The death of the Res Publica

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The death of the Res Publica

Postby Curio Agelastus on Tue Sep 07, 2004 11:52 pm

Salvete omnes,

I've been considering the collapse of the Res Publica a great deal recently. I'd like to start a general discussion here on several different points of this topic.

Firstly, which one incident would you pinpoint as the first blow to the institutions of the Republic? Sulla's taking of Rome? The murder of civilians in the Curia (Including Saturninus)? The murder of Memmius? The murder of the Gracchi? The actions of Scipio Aemilianus? At which point does the Republic begin to receive assaults from its own citizens?

Secondly, at which point is the deathblow dealt? Alternatively, at what point is the Republic in the form of the previous century unrecoverable? The assassination of Caesar? The civil war between Pompeius and Caesar? Carrhae? Pompeius Magnus' "Special Commisions"? Sulla's dictatorship? Or even further back?

Thirdly, is there a specific person on whom you would heap most of the blame? Or who would you consider the most to blame of anyone? The Scipiones? The Metelli? The Gracchi? Saturninus? Marius? Sulla? Pompeius? Caesar? Crassus? (I don't mention the 2nd triumvirate purely because it's my own view that by the time they entered the scene too many blows had been dealt to the shaky foundations of the Republic that they cannot bear a large portion of the blame for it's fall. If you want to argue the opposite though, then go ahead. :) )

Bear in mind here that I'm not asking who you consider was the least moral, but who had the greatest negative impact on the Republic. For instance, I consider Sulla the most immoral by far of the men I mentioned, but I don't think he did the most damage to the Republic (although he certainly wasn't good for it, imho.)

And finally, was the fall of the Republic inevitable? This may seem an obvious question, since the collapse of every state's power is inevitable, but was it inevitable that the institutions of the Republic itself would fall?

I'll post my own thoughts on the subject soon. What do you all think?

Bene valete,
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Wed Sep 08, 2004 1:56 pm

Salve Curio,

A few years ago while we were still on Topica I posed a question on the turning points in the life of the Roman state, and one of the dates that strikes me as being one of the most important points in Roman history, is 146 BCE. That year not only marked the conquest of the Greek mainland, but the final defeat of Carthage. In other words: save for a few scattered kingdoms, Rome reigned absolute in the Mediterranean.

I think much of the political upheaval was caused by this transition from a defensive republic modelled after a city state, to a multicultural empire. As happens so often, the system of politics had not evolved along the lines of the military conquests, and the subsequent generations show an ever growing polarisation between, at first, conservatives and reformers, and lastly simply warring factions protecting their own interests. For this, I think the essentially amateurist nature of Roman politics is to blame. As I noted in an essay I wrote for SVR, Romans didn't have a word for "politician", it was not considered as a profession per se, but an occupation for the rich and established citizens, a pastime if you will, like philosophy was such an occupation for many Greeks.

Although there were factions, there were no parties, and certainly no great visions of ideologies on how to lead the ever-expanding Roman Republic. So although the last century of the Republic shows an increase in dynamics and infighting, I think this was more the consequence of a system that had been rendered obsolete in 146BCE, rather than the cause of bringing about the Empire.

From my point of view, it's hard to say what caused the final deahtblow for the Republic, because all events seem to be connected by chains of cause and effect, in which it's hard to point out any decisive event, the point of no return, so to speak. There have always been points of return for the Republic, imho, even after Augustus. After Caligula was murdered, the Senate thought about resuming control over the Empire, but couldn't do it because it had grown too weak and didn't have an influential or charismatic leader. Had there been one, perhaps the principate would have remained an honourary title and the Republic could have been re-awakened.

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Postby Aldus Marius on Tue Sep 14, 2004 3:51 am

** Marius saves himself a spot. **

** He has thoughts on this subject, and would like to share them. However, his session ends in two minutes. **

** Ergo...a Bookmark. **

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Postby Anonymous on Tue Sep 14, 2004 9:29 pm

Salve Curio et Salvete Quirites!


I agree, Curio...but i'll want to add another cause: The Marius' reforms!

Till Marius, the Roman army was yet a army of citizens with some interests in "RES PUBLICA" and each one was in charge of his own armor, weapons and so on ( high class or not, they all had some property...).
After that reforms and the inclusion of the unprovided and another low class "Plebs" ( whitout "census" ), the "professional" Roman army was born and the State ( by the general's in most cases, trully...) becomes the responsible for maintenance of the soldiers and every needs of the army what causes a detachment between "Legios" and "Senatus", reducing Senatus (as a corp) influence and increasing the power of Generals...
This changes creates an opportunity for the rise of C. Julius Caesar after some decades (Striking the final blow in the "Res Publica")!!!

Ego dixit!
Salvete Sodales!

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Cry, Republic

Postby Aldus Marius on Fri Sep 17, 2004 2:48 am

Salvete iterum...!

Bene, since Coruncanius can't post his yet, I'll put what I've got so far. No fair asking you good gentles to wait on two of us! >({|;-)

(This is actually a first installment. It'd take me an entire nundina if I insisted on utter completion.)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

For me, the fall of the Republic was a gradual process, like the ending of Roman civilization as a whole several hundred years later. There was no one person to blame, no one moment when you could say "She's had it". But there were, I think, several "Points of No Return" which, when passed, made it next to impossible for Rome to go on as before...

The return of the soldiers from the Carthaginian Wars: When the Second Punic War ended, there were men in the Legions who had served for fourteen years--been away from their lands for fourteen years--missed harvests, missed mortgages, had their farms seized by creditors who combined lots into huge latifundia and farmed them on an industrial scale. The troops therefore returned to a very different world than the one they left...and to top it off, they owed people money while at the same time having lost the means of producing income. So they drifted into the City, looking for work--and became a new thing themselves, the "urban poor" who would make up the bulk of the Censores' "Head Count".

The failure on the part of the Senate and Magistrates to effectively deal with any of the problems these veterans presented--their need for land, their need for work, debt relief and competition for City employment from newly-imported slaves, for starters--was the first sure sign that the Republican structure of government was not up to the task of picking up the confetti once the parades had ended. Pandering, politicization, palming-off and sweeping-under-the-rug took the place of real governance. Everyone had an idea but nobody wanted to step up and do anything. So the Senate pretended the urban poor, the landless veterans, were not important. Just for that, I think the Republic got exactly what was coming to it.

The murders of the Gracchi:
Damn those pesky Tribunes!! They keep talking about land reform and other forbidden subjects--and they're actually getting things done. Much more of this might be dangerous to the status quo! You know, the one in which a certain faction of the Senate almost always gets its way, and its "way" is to do as little for the poor (Ugh!--them again! --Will they never go away??) as possible and look cool doing it? ...Yeah, that status quo. We like it. Nice and peaceful that way. Hmm, what to do, what to do...

No one had ever done it before. No one had ever violated the sacrosanctity of a Tribuni Plebis. But that certain faction of the Senate just had to have its way for the sake of its own convenience. So out they came with swords and clubs and chair legs, and committed a crime against the Gods.

The significance of this, in a state that believed itself to have been preserved thus far by its piety, cannot be overstated. This deed, and the similar ones that followed it, had echoes in the spiritual as well as the temporal realm. Once that taboo was broken, could the rest be far behind? Could one man hold six consecutive Consulships? Could another violate the pomoerium, bringing armed men into the gates of Rome? Could a Consul looking to make a name for himself have Roman Citizens executed without trial? Could anyone still be appointed dictator...for life??

If the Tribunes were not sacred, nothing was...and by the time Augustus took the throne, nothing was.

After the assassinations of the Gracchi, it became apparent that working within the system was no longer a viable means of getting things done. Then, extraordinary men like Marius, Sulla and Caesar took note, and built their own power-bases in the Army or on the streets. That politics became what it did in this era was only the natural result of politicians and People alike thrashing around trying to find another way to restore meaning to their positions. Unfortunately, as long as the boni in the Senate remained entrenched against any kind of meaningful reform, things could only get more desperate...and more violent.

Next: Marius and Marius; Sulla Takes the City; the Catiline Photo-op (as energy permits).
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As the World Turns...

Postby Aldus Marius on Sat Sep 18, 2004 11:23 pm

Avete amici...

I am still working on the next installment, which I hope to present in a couple of days.

Meantime, comments are welcome on what I've got so far! >({|:-)
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Postby Curio Agelastus on Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:21 am

Salvete omnes,

Apologies for the late reply, I've had a hectic month.

Draco: you say that 146 marked the time that Rome became ruler of the Mediterranean due to the conquest of the Greek mainland and the final destruction of Carthage. It seems to me, however, that at best this was a psychological change; Carthage was by this point a spent power, as were, to the best of my knowledge, the Greek city states. So 146 had little effect except to rid the Romans of various weak opponents. I agree, therefore, that it might have had a psychological effect on Rome, but it's influence on the real political situation in the Mediterranean wouldn't have been that massive.

Invicte: Do you think Marius foresaw this? If he did, then surely he should take a large portion of blame for the fall of the Res Publica? If not, then it seems that Sulla was the first to abuse Marius' reforms...

Mari: About your comment on the veterans of the Punic Wars. This is a good point, but didn't Gaius Marius partially solve this problem through his settlement of veterans in Africa? Admittedly this was a long time after the event and completely different veterans, but he managed to make a precedent for actually showing appreciation towards veterans (Even if, like many of his deeds, this was abused by later politicians.)

Bene valete,
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Postby Anonymous on Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:44 pm

Salve Curio et Salvete Sodales!

Sulla?? Yes you right. I just won't to push up that subject any longer ( about Marius...).
So, "mi amicii", let's continue with the main topic...it goes better and better after every reply...

Vale Curio et Valete Sodales ! PAX ET LAETITIA!!!


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Postby Curio Agelastus on Wed Sep 29, 2004 10:21 pm

Salvete omnes,

Draco states that a large part of the reason for the decline and final death of the Res Publica was the progression of Rome from a defensive city-state to a multi-cultural empire. I think this is certainly a major cause. However, there are other factors to be taken into consideration.

There is a clear decline in the ethics and institutions that were essential to the Republic's wellbeing after 146 BC. For instance, the murder of the Gracchi - both Tribunes, who were supposed to be sacrosanct - shows this. The later murder of Gaius Memmius continues this trend. Marius' consulships in absentia and consecutively may have been necessary, but went against another custom.

Clearly Sulla's invasion of Rome was a massive custom broken (It may not have been a written law, but few countries seem to look kindly on being invaded by their own generals). This trend of all the old customs (whether written into law or not) being broken down seems to be a large factor involved in the fall of the Republic, as Cicero dimly perceived when he moaned pretentiously about the good old days.

The question is, was this a direct result of the flaws in the Roman governing system brought about by the transition from city-state to empire?

Bene valete,
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Marius Marius

Postby Aldus Marius on Fri Oct 01, 2004 1:17 am

Salvete omnes...

We continue our journey past the various signposts that, had the boni been paying attention, could have warned of the fall of the Republic. This one's about Marius.

The career of Gaius Marius: Marius, of all the Famous Names of the period, is the only one whose effects on the mos maiorem were not only largely unintentional, but almost accidental. He certainly did campaign for Consul while serving under Numidicus during the Jugurthine War; he certainly did, shortly before his death, force himself into a seventh Consulship after spilling a hefty quantity of his adversaries' blood. During his sixth ("home game") Consulship, he variously sponsored or squelched assorted Senate measures; and he managed, rather disgracefully, to rid himself of a few of his too-zealous supporters. Afters, he sought a command in the Social Wars.

This is the sum total of his intentional change-the-world activity. Everything else, including almost all the ways he did change the world, can be traced either to his military reforms, or to circumstance.

His civilian career was a series of fits and starts. He was no politician; I don't think he did anything in that arena which would have set off a smoke-alarm, let alone rung the death-knell of the Republic. Mostly he was a soldier trying (not very well) to play a statesman's game; not unlike President Jimmy Carter, who should have stuck to naval engineering, or gone into social work. Gaius Marius was a master on the battlefield; in Roma Mater things weren't quite so clear-cut.

And yet, he did manage to secure that first Consulship. Now in command of his former commander, he showed 'em how the professionals do it. The war in Africa had been marked by corruption and command-staff laziness; Gaius Marius gave the People what they wanted: victories in the field, tales of derring-do, and a fairly speedy resolution to the war.

In short, he established himself as a military hero. So when the Germans came...? --Get Marius. But wait! To be at all effective, he'd have to still be Consul! ...Ummm... Hmm. Err, uh...Okay (wince).

Just like teaching a parrot new words, the first one was the hardest. After that, and until his sixth Consulship, he was always in the field--and badly-needed there--when it came time for re-election. This was not Marius' doing. It wasn't anybody's doing, really; it was only the consequence of the Republic having no effective means of dealing with the administration of a long war. And this was a hundred years after the War with Hannibal! The Senate had time to think about this, sodales. But the only thinking seemed to be along the lines of "Oh, that's never gonna happen again..."

The violation of tradition, in this case the practice regarding election of Consuls, can be regretted as a sad thing. But it was also, under the circumstances, and given the lack of any legitimate alternative, the only thing that could be done at the time.

Marius' military reforms: These are things my distinguished adopted ancestor did deliberately. Working in his field of expertise, he did them very well. Like the extended-command problem, the structure of the Republican Roman Army is really something that should have been established by the Senate. But as with that issue, the Senate didn't really seem to be in an "establishing" mood that saeculum... (And I thought Congress moved slow.)

A hundred years after Hannibal's War, someone finally did something for the landless poor: He carved out a niche for them in the Legions. For the first time in that long, a poor man had a shot at glory, or at least a chance to make something of himself, or at very least a steady paycheck and a watertight place to sleep. Then as now, the armed forces were "a great place to start". And for the first time ever, the completely landless were invited to take part in their country's defense. Poor Romans desire these things just as strongly as rich ones. Scorned, always, as not worth anything except as scratch-marks on the Censors' tally, the grandsons of Punic War vets could now show the Senate that they, too, could be brave.

Was Gaius Marius all that deeply concerned about the poor? --Not necessarily; he just needed soldiers, and the landed ones had mostly been wasted by incompetent generals (mainly political appointees; why do we still do this? --It's never worked) or Consular one-upmanship (see the Battle [ hah! ] of Arausio). And where else was an impoverished soldier going to get his arms, his armor, his horse (if cavalry), if not from the government? Who would pay him, and when? --The Senate dragged its feet on all this, and Marius had made promises to his troops, so until the boni could be gotten to see the light, he paid his soldiers--he equipped them--and it didn't take much of that before the Legions knew full well who could be counted on to look after their interests!

Marius improved the organization and combat tactics of the army. He changed the way they marched, the way they camped, the way they chucked a pilum, and possibly the shapes of their shields. He gave them their Eagle-standards, which fostered unit identity and unit pride. All this, plus they'd fought together in two long campaigns, plus they'd come to feel that they owed him everything, especially everything that stingy, contemptuous Senate refused to give them. Is it any wonder there was that shift in where their loyalties lay?

Sadly, not everyone who took advantage of Marius' reforms put the new troop psychology to beneficent use.

I don't think Gaius Marius set out to "professionalize" the army. I think it needed to be done; I think, as with so much else during this time-period, that the Senate should have done it. Since it had to be done by someone else, I'm glad it was someone who knew what he was doing in a military sense. What his reforms did in a societal sense, I don't think anyone could have anticipated.

Marius did have a little bit of foresight about the land distribution. He knew that the reason his recruits were showing up penniless for boot camp was because they had no farms or other work and they were still paying off their grandfathers' debts. The land situation had gotten very skewed in the hundred years since Hannibal. Marius knew, or sensed, that if his veterans did not obtain land upon retirement, they were going to be right back where they'd started when they were recruits. So he lobbied the Senate incessantly about land for his veterans, land nobody else was using, to the point where that issue colored almost everything else he did in politics. It might fairly be called an obsession of his.

Marius' whole career seemed to be about proving that even the least-regarded of Rome's Citizens were still worth something, and that Rome was best served by letting them have it. Unfortunately, the boni were falling deeper and deeper into the delusion that only certain types of people were important in anything: landed Romans, preferably rich ones, especially Patricians, particularly Senators, and, oh yes, boni Senators above all the rest. There was absolutely nothing in that worldview to permit the orderly rise and recognition of a Plebeian or non-boni Patrician with enormous talent. In the boni world, such things didn't exist, so they were always most reluctant to make provision for them.

That was really going to come back to bite them when Gaius Iulius Caesar pulled into town...<feg>!
_ _ _

Bene, I might've known that me writing about Marius was going to be a chapter all by itself...! >({|;-)
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Postby Curio Agelastus on Wed Oct 13, 2004 10:27 pm

Salvete Mari et omnes,

I recently read a book that was, in my opinion, aiming to be far too controversial for controversy's sake. I cannot remember the title or the author, but I stopped reading two pages into the essay on Marius (There were essays on Marius, Pompeius, Caesar, Saturninus, Glaucia, Drusus, Sulpicius and a few others associated with the fall of the Republic). At this point, he claimed that because Plutarch did not explicitly state that Marius went to Spain when Scipio Aemilianus as in command - rather that he was there - this was somehow proof that Marius had been there since he was 16... :shock: This seems ridiculous to me, if only because Marius was a relative nobody - what would he be doing serving a military apprenticeship at such an early age, before he'd gained the political patronage of the Caecilii Metelli in his bid for the first rung of the Cursus Honorum?

Any thoughts?

Bene valete,
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Young Marius (mostly silly)

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Oct 14, 2004 2:22 am

Ave, mi Curio, et salvete omnes...

What could a teenaged Marius have been doing in Spain...? (Besides chucking stones at gamebirds for his supper.) Oh, I can think of all kinds of trouble he could get in. The youth of Marius, like the youth of Jesus, is poorly-documented. (The two are not otherwise comparable in any respect.) That leaves a lot of room for the imagination!

Hmm...p'r'aps his parents couldn't stand to have the young rowdy hangin' around the house in Arpinum anymore? Maybe Hispania Baetica was the equivalent of being "sent off to military school"? (If so, he learned his lessons exceptionally well!)

In my Catullus paper ("Life with the Legions", available here), I had a Centurion Marius begin his career by leading nine of his hellion friends to the nearest recruiting station...they travelled from Italica in Baetica to Legio in Hispania Tarragonensis, all arriving in one piece. Caius Marius could've done something like that.

But...this is the Collegium Historicum, so enough of my fantasies. Plutarch was not the only writer to mention Marius. Perhaps Sallust has something useful on our subject?

In amicitia (and a wee bit of levitas),
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Re: Consider this.

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Thu Nov 18, 2004 2:45 pm

Salvete omnes

Ti. Coruncanius wrote: But if you subscribe the notion that a massive overabundance of wealth raises the stakes and fuels corruption as interested parties wanting parts of the loot resort to increasingly underhanded, dirty and even violent tricks to gain some of the goods, then Livy makes your case.


Pliny, recording the introduction of this or that, makes the same case, and ascribes the same then to the final fall of the Respublica as well. There is some mention of the same theme in Valerius Maximus, too, when he speaks of the relative wealth of consuls of different eras.

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Postby Anonymous on Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:57 pm

Salvete omnes.
I think, that widing Roman Respublic up to gigantic dimentions, absorption of many countries,territories, peoples have brought to new form of goverment - Empier.It was more siutable to govern from one place by one person. I dont know from history the exemples of any large composition of many different countries,territories as Roman Empier, where were democratic form of goverment. Not in Austo- Hungary Empire, not in Russia, not in France of Napoleon. Democracy and capture in during long time - 2 things not compatibles.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Wed Dec 29, 2004 5:06 pm

Salve Vibi Tulli,

I don't think that an empire needs to be dictatorial per se. There is a conceivable alternative for the Roman Empire as a democracy. How about the Empire as a federalised state with elected city governments, who represent their provinces in a Senate? Also, the history of the Roman Empire, which grew from a city-state, is quite different from that of Austro-Hungary or France, which were governmed more by territorial and inheritance principles than a city-state mindset.

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Thu Dec 30, 2004 1:50 am

Salvete omnes,

Indeed, it could be argued that the French Republic and British democracy were both examples of empires that were not dictatorial. As for Austro-Hungary, I have come to the conclusion that it developed more as the remnants of the Habsburg dynastic holdings than as the culmination of Austro-Hungarian imperalism. Muscowy certainly had imperalistic tendencies. However, even in the ancient world, Athens, which certainly grew from a city-state mindset, was a good example of a city-state that gained an empire and yet remained oligarchic rather than dictatorial - at least until the imposition of foreign puppets.

Bene valete,
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