The second period in Roman history is the period of the Roman Republic. The word Republic refers to both the time period and the political system [Roman Republics, by Harriet I. Flower (2009)]. Its dates vary with the scholar, but are typically the four and a half centuries from 509-49, 509-43, or 509-27 B.C. As you can see, even though the Republic begins in the legendary period, when historical evidence is in short supply, it's the end date for the period of the Republic that causes trouble.
- Did it end with Caesar as dictator?
- With Caesar's assassination?
- With Caesar's great-nephew Octavian (Augustus) assuming a position at the top of the political pyramid?
The Republic can be divided into:
- an early period, when Rome was expanding, to the start of the Punic Wars (to c. 261 B.C.),
- a second period, from the Punic Wars until the Gracchi and civil war during which Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean (to 134), and
- a third period, from the Gracchi to the fall of the Republic (to c. 30 B.C.).
In the Republican era, Rome elected its governors. To prevent abuse of power, the Romans allowed the comitia centuriata to elect a pair of top officials, known as consuls, whose term in office was limited to one year. In times of national turmoil there were occasionally one-man dictators. There were also times when one consul couldn't carry out his term. By the time of the emperors, when surprisingly, there were still such elected officials, consuls were sometimes selected as often as four times a year.
Rome was a military power. It could have been a peaceful, cultural nation, but that was not its essence and we probably wouldn't know much about it had it been. So its rulers, the consuls, were primarily commanders of the military forces. They also presided over the senate. Until 153 B.C., consuls started their years on the Ides of March, the month of the war god, Mars. From then on consul terms started at the beginning of January. Because the year was named for its consuls, we have retained the names and dates of the consuls throughout most of the Republic even when many other records were destroyed.
In the earlier period, consuls were at least 36 years old. By the first century B.C. they had to be 42.
In the last century of the Republic, individual figures, including Marius, Sulla, and Julius Caesar, began to dominate the political scene. Again, as at the end of the regal period, this created problems for the proud Romans. This time, the resolution led to the next form of government, the principate.
See the following for more on important aspects of Rome during the Republic:
- Geography of Ancient Italy
- Plebeian Timeline
- 12 Tablets
- Expansion of Rome in Italy
- Expansion Beyond Italy
- Spanish Wars
- Cato the Elder
- Seleucid War
- Punic Wars
- The Gracchi
Photo: Sulla. Glyptothek, Munich, Germany. Bibi Saint-Pol