Res publica Romana

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Res publica Romana; (The Roman Republic) was the period of ancient Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire.
It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.
During the first two centuries of its existence the Roman Republic expanded through a combination of conquest and alliance, from central Italy to the entire Italian peninsula.
By the following century it included North Africa, Spain, and what is now southern France.
Two centuries after that, towards the end of the 1st century BC, it included the rest of modern France, Greece, and much of the eastern Mediterranean.
By this time, internal tensions led to a series of civil wars, culminating with the assassination of Julius Caesar, which led to the transition from republic to empire.
The exact date of transition can be a matter of interpretation. Historians have variously proposed Julius Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon River in 49 BC, Caesar's appointment as dictator for life in 44 BC, and the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, however, most use the same date as did the ancient Romans themselves, the Roman Senate's grant of extraordinary powers to Octavian, and his adopting the title Augustus in 27 BC, as the defining event ending the Republic.


Roman government was headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and advised by a senate composed of appointed magistrates.
As Roman society was very hierarchical the evolution of the Roman government was heavily influenced by the struggle between the patricians, Rome's land-holding aristocracy, who traced their ancestry to the founding of Rome, and the plebeians, the far more numerous citizen-commoners. 
Over time, the laws that gave patricians exclusive rights to Rome's highest offices were repealed or weakened, and leading plebeian families became full members of the aristocracy.
The leaders of the Republic developed a strong tradition and morality, requiring public service and patronage in peace and war, making military and political success inextricably linked.
The history of the Republic is complex, and mainly consists of a series of military campaigns aimed at the strengthening of the Republic's borders, and later the acquisition of foreign territories - eventually leading to a republican form of imperialism.
Probably the most significant of the military ventures was the acquisition of Greece and Macedonia, and the prolonged and difficult conflict with the only other significant power in the mediterranean at the time - Carthage - a series of conflicts known as the Punic wars.


The extensive campaigning abroad by Roman generals, and the rewarding of soldiers with plunder on these campaigns, led to a general trend of soldiers becoming increasingly loyal to their generals rather than to the Republic
Rome was also plagued by several slave uprisings during this period, in part because vast tracts of land had been given over to slave farming, in which the slaves greatly outnumbered their Roman masters.
In the 1st century BC at least twelve civil wars and rebellions occurred.
Between 135 BC and 71 BC there were three "Servile Wars" involving slave uprisings against the Roman state.
The third and final uprising was the most serious, involving ultimately between 120,000 and 150,000 slaves, under the command of the gladiator Spartacus.
In 91 BC the Social War broke out between Rome and its former allies in Italy, when the allies complained that they shared the risk of Rome's military campaigns, but not its rewards.
Although they lost militarily, the allies achieved their objectives with legal proclamations which granted citizenship to more than 500,000 Italians.
The internal unrest reached its most serious state, however, in the two civil wars that were caused by the clash between generals Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla starting from 88 BC.
In the Battle of the Colline Gate, at the very door of the city of Rome, a Roman army under Sulla bested an army of the Marius supporters and entered the city.
Sulla's actions marked a watershed in the willingness of Roman troops to wage war against one another that was to pave the way for the wars which ultimately overthrew the Republic, and caused the founding of the Roman Empire.


This political unrest culminated in 59 BC with an unofficial political alliance known as the First Triumvirate, formed between the generals Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") to share power and influence.
In 53 BC, Crassus launched a Roman invasion of the Parthian Empire (modern Iraq and Iran).
After initial successes, he marched his army deep into the desert; but here his army was cut off deep in enemy territory, surrounded and slaughtered at the Battle of Carrhae in which Crassus himself perished.
The death of Crassus removed some of the balance in the Triumvirate and, consequently, Caesar and Pompey began to move apart.


While Caesar was fighting in Gaul, Pompey proceeded with a legislative agenda for Rome that revealed that he was at best ambivalent towards Caesar, and perhaps now covertly allied with Caesar's political enemies.
In 51 BC, some Roman senators demanded that Caesar not be permitted to stand for consul unless he turned over control of his armies to the state, which would have left Caesar defenseless before his enemies.
Caesar chose civil war over laying down his command and facing trial.
By the spring of 49 BC, the hardened legions of Caesar crossed the river Rubicon, the legal boundary of Roman Italy, beyond which no commander might bring his army, and swept down the Italian peninsula towards Rome, while Pompey ordered the abandonment of Rome.
Afterwards Caesar turned his attention to the Pompeian stronghold of Hispania (modern Spain) but decided to tackle Pompey himself in Greece.
Pompey initially defeated Caesar, but failed to follow up on the victory, and was decisively defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, despite outnumbering Caesar's forces two to one, albeit with inferior quality troops.
Pompey fled again, this time to Egypt, where he was murdered.
Pompey's death did not end the civil war, as Caesar's many enemies fought on.
In 46 BC Caesar lost perhaps as much as a third of his army, but ultimately came back to defeat the Pompeian army of Metellus Scipio in the Battle of Thapsus, after which the Pompeians retreated yet again to Hispania.
Caesar then defeated the combined Pompeian forces at the Battle of Munda.


Caesar was now the primary figure of the Roman state, enforcing and entrenching his powers.
His enemies feared that he had ambitions to become an autocratic ruler.
Arguing that the Roman Republic was in danger, a group of senators hatched a conspiracy and assassinated Caesar at a meeting of the Senate in March 44 BC. 
Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. The assassination was led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus. Most of the conspirators were senators, who had a variety of economic, political, or personal motivations for carrying out the assassination. Many were afraid that Caesar would soon resurrect the monarchy and declare himself king. Others feared loss of property or prestige as Caesar carried out his land reforms in favor of the landless classes. Virtually all the conspirators fled the city after Caesar's death in fear of retaliation. The civil war that followed destroyed what was left of the Republic. 
Mark Antony, Caesar's lieutenant, condemned Caesar's assassination, and war broke out between the two factions.
Antony was denounced as a public enemy, and Caesar's adopted son and chosen heir, Gaius Octavianus, was entrusted with the command of the war against him.
At the Battle of Mutina Mark Antony was defeated by the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, who were both killed.


Octavian came to terms with Caesarians Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 43 BC when the Second Triumvirate was formed.
In 42 BC Mark Antony and Octavian fought the Battle of Philippi against Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius.
Although Brutus defeated Octavian, Antony defeated Cassius, who committed suicide.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony formed an alliance with Caesar's adopted son and great-nephew, Gaius Octavian. Along with Marcus Lepidus, they formed an alliance known as the Second Triumvirate. They held powers that were nearly identical to the powers that Caesar had held under his constitution. As such, the Senate and assemblies remained powerless, even after Caesar had been assassinated. The conspirators were then defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Eventually, however, Antony and Octavian fought against each other in one last battle. Antony was defeated in the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and he committed suicide with his lover, Cleopatra. In 29 BC, Octavian returned to Rome as the unchallenged master of the Empire and later accepted the title of Augustus ("Exalted One"). He was convinced that only a single strong ruler could restore order in Rome.
Brutus did likewise soon afterwards, however, civil war flared again when the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony failed.
The ambitious Octavian built a power base of patronage, and then launched a campaign against Mark Antony.
At the naval Battle of Actium off the coast of Greece, Octavian decisively defeated Antony and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.


Octavian was then granted a series of special powers including sole "imperium" within the city of Rome, permanent consular powers, and credit for every Roman military victory, since all future generals were assumed to be acting under his command.
In 27 BC Octavian was granted the use of the names "Augustus" and "Princeps", indicating his primary status above all other Romans, and he adopted the title "Imperator Caesar" making him the first Roman Emperor.
to be continued.....
click below for the next chapter
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016