The Roman Republic was governed by a complex constitution, which centered on the principles of a separation of powers and checks and balances. The evolution of the constitution was heavily influenced by the struggle between the aristocracy and the average Roman. Early in its history, the republic was controlled by an aristocracy of individuals who could trace their ancestry back to the early history of the kingdom. Over time, the laws that allowed these individuals to dominate the government were repealed, and the result was the emergence of a new aristocracy which depended on the structure of society, rather than the law, to maintain its dominance. Thus, only a revolution could overthrow this new aristocracy.
Rome also saw its territory expand during this period, from central Italy to the entire Mediterranean world. During the first two centuries, Rome expanded to the point of dominating Italy. During the next century, Rome grew to dominate North Africa, Spain, Greece, and what is now southern France. During the last two centuries of the Roman Republic, Rome grew to dominate the rest of modern France, as well as much of the east. By this point, however, its republican political machinery was finally crushed under the weight of imperialism.
The precise event which signaled the transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire is a matter of interpretation. Historians have variously proposed the appointment of Julius Caesar as perpetual dictator (44 BC), the Battle of Actium (2 September, 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's grant of Octavian's extraordinary powers under the first settlement (January 16, 27 BC), as candidates for the defining pivotal event.
The Senate's ultimate authority derived from the esteem and prestige of the Senate. This esteem and prestige was based on both precedent and custom, as well as the high caliber and prestige of the Senators. The Senate passed decrees, which were called senatus consultum. This was officially "advice" from the Senate to a magistrate. In practice, however, these were usually obeyed by the magistrates. The focus of the Roman Senate was directed towards foreign policy. While its role in military conflict was officially, the Senate was ultimately the force that oversaw those conflicts. The senate also managed the civil administration in the city and the town.
One check over a magistrate's power was his collegiality. Each magisterial office would be held concurrently by at least two people. Another check over the power of a magistrate was provocatio. Provocatio was a primordial form of due process. It was a precursor to our own habeas corpus. If any magistrate was attempting to use the powers of the state against a citizen, that citizen could appeal the decision of the magistrate to a tribune. In addition, once a magistrate's annual term in office expired, he would have to wait ten years before serving in that office again. Since this did create problems for some consuls and praetors, these magistrates would occasionally have their imperium extended. In effect, they would retain the powers of the office (as a promagistrate), without officially holding that office.
Praetors would administer civil law and command provincial armies. Every five years, two censors would be elected for an eighteen month term. During their term in office, the two censors would conduct a census. During the census, they could enroll citizens in the senate, or purge them from the senate. Aediles were officers elected to conduct domestic affairs in Rome, such as managing public games and shows. The quaestors would usually assist the consuls in Rome, and the governors in the provinces. Their duties were often financial.
Since the tribunes were considered to be the embodiment of the plebeians, they were sacrosanct. Their sacrosanctity was enforced by a pledge, taken by the plebeians, to kill any person who harmed or interfered with a tribune during his term of office. All of the powers of the tribune derived from their sacrosanctity. One obvious consequence of this sacrosanctity was the fact that it was considered a capital offense to harm a tribune, to disregard his veto, or to interfere with a tribune.
In times of military emergency, a dictator would be appointed for a term of six months. Constitutional government would dissolve, and the dictator would become the absolute master of the state. When the dictator's term ended, constitutional government would be restored.
In the year 494 BC, the city was at war with two neighboring tribes. The plebeian soldiers refused to march against the enemy, and instead seceded to the Aventine hill. The plebeians demanded the right to elect their own officials. The patricians agreed, and the plebeians returned to the battlefield. The plebeians called these new officials "plebeian tribunes". The tribunes would have two assistants, called "plebeian aediles". In 367 BC a law was passed, which required the election of at least one plebeian aedile each year. In 443 BC, the censorship was created, and in 366 BC, the praetorship was created. Also in 366 BC, the curule aedileship was created. Shortly after the founding of the republic, the Comitia Centuriata ("Assembly of the Centuries") became the principle legislative assembly. In this assembly, magistrates were elected, and laws were passed.
During the fourth century BC, a series of reforms were passed. The result of these reforms was that any law passed by the Plebeian Council would have the full force of law. This gave the tribunes (who presided over the Plebeian Council) a positive character for the first time. Before these laws were passed, the only power that the tribunes held was that of the veto.
In 342 BC, two significant laws were passed. One of these two laws made it illegal to hold more than one office at any given point in time. The other law required an interval of ten years to pass before any magistrate could seek reelection to any office.
During these years, the tribunes and the senators grew increasingly close. The senate realized the need to use plebeian officials to accomplish desired goals. To win over the tribunes, the senators gave the tribunes a great deal of power and the tribunes began to feel obligated to the senate. As the tribunes and the senators grew closer, plebeian senators were often able to secure the tribunate for members of their own families. In time, the tribunate became a stepping stone to higher office.
Around the middle of the fourth century BC, the Concilium Plebis enacted the "Ovinian Law". During the early republic, only consuls could appoint new senators. The Ovinian law, however, gave this power to the censors. It also required the censor to appoint any newly-elected magistrate to the senate. By this point, plebeians were already holding a significant number of magisterial offices. Thus, the number of plebeian senators probably increased quickly. However, it remained difficult for a plebeian to enter the senate if he was not from a well-known political family, as a new patrician-like plebeian aristocracy emerged. The old nobility existed through the force of law, because only patricians were allowed to stand for high office. The new nobility existed due to the organization of society. As such, only a revolution could overthrow this new structure.
By 287 BC, the economic condition of the average plebeian had become poor. The problem appears to have centered around wide-spread indebtedness. The plebeians demanded relief, but the senators refused to address their situation. The result was the final plebeian secession. The plebeians seceded to the Janiculum hill. To end the secession, a dictator was appointed. The dictator passed a law (the "Hortensian Law"), which ended the requirement that the patrician senators must agree before any bill could be considered by the Plebeian Council. This was not the first law to require that an act of the Plebeian Council have the full force of law. The Plebeian Council acquired this power during a modification to the original Valerian law in 449 BC. The significance of this law was in the fact that it robbed the patricians of their final weapon over the plebeians. The result was that control over the state fell, not onto the shoulders of voters in a democracy, but to the new plebeian nobility.
The plebeians had finally achieved political equality with the patricians. However, the plight of the average plebeian had not changed. A small number of plebeian families achieved the same standing that the old aristocratic patrician families had always had, but the new plebeian aristocrats became as uninterested in the plight of the average plebeian as the old patrician aristocrats had always been.
The final decades of this era saw a worsening economic situation for many plebeians. The long military campaigns had forced citizens to leave their farms to fight, only to return to farms that had fallen into disrepair. The landed aristocracy began buying bankrupted farms at discounted prices. As commodity prices fell, many farmers could no longer operate their farms at a profit. The result was the ultimate bankruptcy of countless farmers. Masses of unemployed plebeians soon began to flood into Rome, and thus into the ranks of the legislative assemblies. Their economic state usually led them to vote for the candidate who offered the most for them. A new culture of dependency was emerging, which would look to any populist leader for relief.
Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune in 133 BC. He attempted to enact a law which would have limited the amount of land that any individual could own. The aristocrats, who stood to lose an enormous amount of money, were bitterly opposed to this proposal. Tiberius submitted this law to the Plebeian Council, but the law was vetoed by a tribune named Marcus Octavius. Tiberius then used the Plebeian Council to impeach Octavius. The theory, that a representative of the people ceases to be one when he acts against the wishes of the people, was counter to Roman constitutional theory. If carried to its logical end, this theory would remove all constitutional restraints on the popular will, and put the state under the absolute control of a temporary popular majority. His law would be enacted, but Tiberius would be murdered when he stood for reelection to the tribunate.
Tiberius' brother Gaius was elected tribune in 123 BC. Gaius Gracchus' ultimate goal was to weaken the senate and to strengthen the democratic forces. In the past, for example, the senate would eliminate political rivals either by establishing special judicial commissions or by passing a senatus consultum ultimum ("ultimate decree of the senate"). Both devices would allow the senate to bypass the ordinary due process rights that all citizens had. Gaius outlawed the judicial commissions, and declared the senatus consultum ultimum to be unconstitutional. Gaius then proposed a law which would grant citizenship rights to Rome's Italian allies. By this point, however, the selfish democracy of Rome deserted him. He stood for election to a third term in 121 BC, but was defeated and then murdered. The democracy, however, had finally realized how weak the senate had become.
Several years later, a new power had emerged in Asia. In 88 BC, a Roman army was sent to put down that power, king Mithridates of Pontus. The army, however, was defeated. One of Marius' old quaestors, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, had been elected consul for the year. Sulla was then ordered by the senate to assume command of the war against Mithridates. Marius, a member of the democratic ("populare") party, had a tribune revoke Sulla's command of the war against Mithridates. Sulla, a member of the aristocratic ("optimate") party, brought his army back to Italy and marched on Rome. Sulla had become so angry at Marius' tribune that he passed a law that was intended to permanently weaken the tribunate. He then returned to his war against Mithridates. With Sulla gone, the populares under Marius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna soon took control of the city.
The populare record was not one to be proud of. They reelected Marius consul several times without observing the customary ten year interval between offices. They also transgressed democracy by advancing unelected individuals to magisterial office, and by substituting magisterial edicts for popular legislation. Sulla soon made peace with Mithridates. In 83 BC, he returned to Rome, overcame all resistance, and captured the city again. Sulla and his supporters then slaughtered most of Marius' supporters. Sulla, who had observed the violent results of radical populare reforms was naturally conservative. As such, he sought to strengthen the aristocracy, and thus the senate. Sulla made himself dictator, passed a series of constitutional reforms, resigned the dictatorship, and served one last term as consul. He died in 78 BC.
Around 66 BC, a movement to use constitutional, or at least peaceful, means to address the plight of various classes began. After several failures, the movement's leaders decided to use any means that were necessary to accomplish their goals. The movement coalesced under an aristocrat named Lucius Sergius Catiline. The movement was based in the town of Faesulae, which was a natural hotbed of agrarian agitation. The rural malcontents were to advance on Rome, and be aided by an uprising within the city. After assassinating the consuls and most of the senators, Catiline would be free to enact his reforms. The conspiracy was set in motion in 63 BC. The consul for the year, Marcus Tullius Cicero, intercepted messages that Catiline had sent in an attempt to recruit more members. The result of this was that the top conspirators in Rome (including at least one former consul) were executed upon an authorization (of dubious constitutionality) by the senate, and the planned uprising was disrupted. Cicero then sent an army, which cut Catiline's forces to pieces.
The most important result of the Catilinarian conspiracy was that the populare party became discredited. The prior 70 years had witnessed a gradual erosion in senatorial powers. The violent nature of the conspiracy, in conjunction with the senate's skill in disrupting it, did a great deal to repair the senate's image.
Caesar became consul in 59 BC. His colleague, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, was an extreme aristocrat. Caesar submitted the laws that he had promised Pompey to the assemblies. Bibulus attempted to obstruct the enactment of these laws, and so Caesar used violent means to ensure their passage. Caesar was then made governor of three provinces. He then facilitated the election of the former patrician Clodius to the tribunate for 58 BC. Clodius set about depriving the faction Caesar's senatorial enemies of two of their more obstinate leaders in Cato and Cicero. Clodius was a bitter opponent of Cicero because Cicero had testified against him in a sacrilege case. He attempted to try him for executing citizens without a trial during the Catiline conspiracy, resulting in Cicero going into self imposed exile and his house being burnt down. Clodius also passed a bill that forced Cato to lead the invasion of Cyprus which would keep him away from Rome for some years. Clodius passed a bill that gave a free grain dole, which had previously just been subsidised.
Beginning in the summer of 54 BC, a wave of political corruption and violence swept Rome. This chaos reached a climax in January of 52 BC, when Clodius was murdered in a gang war by Milo. On January 1 of 49 BC, an agent of Caesar presented an ultimatum to the senate. The ultimatum was rejected, and the senate then passed a resolution which declared that if Caesar did not lay down his arms by July of that year, he would be considered an enemy of the republic. On January 7 of 49 BC, the senate passed a senatus consultum ultimum, which vested Pompey with dictatorial powers. Pompey's army, however, was composed largely of untested conscripts. Caesar then crossed the Rubicon with his veteran army, and marched towards Rome. Caesar's rapid advance forced Pompey, the consuls and the senate to abandon Rome for Greece. Caesar then entered the city unopposed.
With Pompey defeated, and order restored, Caesar wanted to ensure that his control over the government was undisputed. The powers which he would give himself would ultimately be used by his imperial successors. He would assume these powers by increasing his own authority, and by decreasing the authority of Rome's other political institutions.
Caesar would hold both the dictatorship and the tribunate, but alternate between the consulship and the proconsulship. In 48 BC, Caesar was given permanent tribunician powers. This made his person sacrosanct, gave him the power to veto the senate, and allowed him to dominate the Plebeian Council. In 46 BC, Caesar was given censorial powers, which he used to fill the senate with his own partisans. Caesar then raised the membership of the senate to 900. This robbed the senatorial aristocracy of its prestige, and made it increasingly subservient to him. While the assemblies continued to meet, he submitted all candidates to the assemblies for election, and all bills to the assemblies for enactment. Thus, the assemblies became powerless, and were thus unable to oppose him.
Near the end of his life, Caesar began to prepare for a war against the Parthian Empire. Since his absence from Rome would limit his ability to install his own consuls, he passed a law which allowed him to appoint all magistrates in 43 BC, and all consuls and tribunes in 42 BC. This, in effect, transformed the magistrates from being representatives of the people, to being representatives of the dictator.
After his assassination, 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 in 30 BC he committed suicide. In 29 BC, Octavian returned to Rome as the unchallenged master of the state.
Life in the Roman Republic revolved around the city of Rome, and its famed seven hills. The city also had several theaters. gymnasiums, and many taverns, baths and brothels. Throughout the territory under Rome's control, residential architecture ranged from very modest houses to country villas, and in the capital city of Rome, to the residences on the elegant Palatine Hill, from which the word "palace" is derived. The vast majority of the population lived in the city center, packed into apartment blocks.
Most Roman towns and cities had a forum and temples, as did the city of Rome itself. Aqueducts were built to bring water to urban centers and wine and oil were imported from abroad. Landlords generally resided in cities and their estates were left in the care of farm managers. To stimulate a higher labor productivity, many landlords freed a large numbers of slaves.
Beginning in the middle of the second century BC, Greek culture was increasingly ascendant, in spite of tirades against the "softening" effects of Hellenized culture. By the time of Augustus, cultured Greek household slaves taught the Roman young (sometimes even the girls). Greek sculptures adorned Hellenistic landscape gardening on the Palatine or in the villas, and much Roman cuisine was essentially Greek. Roman writers disdained Latin for a cultured Greek style.
The center of the early social structure was the family, which was not only marked by blood relations but also by the legally constructed relation of patria potestas. The Pater familias was the absolute head of the family; he was the master over his wife, his children, the wives of his sons, the nephews, the slaves and the freedmen, disposing of them and of their goods at will, even putting them to death. Roman law recognized only patrician families as legal entities.
Slavery and slaves were part of the social order; there were slave markets where they could be bought and sold. Many slaves were freed by the masters for services rendered; some slaves could save money to buy their freedom. Generally mutilation and murder of slaves was prohibited by legislation. It is estimated that over 25% of the Roman population was enslaved.
The cloth and the dress distinguished one class of people from the other class. The tunic worn by plebeians (common people) like shepherds and slaves was made from coarse and dark material, whereas the tunic worn by patricians was of linen or white wool. A magistrate would wear the tunic augusticlavi; senators wore a tunic with broad stripes, called tunica laticlavi. Military tunics were shorter than the ones worn by civilians. Boys, up until the festival of Liberalia, wore the toga praetexta, which was a toga with a crimson or purple border. The toga virilis, (or toga pura) was worn by men over the age of 16 to signify their citizenship in Rome. The toga picta was worn by triumphant generals and had embroidery of their skill on the battlefield. The toga pulla was worn when in mourning.
Even footwear indicated a person’s social status. Patricians wore red and orange sandals, senators had brown footwear, consuls had white shoes, and soldiers wore heavy boots. Men typically wore a toga, and women a stola. The woman's stola looked different than a toga, and was usually brightly colored. The Romans also invented socks for those soldiers required to fight on the northern frontiers, sometimes worn in sandals.
Romans had simple food habits. Staple food was simple, generally consumed at around 11 o’clock, and consisted of bread, salad, cheese, fruits, nuts, and cold meat left over from the dinner the night before. The Roman poet, Horace mentions another Roman favorite, the olive, in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance. The family ate together, sitting on stools around a table. Fingers were used to eat solid foods and spoons were used for soups.
Wine was considered a staple drink, consumed at all meals and occasions by all classes and was quite cheap. Cato the Elder once advised cutting his rations in half to conserve wine for the workforce. Many types of drinks involving grapes and honey were consumed as well. Drinking on an empty stomach was regarded as boorish and a sure sign for alcoholism, whose debilitating physical and psychological effects were known to the Romans. An accurate accusation of being an alcoholic was an effective way to discredit political rivals. Prominent Roman alcoholics included Mark Antony, and Cicero's own son Marcus (Cicero Minor). Even Cato the Younger was known to be a heavy drinker.
Following various military conquests in the Greek East, Romans adapted a number of Greek educational precepts to their own fledgling system. Home was often the learning center, where children were taught Roman law, customs, and physical training to prepare the boys to grow as Roman citizens and for eventual recruitment into the army. Conforming to discipline was a point of great emphasis. Girls generally received instruction from their mothers in the art of spinning, weaving ,and sewing.
Schooling in a more formal sense was begun around 200 BC. Education began at the age of around six, and in the next six to seven years, boys and girls were expected to learn the basics of reading, writing and counting. By the age of twelve, they would be learning Latin, Greek, grammar and literature, followed by training for public speaking. Oratory was an art to be practiced and learnt, and good orators commanded respect. To become an effective orator was one of the objectives of education and learning. In some cases, services of gifted slaves were utilized for imparting education.
The native language of the Romans was Latin. Although surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, an artificial and highly stylized and polished literary language from the 1st century BC, the actual spoken language was Vulgar Latin, which significantly differed from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and eventually pronunciation. Rome's expansion spread Latin throughout Europe, and over time Vulgar Latin evolved and dialectized in different locations, gradually shifting into a number of distinct Romance languages. Many of these languages, including French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish, flourished, the differences between them growing greater over time. Although English is Germanic rather than Romanic in origin, English borrows heavily from Latin and Latin-derived words.
Roman literature was from its very inception influenced heavily by Greek authors. Some of the earliest works we possess are of historical epics telling the early military history of Rome. As the republic expanded, authors began to produce poetry, comedy, history, and tragedy. Virgil represents the pinnacle of Roman epic poetry. His Aeneid tells the story of flight of Aeneas from Troy and his settlement of the city that would become Rome. Lucretius, in his On the Nature of Things, attempted to explicate science in an epic poem. The genre of satire was common in Rome, and satires were written by, among others, Juvenal and Persius. The rhetorical works of Cicero are considered to be some of the best bodies of correspondence recorded in antiquity.
In the 3rd century BC, Greek art taken as booty from wars became popular, and many Roman homes were decorated with landscapes by Greek artists. Portrait sculpture during the period utilized youthful and classical proportions, evolving later into a mixture of realism and idealism. Advancements were also made in relief sculptures, often depicting Roman victories.
Music was a major part of everyday life. The word itself derives from Greek μουσική (mousike), "(art) of the Muses". Many private and public events were accompanied by music, ranging from nightly dining to military parades and maneouvres. In a discussion of any ancient music, however, non-specialists and even many musicians have to be reminded that much of what makes our modern music familiar to us is the result of developments only within the last 1,000 years; thus, our ideas of melody, scales, harmony, and even the instruments we use would not be familiar to Romans who made and listened to music many centuries earlier.
Over time, Roman architecture was modified as their urban requirements changed, and the civil engineering and building construction technology became developed and refined. The Roman concrete has remained a riddle, and even after more than 2,000 years some Roman structures still stand magnificently. The architectural style of the capital city was emulated by other urban centers under Roman control and influence. Roman cities were well planned, efficiently managed and neatly maintained.
Roman religious beliefs date back to the founding of Rome, around 800 BC. However, the Roman religion commonly associated with the republic and early empire did not begin until around 500 BC, when Romans came in contact with Greek culture, and adopted many of the Greek’s religious beliefs. Private and personal worship was an important aspect of religious practices. In a sense, each household was a temple to the gods. Each household had an altar (lararium), at which the family members would offer prayers, perform rites, and interact with the household gods. Many of the gods that Romans worshiped came from the Proto-Indo-European pantheon, others were based on Greek gods. The two most famous deities were Jupiter (the king God) and Mars (the god of war). With its cultural influence spreading over most of the Mediterranean, Romans began accepting foreign gods into their own culture, as well as other philosophical traditions such as Cynicism and Stoicism.
Each first line maniple were leather-armoured infantry soldiers who wore a brass breastplate and a brass helmet adorned with 3 feathers approximately 30 cm (12 in) in height and carried an iron-clad wooden shield. They were armed with a sword and two throwing spears. The second infantry line was armed and armoured in the same manner as was the first infantry line. The second infantry line, however, wore a lighter coat of mail rather than a solid brass breastplate. The third infantry line was the last remnant of the hoplite-style (the Greek-style formation used occasionally during the early republic) troops in the Roman army. They were armed and armoured in the same manner as were the soldiers in the second line, with the exception that they carried a lighter spear.
The three infantry classes may have retained some slight parallel to social divisions within Roman society, but at least officially the three lines were based upon age and experience rather than social class. Young, unproven men would serve in the first line, older men with some military experience would serve in the second line, and veteran troops of advanced age and experience would serve in the third line.
The heavy infantry of the maniples were supported by a number of light infantry and cavalry troops, typically 300 horsemen per manipular legion. The cavalry was drawn primarily from the richest class of equestrians. There was an additional class of troops who followed the army without specific martial roles and were deployed to the rear of the third line. Their role in accompanying the army was primarily to supply any vacancies that might occur in the maniples. The light infantry consisted of 1,200 unarmoured skirmishing troops drawn from the youngest and lower social classes. They were armed with a sword and a small shield, as well as several light javelins.
A small navy had operated at a fairly low level after about 300 BC, but it was massively upgraded about forty years later, during the First Punic War. After a period of frenetic construction, the navy mushroomed to a size of more than 400 ships on the Carthaginian ("Punic") pattern. Once completed, it could accommodate up to 100,000 sailors and embarked troops for battle. The navy thereafter declined in size.
The extraordinary demands of the Punic Wars, in addition to a shortage of manpower, exposed the tactical weaknesses of the manipular legion, at least in the short term. In 217 BC, near the beginning of the Second Punic War, Rome was forced to effectively ignore its long-standing principle that its soldiers must be both citizens and property owners. During the second century BC, Roman territory saw an overall decline in population, partially due to the huge losses incurred during various wars. This was accompanied by severe social stresses and the greater collapse of the middle classes. As a result, the Roman state was forced to arm its soldiers at the expense of the state, which it had not had to do in the past.
The distinction between the heavy infantry types began to blur, perhaps because the state was now assuming the responsibility of providing standard-issue equipment. In addition, the shortage of available manpower led to a greater burden being placed upon Rome's allies for the provision of allied troops. Eventually, the Romans were forced to begin hiring mercenaries to fight alongside the legions.
Unlike earlier in the Republic, legionaries were no longer fighting on a seasonal basis to protect their land. Instead, they received standard pay, and were employed by the state on a fixed-term basis. As a consequence, military duty began to appeal most to the poorest sections of society, to whom a salaried pay was attractive. A destabilising consequence of this development was that the proletariat "acquired a stronger and more elevated position" within the state.
The legions of the late Republic were, structurally, almost entirely heavy infantry. The legion's main sub-unit was called a cohort and consisted of approximately 480 infantrymen. The cohort was therefore a much larger unit than the earlier maniple sub-unit, and was divided into six centuries of 80 men each. Each century was separated further into 10 "tent groups" of 8 men each. Legions additionally consisted of a small body, typically 120 men, of Roman legionary cavalry. The cavalry troops were used as scouts and dispatch riders rather than battlefield cavalry. Legions also contained a dedicated group of artillery crew of perhaps 60 men. Each legion was normally partnered with an approximately equal number of allied (non-Roman) troops.
However, "the most obvious deficiency" of the Roman army remained its shortage of cavalry, especially heavy cavalry. As Rome's borders expanded and its adversaries changed from largely infantry-based to largely cavalry-based troops, the infantry-based Roman army began to find itself at a tactical disadvantage, particularly in the East.
After having declined in size following the subjugation of the Mediterranean, the Roman navy underwent short-term upgrading and revitalisation in the late Republic to meet several new demands. Under Caesar, an invasion fleet was assembled in the English Channel to allow the invasion of Britannia; under Pompey, a large fleet was raised in the Mediterranean Sea to clear the sea of Cilician pirates. During the civil war that followed, as many as a thousand ships were either constructed or pressed into service from Greek cities.
As with most ancient civilisations, Rome's military served the triple purposes of securing its borders, exploiting peripheral areas through measures such as imposing tribute on conquered peoples, and maintaining internal order. From the outset, Rome's military typified this pattern and the majority of Rome's campaigns were characterised by one of two types. The first is the territorial expansionist campaign, normally begun as a counter-offensive, in which each victory brought subjugation of large areas of territory. The second is the civil war, of which examples plagued the Roman Republic in its final century.
Roman armies were not invincible, despite their formidable reputation and host of victories. Over the centuries the Romans "produced their share of incompetents who led Roman armies into catastrophic defeats. Nevertheless, it was generally the fate of even the greatest of Rome's enemies, such as Pyrrhus and Hannibal, to win the battle but lose the war. The history of Rome's campaigning is, if nothing else, a history of obstinate persistence overcoming appalling losses.
After recovering surprisingly swiftly from the sack of Rome, the Romans immediately resumed their expansion within Italy. The First Samnite War of between 343 BC and 341 BC was a relatively short affair: the Romans beat the Samnites in two battles, but were forced to withdraw from the war before they could pursue the conflict further due to the revolt of several of their Latin allies in the Latin War. Rome bested the Latins in the Battle of Vesuvius and again in the Battle of Trifanum, after which the Latin cities were obliged to submit to Roman rule.
The Second Samnite War, from 327 BC to 304 BC, was a much longer and more serious affair for both the Romans and Samnites. The fortunes of the two sides fluctuated throughout its course. The Romans then proved victorious at the Battle of Bovianum and the tide turned strongly against the Samnites from 314 BC onwards, leading them to sue for peace with progressively less generous terms. By 304 BC the Romans had effectively annexed the greater degree of the Samnite territory, founding several colonies.
Seven years after their defeat, with Roman dominance of the area looking assured, the Samnites rose again and defeated a Roman army in 298 BC, to open the Third Samnite War. With this success in hand they managed to bring together a coalition of several previous enemies of Rome. In the Battle of Populonia in 282 BC Rome finished off the last vestiges of Etruscan power in the region.
By the beginning of the third century, Rome had established itself as a major power on the Italian Peninsula, but had not yet come into conflict with the dominant military powers in the Mediterranean at the time: Carthage and the Greek kingdoms.
When a diplomatic dispute between Rome and a Greek colony erupted into open warfare in a naval confrontation, the Greek colony appealed for military aid to Pyrrhus, ruler of the northwestern Greek kingdom of Epirus. Motivated by a personal desire for military accomplishment, Pyrrhus landed a Greek army of some 25,000 men on Italian soil in 280 BC.
Despite early victories, Pyrrhus found his position in Italy untenable. Rome steadfastly refused to negotiate with Pyrrhus as long as his army remained in Italy. Facing unacceptably heavy losses with each encounter with the Roman army, Pyrrhus withdrew from the peninsula. In 275 BC, Pyrrhus again met the Roman army at the Battle of Beneventum. While Beneventum was indecisive, Pyrrhus realised his army had been exhausted and reduced, by years of foreign campaigns, and seeing little hope for further gains, he withdrew completely from Italy.
The conflicts with Pyrrhus would have a great effect on Rome. Rome had shown it was capable of pitting its armies successfully against the dominant military powers of the Mediterranean, and that the Greek kingdoms were incapable of defending their colonies in Italy and abroad. Rome quickly moved into southern Italia, subjugating and dividing the Greek colonies. Now, Rome effectively dominated the Italian peninsula, and won an international military reputation.
The First Punic War began in 264 BC when settlements on Sicily began to appeal to the two powers between which they lay - Rome and Carthage - in order to solve internal conflicts. The war saw land battles in Sicily early on, but the theatre shifted to naval battles around Sicily and Africa. Before the First Punic War there was no Roman navy to speak of. The new war in Sicily against Carthage, a great naval power, forced Rome to quickly build a fleet and train sailors.
The first few naval battles were catastrophic disasters for Rome. However, after training more sailors and inventing a grappling engine, a Roman naval force was able to defeat a Carthaginian fleet, and further naval victories followed. The Carthaginians then hired Xanthippus of Carthage, a Spartan mercenary general, to reorganise and lead their army. He managed to cut off the Roman army from its base by re-establishing Carthaginian naval supremacy. With their newfound naval abilities, the Romans then beat the Carthaginians in naval battle again at the Battle of the Aegates Islands and leaving Carthage without a fleet or sufficient coin to raise one. For a maritime power the loss of their access to the Mediterranean stung financially and psychologically, and the Carthaginians sued for peace.
Continuing distrust led to the renewal of hostilities in the Second Punic War when Hannibal Barca attacked a Spanish town, which had diplomatic ties to Rome. Hannibal then crossed the Italian Alps to invade Italy. Hannibal's successes in Italy began immediately, and reached an early climax at the Battle of Cannae, where 70,000 Romans were killed.
In three battles, the Romans managed to hold off Hannibal but then Hannibal smashed a succession of Roman consular armies. By this time Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal Barca sought to cross the Alps into Italy and join his brother with a second army. Hasdrubal managed to break through into Italy only to be defeated decisively on the Metaurus River. Unable to defeat Hannibal himself on Italian soil, the Romans boldly sent an army to Africa with the intention of threatening the Carthaginian capital. Hannibal was recalled to Africa, and defeated at the Battle of Zama.
Carthage never managed to recover after the Second Punic War and the Third Punic War that followed was in reality a simple punitive mission to raze the city of Carthage to the ground. Carthage was almost defenceless and when besieged offered immediate surrender, conceding to a string of outrageous Roman demands. The Romans refused the surrender, and the city was stormed after a short siege and completely destroyed. Ultimately, all of Carthage's North African and Spanish territories were acquired by Rome.
Rome's preoccupation with its war with Carthage provided an opportunity for Philip V of the kingdom of Macedon in northern Greece, to attempt to extend his power westward. Philip sent ambassadors to Hannibal's camp in Italy, to negotiate an alliance as common enemies of Rome. However, Rome discovered the agreement when Philip's emissaries were captured by a Roman fleet. The First Macedonian War saw the Romans involved directly in only limited land operations, but they ultimately achieved their objective of pre-occupying Philip and preventing him from aiding Hannibal.
Macedon began to encroach on territory claimed by several other Greek city states in 200 BC and these states pleaded for help from their newfound ally Rome. Rome gave Philip an ultimatum that he must submit Macedonia to being essentially a Roman province. Philip refused, and Rome declared war against Philip in the Second Macedonian War. Ultimately, in 197 BC, the Romans defeated Philip at the Battle of Cynoscephalae, and Macedonia was forced to surrender.
Rome now turned its attentions to another Greek kingdom, the Seleucid Empire, in the east. A Roman force defeated the Seleucids at the Battle of Thermopylae and forced them to evacuate Greece. The Romans then pursued the Seleucids beyond Greece, beating them in the decisive engagement of the Battle of Magnesia.
In 179 BC Philip died and his talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took his throne and showed a renewed interest in Greece. Rome declared war on Macedonia again, starting the Third Macedonian War. Perseus initially had greater military success against the Romans than his father. However, as with all such ventures in this period, Rome responded by simply sending another army. The second consular army duly defeated the Macedonians at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC and the Macedonians duly capitulated, ending the Third Macedonian War.
The Fourth Macedonian War, fought from 150 BC to 148 BC, was the final war between Rome and Macedon. The Romans swiftly defeated the Macedonians at the Second battle of Pydna. Another Roman army besieged and destroyed Corinth in 146 BC, which led to the surrender and thus conquest of the rest of Greece.
In 121 BC, Rome came into contact with two Celtic tribes (from a region in modern France), both of which they defeated with apparent ease. The Cimbrian War (113-101 BC) was a far more serious affair than the earlier clashes of 121 BC. The Germanic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutons migrated from northern Europe into Rome's northern territories, and clashed with Rome and her allies. At the Battle of Aquae Sextiae and the Battle of Vercellae both tribes were virtually annihalated, which ended the threat.
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 Additionally, in 91 BC the Social War broke out between Rome and its former allies in Italy over dissent among the allies 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 consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla at the beginning of 82 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 Roman senate, entered the city, and marched on Rome. 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.
The Second Mithridatic War began when Rome tried to annex a province that Mithridates claimed as his own. In the Third Mithridatic War, first Lucius Licinius Lucullus and then Pompey the Great were sent against Mithridates. Mithridates was finally defeated by Pompey in the night-time Battle of the Lycus.
The Mediterranean had at this time fallen into the hands of pirates, largely from Cilicia. The pirates not only strangled shipping lanes but also plundered many cities on the coasts of Greece and Asia. Pompey was nominated as commander of a special naval task force to campaign against the pirates. It took Pompey just forty days to clear the western portion of the sea of pirates and restore communication between Iberia (Spain), Africa, and Italy.
During a term as praetor in Iberia (modern Spain), Pompey's contemporary Julius Caesar defeated two local tribes in battle. Following his term as consul in 59 BC, he was then appointed to a five year term as the proconsular Governor of Cisalpine Gaul (current northern Italy), Transalpine Gaul (current southern France) and Illyria (the modern Balkans). Not content with an idle governorship, Caesar strove to find reason to invade Gaul, which would give him the dramatic military success he sought. When two local tribes began to migrate on a route that would take them near (not into) the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul, Caesar had the barely sufficient excuse he needed for his Gallic Wars, fought between 58 BC and 49 BC.
Caesar defeated large armies at major battles 58 BC and 57 BC. In 55 and 54 BC he made two expeditions into Britain, becoming the first Roman to do so. Caesar then defeated a union of Gauls at the Battle of Alesia, completing the Roman conquest of Transalpine Gaul. By 50 BC, the entirety of Gaul lay in Roman hands. Gaul never regained its Celtic identity, never attempted another nationalist rebellion, and remained loyal to Rome until the fall of the western empire in 476.
By the spring of 49 BC, when Caesar crossed the Rubicon river with his invading forces and swept down the Italian peninsula towards Rome, Pompey ordered the abandonment of Rome. Caesar first directed his attention to the Pompeian stronghold of Iberia (modern Spain) but decided to tackle Pompey himself in Greece. Pompey initially defeated Caesar, but failed to follow up on the victory. Pompey was then decisively defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, despite outnumbering Caesar's forces two to one. Pompey fled again, this time to Egypt, where he was murdered.
Pompey's death did not result in an end to the civil wars since initially Caesar's enemies were manifold and Pompey's supporters continued to fight on after his death. 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 Iberia. Caesar then defeated the combined Pompeian forces at the Battle of Munda.
Despite his military success, or probably because of it, fear spread of Caesar, now the primary figure of the Roman state, becoming an autocratic ruler and ending the Roman Republic. This fear drove a group of senators to assassinate him in March of 44 BC. Further civil war followed between those loyal to Caesar and those who supported the actions of the assassins. Caesar's supporter Mark Antony condemned Caesar's assassins and war broke out between the two factions. Antony was denounced as a public enemy, and Caesar's adopted son and chosen heir, Gaius Octavian, was entrusted with the command of the war against him. At the Battle of Mutina Antony was defeated by the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, who were both killed.
Octavian came to terms with Caesarians Antony and Lepidus in 43 BC when the Second Triumvirate was formed. In 42 BC Triumvirs Mark Antony and Octavian fought the Battle of Philippi with Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius. Although Brutus defeated Octavian, Antony defeated Cassius, who committed suicide. Brutus also committed suicide shortly 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 Cleopatra. Octavian was 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 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.
From Republic to Empire: The Assassins of Julius Caesar Hoped to Restore the Roman Republic, but They Instead Set in Motion Events That Encouraged the Rise and Triumph of Despots Worse Than Caesar
Jan 24, 2005; This is the eighth installment in a series of articles on the rise and fall of the Roman Republic. It is said that Marcus Brutus,...