The Roman Government


At the Roman Republic's head were two people who were called consuls. These people were chosen each year. Both of them had the power to veto an act from the other person but both had to agree before anything was passed.

The Senate was next in importance. The Senate was made up of 300 senators who stayed senators for life. The Senate handle the governments daily problems and advised the consuls. It also proposed laws and approved contracts for building roads and temples.

The judges, assemblies, and tribunes were also in the Roman government. All of the Roman citizens were part of the assemblies. The assemblies had the power to declare war or agree to peace terms.

Roman laws were never written down until about 450 BC when laws were put on to a dozen bronze tablets that were called the Twelve Tables. These tablets were put in the Forum. The laws went for both patricians and plebeians. Most of the laws had to do with wills, property rights, and the court. These laws became the foundation for all the future laws to be passed.

With the election of tribunes and the recording of laws, the Romans were on step closer to becoming a democratic government. By about 250 BC, no one could be sold into slavery from debt and plebeians could hold office.

Roman Expansion


Once the Roman republic was set up, they worked hard to protect it from failing. One thing they were afraid of was that the Etruscans might try to regain Rome. So the Romans crossed the Tiber river and took many Etruscan cities. Whenever the Romans conquered a city, they set a new boundary. To protect this boundary, they either conquered the neighboring city or made an alliance with them. By 290 BC, Rome was the leading power in Italy, by 275 BC, Rome had taken to whole peninsula, and by 146 BC, most all of the Mediterranean world belonged to Rome.

In battle, the roman army was organized into legions that contained around 5000 soldiers that were called legionaries and was divided into groups of 60 to 120 soldiers. Because of this strong formation, Rome was able to gain more and more territory.

The legion was also better than the Greek phalanx in several ways. For one, the legion was smaller so it could move faster. Also, each legionary depended on his own fighting ability so the soldiers in a legion could split off and attack from all sides. But in the phalanx, everyone fought as a group and could only attack in one direction.

Legionaries spent hours practicing with their swords. They went on long marches everyday and before going to sleep, they had to build fortified camps even if they were staying just for one night. They also built roads out of blocks of lava so they could move faster.

The Romans were very mild rulers and at first, when they conquered a city, they didn't tax them. They also let the conquered people keep their government and take care of their own problems. Some people could even become Roman citizens. But in return, conquered people had to serve in the army and support the foreign policy. Because of this, many original enemies of Rome became their allies.

Punic Wars


To read about the Punic Wars, click here.

Agricultural Changes


The wealth that came with the conquests changed Rome's economy and government. One of these changes was in agriculture. One change was the size and purpose of the farms. Roman farmers had mostly been small and believed in hard work and service to Rome. But now the small farms were being replaced with latifundias or large estates. Now, instead of just growing wheat for food, farms began producing crop, sheep, and cattle at the markets. Some grew olives and grapes. But now since Romans didn't get their own wheat, they started to import it from other places they'd conquered.

The main reason for all of this change was because after the Second Punic War, most of the land was ruined and the small farmers didn't have the money to fix it. Only the rich business people and patricians had the money to fix them so they bought the small farms and combined them to make latifundias.

Another change was that instead of farmers working the land, the Romans took the people they had enslaved from war and made them work the land. The Romans didn't start doing this until about 146 BC.

Going from Farm to City


After farmers sold their land, the only choices they had were to stay and work their land or move to the city. Almost all of the farmers ended up moving to Rome.

The living conditions were terrible. The farmer crowded into wooden apartments six or more stories high. Both the aqueducts that brought water to the city and the sewers that took away waste were not connected to the apartments. The buildings usually caught fire or collapsed and many diseases like typhus were common.

Because most of the businesses were worked by enslaved people so it was hard for farmers to make a living in the city. The only way that farmers really made any money was by selling votes to the politicians.

The Roman Republic's Decline


After Rome's rule went past Italy, they began to demand taxes and slaves from the places they conquered. People called publicans bought tax contracts from Rome. They bought these ahead of time. Then they collected the taxes. The taxes were supposed to be no more than 10 percent above the price of the contract but most publicans made some extra money.

At around 135 BC Rome was in a lot of trouble because since farmers had lost their land, Rome had lost it's economy. Merchants became very poor because luxuries were available in other places for rich Romans to buy, artisans lost their business because the Romans wanted to buy from Syria and Greece, and government officials were to busy getting money to worry about the republic's problems.

The gap between the rich and the poor grew. The poor hated the rich and the rich hated the poor. Because of all this, Rome lost its political stability.

The Reformers


In the next 100 years, many leaders tried to improve Rome's conditions. Some of the people were reformers. The first reformer was named Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. He thought that making the small farmers leave their land had caused the troubles in Rome.

When Tiberius became a tribune in 133 BC he wanted to limit the amount of land a person could own and he also wanted to divide up the public lands and give them to all the poor people. But another tribune vetoed his idea so Tiberius then talked the assembly into putting idea into use and into putting the getting rid of the tribune that had vetoed his idea.

Tiberius then ran for a second even though it was against the law. To prevent Tiberius from being elected, the Senate staged a riot and killed Tiberius and hundreds of his followers killed.

Then, in 123 BC, Tiberius' younger brother Gaius was elected tribune. He thought that if they put the poor back in the countryside, they're problems will be over.

Gaius improved his brothers reforms. He had the government take over the sale of wheat and let the poor buy it below market price. But soon the wheat ended up being given away rather than sold. During this time though, the Senate was beginning to feel threatened by Gaius and had him killed in 121 BC.

The Generals


Then, after the reformers, the generals came. The first general was Gaius Marius. Marius was the first lower class citizen to be elected consul. He was supported by a lot of ex-soldiers who thought that the government was taking advantage of them. Many of the soldiers had been farmers before they had lost their farms and went to the army.

Marius thought that the solution to Rome's problems was to have a professional army because until then, only property owners could join the army. So Marius opened the army to everyone and convinced the poor to join by offering pay, land, and pensions. His plan helped Rome by giving jobless people jobs but it hurt the republic because people gave their loyalty to generals and not the government.

But Marius had an opponent named Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Because Sulla had been given a military command Marius wanted, Marius tried to get the assembly to give it to him. This made Sulla angry so he marched into the Rome and seized it. This was the first time this had happened.

Then civil war broke out and when it was over, Sulla made himself dictator of Rome. He believed the answer to Rome's problems was to give the Senate more power so he doubled it and gave the senators more duties and weakened tribunes. He also kept the generals from holding the same command for more than a year.

Julius Caesar


When Sulla retired, political power passed to the First Triumvirate which was made up of three men named Marcus Licinius Crassus, Gnaeus Pompeius, and Julius Caesar. Pompeius and Caesar thought differently on how Rome should be ruled. Pompeius believed in a republic and Caesar believed in a one-man rule.

After Crassus died, the remaining rulers fought each other for power in Rome. Then, in 48 BC, Pompeius was killed and Caesar took control. Caesar was a politician who had become a soldier so he had both military strength and strong family alliances to help back him up as ruler.

In 58 BC, Caesar was named governor of a Roman province and there he built a large and strong army which was loyal to him. Because of his army he conquered today's northern France and Belgium within seven years. Then the Senate started to think he was getting to strong so in 50 BC, they made Caesar break up his legions and go back to Rome. But instead of breaking up his legions, he marched into Rome at the had of his soldiers and in 46 BC became Rome's dictator.

Caesar brought a lot of reforms to Rome. One was he redistributed the land in Italy, made new colonies overseas, and gave land to soldiers that had none. He also began public projects like building roads, building, and draining the marshes that around Rome. This gave many people jobs. Caesar also planned and paid for some gladiatorial games so that they were free to the public, and because he did this, he helped keep poor people from turning into mobs. He cut back activities of the publicans and decided to give citizenship to Greeks, Spaniards, and Gauls. Caesar also made a calendar based on the Egyptian calendar that is still in use today called the Julian calendar.

Although Caesar did a lot for Rome, some Romans were still afraid he'd try to become king. So about 60 senators made a plan to kill him and when he got to the senate on March 15, 44 BC, he was stabbed to death.

The End of the Republic


A lot of people got very angry at the people who had killed Caesar and turned against them. At the same time time as this, power went to the next triumvirate. Now the Roman Republic was ruled by Marcus Antonius in the East, Octavian in the West, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in Africa, and all three in the Italian homeland.

The triumvirate only worked for a while before they started fighting. When the fights finally stopped at about 31 BC, Octavian had won and in four years would become the ruler of all of the Roman Empire.