The Roman Republic


Read the following excerpt from ABC-CLIO and answer the related questions.


1)     Why did citizenship become so important in the Roman Republic?

2)     Who were the tribunes?  Why were they “ordained sacrosanct?”  (Be sure to define sacrosanct.)

3)     Summarize the two main struggles faced by the Roman Republic in one, well-written and thorough sentence each.

4)     What effects did the Conflict of the Orders have on the Roman Republic?

5)     What advantage did Marius, Sulla, and Julius Caesar have, allowing them to gain a great deal of power in Rome?  Does this remind you of any other leader we have studied so far?  Hmmm….?



According to the legends the Romans told of themselves, the Roman state began with the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Historically, Rome was one of several Italic settlements, and in its earliest days, it was overshadowed by more powerful neighbors like the Etruscans. From those humble beginnings, Rome eventually came to rule not only all of Italy but also all of the Mediterranean Sea region and beyond.

While a number of factors contributed to Roman domination of the Mediterranean, much of the Romans' success stemmed from their internal development, particularly a radical approach to citizenship, and from a policy of "defensive" (as they preferred to see it) wars that ultimately gained them more territory. In time, that expansion, coupled with internal strife, led to rule by a series of generals, each with a personal following among the legions, who were able to dictate to the Roman Senate and upset the republican system. It was a change that would lead to rule by one man, an emperor, during the Roman Empire.

It seems clear that Rome was indeed under Etruscan control in the sixth century B.C. Roman histories, like Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), tell the tale of Rome's successful ousting of its Etruscan overlords. The last king, Tarquinius Superbus, was removed from power in 509 B.C., the traditional date for the founding of the Roman Republic. By 396 B.C., Rome was in control of all the former Etruscan lands, and the city had incorporated a number of new peoples.

The defeat of the Etruscans was not a mere military feat but a social one as well—the Romans were able to achieve such a victory because of their incorporation of other groups. Without that ability to replenish their numbers, the Romans would not have conquered the Etruscans or Italy, let alone the Mediterranean. That aspect of Roman society cannot be overstated. Indeed, throughout the republic's history, the issue of citizenship remained critical. It was a subject of debate that led to and in time solved the Social War and that contributed to the dislike of men like the dictator Julius Caesar, who made senators of foreign people.

With the foundation of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C., Rome came into its own. For the next 600 to 700 years, Rome defined itself against the monarchy it had overthrown, and the word "king" (rex in Latin) became one of the worst slurs to throw at a political rival. Republican government consisted of the Roman Senate, a body of well-born statesmen; two consuls, chosen among the senators, who had imperium, or the power of force that the kings had formally possessed and who led the armies; and in time, the plebeian assembly.

As a hierarchical society, struggle between the patricians, who constituted the ruling class, and the plebeians, or everyone else, often grew violent. The plebeians formed their own political body in 494 B.C. and installed officers, the tribunes, with powers of veto; the plebeians went so far as to ordain the tribunes sacrosanct and pledge to defend them with their lives. In 450 B.C., the customary laws were set down in the Law of the Twelve Tables, which not only established publicly the laws that hitherto only certain patricians knew but also constituted Rome's first legal document.

The last major event in that class struggle was in 287 B.C., when the plebeians left Rome. A dictator (an emergency leader appointed by the Senate and given supreme power for six months), Quintus Hortensius, was elected and succeeded in solving the situation. His law, the lex Hortensia, granted decisions made in the plebeian assembly the force of law. A defining period in the Roman Republic, the Conflict of the Orders thus ended with the plebeians' winning political equality with the patricians. That victory heralded a new aristocracy, which was collectively called the nobiles (those who were "known").

The other struggle that Rome faced was one of external expansion. The historian Livy portrayed Rome's early wars as "defensive," an idea that the Romans favored. In the third century B.C., battles against Epirus' King Pyrrhus, who had come to aid Greeks in the south of Italy, helped to show that Roman manpower would be a key to its success. Not long afterward, one of the greatest conflicts Rome faced was a series of wars with Carthage, known as the Punic Wars. From a relatively minor situation in Sicily, Rome declared war on Carthage, its great commercial rival in the western Mediterranean Sea. After the last of those Punic Wars, Rome prevailed and became master of the western Mediterranean. When Pergamum and Rhodes, two states in the eastern Mediterranean, asked for Roman support against Philip V of Macedonia, Rome became embroiled in the eastern Mediterranean. By 133 B.C., Rome controlled most of the Mediterranean Sea.

The growth of overseas territories and their rule by provincial governors created new problems. Governors grew rich, which made such posts highly attractive. Generals, too, grew rich from the spoils of war and often gained a political following among their troops. With the rise of Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and finally Julius Caesar, it was clear that a general with a loyal army could upset the balance of the governing bodies of the Roman Republic and, ultimately, the very traditions on which the republic was based.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River (a stream that separated Italy from Gaul) and thereby invaded his own country, he set in motion a chain of events that spelled the doom of the republic. Caesar's new power as "dictator for life" smacked of kingship, and a conspiracy formed to rid Rome of the tyrant. On March 15, 44 B.C., Caesar was assassinated. During the Roman Civil Wars of 88-30 B.C. that followed, the Roman Republic was irrevocably changed: the republican offices, councils, and institutions remained, but only in name. Octavian (later Augustus Caesar), the adopted heir of Julius Caesar, controlled the armies and, therefore, the state. He styled himself as first among equals in the Senate, but there was little doubt that he ruled Rome. With the ascension of Octavian as the emperor Augustus in 27 B.C., the Roman Republic ended, and the Roman Empire began.











Source:  "Roman Republic." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 24 Oct. 2008 <>.