Breakdown Roman Republic Essay, Research Paper
The Breakdown of the Republic by Thomas Humphrey
The Romans built one of the most extensive empires in the history of the world. The fall of a republican system to a dictatorship was gradual and was brought about by many different factors. One major aspect which was vital to the breakdown was the advent of physical force into the political arena. This violence or imposed violence for political gain caused instability and paved the way for an extended period of civil war which ended in a dictatorship. The seeds of political turmoil were planted by Tiberius and Gauis Gracchi. The violence they evoked was continued by Marius and Sulla and finally brought upon Rome by Julius Caesar.
Tiberius Gracchus was one of the first political figures to exercise overt violence and was the first step towards the breakdown of the republic. The military was the cause of many of the problems faced by Rome at that time. A man was required to serve for twenty campaigns during his lifetime and typically left for war aged twenty and returned as an old man. These men, who were traditionally farmers, lost the property to neglect or had little or no motivation to work. This caused legions of unemployed veterans who lived off the governments dole bread. Tiberius’ solution to this problem was to give away large tracts of land to war veterans. Naturally the senate opposed this land bill as it would feed upon the patrician’s wealth. Tiberius then ran for tribune used his power to try and pass the bill. Tiberius could be stopped by another tribune vetoing his actions, but he arranged for the opposing tribune to be dragged out of the forum by his supporters at the critical moment. This land act was passed. This marks the first use of direct force for political gain. The senate then fuelled this violence by responding to this circumvention with the murder of Tiberius and 300 of his supporters when he tried to run for tribune a second term. This violence illustrates the growing instability in the senate caused by years of corruption and fear.
“Tiberius stood for re-election and his 300 supporters were killed. This the first bloodshed ..inaugrated a century of political violence.” Michael Grant
Tiberius also had a younger brother named Gauis who clearly demonstrates how the Roman political system was turning into a violent game. Gauis was voted as tribune in 123BC and then again in 122BC. He was made popular by his various social reforms which included the increase of bread ration to the poor. Gauis supported his brother’s land reform and made sure they were enforced. He was also very popular with Italian foreigners living in Rome. When he passed a bill to include non-Roman citizens into the government the senate was looking for a way to get rid of him. The opportunity came when a gang member of a consul was killed by Gauis’ supporters in a street brawl. The senate unnecessarily sought a decree allowing an army into Rome. This army killed Gaius and his 300 supporters at the Aventine Hill where they had fortified themselves. These events went against many of the fundamental function of a republic and the amount of violence mirrored the state the republic was in.
“The Gracchi undid the evolution of the centuries, it is impossible to guarantee orderly government if one tribune after another brings the foremost issues of Rome to a rampart mob.” Suetonius
Another figure who can demonstrate the growing political unrest in Rome is Gauis Marius in particular his successor Cornelius Sulla. Marius was a self-made man with no aristocratic background. All of his achievements were due to the military. He was elected consul in 108 BC because he was needed to win a war against Jugurtha a barbarian king. He was continually saving Rome from invasion and in 102 – 103BC he fought battles against Germanic tribes from northern Germany. He was successful and now controlled the most powerful army in Roman history. Marius was in a position that could have sealed the fate of the republic, if he had used the threat of military violence to make himself dictator the republic would have ended. Marius instead marched onto a war in the East. But the opportunity for ultimate power was there and it was only a matter of time before a more ambitious general exploited it.
“It was this victory in the east which sowed the first seed of that irreconcilable and bitter hatred between Marius and Sulla which nearly brought Rome to ruin.” Plutarch
One of his generals in these eastern campaigns was Cornelius Sulla. Italian rebels began an uprising in Rome at about 91 BC and the senate called on Sulla to save the day. Sulla raised an army and had victory over the rebels. This gave Sulla a high political position. He marched on Rome and had the senate outlaw Marius. He then went east to fight Mithradates, an eastern king. Marius now marched his army to Rome and occupied it. He undertook a bloody systematic revenge on his enemies. His death in 87 BC was the only thing that brought these postscriptions to an end. The senate now raised an army of Marius’ veterans and outlawed Sulla in 83 BC, a course of action which almost certainly led to civil war. Sulla marched on Rome and won victory with ease in 82 BC. Sulla then forced the senate to make him dictator. In effect Sulla officially removed the senate from the rule of Rome for the first time, yet he proclaimed that it was only a temporary arrangement to ‘restore the republic’. Both Marius and Sulla used violence to gain power and the complications which arose are a clear example of how the republic was steadily declining. Although Sulla retired and gave power back to the senate it was clear that by this stage it was the man with the best army was the most powerful.
“Sulla followed a career or self-advancement ..yet as soon as he had reorganised the government he laid down his dictatorship and walked as a roman citizen” Pamela Bradley
But by far the most important implementer of politically motivated violence was Gauis Julius Caesar. Caesar was a general who had many great victories in gaul and was now one of the most powerful men in Rome. He formed an alliance with two other generals, Pompey and Crassus. This was called the Triumvirate and it dictated the senate’s actions. This use of threatened violence to control power was in effect a thre man dictatorship and the republic was steadily declining. But the senate had begun to manipulate Pompey and were using him as pawn to try and crush Caesar before he became to powerful. In the year 50 BC Pompey made allegations of treason against Caesar. In Gaul Caesar faced a decision, go to Rome and face trial or march on Rome. In 49 BC, Caesar sat on the northern banks of the river Rubicon, after Pompey refused to compromise, Caesar marched and took over Rome as undisputed dictator. This act is the single most important event in the breakdown of the republic. It proved that someone who had an army and was willing to use it could become an important powerful polititan, even to the point of dictator. Julius Caesar marked the end of any hope of a revival for the republic.
“The die is cast” Julius Caesar – after crossing the Rubicon.
The growing use of violence by both senators and generals led to unsettlement in the parliament which in turn led to the breakdown of the republic. We have seen from the Gracchi brothers through to Marius, Sulla and finally Julius Caesar that the violence intensified from street brawls to civil war in the process destroying the old republic and making way for a new line of emperors; the Caesars. From these emperors sprung a period of peace and prosperity for the roman people which the population had been craving after nearly a hundred years of civil war.
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