Republican Rome - History Classes

The Rise and Decline of
Republican Rome
500 – 27 BCE
• Republican Social Organization
• Republican Political Institutions
• The Impact of Growth
• The Romans deposed their last king, Lucius
Tarquinius Superbus, around 509 BCE when
(according to legend) the king’s son, Sextus
Tarquinius, raped the Roman noblewoman
• After extracting an oath of vengeance from her
husband and her son, Lucretia committed
• Lucretia’s tragic story has been retold by poets
and artists, including Shakespeare and
Rembrandt (whose painting is on the next page)
Social Organization
• Early Roman society was clearly divided into two distinct
castes: plebeians and patricians
• During the fifth century BCE the plebeians agitated for and
obtained increasing representation in political institutions
• One of the key points in this struggle was the plebeians
succession from the city around 450 BCE; they left the city
and refused to take part in the commerce and daily life of
the city until the patricians met their demands to publish
the laws
• For centuries after 450 the patrician bias against plebeians
remained; however, after 400 the division was increasingly
clouded by the emergence of another social group the
equites or equestrian order (knights)
Social Organization
• Patrician - a closed group of approximately 130
families that claimed ancient privileges, occupied
key religious and political positions, and wore
distinctive clothing
• Plebeian - the common people i.e. non-patricians
• Equites – literally the knights, the equestrian order
was initially an elite patrician group in the military
whose equipment the city purchased; gradually
during the 300s BCE wealthy plebeians were
allowed to join at their own expense; over time the
equites become a distinct group in Roman society;
they were generally wealthy and occupied
influential positions (but not in the Senate) in the
late republican and imperial government
Social Organization
• Clientela – social networks that that provide protection
and political representation to weaker families
in society in exchange for loyalty and services
rendered to the “godfather”
– men in positions of power attracted the loyalty
and services of those who sought protection or
legal influence
– As the population of Rome increased during
the 200s BCE, the clientela became less
effective as masses of poor people never
attached themselves to patronage networks
Increasing influence of Plebeians
• 500 – 450: establishment of tribunes to
protect plebeian interests
• 458: Cincinnatus, a citizen farmer and
likely plebeian, serves a brief period as
“emperor” to rescue a consular army
• 367: at least one of the consuls had to be
• 287: Plebeian Assembly passes legislation
that is binding on all Romans
The Twelve Tables c. 450 BCE
• Produced when the plebeians temporarily seceded from
Rome after violence committed by patrician male against
plebeian woman
• Legal document demanded by the plebeians because
legal judgements up till then had been rendered on
unwritten customs that favored patricians
• not a reforming or liberalizing document; instead the
Tables publicized the privileges of the patricians
– recognized the validity of debt bondage
• only portions of the Tables remain and much of what we
know of them comes from later restatements
• It took two more centuries for the plebeians to gain the
right to make laws in the Assembly
Discussion of the Twelve Tables
• What are some the main concerns of the laws?
What is not mentioned in them?
• Which types of behavior receive the stiffest
• What do the laws suggest about the nature of
Roman political institutions?
• What do the Tables tell us about families in
Republican Rome?
Political Culture in Republican Rome
• For most of the Republican period, Roman
customs and laws were decidedly agrarian; the
culture reflected the profound influence of middle
class citizen-farmers who lived just outside of the
city and who had an abiding distrust of
concentrated power; they consciously limited the
terms of office, created offices that shared power,
and separated powers among various positions
• Offices were restricted to the rich because no one
received payment for public service
• The competition for power between plebeians and
patricians created a culture that valued highly the
quest for political office
Political Institutions
• The period of brutal kingship instilled a deep
distrust of power among the Romans, who
consciously separate powers
• Republican political institutions
– consuls - 2 men; leaders in war and the executive
– the senate •
becomes the most enduring feature of Roman government
controlled money and occasionally serves as a court
composed of patricians
initially 100 senators but gradually the number grows to 300
Julius Caesar tried and failed to increase the number to 900
met daily and had enormous prestige
They did not legislate but advised other political bodies; their
advice often had the force of law
Political Institutions
• As Plebeians gained more influence, they
demanded new offices to handle special situations
– tribune - protectors of the plebeians; exercised veto
power to block elections, block passage of new or
suspend old laws, etc..
– praetor - originally a judge but in mid 4th century BCE
they assumed executive authority in the consuls’
absence; eventually they become chief magistrates in
the provinces
– quaestors - specialized in financial matters, such as
paying the army, collecting taxes, and building roads; as
the republic grew, the number of quaestors multiplied,
some becoming quartermaster for the troops
Political Institutions
• During the Republic, the Romans developed a
fairly well defined path for political advancement
Military service for 10 years
Aedile (maintenance of city infrastructure)
• Ex consuls often served as censors
• Election to the Senate was for life
Political Institutions
• Tribunes
– Could veto legislation, block elections, and contradict
the advice of the Senate
– Were special representatives of the plebeians
– First came about during the fifth century as tension
between patricians and plebeians was at its height
– The ten tribunes were protectors of the plebeians
– The plebeians were sworn to protect the tribunes from
any physical harm
– The same term is used for infantry commanders
within the Roman legions
Political Institutions
• The Assemblies
– Various complex groupings that varied in size and
– Passed legislation, held elections, and occasionally
acted as courts of law
– Met outdoors and did not allow discussion, only voting
– Gatherings of assemblies were usually preceded by
public speeches
– Generally aristocratic neighborhoods had smaller
assemblies but with the same or more influence than
the poorer neighborhoods
– Eventually, by 287 BCE, the Plebeian Assembly
became the most powerful in Rome with its laws
binding on all Romans
The Impact of Growth
• The Romans conquered their Latin Neighbors during the
490s BCE
• They spent the next 100 years fighting their Etruscan
neighbors to the north
• Although difficult for the Romans, these conquests did not
undermine the stability of Roman social and political
• In 387 The Celts (Gauls) sacked Rome and provided a
justification for pre-emptive attacks that became the
hallmark of Roman military strategy for the next 400 years
• To facilitate the rapid deployment of troops throughout the
Italian peninsula, the Romans built high quality networks
extending from Rome to the rest of the peninsula
Conquest 400-250 BCE
• First major conquest occurred in early fourth
• Between that victory and 220 BCE, the Romans
gained control of all of the Italian peninsula; their
peace terms varied significantly
– enslavement
– grants of partial citizenship
– alliances
• All conquered peoples were required to provide
military aid in time of need; Rome did not tax its
Italian subjects
• Wars of aggression were presented to the people
– necessary for the defense of the republic
– a sign of the gods’ favor for Rome
Conquest 400-250 BCE
• Military demands increasingly transformed the
nature of the Roman political and social
– As the Wars of Conquest demanded longer terms of
service from the citizen farmers, it became
increasingly difficult for the small farmers to sustain
viable living in agriculture; large numbers of families
moved into the city of Rome as wealthy Senators
purchased farms and assembled large slave labor
estates called latifundia
– Gradually the republic lost much of its middle class
and developed a class of urban poor who relied on
public distribution of bread to survive
• The competition for power between plebeians
and patricians created a culture that highly
valued public service for the advancement of the
• Careful to divide power among various officials
the Romans created a complex political network
of offices that required cooperation in order to
function effectively
• However, as the territory held by the republic
grew dramatically, challenges to republican
political and social organization mounted
• During the Renaissance and Enlightenment
political theorists and historians would look upon
the period of the republic as a golden age of
Why were the Founding Fathers of
the US interested in Rome?
What evidence underscores their
interest in Rome?
What was the difference between the
Roman Republic and the Roman Empire?
56-117 CE
Rome and
c. 500 BCE
Etruscan Tombs
Banquet Scene from Etruscan
Coin from
c. 270 BCE
Rape of the Sabines –
Nicholas Poussin c. 1635
Rape of
Lucretia by
c. 1571
Death of
by Sandro
c. 1500
The Oath of the Horatii – Patriotic Duty
Lictors Bring Bodies of Brutus’s Sons
c. 400
of Italy
c. 200 BCE
of Roman
The Alps
c. 200 BCE
General of
Punic War
218-201 BCE
Hannibal Crossing the Alps.
Tiberius and Caius Gracchus
Gaius Marius
157 – 86 BCE
Lucius Sulla
138 - 78 BCE
Gaius Julius
100-44 BCE
Tacitus’s Agricola is a …
A. Biography about his father-in-law
B. Examination of Roman military practices
C. Investigation of Roman agriculture
D. Refutation of pagan religions
Tacitus Germania is an attempt to
A. Generate hatred of non-Romans
B. Blatantly express his political views about
the emperor
C. Provide a cultural understanding of
Rome’s enemies to the North
D. suggest vacation ideas, such as travel to