The Roman Republic
lasted as a representative
government of Rome from 509 BC until the establishment of the Roman Empire,
which is typically placed at 44 BC or 27 BC.
The city of Rome is located on the Tiber River very near the west coast
of Italy. It was at the northernmost border of the territory in which the
Latin language was spoken and at the southern edge of Etruria, the territory
in which the Etruscan language was spoken.
The Romans observed two principles for their officials: annuality
or the observation of a one year term and collegiality
or the holding
of the same office by at least two men at the same time. The supreme office
of consul, for instance, was always held by two men together, who exercised
a power of mutual veto over any actions by the other consul. If the Roman
army took the field under the command of the two consuls they were to alternate
days of command. Most other offices were held by more than two men - in
the late Republic there were 8 praetors a year and 20 quaestors.
The dictators were an exception to annuality and collegiality, and the
censors to annuality. In times of emergency (always military) a single
dictator was elected for a term of 6 months to have sole command of the
state. On a regular but not annual basis 2 censors were elected every five
years but for a term of 18 months.
The Legion was the backbone of Roman military power.
History of the Republic
The Founding of Rome - 753 B.C.E
The Romans were very much convinced that their city was found on the year
753 BC. Rome has often been said to have been started by Romulus and Remus.
The Foundation of the Republic - 509 B.C.E.
Livy's version of the establishment of the Republic states that the last
of the Kings of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (superbus,
proud") had a thoroughly unpleasant son, Sextus Tarquinius, who raped a
Roman noblewoman named Lucretia. Lucretia compelled her family to take
action by gathering the men, telling them what happened, and killing herself.
They then were compelled to avenge her, and led an uprising that drove
the Tarquins out of Rome to take refuge in Etruria.
Lucretia's husband Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus and Lucius Junius Brutus
were elected as the first two consuls, the chief officers of the new Republic.
The Brutus who assassinated Julius Caesar was a descendant of the first
The early consuls took over the roles of the king with the exception
of his high priesthood in the worship of Jupiter Optimus Maximus at the
huge temple on the Capitoline Hill. For that duty the Romans elected a
sacrorum or "king of holy things." Until the end of the Republic the
accusation that a powerful man wanted to make himself king remained a career-shaking
charge. Julius Caesar's assassins claimed after they acted that they were
preserving Rome from the re-establishment of an explicit monarchy.
Patrician and Plebeian
The people of Rome were divided into patricians and plebeians. These words
have taken on such different connotations of wealth and ordinariness in
modern English that they must be examined in their Roman context. The two
classes were ancestral and inherited. One's class was fixed by birth rather
than by wealth, and though patricians had in the early Republic monopolized
all political offices and probably most of the wealth, there are always
signs of wealthy plebeians in the historical record, and many patrician
families had lost both wealth and any political influence by the later
Republic. One could move from one to another by adoption, like the political
operator Clodius in the late Republic, who managed to have himself adopted
into a plebeian branch of his own family for political purposes, but it
was rare. By the 2nd century BC the classifications had meaning predominantly
in religious functions - many priesthoods were restricted to patricians.
The relationship between the plebeians and the patricians was sometimes
so strained that the plebeians seceded from the city - literally left the
city with their families and movable possessions and set up camp on a hill
outside the walls. These secessions happened in 494, 450, and around 287
BC. Their refusal to cooperate any longer with the patricians led to social
changes on each occasion. In 494, only about 15 years after the establishment
of the Republic, the plebeians for the first time elected two leaders,
to whom they gave the title Tribunes. The plebs took an oath that
they would hold their leaders 'sacrosanct' or inviolate during their terms,
and that the united plebs would kill anyone who harmed a tribune. The second
secession led to further legal definition of their rights and duties and
increased the number of tribunes to 10. The final secession gave the vote
of the Concilium Plebis or "Council of the Plebeians" the force
of law - we call this a "plebiscite".
The Social War - 90 - 88 B.C.E.
In 90 almost all of the Italian allies of Rome rebelled in what the Romans
called the Social War (allies = Socii,
related to the English "associates").
The allied cities in the Italian peninsula had sought for some time Roman
citizenship and therefore more of a say in the external policy of the Roman
Republic - most local affairs were self-governing and not as much of an
issue as when the alliance would go to war and what the share of the proceeds
would be. Rome undercut the military rebellion by extending citizenship
to all of Italy south of the Po River and then spent two years defeating
the cities still in arms. Sulla came to prominence as an officer in this
war. Roman citizenship and the right to vote was limited, as always in
the ancient world, by the requirement of physical presence on voting day.
After 88 BC candidates regularly paid the expenses (or part of them) for
their supporters to come to Rome to vote.
The Spartacist Rebellion - 73 - 71 B.C.E.
Large scale agriculture in the Italian peninsula came to depend on slavery
and was rocked by a severe slave revolt led by Spartacus that lasted from
73 to 71 B.C.E.
see Roman Empire
political offices of the Republic
Lucius Junius Brutus
Appius Claudius the Censor
Samnite wars 327 - 290 BC
Hannibal - see Carthage
Scipio Africanus Major
Cato the Censor
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus
Gaius Sempronius Gracchus
L. Cornelius Sulla
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Latin Literature of the Republic
Another Roman Republic
was declared in Rome on February 9, 1849
by Carlo Armellini, Giuseppe Mazzini and Aurelio Saffi.
It was a brief experience, but soon (1860) Italy would be unified by
the king of Sardinia, and later (1870) Rome too would be part of this kingdom.