Historical Background

The Republic

The Roman republic, founded, according to tradition, in 509 BC, had an aristocratic form of government. It was headed by the Senate and by magistrates, later called consuls - usually two in number - who were elected annually by the Senate. The Senate was made up of the patricians, the upper class; the general body of citizens was effectively frozen out of government. In the early 5th century the plebeians revolted and forced the Senate to accept their representatives, the tribunes, into the government. In 445 BC the ban on intermarriage between the patricians and plebeians was removed. Gradually the plebeians gained admission to virtually all state offices, winning the consulship in 366. The struggle between the orders lasted for 200 years; it came to an end in 287 when the plebiscites - the laws voted by the assembly of the plebeians - became binding on all people, plebeians and patricians alike. The main benefactors of that development were the few plebeian families that gained riches and offices and mixed with the patricians to form a new governing class, the nobility.

Political and Economic Change

Rome's foreign wars brought great new wealth to the senatorial landed aristocracy and to a newly emerging class: the 'equestrians', or 'equites', who were largely financiers and publicans, or tax gatherers. The importation of inexpensive raw materials from the colonies undermined Rome's peasant economy, and the influx of thousands of slaves made possible the organization of latifundia, or large landed estates. As a result of economic dislocation, a large portion of the population of Rome became unemployed and dependent on the public dole. Mobs of the unemployed roamed the streets, ready to be swayed by the demagogues.

Economic changes also brought forth genuine reformers. The best known were two brothers, Tiberius Sempronius and Caius Sempronius Gracchus. In 133, Tiberius was elected tribune on a platform of redistribution of the land to the poor. Predictably, the large landholders in the Senate opposed him. When the Senate declared his reelection illegal his followers rioted, and Tiberius was killed in the violence that erupted. Caius then took over his elder brother's reforms. He became tribune in 123 and extended reform to the tax system and the judiciary. By then, a conservative reaction had set in: Caius was killed by a mob in 121 BC.

Anarchy and Civil War

The deaths of the Gracchi opened a century of anarchy and civil wars. Their attempts at reform also marked the beginning of two political groupings in the Senate: the Optimates, the conservative "good men," and the Populares, who pressed for reforms, represented trends, or tendencies, rather than political parties. War (112-105 BC) with Numidia and an invasion of Italy by the Cimbri and Teutons, two Germanic tribes, demonstrated the inadequacy of Rome's conscript army. Gaius Marius, an equestrian, distinguished himself as a general. He introduced a volunteer, semiprofessional army and threw its ranks open to the proletarians or common people. The German invaders were wiped out (102-101), but the proletarian soldiers clamored for land. The ruling oligarchy refused to recognize their demands. As a result repeated coalitions were formed between impoverished veterans and ambitious generals.

In 91, Rome's allies in Italy rose in a great revolt called the Social War. Under this pressure the Romans granted the franchise to all Italians and mercilessly crushed those who did not submit. Civil war followed (88-82 BC). Marius, the great popular hero, died in 86. The opposing forces were led by Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who had the support of the aristocrats. Sulla, with his private proletarian army, marched on Rome and dispersed the legal government. He routed his populist enemies and ruled as dictator (82-81). Sulla ordered thousands of his enemies assassinated and their property confiscated. His goal was to restore the rule of the oligarchs, but he failed to remedy socio-economic conditions that had undermined their rule, and they proved unfit to govern.

The next two great rivals for power in Rome were Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. Both had made their reputations in the army, and both were highly ambitious. In 60 BC, Pompey and Caesar joined Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, forming an unofficial compact, sometimes called the First Triumvirate; they were able to rule despite the opposition of the Senate. Caesar spent much of the next years in the north, successfully fighting the Gallic Wars. In his absence Pompey consolidated his

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