Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Guest Matteus

Why Did The Roman Republic Fall?

Recommended Posts

Guest Matteus

Hi gents!

 

Sorry, if this is a stupid question; but i just started to study the Roman Republic and Empire

 

Anyway, i never understoo why the Roman Republic fell, i thought that the Romans were very supportive of their system, and that the Republic were effective when it came to waging wars, expanding the borders? Plus, the Romans had many civil liberties, still, they had no problem giving them up and accepting the more authorian rule of the Emperor's, right? What happend in between? Why did they give up their relative freedoom? :S

 

Anyone got a good explanation?

 

/thanks

 

Matteus

Edited by Matteus

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a fairly complex question that we debate quite regularly around here. It's not that the Roman people just suddenly gave up their 'liberties', the transition from Republic to Principate was a long gradual process. Additionally, the principate established by Augustus, while politically altered from previous eras, was still a veiled Republic as far as institutions and magisterial offices, etc. are concerned. The plebes, who long held a somewhat adversarial relationship with the aristrocracy were also not necessarily aware of the subtleties of change being implemented and were perhaps distracted by grain doles, games and donatives. The politics of the populares (the side which theoretically ultimately won... though Augustus hardly maintained the same stances as his adoptive father and political predecessors) were, at least on the surface, of benefit to the Plebes and their support of populares politics was instrumental in the ultimate transition of the entire system.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd say the reason basically deals with power being increasingly focused into the aristocracy, coupled with a disenfranchisement of the bulk of the citizen body. After a while there were plenty of citizens with nothing to loose and a tight, greedy and jealous group with everything to give.

 

As Primus says though, take a look through our forums we have many discussions on this, and it

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One could argue that the Republic was destroyed by the nearly twenty-year civil war (49-31BC).

 

Of course that begs the question: Why the civil war?

 

One answer is that the struggle of rival Roman nobles for Office, Authority, Dignity and wealth that had once been confined to the senate house and forum, had expanded to encompass first all Italy, then the whole Mediterranean world. Battles for primacy in the state that had been fought in elections, votes on bills and in the courts - each noble marshaling his clients as voters and advocates - were eventually fought on the battlefield, using client armies, kings and nations. One noble, crushing all his rivals, gathered all the armies, kings, nations and classes as HIS clients, then declaring the Republic restored.(?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Additionally, the principate established by Augustus, while politically altered from previous eras, was still a veiled Republic as far as institutions and magisterial offices, etc. are concerned.

 

 

 

This is what makes the early principate so different from the Dominate, as Augustus and 'some' other subsequent Emperor's made an attempt to keep the traditions of the senate alive, it was the Emperor's of the Dominate period that did their best to assert their authority and do away with most of the 'show' with the senate. You can therefore see the VERY long process of how the Republic of the First Century BC became the despotism of the Emperors of the third Century AD.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The other (in fact the traditional) explanation is that the social, economic, military and political problems that arose as Rome acquired a world empire could not be dealt with by the oligarchic city-state government.

 

In this interpretation, the conquest of the second century BC brought vast wealth into Roman society and concentrated it in the hands of the nobles who ran the government and the businessmen who exploited the provinces. The influx of cheap grain and other rescources from the provinces and constant military service ruined the Roman and Italian peasantry economically, and the newly won capital in the hands of the few was used to buy their land (the only safe investment in those days). The landless peasants drifted into Rome and became a volatile proletariate that could be used by demagogic politicians to disrupt the control of government by the senate of nobles while the large land holdings were operated as ranches by large gangs of dangerous slaves. Another problem was the demands of the Italian allies for a larger share in the benefits of empire and protection against the arbitrary actions of Roman magistrates.

 

The senate is also blamed for military incompetence and an unwillingness, due to narrow-mindedness or traditionalism or corruption or self-interest, to make the changes needed to deal with the new economic and social conditions that the conquest of an empire brought to Italy. Thus the reactionary senate crushed the attempts made by the Gracchi, Saturninus, M Liviuis Drusus and others to reform the system, and led Roman armies to disasters in Spain, Numidia and against the Teutones and rebellious slaves etc.

 

All this leads to "popular" politicians opposing the senate by appealing to the masses and recruiting armies from that same proletariate which they used to recover from the disasters caused by senatorial commanders and that they eventually use to overthrow senatorial control of the government and establish one-man rule.

 

I've always felt this was a little too formulaic an interpretation, though there is a probably good deal of truth in the economic and social aspects of the argument. To me there seems to have been much more continuity than disruption in Roman politics of the last two centuries BC and a good deal of change - trying to solve some of these problems. The real break comes with the civil war of 49 which lasted longer and was more destructive than the troubles of 91-82.

Edited by Pompieus

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The other (in fact the traditional) explanation is that the social, economic, military and political problems that arose as Rome acquired a world empire could not be dealt with by the oligarchic city-state government. ...

 

I've always felt this was a little too formulaic an interpretation, though there is a probably good deal of truth in the economic and social aspects of the argument. To me there seems to have been much more continuity than disruption in Roman politics of the last two centuries BC and a good deal of change - trying to solve some of these problems. The real break comes with the civil war of 49 which lasted longer and was more destructive than the troubles of 91-82.

 

I agree. There is a tendency to posit more causes than are necessary, while there is a necessary and nearly sufficient condition for the fall of the republic--the behavior of Gaius Julius Caesar--that obviates the need to posit any additional factors. On the basis of Occam's razor, I favor simple explanations over needlessly complex ones.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The other (in fact the traditional) explanation is that the social, economic, military and political problems that arose as Rome acquired a world empire could not be dealt with by the oligarchic city-state government. ...

 

I've always felt this was a little too formulaic an interpretation, though there is a probably good deal of truth in the economic and social aspects of the argument. To me there seems to have been much more continuity than disruption in Roman politics of the last two centuries BC and a good deal of change - trying to solve some of these problems. The real break comes with the civil war of 49 which lasted longer and was more destructive than the troubles of 91-82.

 

I agree. There is a tendency to posit more causes than are necessary, while there is a necessary and nearly sufficient condition for the fall of the republic--the behavior of Gaius Julius Caesar--that obviates the need to posit any additional factors. On the basis of Occam's razor, I favor simple explanations over needlessly complex ones.

 

So you believe that the life and actions Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus and various members of senate at large had nothing to do with the fall? Before Julius Caesar, the Republic was just fine in your estimation?

 

Why was the Republic not fine then after his assassination? Surely a robust system should have returned to normal?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So you believe that the life and actions Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus and various members of senate at large had nothing to do with the fall? Before Julius Caesar, the Republic was just fine in your estimation?

The republic could have been improved in many ways that I've previously listed. I do think that Crassus and Pompey were also harmful in their support for Caesar, but both of them had served the republic in important ways as well. Marius and Cinna were a major threat to the republic, as were Sulla and his lackeys, but their reforms were ultimately accommodated by the state without the need for succcessive monarchies. More to the point--my argument was that none of them were both necessary and sufficient for the fall of the republic, whereas Caesar was.

 

Why was the Republic not fine then after his assassination? Surely a robust system should have returned to normal?

Indeed it should have--had the previous civil wars not deprived the republic of the men who knew how that system worked. Moreover, don't forget that Caesar's actions continued to be destabilizing even after his death--his will, for example, was like a time bomb for the republic, blowing apart the uneasy peace and return to normalcy that had been taking form.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well there you there you have it. You say 'previous civil wars,' by which you mean Marius vs. Sulla and Caesar vs. Senate, so without Marius and Sulla in which vastly more senators were killed and the senate itself reformed, then Caesar's war could possibly not have led to the fall of the republic? In fact Caesar grew up during that time, so isn't it possible that without Marius and Sulla, he would not have had it in his head that he could or needed to have total control, and lead a more standard senatorial life?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In fact Caesar grew up during that time, so isn't it possible that without Marius and Sulla, he would not have had it in his head that he could or needed to have total control, and lead a more standard senatorial life?

 

That's like blaming Hitler's mom for the holocaust.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just don't think it's realistic or academically honest to isolate one man or one factor in a petri dish and claim that it alone is responsible for a thing on just about any topic. The world is a lot more complex than that. The reality is a wide variety of factors in varying degrees create the tides of history, not just one thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I just don't think it's realistic or academically honest to isolate one man or one factor in a petri dish and claim that it alone is responsible for a thing on just about any topic. The world is a lot more complex than that. The reality is a wide variety of factors in varying degrees create the tides of history, not just one thing.

 

Everything-including-the-kitchen-sink theories haven't anything going for them--they amount to a mere redescription of the events leading up to the fall of the republic without identifying anything in particular that is causal. Einstein said it best: explanations should be as simple as possible--and no more. I'm not claiming that Caesar is the only factor that caused the fall--I'm claiming that he was necessary and NEARLY sufficient: obviously, he needed help and co-operation from many people and a little luck too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Though I understand Catos passion about his namesakes' inimicus, and I agree that Caesar was willing to do violence to the republic in defence of his personal dignitas (and his ambition), it seems to me that E S Gruens hypothesis that it was the scale and duration of the conflict(s) of 49-31BC that wrecked the republic has merit. I also would argue that the great-nephew (military adventurer, terrorist, unprincipled schemer, incomparable politician and brilliant propagandist) is possibly even more to blame than his adoptive father for the demise of free institutions. After all, who knows what Caesars plans were (if he had any). The republic survived Sulla, why couldn't it have survived Caesar?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The republic survived Sulla

 

Did it though? People seem to think that since Sulla laid down his dictatorship when he was at the edge of his life, that all was well. During the Marian Sullan civil wars, how many great senators and their families were murdered and forced into destitution? I think if ever there was a period when the Republic was given a mortal wound, it was here, when the life blood of her governing class was drained. Here also some very ugly precedents were made with bringing armies into Rome, proscriptions, civil war. All things never before seen, at least not seen in ages.

 

The Republic may have been 'alive' after Sulla, but it was this bleeding shell of a thing laying on the battlefield waiting for it's day to come. Seems Caesar was in the right place at the right time, could have easily been any number of other people in his place eventually. In fact perhaps for his ability, the Roman people were spared even greater calamity. Imagine a more ambitious and less able Sulla instead of Caesar conducting those civil wars.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×