pretty thorougly on the Ides of March 2009. Lots of typos
convenience sake, Historians divide Roman
history up into three periods, each named for the governmental type Rome had at the
(31 BC—AD 476 in the West and to AD 1453 in the East)
the period of the monarchy, Rome
important, and so we don’t cover that period in this class. The stories of the monarchy, however, are
fascinating, and you might enjoy reading them on your own in the
chapters of Livy’s great history of Rome.
interesting, and much more important, is
the story of Republican Rome—a story that, told in full, has some
valuable lessons for us. It’s a story full of surprises. The story of
of Republican Rome is one of the most amazing success stories in all
Even more surprising is Rome’s
continued success during the last days of the Republic, the period we
the Republican period (509 BC to 31 BC), Rome
grows from a small city state, perhaps not much
bigger than Groton, and ends up
most the entire Mediterranean. The
today would be a town the size of to grow to the point where it
South Dakota, then all of the Midwest, then the United States, and
turning all of North America into the great Grotonian empire. Quite a surprise…
yet, not quite such a surprise as it might
seem at first. A closer look at the Roman people shws that they had
earliest days many of the qualities that make for success.
key to early Roman success was what the Romans
themselves called VIRTUS.
“Virtus” comes from the Latin word “vir” which means “man.” However, a better translation for us would
perhaps be excellence. The Romans strove
for excellence in all that they did—and perhaps Diogenes would have
successful in his search for a true man if he had crossed the Adriatic
looked in Rome.
important part of virtus was what the Romans
called Pietas, piety. The Romans had a religious ceremony for
occasion—and they were convinced that they had their relationship with
exactly right. The worked to maintain
the pax deorum, a kind of treaty with the gods. Roman
poets constantly pointed to Roman religion as one of the reasons for
modern historians would agree. One historian
rights that it was Roman religion that gave the Romans their
determination.” The Romans lost battles:
they never lost wars. They always held
on, always expecting that, in the end, the gods were on their side.
pietas extended to their ancestors as well.
The Romans preserved masks of the men (and sometimes the women) of each
generation, getting out those masks for ceremonial events. Here was a
reminder of what one was living for: to add glory, honor, and dignity
part of virtus was gravitas. We
get our word gravity from gravitas, but a
better translation is probably seriousness.
The Romans took themselves and their responsibilities seriously. This included both family responsibility and
civic responsibility. During the early Republic, adultery was rare and
almost unheard of. Stable families: again, a key for transmitting
from one generation to the next. And as to civic responsibility,
Roman consul Brutus whose commitment to duty meant he was willing to
sentence of death even on his own sons when they were found plotting
key to Roman success: Roman respect for
authority, symbolized by fasces. Although the Romans elected
leaders, once the leaders were elected, the Romans respected their
authority: a tricky business, but a major source of strength.
was successful because of her ability to solve internal political
peacefully. The great example of this:
the Struggle of Orders.
the early days of the Republic, Romans were
divided into two classes, the patricians and the plebians. The
the most powerful 50 or so families in Rome—about
10% of the population. The
plebians? Everyone else.
all power was in the hands of the
patricians. Only patricians could be
consuls, the chief executive and military officers of Rome.
Only patricians could be praetors, the judicial officers of Rome. Only patricans could be quaestors, the
financial officers of Rome.
And only patricians were eligible for the senate, the chief legislative
with all power in the hands of the
patricians, the plebians were often treated unjustly.
They could easily have staged an armed
revolt, even wiping out the patricians as a class if they had wanted. Instead, they used only the peaceful
technique of seccessio (essentially, going on strike) to achieve their
And they did win a series of important
right to elect 10 sacrosanct tribunes, men who could stand up and speak
others without fear of retribution of any kind (470 BC).
2. The Twelve
Tables, the first written law code for Rome
right to intermarry with the patricians and the right to hold offices
4. The lex
hortensia (287 BC), a law which gave the plebians the right to
legislation binding on the Roman state in their assemblies whether or
senate consented. In other words, now
the plebians could make any law they wanted and had the ultimate say in
matter—at least theoretically.
important thing to notice is that, in the long,
long struggle to secure their rights, the plebians, with very real
never once used violence to gain their ends.
well, because, had the Romans been fighting one another, they could
won the victories that led to the growth of Roman power.
Rome was constantly at war, first with Rome’s
immediate neighbors, then for control of Italy,
and then for control of the lands
bordering the Mediterranean.
victories in these wars show both what’s surprising
and not so surprising about Roman success.
A good example, the three Punic Wars (264-241, 218-202, 149-146).
Punic Wars were wars against Carthage,
originally a Phoenician colony
(hence the name Punic).
first Punic war was fought over control of Sicily,
and, one would have thought that the Carthaginians, a seafaring power,
have a great advantage when fighting for control of an
Rome had no navy at all. Well, the Roman
got their navy. They took a wrecked
Carthaginian ship as their model and built for themselves ships just
Carthaginian ships. A now they are an
equal to Carthage
on the seas? Well, they shouldn’t have
been, but Rome
found a way to overcome superior Carthaginian sailing skills and,
won the 1st Punic War.
second Punic War also started badly for the
Romans. Led by Hannibal,
Carthage attacked Rome
from the north, defeating Roman forces at Trasimene, Trebia, and,
The Romans lost 50,000 men in a single day in that last battle. But the Romans lost battles: they never lost
wars. Though their commanding officers
had clearly blown it, the Roman people rallied behind them and held on.
Romans learned. They copied and imitated some of Hannibal’s strategies. They
figured out how to deal with attacking elephants. And
they won the 2nd Punic War as
the Romans finished the job. Cato(this Cato we
often call Cato the Censor to distinguish him from later Cato’s),
reminded the Romans of the danger Carthage
culture. He conclude all his speeches
(no matter the topic) with the words “delenda est Carthago,” Carthage must be
these days of cultural relativism, we find it
hard to identify with Cato’s view, and so hard to understand what’s
here. But Cato clearly believed that Roman society stood for something
stood for something evil. And the Carthaginians were a cruel and
people. Just as during WWII Americans believed they stood for something
against the evils of totalitarianism, so Roman belief that they stood
something noble was a strength to them.
And eventually Carthage
was destroyed in the 3rd Punic War (though Cato didn’t live
successes in warfare created a complicated political situation in Rome—and were
to affect Roman virtus as well.
than just two competing classes, Rome now had lots of
1. A few of
the most successful plebian families joined with the patricians and
we call the Senatorial class.
successful plebians formed a slightly less privileged group, the
plebians, however, lost their farms, came to the cities, and found few
opportunities for gainful employment.
These people constitute what we call the proletarians.
Italian Allies constituted yet another interest group, cities that had
Rome in it’s victories over Carthage and in the Macedonian Wars.
also governed many subject peoples, people who sometimes preferred
governors to their native rulers, but who might prefer independence as
there were tens of thousands of often cruelly treated slaves who might
revolt at any time.
Perhaps Rome could have
once again solved its
problems peacefully, but, instead, the Romans end up going through a
year period we call the Roman Revolution (133-31 BC), a period in which
Romans eventually lose their ability to be a self-governing people.
Roman Revolution began with the Grachhi
brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Grachhus.
The Gracchi were from one of the most distinguished patrician
of Rome. Nevertheless, in 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus
decided to run, not for Consul, but for Tribune, wanting to be one of
sacrosanct spokesman for the people of Rome
as a whole.
elected, T. Gracchus proposed a plan to
restore the plebian small farmers. He
proposed taking public land and selling it to landless proletarians on
terms. Why? Well, without land and a
decent income, Roman soldiers couldn’t afford the proper equipment, and
Gracchus had realized that an inadequate base from which to recruit
was going to mean military disaster for Rome.
plan was a good one…but the senate said
Because senators were using that public land as if it were there
and they simply did not want to give it up.
decided the issue was too important to
give up on, and so he took the matter to the assembly which, by the lex
hortensia of 287 had the right to pass legislation binding on the Roman
with our without the consent of the senate.
some political maneuverings (and some
legally questionable actions on both sides), T. Gracchus got his
passed. Well begun—half done: but only half done. T. Gracchus decided
for a 2nd term as tribune, and the senators just wouldn’t
with this. They armed their followers
and chased Tiberius Gracchus through the streets, eventually clubbing
death and killing some 300 of his followers.
senate was back in charge, and all was right
with the Roman world. Except that it
wasn’t. Tiberius Gracchus wanted his
reforms for an important reason: restoring the Plebians was essential
success of the Roman army, and some of his surviving supporters could
123 BC, Gaius Gracchus decided to take over
where his brother had left off. He ran
successfully for tribune in 123 and 122, and carried out a series of
somewhat broader than his brother had championed him. He was
his third try for tribune, and, losing his sacrosanct status, he was
all of a
sudden vulnerable. The senate took
advantage: armed the followers for an attack.
The attempts of Gaius Grachhus and his supporters to defend
were all the excuse they needed. Gaius Gracchus was killed—and this
of his followers.
senate was in charge, and all was right with
the Roman world. Except that it wasn’t.
Grachhi had wanted their reforms for a reason:
Roman military success. And, without the
completion of these reforms, Rome
guy named Jugurtha began stirring up trouble for
Rome in Africa. Even more worrisome, the Cimbri and the
Teutones were headed south and threatened Rome
African situation was more and more troubling
as senatorial general after senatorial general failed. This gave one of
equestrians, a man named Gaius Marius, the campaign issue he needed to
elected Consul (107 BC). He promised he
could succeed were the senatorial generals had failed.
And, sure enough, he did—a great hero!
the threat posed by the Cimbri and the
Teutones was getting worse. Several
senator-lead armies failed, and Marius decides to run again for consul,
success. He gets five more consulships,
each time using the same issue—and he does eventually beat the Cimbri
was successful in part by turning Roman
soldiers into professional soldiers. Now
there were some real advantages to a professional army, but also a big
disadvantage: professional soldiers are more expensive. Marius wanted
his soldiers, but the senate, once again, said no. Marius made himself
effective political alliances with the reform elements in Rome (people who
favored programs like that
of the Gracchi) and was for a time successful.
the senate eventually maneuvered Marius into a
bad political position, and Marius had to leave for a temporary exile. The senate was in control, and all was right
with the Roman world.
that it wasn’t. Without Marius military
leadership and with
reform long overdue, Rome
soon found itself facing a real crisis.
Italian Allies revolted, insisting on their share of
political power (Social War—90-88 BC).
And in the East, Mithridates of Pontus leads a revolt against Rome, and Rome
looks likely to lose all possessions there.
Gaius Marius and his former associate by now rival Sulla. Marius and Sulla manage to help Rome end the
but now there’s a new question: who will take on Mithridates?
Sulla and Marius want to take their troops
east, and the soldiers of both men are eager to fight: lots of good
the taking, and lots of opportunity to kill people without them having
an opportunity to kill you back. Who is
going to go?
the senate hates Marius and gives the
command to Sulla. Marius is mad, but what can he do?
Well, he can go to the assembly, which, by
the lex hortensia of 287 had the right to pass legislation binding on
state without the consent of the senate.
The assembly decides Marius can have the command against
Sulla’s troops are very close to Rome
when they get the bad news: they aren’t headed east after all. And so Sulla marches his men into Rome, smiles
and says to the assembly—you were right the first time. Me and my army
ones going to fight Mithridates, right?
yes sir, Mr. Sulla. Anything you say—and
off goes Sulla, leaving
the senators in charge and everything right in the Roman world.
*also* left behind is Marius—and some very
angry troops. Marius and his allies now march on Rome and take over. And
now is the time to settle old scores. Many,
many senators are put to death—and we
call this period the Marian reign of terror—though Marius himself dies
the beginning of it and would likely have restrained his troops
a few years, the allies of Marius control Rome, making at long last
some long overdue reforms. But reform
won’t last: Sulla is coming back eventually and bringing his army.
that day comes: Sulla marches on Rome,
defeats his enemies, makes himself dictator, takes revenge on the
retires, leaving the senators back in control and everything right in
that it wasn’t.
resumes his attempts to drive Rome out
of the eastern Mediterranean.
Pirates plague Mediterranean shipping. Slaves under Spartacus stage a
liberating thousands of slaves and taking appropriate revenge on their
the worst threat to Rome
came from within the political system
itself. Politics in Rome
had become essentially a game for the wealthy and powerful, a high
without any fixed rules. Roman
politicians, with very few exceptions came to thing that anything that
increase their own power and prestige was fair enough.
of the new kind of politician,
Catiline. Catiline was a capable man,
but totally unscrupulous and immoral. He
ran for consul in 63 BC. Running against
him was Cicero, a great philosopher and a true statesman.
And which of these two men did the Roman
people vote for?
of course. But it was a near thing. How
did a corrupt man like Catiline almost win?
By lavish campaigning among influential Romans: parties with
lots of food
and wine and for dessert young women or boys—whatever happened to be
taste. But the main promise: a
cancellation of debts.
Catiline didn’t win, his disappointed
followers decide to take matters into their own hands and kill Cicero.
The plot was discovered, and Cicero
ended up having the conspirators put to death—without the usual
safeguard of a
fair trial. You see the problem here: unscrupulous and unlawful
forces the political opposition to take unscrupulous and unlawful steps
of the unscrupulous politicians who
destroyed the Republic, the members of the first triumvirate, Crassus,
each of these men was capable, but they were
unscrupulous in the extreme. Crassus
ended the Spartacus revolt: a crucified thousands of slaves. Caesar
carried out a campaign of what we might call genocide. For a time, the
men worked together, but after Crassus death, Caesar and Pompey ended
battling it out. Caesar’s forces prevail: Caesar reigns and Pompey dies.
was a skillful politician: he knew how to
make himself popular: one government program after another.
programs, libraries, calendar reform. But what he was after was power
simple. He made himself dictator for ten years then dictator for life.
seemed to be angling to make himself king (as Shakespeare shows) but
was really after was to make himself into a god.
this was too much for the senators. Sixty
of them organized a conspiracy against
Caesar, and on the Ides of March 44 BC, they assassinated him. They ran
the theater shouting, “Liberty!
Freedom! Tyranny is dead!”
they were wrong. It was the Republic that was
dead. Caesar’s death plunged Rome
into another 13 years of bloody civil war, the years of the 2nd
triumvirate. And when the dust had
cleared, the Republic was gone…replaced by the rule of one man:
son Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus: best known by his nickname,
do you know what’s remarkable about this? Amidst
all this struggle, all this fighting,
slave revolt, civil war, pirates, assassinations—Rome actually grows. France
to the empire. Egypt.
for at least a brief time.
that amazing, or is that amazing?