the land, the wealthy patricians bought all they could. Then, upon defeat of Hannibal and Carthage, then Macedonia, slave numbers skyrocketed. With far cheaper slave labor, there was no demand for the plebian working class, and they thus had no jobs, no money, and nothing to live or feed off of other than anger. Having so many angry and unhappy people within the city of Rome, it is no wonder civil unrest blossomed into civil war. (4)

Decline to Fallen

Such grand expansion and such impressive growth with little change to government structure finally ended the Republic. It is as though in the minds of the leaders, all Rome needed was to continue to grow, overtake all neighbors, be the ruling power for the known world and all else would fall into place. Reformations seem to be the furthest thing from their minds, and then when they began, those that weren t benefited directly, personally, revolted in order to have things their way. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Since there was no planning whatsoever into the Republic s continuing growth, the city, and its people, eventually fell apart. (3)

Sallust s View

It appears to me that Sallust s blames Rome s decline and failure as a republic on its ability to conquer in a sense. Those that had to work hard for their money found that through conquering, riches would be won. A love of money and power overshadowed the virtue of being a Roman. Morals declined when such virtues as good faith and integrity were lost to avarice. Corruption and thievery followed soon after. Friendships turned out to be falsehoods only presenting themselves when ambitions of power were presented. Along with moral and virtuous decline in the people, the government officials and leaders had the exact same problems. (5)

Sallust pinpoints these times to be after conquering Hannibal and Carthage, which would make sense because this was the turning point for Rome s expansion. No longer were they just the Mediterranean power, but now an international one (after they defeated Hannibal s ally in Macedonia). (6) It is understandable, and agreeable, that this is also the point that Rome s virtues and morals hit their low and continued in their decent. Like so many other problems that plagued the Republic, they grew to fast with little attention paid to the inner-workings of the Republic or the city. All focus was placed on expanding, offsetting any threats that may arise, and continue to rake in the wealth. Greed overpowered any thoughts in how to effectively rule the Republic beginning with the heart the government and it s people.


(1) Western Civilization 3rd Edition, by Jackson J. Spielvogel, Chapter 5, pages 157-168

(2) http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch15.htm The Rise of Rome, Antiquity Online, Copyright 1998 by Frank E. Smitha, Accessed 5/11/01

(3) http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch18.htm The Fall of Rome s Republic, Antiquity Online, Copyright 1998 by Frank E. Smitha, Accessed 5/11/01

(4) http://www.aquella.com/rome/rhistory.htm Roman History, Aquella Educational Center, Accessed 05/11/01

(5) http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/ ogilvie/courses/spring99/100/readings/sallust_conspiracy.html The Conspiracy of Catiline Sallust (C. Crispus Sallustius, 1999 UMass / Amherst, Accessed 05/11/01

(6) http://www.ancientlanguages.org/claslattexts/sallust/bellumcat1e.html Catiline’s War

by Gaius Sallustius Crispus, last modified February 2001, University of Alabama, Accessed 05/11/01