The Roman Republic: Part One
Rome has existed as a distinct civilization from 753 B.C. until its demise in A.D. 476. Within that timespan, the Roman Republic was in existence from 509 B.C. with the abolition of the monarchy, until the rise of the first emperor in 27 B.C. Rome was built along the Tiber river on the Italian Peninsula. Rome was a highly stratified society with patricians at the top of the social hierarchy. These were people descended from the founding families and also very wealthy. All other men who were free, but not part of the patrician class, were known as plebeians. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were the slaves. The Republic was lead by 2 consuls who were chosen annually. The 2 consuls presided over the Senate and the Assembly. The Senate was made up of previously-elected patricians and the assembly was made up of plebeians. Rome had extensive laws regarding individual and property rights. It was Rome’s goal to expand its territory. This brought Rome into conflict with Carthage. Three wars (known as the Punic wars) were fought, which ended with the destruction of Carthage. Rome acquired Sicily in the first war and destroyed the city of Carthage in the third war. After the destruction of Carthage, Rome was able to spread rapidly through conquest. In time, they controlled all the areas around the Mediterranean sea. Rome allowed the people they conquered to maintain their own cultures as long as they paid tribute to Rome. In order to administrate their growing republic, they developed an extensive infrastructure that included their famous and very durable roads as well as aqueducts to transport water.
The Roman Republic: Part One
The Roman civilization dates from 753 B.C. to A.D. 476. The Roman Republic lasted from 509 B.C. to 27 B.C. This is from whenever the monarchy was overthrown and it became a republic to when we got our first emperor in Rome. That’s what defines the period that is the Roman Republic. Rome was built along the Tiber River on the Italian peninsula. Since it was along a river, it’s going to have fertile lands and it’s going to be able to develop a larger civilization than other areas.
Roman society consisted of a social hierarchy. At the top of the social hierarchy, people descended from the founders of the republic. People who were often wealthy were called the Patricians. All other freemen, so all other men who were free but weren’t necessarily in this top level of the social hierarchy, were known as Plebeians. Then, at the bottom of the social hierarchy, you had slaves.
People who weren’t necessarily- well, who weren’t free, but they still made up some part of the social hierarchy, because they were a part of Rome. Women were not really involved in government or considered in this hierarchy. They just kind of existed as far as their parents or their fathers or their husbands. Whichever category their fathers or husbands fell in, that’s where the women would fall into.
While they weren’t really considered equals, they had a lot better than some of the surrounding territories and civilizations did. It wasn’t so bad to be a woman in Rome as compared to other places, but you still didn’t have equal status in the Roman Republic. The Republic was the first political arrangement for Rome. It was led by two consuls who were chosen annually.
These two consuls presided over the Senate, which was a permanent group of previously elected men, mostly Patrician, and the assembly, which was made up of only Plebeians. You can see the slaves did not have a part in this. These are the men that took part in this. You’ve got to consuls, or leaders, that are chosen every year. They could repeat years, but every year the people were allowed to choose a new consul or new consuls.
It wasn’t always the same person ruling if they didn’t like the person who was ruling. They also had the Senate, which was the group of Patrician men (mostly patrician). There may be a few Plebeians that made it into the Senate. They were previously elected. Once they were elected, they stayed in the Senate. Then, you had the assembly, which is made up of only Plebeians.
That gave them a voice as well. Slaves didn’t really get a voice. All of these groups working together formed the republic and helped make the laws and enforce them in the Roman Republic. Rome had extensive laws regarding individual and property rights. They did make laws and enforce them. They had a lot of them regarding individual rights and rights regarding property.
Rome also had goals to expand its territory. It started going out conquering other civilizations and bringing them into the Roman Republic. They didn’t really have a lot of resistance until they got to Carthage. Carthage offered the first real challenge to Rome. It was taken slowly over a series of battles known as the Punic Wars. During the First Punic War, Rome won and acquired Sicily in the process, but it didn’t defeat Carthage as a whole.
During the Second Punic War, Hannibal was leading the Carthaginians and he made a lot of headway. He crossed the Alps into Italy, but his army was spread too thin and he eventually had to retreat to defend Carthage. During the Second Punic War, Carthage was still not taken, but during that Third Punic War, Rome destroyed Carthage. You’ve heard, probably, the rumors about Carthage being burned to the ground and the fields salted so nothing would ever grow there again.
We’re not sure about the 100% accuracy of that story, but there were some Roman senators who said, “Carthage must be destroyed,” over and over and they hadn’t really experienced any real resistance until they got to Carthage. You can imagine that it made the officials, the people, the two consuls, the senators, and the men in the assembly all very frustrated that they were having to deal with Carthage when everything else so far had kind of fallen into place. They’d gone in.
They take it over the cities and then everything had gone on as usual. Carthage was the first place to offer real resistance, a real challenge to Rome. They were very frustrating to Rome and there was a lot of bitterness there. They really wanted Carthage destroyed, so it’s fully possible that they did burn everything to the ground and even salt the fields to keep things from growing there in the future.
After Carthage, Rome met little resistance. That was because the Romans had superior weapons. It was easy, or fairly easy, for them to beat other civilizations, for them to go through and conquer. Romans also allowed people to keep their own cultures, as long as they paid tribute to Rome. The people weren’t expected to start following Roman traditions. They weren’t expected to start saying they were Romans, that they were going to do everything the same way Rome had been doing.
They could do everything just as they had been doing, except now they had to pay tribute to Rome. In some of those places, they had had to pay tribute to someone anyway, so paying it to Rome, their life pretty much went on as usual. That’s why the Romans weren’t experiencing a lot of resistance up until Carthage and even after Carthage. Now, the Romans had to develop an infrastructure to connect all of their new territories.
They had started on that Italian Peninsula, along the Tiber River, and they had branched out in several directions. To connect all of those territories, and to be able to go and actually collect that tribute that was being paid and bring it back to Rome, they had to have an infrastructure. The Romans are famous for the solid and durable roads they built and for the aqueducts that they built to transport water.
Many of those are still around today, because they built them so solidly and so lasting that they were able to withstand time up until this point and still be functional right now. This is the first part of the Roman Republic. We’ve set up where it was established, what kind of society the Romans had, what their ambitions were, and what kind of political arrangement Rome had.