Roman Republic and Empire


Roman Republic and Empire
Ancient state that once ruled the Western world.

It centred on the city of Rome from the founding of the republic (509 BC) through the establishment of the empire (27 BC) to the final eclipse of the empire in the west (5th century AD). The republic's government consisted of two consuls, the Senate, and magistrates, originally all patricians, and two popular plebeian assemblies: the military centuriate assembly and the civilian tribal assembly. A written code, the Law of the Twelve Tables (451 BC), became the basis of Roman private law. By the end of the 3rd century BC, Roman territory included all of Italy; by the late republican period it encompassed most of western Europe, northern Africa, and the Near East, organized into provinces. After a period of civil war, Julius Caesar took power as dictator. Following his assassination (44 BC), conflict among the triumvirs
ultimately resulted in Octavian's victory (31) and his accession as Emperor Augustus (r. 27 BC–AD 14). The imperial government, a principate, combined aspects of the republic and a monarchy. In AD 395 the empire split into eastern and western halves, with the west under severe pressure from the barbarians. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, and the western empire fell to German invaders in 476; the east continued as the Byzantine Empire until 1453. See table.

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Introduction
  Roman emperors Roman emperorsthe ancient state that centred on the city of Rome, from the time of the events leading up to the founding of the republic in 509 BC, through the establishment of the empire in 27 BC, to the final eclipse of the Empire of the West in the 5th century AD. (For later events of the Empire of the East, see Byzantine Empire.) A brief treatment of the Roman Republic and Empire follows. For full treatment, see ancient Rome.

The early historical record
      The early Roman Republic (509–264 BC) and the regal period (753–509 BC) are the most poorly documented periods of Roman history. Historical writing at Rome did not begin until the late 3rd century BC, when Rome had already completed its conquest of Italy, established itself as a major power of the ancient world, and become involved in a gigantic struggle with Carthage for control of the western Mediterranean. The earliest Roman histories were brief résumés of facts and stories, but gradually historians embellished the sparse factual material (such as the list of annual magistrates from the beginning of the republic onward, religious records, and the texts of some laws and treaties) with both native and Greek folklore. Consequently, over time, historical facts about early Rome suffered from patriotic reinterpretation involving exaggerations of the truth, the suppression of embarrassing facts, and invention.

      Ancient Roman historians initially differed over the precise date of Rome's foundation. By the end of the republic, however, it was generally accepted that Rome had been founded in 753 BC and that the republic had begun in 509 BC, following the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin), the last of Rome's seven kings. According to tradition, the first six kings had been benevolent rulers, but the last was a cruel tyrant who was overthrown by a popular uprising.

      The prevalent modern view is that the monarchy at Rome was incidentally terminated through military defeat and foreign intervention. This theory sees Rome as a site highly prized by the Etruscans (Etruscan) in the 6th century BC. Porsenna, the Etruscan king of Clusium, defeated the Romans and expelled Tarquinius Superbus. Yet before Porsenna could establish himself as monarch, he was forced to withdraw, leaving Rome without a king. Rather than restoring their king, the Romans replaced the kingship with two annually elected magistrates called consuls (consul).

      During the early Roman Republic, important new political offices and institutions were created, and old ones were adapted to cope with the changing needs of the state. According to the ancient historians, these changes and innovations resulted from a political struggle between two social orders, the patricians and the plebeians, that began during the first years of the republic and lasted for more than 200 years. The discrepancies, inconsistencies, and logical fallacies in the account of Livy, one of Rome's greatest historians, make it evident that this thesis of a struggle of the orders is a gross oversimplification of a highly complex series of events that had no single cause.

Early government
      The two consuls (who had come to replace the king) were primarily generals whose task it was to lead Rome's armies in war. In times of military emergency, when unity of command was sometimes necessary, Rome appointed a dictator in place of the consuls, who, however, could not hold supreme military command for longer than six months.

      The Senate, which may have existed under the monarchy and served as an advisory council for the king, now advised both magistrates and the Roman people. Although in theory the people were sovereign and the Senate only offered advice, in actual practice the Senate wielded enormous power because of the collective prestige of its members.

      During the republic there were two different popular assemblies, the centuriate assembly and the tribal assembly. The centuriate assembly was military in nature; it voted on war and peace and elected all those magistrates who exercised imperium (military power). The tribal assembly was a nonmilitary civilian assembly that elected those magistrates who did not exercise imperium. It did most of the legislating and sat as a court for serious public offenses.

      In 451 BC Rome received its first written law code, inscribed upon 12 bronze tablets (Twelve Tables, Law of the) and publicly displayed in the Forum. Its provisions concerned such matters as legal procedure, debt foreclosure, paternal authority over children, property rights, inheritance, and funerary regulations. This so-called Law of the Twelve Tables was to form the basis of all subsequent Roman private law.

The expansion of Rome and the Latin League
      During the 6th century BC, Rome became one of the more important states in Latium—owing to the achievements of its Etruscan overlords—but Tibur, Praeneste, and Tusculum were equally important Latin states. Although the Latins dwelled in politically independent towns, their common language and culture produced cooperation in religion, law, and warfare. (This cooperation has come to be known as the Latin League.) The Latin states occasionally waged war among themselves, but in times of common danger they banded together for mutual defense.

      Toward the end of the 5th century BC, the Romans began to expand at the expense of the Etruscan states, possibly propelled by population growth. Rome's first two major wars against organized states were fought with Fidenae (437–426 BC), a town near Rome, and against Veii, an important Etruscan city. Before Roman strength increased further, a marauding Gallic tribe swept down the Po River valley and sacked Rome in 390 BC; the invaders departed, however, after they received a ransom in gold. Forty years of hard fighting in Latium and Etruria were required to restore Rome's power. When Rome became increasingly dominant in the Latin League, the Latins took up arms against Rome to maintain their independence. The ensuing Latin War (340–338 BC) was quickly decided in Rome's favour.

      Rome was now the master of central Italy and spent the next decade pushing forward its frontier through conquest and colonization. After three wars against the Samnites in the north (the third in 298–290 BC) and the Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC) against Greek towns in the south, Rome was the unquestioned master of Italy.

      Soon, Rome's success led it into conflict with Carthage, an established commercial power in northern Africa, for control of the Mediterranean. The ensuing battles, known as the Punic Wars, spanned the years 264–146 BC. Two great military geniuses were among the leaders in these wars. Hannibal led the Carthaginian forces from about 220 to 200, when he was defeated by the Roman commander Scipio Africanus the Elder. The Romans occupied Carthage and eventually destroyed it completely in 146.

      The defeat of this powerful rival sustained the Romans' acquisitive momentum, and they set their sights on the entire Mediterranean area. To the east, the Romans defeated Syria, Macedonia, Greece, and Egypt, all of which had until then been part of the decaying Hellenistic empire. The Romans also destroyed the Achaean League and burned Corinth (146 BC). Won through massive effort and with inevitable losses, the newly acquired lands and diverse peoples populating them proved a challenge to govern effectively. The Romans organized the conquered peoples into provinces (province)—under the control of appointed governors with absolute power over all non-Roman citizens—and stationed troops in each, ready to exercise appropriate force if necessary.

Imperial Rome
      In Rome proper, the majority of citizens suffered the consequences of living in a nation that had its eyes invariably trained on the far horizon. Roman farmers were unable to raise crops to compete economically with produce from the provinces, and many migrated to the city. For a time the common people were placated with bread and circuses, as the authorities attempted to divert their attention from the gap between their standard of living and that of the aristocracy. Slavery fueled the Roman economy, and its rewards for the wealthy turned out to be disastrous for the working classes. Tensions grew and civil wars erupted. The ensuing period of unrest and revolution marked the transition of Rome from a republic to an empire.

      Notable figures in the civil wars included Gaius Marius, a military leader who was elected consul seven times, and Sulla, an army officer. The later stages of the civil wars encompassed the careers of Pompey, the orator Cicero, and Julius Caesar, who eventually took full power over Rome as its dictator. After his assassination in 44 BC, the triumvirate of Mark Antony (Antony, Mark), Lepidus, and Octavian (Augustus), Caesar's nephew, ruled. It was not long before Octavian went to war against Antony in northern Africa, and after his victory at Actium (31 BC) he was crowned Rome's first emperor, Augustus. His reign, from 27 BC to AD 14, was distinguished by stability and peace.

      Augustus established a form of government known as a principate, which combined some elements from the republic with the traditional powers of a monarchy. The Senate still functioned, though Augustus, as princeps, or first citizen, remained in control of the government. Under Augustus, Rome began to prosper once again, and the emperor came to be looked upon as a god. Thereafter, all good emperors were worshiped as gods after death. Among the beloved rulers of Rome were Trajan (reigned 98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161), and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). Decadent, cruel men also rose to power: Caligula (37–41) and Nero (54–68) were so loathed that their reigns were struck from the official Roman records.

      It was during the rule of Tiberius (14–37) that Jesus Christ was crucified. Thereafter, Christians (Christianity) were tolerated at best—but often tortured or killed—until the reign of Constantine I (312–337). In 313 an edict of toleration for all religions was issued, and from about 320 Christianity was favoured by the Roman state rather than persecuted by it. But the empire was dying. The last of Constantine's line, Theodosius I (379–395), was the last emperor to rule over a unified Roman Empire. The Western Empire, suffering from repeated invasions and the flight of the peasants into the cities, had grown weak compared with the East, where spices and other exports virtually guaranteed wealth and stability. When Theodosius died, in 395, Rome split into Eastern and Western empires.

      The West was severely shaken in 410, when the city of Rome was sacked by the Visigoths (Visigoth), a wandering nation of Germanic peoples from the northeast. The fall of Rome was completed in 476, when the German chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus. The East, always richer and stronger, continued as the Byzantine Empire through the European Middle Ages.

The legacy of Rome
      During the later republic and most of the empire, Rome was the dominant power in the entire Mediterranean basin, most of western Europe, and large areas of northern Africa. The Romans possessed a powerful army and were gifted in the applied arts of law, government, city planning, and statecraft, but they also acknowledged and adopted contributions of other ancient peoples—most notably, those of the Greeks, much of whose culture was thereby preserved.

      The Roman Empire was distinguished not only for its outstanding army—the foundation upon which the whole empire rested—but also for its accomplishments in intellectual endeavours. Roman law, for example, was a considered and complex body of precedents and comments, which were all finally codified (Justinian, Code of) in the 6th century (see Justinian, Code of). Rome's roads were without match in the ancient world, designed for comparatively fast transportation and adapted to a wide variety of functions: commerce, agriculture, mail delivery, pedestrian traffic, and military movements. Roman city planners achieved unprecedented standards of hygiene with their plumbing, sewage disposal, dams, and aqueducts. Roman architecture, though often imitative of Greek styles, was boldly planned and lavishly executed. Triumphal arches commemorated important state occasions, and the famous Roman baths were built to stir the senses as well as to cleanse the body.

      Finally, Latin (Latin language), the language of the Romans, became the medium for a significant body of original works in Western civilization. Cicero's speeches, the histories of Livy and Tacitus, Terence's drama, and above all the poetry of Virgil are all part of the legacy of Rome.

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Universalium. 2010.

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