You are on page 1of 32

Research Paper

Jeremy Olson

August 29, 2005

The Fall of the Roman Republic 1


TA BL E OF CON TE N TS

I. Introduction..............................................................................................................................2
II. The Struggle of Orders...........................................................................................................4
III. Expansion............................................................................................................................10
A. The loss of “Civic Virtue”
b. The Roman soldier’s relationship with his state and his general
IV. Ambitious Politicians...........................................................................................................13
A. Tiberius Gracchus
B. Gaius Gracchus
C. Marius and Sulla
D. Gaius Julius Caesar
V. Conclusion............................................................................................................................32

THE DECLINE OF THE ROMAN REPUB-


LIC

I. Introduction
The definition of a “republic” according to the Oxford American Diction-
ary is “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elec-

The Fall of the Roman Republic 2


ted representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather
than a monarch.”1
In 509 BC, the destiny of a little city on the coast of Italy, and indeed,
the history of the world, was altered forever. This is because in 509 BC the
Roman Republic was officially established. If this event did not take place,
the geographical borders of today’s modern nations would be dramatically
altered, and the world situation would be something entirely different than
what it is today. This is because Rome would not have become successful
had it allowed itself to be ruled by kings and potential tyrants such as Tarqini-
us Superbus: the last king of Rome. Under the Republic, Rome eventually be-
came the only superpower in the entire western world. Before the Roman Re-
public was established, Rome was threatened by many rivals. Under the rule
of the Republic, those rivals became no more.
There was no one reason that the Roman Republic fell. Throughout the
Roman Republic’s history (approximately 509 BC to 27 BC2) there were nu-
merous events, personalities, and laws that can be considered as contribut-
ing factors to the decline of the Roman Republic. The first of these factors
was the struggle of the orders, in which the majority of the Roman people
known as plebeians, fought for their rights. The second factor was Rome’s
tremendous expansion in and around the year 146 BC3 and the issue of that
expansion. The third and last major factor is ambitious politicians who took
advantage of the previous factors to strengthen their cause and, ultimately,
contort the Roman Republic into a state in which neither the people, nor their
elected representatives, were the sovereign rulers, but rather a supreme
ruler or emperor, backed by his army, ruled Rome with unquestioned author-
ity.

1 “Republic,” Oxford American Dictionaries, 2005 ed.


2 Erich Gruen, “Ancient Rome,” World Book Encyclopedia, 1997 ed.
3 Richard Hooker, The Punic Wars, 1996, Washington State University, June
7, 2005
<http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/Rome/Rome.HTM>.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 3


II. The Struggle of Orders
Throughout the history of the Roman Republic, there was an ongoing
struggle between the social classes of Rome. This struggle is widely known
as the struggle of the orders1 and was one of the major factors that led to the
fall of the Roman Republic.

The founding of Rome is shrouded in ancient legends and myths which


make it impossible to define any solid truth.2 The Romans credited a man
named Aeneas as the founder of the Roman people because his relative,
Reah Silvia, was the mother of Romulus, who was the supposed founder of
Rome.3 There is much mythology involved in the story of Romulus, but there
is no clear alternative. Consequently, the story of Romulus is generally used
to describe the founding of Rome.
According to Plutarch, Romulus opened his city to fugitives and travel-
ers from neigboring lands. Many came seeking a new life or the protection of
Rome’s walls. Once the city was adequately populated, Romulus appointed
100 senators to assist him in ruling Rome. These senators and their families
became the “Patres,” the fathers of Rome.4 The descendants of these 100
senators were called the patricians.5 Around 40 years after Rome was built,
Romulus disappeared in a storm and was never seen again6. He had ruled
from approximately 753 BC to 715 BC.

1 "ancient Rome." Encyclopædia Britannica, 2005, Encyclopædia Britannica


Premium Service 21 June 2005
<http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=26592>.
2 Christopher Heaton, Founding of Rome, 2003, UNRV History, June 21, 2005
<http://www.unrv.com/empire/founding.php>.
3 Titus Livius, History of Rome, Book 1: The Earliest Legends, 5 vols. (New
York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1905) 1.4 (Original text written somewhere
between 59 BC and 17 AD).
4 Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, ed. Britannica Great
Books, 1 vols. (Chicago, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952) 19 (original text
written in 75 AD).
5 Titus Livius, 1.8.
6 Titus Livius, 1.16.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 4


After a year of turmoil, a new king was chosen, the second out of sev-
en. For the most part, the kings after Romulus ruled honorably and justly
though there is not much solid information about them.7 The sixth king, Ser-
vius, created a law that allowed any man to hold positions of power if he had
gained a certain amount of wealth. This law enraged the noble patrician
class in which positions of power had previously been reserved. In 534 BC,
with the encouragement of the nobles, Servius’ son in law, Lucius Tarquinius,
cruelly murdered Servius and became king8. Though the Republic had not yet
been established, this is the first example of the patrician class forfeiting
their own rights through their jealousy.
Tarquinius ruled with cruelty and murdered many senators, disregard-
ing all counsel the senators provided. Tarquinius’ tyrannical rule caused the
Roman people to despise the absolute authority the kings had over Rome,
though they had not yet reached the breaking point of rebellion.
According to the Roman Historian Titus Livius, in 510 BC, the funda-
mental last straw took place when Tarquin’s son, forced Lucretia, a patrician
noblewoman, to commit adultery with him.9 When the patrician men came
back from war, Lucretia made them swear revenge and thrust a hidden dag-
ger into her own heart. Tarquin’s family was cast out of Rome in a revolt led
by Lucretia’s husband and his friend Brutus. The Senate then voted to never
again allow a king to rule over Rome, and in 509 BC, formed a republican
government.10 It is very possible that the rape of Lucretia is mere legend and
that there was no definitive event that led to the fall of monarchy in Rome,
but the story of Lucretia is the only account of events that is available.
In southern Italy, the cities chose one among them as an executive or
president. In place of a king, the Senate chose to have two executive admin-
istrators to avoid the unreliability of a single executive. The executives had
to be patrician (a descendant of the original 100 senators) and they were
called “consuls.”11 Each consul was given the right to veto any move by the
other consul, an attempt to keep balance in the Republic. The consuls would

7 Christopher Heaton, Kings of Rome, 2003, UNRV History, June 21, 2005
<http://www.unrv.com/empire/kings-of-rome.php>.
8 Titus Livius, 1.48.
9 Titus Livius, 1.57.
10 Titus Livius, 2.1.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 5


serve a one year term and then the people would vote for a pair of different
consuls. The consuls were essentially the leaders of the government along
with functioning as commanders of the military, governors of provinces, and
curators of public works.12
The Senate, composed of patrician citizens, served as the legislative
branch of government and as an advisory body (thus the name: senatus,
“counsel of elders”). Ex-consuls were required to serve in the Senate after
their term as consul was over, so the consuls were careful to cultivate their
relationship with the Senate throughout their consulship. According to
Richard Hooker, a Washington State University Professor, the result was that
“the consuls did not exercise much initiative or creativity, so Roman govern-
ment tended to be highly conservative and cautious.”13
The ultimate position of power in the Roman government was the dic-
tatorship, which was only relevant when Rome was in significant danger. A
dictator elected by the people had supreme authority over Rome and her mil-
itary in the case of an emergency. The dictators were elected for short peri-
ods of time, but in the last stages of the Republic, the ultimate goal of a Ro-
man politician was to be elected dictator for life.
The initial Republican constitution, one which was based merely on tra-
ditions and not a written document, was flawed in that all the governmental
power was put into the hands of a single group of citizens, the patricians.
These were the descendants of the first senators; the patricians were the
only citizens who had access to political offices in Rome. This led to oppres-
sion of the rest of the Roman citizens, the plebeians, who had no real repres-
entatives in the government.14 The only influence the plebeians had on the
government was through the citizen assemblies, in which politicians would

11 Christopher Heaton, Struggle of the Orders, 2003, UNRV History, June 7,


2005
<http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php>.
12 Christopher Heaton, Roman consuls, 2003, UNRV History, June 7, 2005
<http://www.unrv.com/government/consuls.php>.
13 Richard Hooker, The Roman Republic, 1996, Washington State University,
June 7, 2005
<http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/Rome/Rome.HTM>.
14 Hooker, The Roman Republic.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 6


bring legislation to the plebeians for voting. Because only the patricians were
allowed into positions of power, the citizen assemblies were very much neg-
lected15. The patricians abused their power by selling plebeian debtors as
slaves and giving patricians tremendous leniency in court cases, among oth-
er things.16 This led to a very important stage of development in the Roman
Republic generally known as the struggle of orders, in which the plebeians
fought for their rights.
The Romans were forced to use the plebeians as the backbone of the
Roman army, as the patricians were only trained to fight on horseback, and
there were simply not enough of them willing to fight.17 In 494 BC, as a large
foreign army was marching toward Rome, the majority of plebeian class cit-
izens threatened to leave Rome and form their own government. Because
Rome could not defend itself without the aid of the plebeians, the patricians
agreed to let the plebeians elect two representatives, called “tribunes,”
every year. The tribunes had absolute veto power over anything and anyone
for the good of the people, though they could not overule the authority of a
dictator. These tribunes could not be held accountable for their actions,
neither could they be harmfully touched while performing their duty. The
tribuneship had tremendous flaws which only needed the manipulating
minds of ambitious politicians to be expressed. The tribuneship, was created
for the benefit of the Roman people, but it played a large role in causing the
fall of the Roman Republic, which deprived the people of their place in the
government.
The Roman laws were kept secret from the plebeian class for a period
of time in which the plebeians could not avoid breaking the law. This allowed
the patrician class to manipulate the enforcement of these laws for their own
benefit.18

15 Heaton, Struggle of the Orders.


16 "Conflict of the orders" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy
Wales and Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Con-
flict_of_the_Orders>.
17 Heaton, Struggle of the Orders.
18 “Twelve Tables” Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales
and Larry Sanger 15 January 2001
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Tables>.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 7


In 451 BC the plebeians revolted once again, and gained another great
triumph with the appointment of the decemvirate, which resulted in the in-
crease of the number of tribunes from 2 to 10.19 This gave the plebeians
more representatives fighting for their interests in the government. Also, be-
cause of the decemvirate, the Laws of the Twelve Tables were established.
The Laws of the Twelve Tables were essentially twelve codes related to civic
matters, crimes, relationships, and land.20 In each table, there were a num-
ber of specific laws. Although the laws of the twelve tables were close to
what the patricians had been enforcing already, they prevented the patrician
class from manipulating the lack of written public laws and gave the plebei-
ans the advantage of knowing where they stood in regards to the law.
In 445 BC, the Canuleian law legalized marriage between patricians
and plebeians, making it possible for wealthy plebeians to become patricians
through marriage and become eligible for patrician positions. The Canuleian
law also made it possible for patricians to become tribunes through marriage
with plebeians. The plebeians continually gained rights through the tribunes
until they gained the ultimate right of being elected consul. In 300 BC, the
plebeians were granted the right to be elected to the priesthood, making
them equal to the patricians in religion as well as politics.21
The aforementioned reforms initially granted the plebeians great
rights, but for the most part, these laws only applied to wealthy plebeians.
Acquiring a political position required not only an amount of political bril-
liance, but a considerable amount of funds to back it up. Because wealthy
plebeians were granted essentially the same rights as the patricians, and pa-
tricians and plebeians could go from one class to the other through marriage,
there was virtually no difference between the patricians and well to do ple-
beians except the matter of honor through birth. This formed an entirely new
class: the equestrians— any Roman citizen possessing a certain amount of
wealth.22 According to Matthias Gelzer, the “chief significance of these
achievements” (referring to the aforementioned new rights gained by the
19 Heaton, Struggle of the Orders.
20 “The Laws of the Twelve Tables,” Constitution Society, 12 Sep. 1995
<http://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm>.
21 Heaton, Struggle of the Orders.
22 Matthias Gelzer, Caesar Politician and Statesman, ed. Peter Needham
Translation,(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003) 2.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 8


plebeians) “was that powerful plebeians entered the ranks of the ruling famil-
ies.”23 This created two general classes in Roman society: the rich, and the
poor. Because of the distinct contrast between the two social classes,
struggles arose. These struggles appeared throughout the entire history of
the Roman Republic and would play a large role in its eventual fall.

23 Gelzer, 3.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 9


III. Expansion
A. The loss of “Civic Virtue”

In 147 BC, a Roman army led by Scipio Aemilianus utterly destroyed the city
of Carthage.1 This marked the end of the Carthaginian empire and the begin-
ning of a new stage in Roman history. The Carthaginian empire had been the
last significant threat to the Romans. Carthage had been a significant danger
to the Roman’s and as long as it stood as a threat to Rome, the Romans were
united against it. They could not afford to fight among themselves, lest they
be destroyed.
When Carthage fell, so did the bond between the rich and poor class of
Roman people.2 Without the imposing threat of Carthage, there was no unit-
ing factor to keep the Romans “civic virtue” alive. Before Carthage, the Ro-
man government relied heavily on civic virtue: the willingness of the indi-
vidual to subordinate himself to the good of Rome.3 This is clear through the
laws that were established in the early republic, such as that of the tribune-
ship. The tribunes could use their veto power over any piece of legislation in
the name of the people of Rome. The Senate established this law trusting
that the tribune’s would use the tribuneship for the good of Rome and not for
their own personal benefit. Carthage helped fuel the civic virtue that was
already dwindling during the confusion of the struggle between the plebeians
and the patricians. When Carthage fell, the civic virtue that was keeping the
Romans united was essentially nullified. This loss of civic virtue led politi-
cians, to fight primarily for their own interests, rather than for the good of
Rome.4 This general corruption in Roman politics elevated the struggle of the
orders to an unprecedented level. It also led to many unfair laws and dam-
aging rivalry’s between Roman politicians which caused significant problems
in the effectiveness of the Roman Republic as a government.

1 Christopher Heaton, Third Punic War, 2003, UNRV History, June 7, 2005
<http://www.unrv.com/empire/third-punic-war.php>.
2 J. Rufus Fears, “Famous Romans Part 1, lecture 7: Tiberius and Gaius Grac-
chus,” University of Oklahoma, Norman, 2001.
3 Fears, “Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus”.
4 Fears, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 10


b. The Roman soldier’s relationship with his state and his
general

Not only did the fall of Carthage and conquests in the east bring im-
mense wealth into Rome, but an unprecedented number of slaves as well.5
Because the price of slaves decreased so significantly, equestrians pur-
chased thousands of these conquered foes and used them to manage huge
plantations. This became a significant issue for many years because the bulk
of Roman citizens made a living off of farming. Because the small farmer
could not compete with the giant estates nor with any other job because of
cheap slave labor, the majority of working class Roman citizens were forced
onto the streets of Rome. This became an immense problem because the
backbone of the Roman army was the small farmer, and only land-owning
citizens were allowed to join the army. This became an even greater dilemma
in 107 BC when the Cimbri and Teutonic tribes began migrating in the north,
destroying everything in their way.6 The already dwindling Roman army had
no recruiting base, and the forces fighting in the North were suffering numer-
ous defeats against the Gauls. This led to the adoption of Gaius Marius’ le-
gion reforms which, in themselves, became a major factor in the decline of
the Roman Republic.
In 107 BC, Gaius Marius was a rising star in the Roman political world.7
As consul, he proposed one of the most crucial reforms in the decline of the
Roman Republic. Along with numerous reforms to the legion and the way it
fought, Marius offered the entire head count of Rome, rich and poor, land
owning and non-landowning, the opportunity to serve under him in the
army.8 This gave disenfranchised Roman farmers the chance of some kind of

5 Hooker, The Roman Republic.


6 Christopher Heaton, Cimbri and Teutons, 2003, UNRV History, August 4,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/cimbri-teutons.php >.
7 Heaton, Cimbri and Teutons.
8 Christopher Heaton, Marius Reforms Legions, 2003, UNRV History, August
4, 2005

The Fall of the Roman Republic 11


future, the chance of spoils on the campaign, and possible retirement bene-
fits such as land after their 20-25 year terms9 were over. Because of these
factors, the relationship between Roman soldiers, their generals, and the
state was dramatically altered.
Before Marius’ reforms, the typical Roman soldier was somewhat loyal
to his general, but was actually fighting for the expansion of his state, which
included his own lands. After Marius’ reforms, the soldier’s loyalty to his gen-
eral was taken to another level. These landless Roman farmers had no future
but their general. They were fed by there general, they gained spoils from
their general, they had a chance of being promoted by their general, and
their general would fight for their retirement benefits.10 Because of these
factors, the typical Roman soldier was loyal to his general and his general
alone.11 He owed his gratitude and life not to the state but to his general. The
loss of civic virtue also played a role in these soldiers extreme loyalty to their
generals. If the general was to command an extreme measure, not for the
good of Rome, but for his own interests and theirs, the soldiers would now
follow, having virtually no future but their general.
These two factors that came out of the tremendous amount of growth
Rome experienced around 147 BC12 played a large role in the impending fall
of the Republic. The loss of civic virtue would effect the entire political scene
in Rome. Ambitious politicians would show in the years following the fall of
Carthage that they would go to virtually limitless measures to gain what they
wanted, even if it meant the breaking of the principles that made the Roman
Republic a republic. Because of Marius’ legion reforms, the stage was set for
political chaos and bloodshed. Ambitious politicians looking for supreme
power in Rome could now influence the government dramatically because of
a tremendous army at their back, loyal to their general unto death, even if it
meant fighting fellow Romans.

< http://www.unrv.com/empire/marius-reforms-legions.php >.


9 Heaton, Marius Reforms the Legions.
10 Heaton, Marius Reforms the legions.
11 Hooker, The Crisis of the Republic.
12 Heaton, Third Punic War.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 12


IV. Ambitious Politicians
The previous factors have all been crucial, but the individuals who took
advantage of them are even more so. After the loss of general civic virtue in
Roman politics, certain particularly talented politicians determined to do vir-
tually anything to further their interests. These politicians, starting with the
Gracchi brothers and ending with Caesar, were the ones who gained signific-
ant power through the manipulation of the factors previously mentioned. The
various politicians each found several strong powers that the aforemen-
tioned factors had allowed. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus found the power of
gaining support from the bulk of the lower class Roman citizens by champi-
oning their interests. The Gracchi also found the true power of the tribune-
ship when used with the full support of the people. Gaius Marius found, and
Lucius Cornelius Sulla perfected, the power of a loyal army backing their
political ambitions. Finally, Caesar, the ultimate consummation of the forego-
ing four politicians, perfected and wielded these powerful tools to become
ruler of Rome, ultimately ruining the already weak Republic.

A. Tiberius Gracchus
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were essentially the initiators of the trend
of going to any measure to carry through an agenda with the backing of the
general people of Rome. This caused the senate and the higher class Roman
citizens to fight back with equal energy, resulting in political turmoil such as
Rome had not seen before. This went on to such an extent that laws were
compromised, holes in the government were found, open corruption began,
and violence ran rampant.
The Roman historian Plutarch praised Tiberius highly for His virtue, say-
ing in his narrative The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, “Notwith-
standing, amidst the greatest misfortunes, and in the most unsuccessful en-
terprises, not only the discretion and valor of Tiberius, but also, which was
still more to be admired, the great respect and honor which he showed for
his general, were most eminently remarkable.”1 Though the Gracchi brothers

1 Plutarch, 673.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 13


may have had a good motive, the ways in which they attempted to gain what
they wanted — such as the tribuneship and the factor of popularity — played
a large role in the fall of the Roman Republic. Scipio Aemilianus the Younger,
a man known for his virtue and honor, criticized the Gracchi greatly because
of what they did in the name of the people, saying when Tiberius was
murdered, “So perish all who do the like again.”2
Just around the time Tiberius Gracchus began his political career, two
distinct political parties began to emerge as the leading parties in the Roman
Republic. The first, the conservative Optimate party, fought for more power
to the wealthy classes and gained power through the government system.3
The second major party was the left-leaning Populares, who fought for sup-
port from the majority of the people of Rome.4 Though the reasons are not
entirely clear, Tiberius joined the Populares party, championing the interests
of the people. There is still much speculation on the sincerity of Tiberius’
choice however.
After distinguishing himself as a soldier in the third punic war, Tiberius
became a quaestor in Spain, an official in charge of finances. As quaestor,
Tiberius managed to save the lives of as many as 20,000 Roman soldiers by
negotiating a treaty with the Numantians. This treaty was utterly rejected by
the senatorial Optimate’s in Rome who thought of it as admitting defeat. The
treaty was thus cut off and Tiberius would have been given to the enemy to
be dishonored had it not been for his popularity with the people and his in-
law Scipio Aemilianus’ intervention.5 Tiberius was related to the Optimate
party: his father had been a Roman consul, and his mother was a member of
the Scipio family, one of the most well known patrician families in Rome. The
rejection of the treaty, however, caused Tiberius to bitterly despise the Op-
timate party.

2 Homer, The Iliad of Homer, ed. Britannica Great Books, 24 vols. (Chicago,
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952) 47.
3 "Optimates" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimates>.
4 "Populares" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populares >.
5 Plutarch, 674.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 14


Because of this, the reasons for Tiberius joining the Populares party
and fighting for the people of Rome will always be in question. Whether he
did it because he was truly a man of virtue as Plutarch indicates, because of
bitterness for the Optimate party, or because he found that championing the
people’s interest brought in immense personal power, will remain unknown.
Because of the general sense of corruption in Roman politics, it is difficult to
believe the first possibility to be completely true. Whatever the reason,
Tiberius joined the Populares party and was elected tribune of the people in
133 BC6 in which he started his fight for reform with zeal never seen in the
previous history of Rome.
Tiberius Gracchus emerged onto the political scene just as the fall of
the small farmer was becoming a big issue. The bulk of the Roman popula-
tion was facing poverty because of the Equestrians' huge estates manned by
thousands of slaves, making it impossible for the small farmer to compete.
When Tiberius became tribune of the people, his first attempt at reform
would be to solve this problem. He attempted to do this by creating a bill
stating that those living on the land gained through Roman conquest would
be restricted to the legal limit of 500 acres, giving portions of the “stolen”
land to the lower class citizens.7 In the plan, the Equestrian land-owners
would be compensated with a rent-free lease. The Optimates, however, were
still not happy about the reform because it would cut down on their profits.
Tiberius took the reform directly to the citizen assemblies, whereas the cus-
tom was to take it to the Senate for approval first.8 This is when the corrup-
tion of the Roman Republic became exposed. The Senate had never been dir-
ectly opposed like this before and they knew it would be dangerous to let a
move like this go untouched.
The Senate convinced Octavius, the other tribune for that year to use
his veto power to put down Tiberius’ reform. This unveiled a major flaw in the

6 "Tiberius Gracchus" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales


and Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 <
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius_Gracchus >.
7 Christopher Heaton, Tiberius Gracchus, 2003, UNRV History, August 12,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/tiberius-gracchus.php >.
8 Heaton, Tiberius Gracchus.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 15


tribuneship, the undeniable veto power. In the wrong hands, this veto power
could essentially wreak havoc on the entire political system. In response to
Octavius veto, Tiberius used his own veto power to put down every proposed
law or bill, shutting down the entire Republican system, until his bill would be
passed.9 In the name of the people of Rome Tiberius did this. The people sup-
ported him because it would positively effect them. It was surely not for the
good of Rome as a republic because it revealed the power of the tribuneship
when used in a corrupt way along with openly undermining the civic virtue
the Roman Republic relied on to prevent political turmoil. Because it was in
the name of the people and for the benefit of the people, Tiberius became an
icon of equality in the eyes of the people. This made him and his reforms vir-
tually untouchable, along with making Tiberius a very dangerous politician,
having the power of the people in his hand. Wielding this tremendous power,
Tiberius became a major threat to the Optimate party along with the Repub-
lic as a whole.
Octavius held to his veto but the Senate, facing open rebellion because
of Tiberius’ tremendous support from the people, illegally ignored Tiberius
veto, and passed Tiberius’ land reform into law.10
The reform proved to be effective, creating around 75,000 small farms,
though it also was very expensive. Tiberius proposed to take money from the
newly acquired land of Pergamum to carry the reform through. This concept
was opposed by the Senate, but they were once again forced to accept the
measure due to Tiberius’ tremendous support from the people.11 As long as
Tiberius was tribune of the people, he was immune to revenge from the Sen-
ate, as the law forbade anyone to lay a hand on a tribune. The elections were
coming up, however, and the law stated that a tribune could not be elected
two consecutive terms. Tiberius, backed by the people of Rome, ignored the
law and carried forward his election campaign. This enraged the already furi-
ous Senate, and at an election rally, Tiberius’ cousin Scipio Nasica, with a

9 Heaton, Tiberius Gracchus.


10 Tiberius Gracchus, 2003, Illustrated History of the Roman Empire, August
12, 2005
< http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/tib-gracchus.html >.
11 Heaton, Tiberius Gracchus.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 16


group of senators, charged the rally, clubbing Tiberius and many of his sup-
porters to death.12
Scipio Nasica fled from Rome but was hunted down and killed in Per-
gamum. Rome was in a state of chaos. Violence ran rampant in the streets of
Rome. Scipio Aemilianus was called from Spain to save the state. While Rome
was brought back to a better but still unstable state, the people of Rome
were still bitter about the death of Tiberius Gracchus. Scipio, while sympath-
izing with Tiberius’ cause, criticized his actions and was murdered in 129 BC.
He was believed to be killed by past supporters of Tiberius.13

B. Gaius Gracchus

Choosing to follow a similar path as his brother Tiberius, Gaius Grac-


chus served under Scipio Aemilianus, whom Tiberius also served.14 After sev-
eral years, Gaius served as a consul of Rome. After spending two years gov-
erning Sardinia as consul, Gaius returned to Rome where he was elected
tribune of the people.15
As tribune, Gaius chose the way of his brother, garnering support from
the masses by passing laws benefiting the common man. Gaius directly at-
tacked his political enemies by using the citizen assemblies to exile the con-
sul Popolius and his supporters for their involvement in Tiberius murder.16 He
then created a law that would prevent any magistrate who had been taken

12 Plutarch, 680.
13 "Scipio Aemilianus Africanus" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by
Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 <
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scipio_Aemilianus_Africanus >.
14 "Gaius Gracchus" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales
and Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaius_Grac-
chus >.
15 Christopher Heaton, Gaius Gracchus, 2003, UNRV History, August 16,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/gaius-gracchus.php >.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 17


out of office by the will of the people to serve in any political office again.
These laws were followed by a long line of popular legislation directly dam-
aging the revenue and status of the patrician class.17 This was the start of a
bloody trend in Roman politics in which there were two sides to follow, one
side openly against the other. This principle was at a small scale at the time
of Gaius Gracchus but would grow into bloody conflict and open civil war in
the later days of the Republic.
In 122 BC, Gaius blatantly disregarded the Roman constitution by being
elected a second consecutive year as tribune. Gaius continued to bring in
anti Optimate legislation throughout 122 BC. He overhauled the taxation sys-
tem in Asia Minor, hurting the Optimate senators’ profits. He then introduced
a state-funded grain law, allowing the citizens to buy grain directly from the
state, slicing grain prices in half. Gaius re-introduced his brothers’ agrarian
law, which was revoked by the Senate after Tiberius death. According to
Cicero, one of Romes greatest orators, Gaius reforms were far more success-
ful than the reforms of Tiberius.18 Through his legislation, Gaius received
even more support from the Roman people than Tiberius. Had it not been for
Gaius’ tremendous mistake at the end of his tribuneship, Gaius, to some ex-
tent, could have passed virtually any bill that had some benefit to the
people. Gaius was safe from assassination because he had so much support
from the people. Open rebellion would have been a threat to the government
of Rome had it acted against him. Because of this, along with the fact that
any one politician would become extremely unpopular if he stood up to
Gaius, the Senate was forced into signing every piece of legislature Gaius
created.
At the end of 132 BC however, Gaius Gracchus made a tremendous
mistake that cost him his popularity and his life. The Italian citizens, who
payed the same taxes as regular Roman Citizens but could not yet vote,
wanted the agrarian laws (Tiberius’ land reforms) to apply to them as well as
the official Roman citizens. Gaius saw this as a chance to gain more votes

16 Suzanne Cross, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, 2001, Julius Caesar: The
Last Dictator, Agust 16, 2005 <
http://heraklia.fws1.com/contemporaries/gracchi/ >.
17 Heaton, Gaius Gracchus.
18 Heaton, Gaius Gracchus.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 18


and proposed a law that would grant all the Italian citizens full citizenship.
What seemed to be an intelligent move in the eyes of Gaius was a disaster in
the making because the law was unpopular both in the Senate and with the
majority of the people of Rome. If the law was passed, the people of Rome
would have to share their land with the Italian citizens, something they about
which were extremely displeased. The Senate played this against Gaius by
backing Livius Drusus, another tribune for the year 132, in proposing laws
very beneficial to the people of Rome. These laws were never intended to be
permanent and were supported by the Senate only long enough to do dam-
age to Gaius. In 121 BC, Gaius attempted to be elected for a third consecut-
ive year of tribuneship. He failed in getting elected because of his rapid loss
of support from the people.19
Realizing his mistake, Gaius led a protest in the streets of Rome with
thousands of his supporters at his back. The protest escalated into an armed
revolt as the mob of Gaius supporters grew. The consul, Lucius Opimius was
a strong political enemy of Gaius and saw his chance to bring an end to him.
Because some of Gaius’ supporters were carrying weapons, the Senate was
able to charge Opimius with the first ever Senatus Consultum Ultimatum
which was the ultimate decree of martial law.20 Opimius, backed with an
armed militia of legionary infantry and archers marched on the mad protest-
ers, killing thousands of them. Gaius Gracchus, seeing that all hope was lost,
ordered his personal slave to stab him to death. After the massacre, thou-
sands more of Gracchus supporters were rounded up, arrested, and
strangled to death.21 This started a new stage in the Roman Republic marked
with violence and bloodshed.
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were the beginning of the end of the Ro-
man Republic. All of the elements had fallen into place for them to make a
tremendous splash in the way the Roman Republic worked. They revealed
the power of gaining support from the Roman people; they also revealed the
power of the tribuneship when used by a politician with such support from
the people that he could openly undermine traditional Roman laws and get
away with it. However moral or caring they were, the Gracchi were the first

19 Heaton, Gaius Gracchus (whole paragraph).


20Heaton, Gaius Gracchus.
21 Plutarch, 688.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 19


major showcase of the loss of civic virtue, at least as far as the Republic was
concerned, having no consideration of the effect that their actions would
take on the Roman Republic as a governing system.
What the Gracchi did changed the whole way the Roman Republic
worked. The stakes for political dominance were higher then they ever were
before, and there were now more ways then ever for an ambitious Roman
politician to rise in power. The Gracchi started the trend of two distinct fac-
tions going to extreme measures to gain political dominance, even if it
meant violence. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus brought out this turmoil in Ro-
man politics and died because of it. While the Gracchi rarely resorted to open
violence, they used the threat of violence to gain much political power in
politics. This raised the bar in terms of the way Roman politicians played
politics, and because of this, the Gracchi were killed. The mere power of the
people was not enough in this era of violence and ferocity that the Gracchi
had brought in. What was needed was an army. This army could not be any
normal army, however; it had to be an army loyal not to its state but to its
general.

C. Marius and Sulla

The stakes raised with Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus escalated to an un-
precedented level with the infamous rivalry of Gaius Marius and Lucius
Cornelius Sulla. The years of Marius and Sulla were marked with political tur-
moil, confusion, and bloodshed. If the Roman people were convinced that the
Roman Republic was becoming ineffective as a government, this became
even more evident with Marius and Sulla.
Just as Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Marius spent his early career
serving under Scippio Aemilianus in Hispania.22 Because Marius did not have
any political position at birth,23 he had to rise through the ranks of the army
before he could have any political influence. Marius proved himself to be an
excellent soldier and quickly rose through the ranks of the military.24 In 123
BC, Marius became a novus homo or new man, the title given to a plebeian
22 Plutarch, 333.
23 Plutarch, 333.
24 Christopher Heaton, Rise of Marius, 2003, UNRV History, June 15, 2005
<http://www.unrv.com/empire/rise-of-marius.php>.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 20


who has risen through the ranks and is the first in his family to acquire some
significant political position.25 Marius was 34 and was elected as quaestor,
starting his political career. Marius used past clients and relations in his milit-
ary career to back his political ambitions.26
In 119 BC, Marius joined the Populares ideology, and was elected
tribune of the people.27 Just as the Gracchi, Marius championed the peoples
interests to gain political power. Marius firmly opposed the Roman elite by
passing a law that forbade the inspection of ballot boxes. Before this law, the
elite members of Roman society would intimidate voters by inspecting the
ballots in the citizen assembly elections, thus gaining votes. Through popular
laws such as this, Marius gained the status of champion of the people which
would greatly help him in fulfilling his political ambitions.28
In 115 Marius was elected praetor, an official with similar powers as
the consul, usually commanding Roman armies. He served a year in Rome
and then was assigned to the province of Further Spain.29 Through this Mari-
us gained a significant military reputation and amassed much wealth through
his conquests. Marius then returned to Rome. In 110 BC he allied himself with
the Julii family through marriage.30 The Julii family were a much respected
but poor patrician family. Through his relationship with them, Marius gained
the benefit of entry into social and political circles, and the Julii family gained
the benefit of becoming a power player in Roman politics through Marius’
wealth. 31

In 107 BC, the Roman people were utterly frustrated with their govern-
ment because of Jugurtha, the king of Numidia. Jugurtha was a brilliant gen-
eral and led the Numidian armies against the surrounding nations, including
allies of Rome. The Roman allies appealed to Rome for help, and envoys
were sent to stop Jugurtha’s attacks. The envoys were sent home empty

25 "Novus Homo" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novus_homo >.
26 Heaton, Rise of Marius.
27 Plutarch, 333.
28 Heaton, Rise of Marius
29 Plutarch, 334.
30 Plutarch, 334.
31 Heaton, Rise of Marius.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 21


handed because Jugurtha had much influence in the leading families of Rome
because of bribes. Finally, after a long period of time, the Senate declared
war on Jugurtha. Two Roman generals were sent with large armies to stop
him. These generals were easily corruptible and did very little damage to
Jugurtha. The Roman people were furious that such a small problem could
penetrate the Roman Republic because of inner corruption.32 Memmius, a
tribune of the people at the time, passed a law that would force Jugurtha to
come before the Roman Senate and reveal those who he had bribed. But be-
fore Jugurtha could arrive in Rome, another tribune vetoed the whole ar-
rangement and Jugurtha left Italy without a question asked. Later, some as-
sassins sent by Jugurtha were caught in the attempt of murdering some of
Jugurtha’s political enemies. Rome reacted by sending another general to
stop Jugurtha in his conquests. But with the excuse of being “surrounded” by
Jugurtha’s army, the general and his army fled back to Rome. This obvious
corruption and bribery angered the Roman people to the uttermost. Rome
was giving up battles to a small Numidian king without a single fight.33 The
Roman people were rapidly losing confidence in their government to solve
problems.
In 107 BC, after another unsuccessful general was sent back to Rome,
Marius was elected consul, promising to take care of the situation in Numidia.
In the two years of his consulship, Marius not only fulfilled his promise of con-
quering Jugurtha, but, through his reform of the legions, completely changed
the way Roman politics were played. Though the people were led to believe
that Marius reformed the legions because of his love for the people, Marius
really created the reform because increasing threat of Cimbri and Teutonic
tribes migrating from the North.34
The year 107 BC also marked the start of the infamous rivalry between
Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. According to Plutarch, Sulla, a rising gen-
eral in Marius army, used the betrayal of Jugurtha’s ally Bochus to capture

32 Heaton, Rise of Marius.


33 Christopher Heaton, Jugurthine War, 2003, UNRV History, June 18, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/war-with-jugurtha.php >.
34 "Marius" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and Larry
Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marius >.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 22


Jugurtha.35 In 105 BC, despite Sulla’s claims to victory, Marius was honored
as victor due to his command and he was granted a Triumph (a ceremony
honoring the victor of a war.)36 This, along with various other similar situ-
ations, began the rivalry between Marius, the champion of the people and
Sulla, the champion of the Senate.
In order to deal with the Germanic threat, the people of Rome elected
Marius consul for 5 consecutive years, an open breach in the Republican con-
stitution which required at least a ten year gap between one year consul-
ships for an individual.37 This was a clear display of the power of a politician
with full support from the people of Rome.
After years of battle with the Cimbri and Teutonic tribes, Marius, Sulla,
and a general by the name of Catulus each proclaimed themselves victor.
Because of Marius’ tremendous support from the people, Marius and Catulus
shared a joint triumph. In Rome, Marius was hailed as the Savior of Rome
and the Third Founder of Rome.38 Marius displayed his power over Rome by
illegally giving grants of citizenship to many of the Italian allied soldiers that
fought for him. He then used Saturninus, a tribune of the people, to give set-
tlement rights to his large body of veteran troops. Marius pushed through
this proposal, along with many others, by the use of the tribune Saturninus,
the citizen assemblies, mob tactics, and open street violence.39 Marius used
these tactics to exile his old enemy Metellus, continuing the strong arm tac-
tics that Tiberius Gracchus had begun.
In 99 BC however, Saturninus pushed the limits of the tribuneship, or-
ganizing the assassination of a potential rival. Saturninus took control of the
streets of Rome, bringing mob violence to an unprecedented level.40 Marius

35 Plutarch, 369.
36 Christopher Heaton, Cimbri and Teutons, 2003, UNRV History, June 18,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/cimbri-teutons.php >.
37 "Marius" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and Larry
Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marius >.
38 Heaton, Cimbri and Teutons.
39 Christopher Heaton, Political Turmoil, 2003, UNRV History, June 18, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/political-turmoil.php >.
40 Plutarch, 345.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 23


was the only one who could stop him, so the Senate issued a Senatus Con-
sultum Ultimatum giving Marius the authority to stop a tribune. Marius
ordered his troops to stop the violence in the streets of Rome. Saturninus and
his supporters tried to get refuge in the senate house where he was killed by
angry senators.41 This ended the crisis but proved the inability of the Repub-
lican system to solve problems: there was no way to stop Saturninus through
the law, thus the Senate had to resort to violence. It was events like these
that weakened the Republic to such an extent that violence soon became the
popular choice in Roman politics to solve problems, as holes in the Republic-
an system were revealed.
By 88 BC, Sulla had made a name for himself militarily and was greatly
favored by the Senate. He became consul and was chosen to lead a cam-
paign against Mithridates of Pontus, who was leading a major offensive
against Rome in Asia Minor. Marius, at the age of 70 and possibly mentally ill,
desperately sought this command. He used the tribune Supicius Rufus, and
the citizen assemblies. Marius got what he wanted because the people were
still in favor of him. But this time, Marius had no army, and hearing the news
of the transfer of command, Sulla gathered his legions and marched on
Rome.42 Marius managed to flee to Africa before Sulla could capture him.
When Sulla did secure Rome however, he killed Supicius Rufus and many
other supporters of Marius.43 This was the beginning of the reign of terror, a
stage in which the Roman people lost all trust in the Republic government
due to its instability and corruption. This was the ultimate consummation of
the factor that the Gracchi initiated: two distinct factions doing anything to
gain power. This reign of terror would also not have been possible without
Marius’ legion reforms. If the soldiers were loyal to the state as opposed to
their general, they would not have followed Sulla to march on Rome itself.
This was the first time a Roman politician had marched on Rome in pursuit of
political power.

41 Plutarch, 345-346.
42 Christopher Heaton, Fall of Marius, 2003, UNRV History, June 18, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/fall-of-marius.php >.
43 Plutarch, 373.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 24


The first of Sulla’s reforms was to immensely reduce the power of the
tribunes and increase the power of the Senate.44 Soon after Sulla took Rome,
he had to leave with his army to fight Mithridates of Pontus.45 While Sulla was
gone, Cinna, whom Sulla had put in charge of Rome when he was gone, was
banished from Rome by the Senate.46 Cinna decided to join forces with Mari-
us, and they used an army that Marius had been forming to return to Rome
in Sulla’s absence. Marius and Cinna continued the bloodbath that Sulla had
started by putting to death any Sullan supporters they could find .47 Marius
and Cinna declared joint consulship without the consent of the Senate or the
people, but Marius died just half way into his consulship. While Sulla chose to
concentrate on the war with Mithridates, Cinna ruled ruthlessly over Rome
for three years. Finally fed up with Cinna, his troops put him to death48, show-
ing the influence the army had on politics.
When Sulla finally defeated Mithridates, he and his supporters in hiding
marched toward Rome. Their forces met with the forces of Marius’ supporters
at Colline gate, just outside of Rome. It was a desperate battle, but Sulla’s
forces were victorious. In the battle of Colline gate, 50,000 Romans died49
and Sulla became supreme master of Rome. After crushing the remaining
forces openly opposing him, Sulla was proclaimed dictator of Rome for an in-
definite period of time, giving him supreme power in Rome. With this power,
Sulla made a new law called proscription: the listing of names of people he
supposed to be undesirable and murdering them. The death toll rose past
1,600 members of the Equestrians class and over 40 senators. Sulla had an
intricate network of spies who kept him informed and tracked down all slight
opposition.50 Sulla continued his reforms, completely abolishing the power of
the tribunes and giving more power to the Senate (now full of Sulla support-

44 Heaton, Fall of Marius.


45 Plutarch, 374.
46 Plutarch, 351.
47 Plutarch, 352.
48 Christopher Heaton, Roman Victory, 2003, UNRV History, June 18, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/roman-victory.php >.
49 Christopher Heaton, Sulla’s Civil War, 2003, UNRV History, June 18, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/empire/sullas-civil-war.php >.
50 Plutarch, 384.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 25


ers because of the proscriptions.) In 79 BC, Sulla grew weary of politics and
retired to write his memoirs, dying a natural death in 78 BC.51
The time of Marius and Sulla was a time of political turmoil, a time in
which the Roman people lost all confidence in their government, and right-
fully so. The Roman government as a concrete system of politics had lost its
function due to the holes that were brought in through the various factors.
These holes were put into the light with the Gracchi and put into context with
Marius and Sulla. That is, with the Gracchi, the holes were exposed and
somewhat used to gain political power but in practicality, Marius and Sulla
put these powers into action and found the prize which they could gain from
these powers: ultimate power in Rome. After Marius and Sulla, the people of
Rome realized that because the Roman constitution, the basis on which the
Republic was formed, was being so blatantly ignored, there would never be
stability in the Roman Republic in its current form. There would always be a
chance for a rivalry like that of Marius and Sulla to cause chaos and blood-
shed once again. This general thought in the minds of the people, encour-
aged by the brilliant mind of Caesar, ultimately ended the Republic. This end-
ing was not something the people of Rome despised, but rather, encouraged.
The Roman government in the state it was in after Marius and Sulla was com-
pletely unacceptable in terms of stability and balance. Because of the corrup-
tion in the Roman government, small problems like that of Jugurtha could not
be solved and the Republic was ineffective to carry out anything but what
the strongest politicians were fighting for.
After Sulla’s death, there were many power grabs by Sulla’s supporters
and Sulla’s opposers. This led to another civil war in which one man, Gnaeus
Pompeius, became victor with an army at his back. For fear of a repetition of
Sulla, the Senate illegally granted him his wish of governing Hispania.52 By
the time of the rise of Gaius Julius Caesar, the ultimate consummation of all
the popular politicians who had gone before, the people were ready for a
single man to gain full control of the Roman empire in order to stabilize it for
the good of Rome.

D. Gaius Julius Caesar

51 Plutarch, 386.
52 Plutarch, 506-507.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 26


Gaius Julius Caesar was born around 100 BC into the Caesar sprout of
the patrician Julii family.53 Because Caesar was born just before the rise of
Marius, throughout his life he was able to learn from the mistakes of Marius,
due to their close relationship. Caesar benefited greatly from watching his
uncle Marius’ success through his championing the interests of the people,
and his use of the military to gain political power.54
Not only did Caesar have the benefit of watching his uncle, but he also
had the tremendous benefit of many great qualities so crucial to a politician’s
success. Qualities such as military genius, political brilliance, cunning, and
great speaking ability allowed Caesar to quickly climb the political ladder.
Caesar also had the advantage of having noble patrician blood and being in a
respected patrician family with the wealth of Marius to back him.55
Caesar sided with the populares party early in his political career, and
used the first 27 years of his life to showcase himself as a brilliant military
commander and a man of virtue. In Rome, Caesar had an extravagant life-
style, way beyond his financial means, to generate for himself the image of
an elite member in Roman society.56 This is when Caesar began his relation-
ship with Marcus Lucinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Caesar used
Crassus to support his financial situation and in return, he passed legislation
in favor of Crassus.57 At the funeral of his Aunt Julia, Marius’ wife, Caesar
proved his boldness by openly praising Julia and her husband Marius,
something no politician had done since the death of Sulla.58 Because he
needed the support of not only the people but the Optimate party as well,
Caesar married the granddaughter of Sulla and daughter of Gneius Pompeius
after his previous wife died. He further nurtured his relationship with Pompei-

53 "Julius Caesar" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_caesar >.
54 Christopher Heaton, Gaius Julius Caesar, 2003, UNRV History, June 18,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/gaius-julius-caesar.php >.
55 "Julius Caesar" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_caesar >.
56 Heaton, Gaius Julius Caesar.
57 Plutarch, 581.
58 Plutarch, 578.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 27


us as a senator by passing reforms in the interest of Pompey.59 This relation-
ship, along with that with Crassus, would play a key role in Caesar’s rise to
political power.
In 65 BC, Caesar was elected as curule aedile, which put him in charge
of the care of public temples, public buildings, and public games. Caesar
used this position to gain immense popularity with the people by using
Crassus money to finance extremely elaborate games60. Along with this,
Caesar erected statues of Marius for public display, creating an outrage in
the Senate but making him extremely popular with the head count of Rome.
His popularity forced politicians looking to stay in office to support him grant-
ing Caesar tremendous political success.61
In 60 BC, Caesar faced strong opposition in his race for consulship. For
this he needed allies in the Senate. Crassus needed a politician to support le-
gislation that benefitted his faction, so he gladly joined Caesars “amicitia,” or
coalition. Once Crassus was solidified into the coalition, Caesar came to Pom-
pey (Pompeius) who needed a politician to push through a reform that would
give land to his veterans, something most senators did not support.62 This
coalition, widely known as the first triumvirate, consisted of not only Caesar
Pompey and Crassus but also included many more leading senators such as
Lucius Lucceius and Lucius Calpurnius.63 The alliance, which was formed in
60 BC, secretly worked for the interests of all involved.64 The members in this
coalition, which contained around 200 politicians,65 voted for legislation be-
nefitting their fellow members and supported those who were in the coali-
tion. This greatly assisted Caesar’s rise in prominence and power.
As consul, the first law Caesar passed was a piece of legislation that
would require the public release of all debates and procedures that the mem-

59 Plutarch, 578.
60 Plutarch, 579.
61 Plutarch, 579.
62 "Julius Caesar" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_caesar >.
63 Plutarch, 582.
64 "Julius Caesar" Wikipedia, Site created and designed by Jimmy Wales and
Larry Sanger, 15 January 2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_caesar >.
65 Plutarch, 586.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 28


bers of the Senate participated in. Later in his career, Caesar would use this
to publicly reveal his records in the Gallic Wars so that the people might
think highly of him. The next bill Caesar presented to the Senate was a land
bill that would benefit Pompey, the senators, and the people, giving the Sen-
ate no reason to oppose it. The Senate however was deeply concerned about
Caesar and opposed Caesar’s bill because of his popularity with the people.
Because the Senate would not support the bill, Caesar took it to the citizen
assemblies. After taking it to the citizen assemblies for voting, Caesar asked
his co-consul Bibulus what he thought of the bill. Bibulus answered that the
bill would never be passed, even if the people voted to approve it. This is
when the coalition of senators and politicians was made public. Both Pompey
and Crassus, two of the biggest players in Roman politics, approving the bill.
The Optimate party was in a state of panic, doing everything it could to stop
the bill. Bibulus tried to veto the entire process; but the crowd, who strongly
supported Caesar, cast dung onto Bibulus’ head. This intimidated the senat-
ors into passing the bill regardless of Bibulus’ veto, which was an illegal act.66
For the remainder of his consulship, Caesar proposed many bills benefitting
Crassus which were easily passed because of the coalition. Caesar further
strengthened his relationship with Pompey by giving him his daughter in
marriage. Caesar then supported the tribune Publius so that he would give
him the Lex Vatinia; which allowed him to be Proconsul over Cisalpine Gaul
and Illyricum.67
In Gaul, Caesar proved his military genius. In the five years he served
there, he conquered over three-hundred and fifty thousand square miles of
territory, killed over one million Gauls, and enslaved around one million
Gauls. While Caesar was away from Rome, Crassus had gone off on a foolish
war campaign and was killed by his own carelessness. Because Pompey was
a terrible politician, he was forced closer to the Optimate party in order to
maintain order in Rome. By the time Caesar was marching to Rome, with
wealth and glory from his conquests, Pompey was jealous of Caesar.68

66 Christopher Heaton, First Triumvirate, 2003, UNRV History, August 22,


2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/first-triumvirate.php >.
67 Heaton, First Triumvirate.
68 Plutarch, 588.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 29


Though Caesar bribed many politicians to join his side as he marched toward
Rome, the majority of the senators strongly opposed Caesar and were afraid
of a Sullan like march on Rome.69
On the first of December, 50 BC, the Senate ordered both Pompey and
Caesar to disband their legions. Gaius Marcellus and Lucius Lentulus, who
were joint consuls, ignored the Senate vote, the people, and the Roman con-
stitution and ordered Pompey to prepare the defense of Rome against
Caesar. Neither the Senate nor the tribunes could do anything. The Roman
constitution was annulled. Driven by ambition and jealousy, Pompey gladly
accepted the challenge of defending Rome against Caesar.70
On January first, 49 BC, the Senate refused Caesar’s final peace pro-
posal and declared him a public enemy of Rome, beginning a civil war.71 The
tribunes, acting on the will of the people, attempted to block these measures
once again, but their attempts failed. On January eleventh, Caesar crossed
the Rubicon river, officially invading the borders of Rome.72 After one year of
civil war, Caesar defeated Pompey. Pompey fled to Egypt and was assassin-
ated not long afterwards by the Egyptians.73
In 46 BC, Caesar arrived in Rome, victor and master. When Caesar ar-
rived in Rome, he appointed many new hand-picked senators and praetors,
garnering more control over Roman politics.74 This was the first act in which
Caesar expressed his ultimate authority over Rome. There was no major
player powerful enough to oppose Caesar. Not only did he have the army at
his back but he had the support of the people as well. These two powers
combined granted Caesar the power to rule Rome.

69 Christopher Heaton, Crossing the Rubicon, 2003, UNRV History, August


22, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/crossing-the-rubicon.php >.
70 Plutarch, 589.
71 Plutarch, 589.
72 Plutarch, 590.
73 Plutarch, 595.
74 Christopher Heaton, Caesar the Dictator, 2003, UNRV History, August 22,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/caesar-dictator.php >.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 30


Many senators tried to convince Caesar to return to the Republic gov-
erning system, but Caesar had no intention of giving up all that he had
worked so hard to gain. Caesar wore the purple robe of the kings of Rome
and held many public occasions in his honor.75 Caesar had absolute authority
over Rome, and there was nothing to stop him from becoming king publicly.
Some even referred to him as king, a title he did not yet except.76 By this
time, the Roman Republican way of government was completely annulled
and was on the way to public extinction with no return. Along with many
other honors, the Senate appointed Caesar dictator for life. Caesar probably
would have proclaimed himself king had he not been murdered by conspirat-
ors on March 15th, 44 BC.77 After civil war, Caesar’s relative Gaius Octavius
became the first emperor, having been proclaimed heir through Caesar’s
will.78 This was the official end of the Republic, although it had ended long
before with the rule of Caesar.

75 Plutarch, 600.
76 Christopher Heaton, Caesar the King, 2003, UNRV History, August 22,
2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/caesar-the-king.php >.
77 Christopher Heaton, Ides of March, 2003, UNRV History, August 22, 2005
< http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/ides-of-march.php >.
78 Plutarch, 603.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 31


V. Conclusion
What had started as a small city flourished into the dominant nation of the
world through the Roman Republic. After a period of time, however, the Re-
public government became obsolete due to massive holes in the constitution
and tremendous growth. The Struggle of the Orders brought in the basis of
the Roman government with its many holes. The initiation of the tribuneship,
as well as the conflict of classes, proved to be a leading factor in the decline
of the Roman Republic.

Civic Virtue, the foundation on which the Roman constitution relied so


heavily, was lost upon the destruction of Carthage. The tremendous growth
of the empire, and the influx of slaves, caused the fall of the Roman farmer,
who represented the majority of the Roman citizens. This issue was dealt
with by Gaius Marius, bringing in the legion reform which played a tremend-
ous role in the fall of the Roman Republic and the ineffectiveness of Roman
law.

Soon after the stage of growth, ambitious politicians exposed and used
the gaping holes in the Roman Republic for their advantage, and the Repub-
lic’s demise. The Gracchi brothers found the power of the people. They used
the general population’s thirst for equal rights with the governing classes to
gain tremendous power. And they used the tribuneship to use this power in
practicality. Gaius Marius and Lucius Sulla contributed to the political power
machine by exposing the tremendous power of a loyal army at the back of a
politician, exposing the ineffectiveness of the Roman Republic to the public.
Caesar combined all these powers and circumstances along with his lineage
and brilliance to completely upturn the Roman Republic, causing its collapse
in 44 BC when he was proclaimed dictator for life. What started as a Republic
with tremendous hidden holes, was weakened with the growth of Rome, and
finally completely destroyed by ambitious politicians who manipulated the
holes to gain personal power. These three major factors, though ineffective
by themselves, built on each other to cause the fall of the Roman Republic.

The Fall of the Roman Republic 32