Sunday, June 19, 2005

Roman Republic, was it really a good one?

I have seen several books and essys that describe the beginning of Julius Ceasar's dictatorship as the time freedom and liberty in Rome fell. Some put this date earlier to the beginning of the war between Ceasar and the Senate (headed by Pompey). I feel some things need to be made clear.

The choice Ceasar was given was an impossible one. He could either become an enemy of Rome, or he could set aside his governorship of the territories he conquered and come back to Rome with virtually no military power. Here, let me explain to you how "democratic" the Roman Senate was.

The Senate was corrupt, period. Many of the Senators thought themselves above the ordinary commoners or plebians. Sometimes they even became afraid of the unpredictable plebs, the same ones who were voting for them. There was the threat of mass riots against a senator if he did something to anger the plebs. But truly, things were happening in Rome that the commoners barely knew of. Threats, blackmail, power, force and money were more important. A man who became immensely famous through conquests, battles, and good governorship often became feared by the Senate.

The Senate had ordered it Ceasar to give up his territories to another Roman and return as a regular politician. This was driven at least greatly by fear of the man. It was considered a way to disarm a threat to the Senators' power and wealth. The people liked Ceasar, but those who represented them were afraid of him. Sound familar?

And here's another thing, only Italians could vote for Senators. Yet Rome controlled lands all around the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, not too long ago it was only the people of the city of Rome itself who had suffrage. It was Ceasar's uncle, Gaius Marius, who fundamentally changed the entire military structure of Rome, and gave the vote to all Italians. This finally satisfied the rebellious Italic tribes. However, these changes were so great they were a part of the reason for the civil war that happened in Rome between Marius and Sulla, who were once co-consuls.

Marius's reforms would deeply affect the history of Imperial Rome. It gave much of the responsibility of managing and paying the costs of legions in the hands of the generals. Thus to the troops their general often became their heroes, and they were ready to follow him anywhere.


David Schantz said...

The United States does have a lot in common with old Rome. I hope you never lose your interest in history.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

GeoBandy said...

I think you're absolutely right to question those who claim the Roman republic was done in by Caesar. By Julius Caesar's time the republic had become essentially an oligarchy with a ruling class that had long since learned to manipulate the voting to maintain their power. One not born into that ruling class, with few exceptions, had to buy, marry, or general his way into it.