26 May 2010
The Rise and Decline of the Roman Republic
To this day, there have been few governmental declines comparable to that of the Roman Republic. Once a thriving republic with an established system of government, Rome was the first society in which any free citizen could have a say, directly or indirectly, in governmental actions and decisions. For years, this stability of the government corresponded to several conquests, and the future of the Republic appeared to be very bright; however, increasing economic, social, and political issues tore apart a government, which appeared to be flawless. The events that directly led to Rome's relapse from a thriving republic years ahead of its time, with divided power and stability, to a chaotic system of government consisting of dictators and frequent turmoil provide a clear example of the misuse of power by several individuals. This research will explain the events and circumstances that directly lead to the decline of the Roman republic.
By 287 B.C. Rome had created a governmental system years ahead of it's time. Rome modified this political system several times over the years in order to deal with internal conflicts and managed to establish a complex, yet organized government. “The Romans had a clear concept of executive authority, embodied in their word, imperium, or 'the right to command'” (Spielvogel 117). Atop the chain of command were the two consuls and praetor. These elected officials served one-year terms, with the consuls having a military focus and the praetor having a political focus. As the Roman republic expanded, pro-praetors and pro-consuls, who previously served as consuls and praetors, were also appointed to govern the Roman provinces. Furthermore, Administrators, or officials with specialized duties helped assisting the Consuls and Praetor. Quaestors were in charge of overseeing financial affairs. Aediles supervised the games. Also, Censors were appointed to gather an assessment of the population. The main purpose of establishing this position was to aid in formulating taxes. A major modification that solidified Rome as a governed republic was the addition of the senate. It consisted of three hundred advising elders who served life-long terms. Since they did not have legislative authority, they could not make laws. Finally, the Centuriate Assembly contained high ranking Roman army officers functioning in a political role. “By any reasonable standards the constitution worked smoothly. There was no interruption in the annual election of office holders, and not a single Roman is known to have been killed, or even injured, in political violence during the period” (Millar 2).
The Roman population consisted of the Patricians and Plebeians, with the plebs being the majority. The Plebeians, who were underprivileged and poor, opposed the aristocratic patricians because they did not have the same rights as them. Moreover, the patricians controlled the entire government, and the hard-working farmers and small landowners of the plebeian group could not hold office and have someone to represent them politically. When the plebs became tired of the inequality of the government they essentially went on strike and left Rome. “The patricians, realizing that they could not defend Rome by themselves, were forced to compromise. Two new officials known as the tribunes of the plebs were instituted. These tribunes were given the power to protect the plebeians from arrest by patrician magistrates. Moreover, a new popular assembly for plebeians only, called the council of the plebs, was created in 471 B.C.” (Spievogel 118). This allowed the plebs to make governmental proposals, but they still did not have a true voice in the government. For the next two hundred seven years, more rights were granted to plebeians, and “by 287 B.C. all Roman citizens were equal under the law, and could strive for political office”...