Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The End of the Roman Republic

The concept of imperium (see page 114) that underlay the republican system of government relied on two main conditions. First the voting citizens were free to vote for the person they thought was the best candidate. Second the elected officials kept within the law when doing their jobs.

The republic came to an end because both these conditions were broken.

The Roman system of government had been established when Rome was a relatively small city state, one of many in Italy. By 100bc, Rome was the ruler of a rich and powerful empire.

Many of the citizens who had votes were very poor. They would sell their votes for cash, voting for whichever candidate paid them the most. Others would vote for the head of their gentes (see page 56), or his preferred candidate.

Other voters were soldiers, who would usually vote for whoever their general told them to support.

Elected officials were given great opportunities to enrich themselves and their friends by the vast treasures and resources of the empire. Bribery and corruption spread as a few men became astonishingly rich.

The permanent army established by Gaius Marius (see page 84) was by 50bc more loyal to its commanders than to Rome. Generals used their troops to enforce their will.

Street violence became more common as the officials who were supposed to keep order actually hired gangs of toughs to beat up their political opponents.

In 49bc all these factors combined in the persons of Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey (see page 26) – both successful army commanders and elected officials with enough money to bribe their way to victory in elections.

The civil wars and chaos that followed Caesar’s appointment as dictator convinced most Romans that the old system was no longer working. At the same time, they valued their freedoms and did not want to be ruled by a dictator or king.

This is an extract from 1000 Fact - Ancient Rome by Rupert Matthews

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