Rome was once just a little hilly city, but soon its capable fighters and engineers took over the surrounding countryside, then the boot of Italy, then the area around the Mediterranean Sea, and finally, even further, extending into Asia, Europe, and Africa. These Romans lived in the Roman Republic -- a time period and a system of government.
The Meaning of Republic:
The word republic comes from the Latin words for 'thing' and 'of the people' The res publica or respublica referred to 'the public property' or 'the common weal,' as the online Lewis and Short Latin dictionary defines it, but it could also mean the administration. Thus, the term republic as first employed as a description of Roman government had less baggage than it carries today.
Do you see the connection between democracy and republic? The word democracy comes from Greek [demos = the people; kratos = strength/rule] and means rule of or by the people.
The Roman Republic Begins:
The Romans, who were already fed up with their Etruscan kings, were spurred to action after a member of the royal family raped a patrician matron named Lucretia. The Roman people expelled their kings, driving them from Rome. Even the name of king (rex) had become hateful, a fact that becomes significant when the emperors took control as (but resisted the title of) king. Following the last of the kings, the Romans did what they were always good at -- copying what they saw around them and adapting it into a form that worked better. That form is what we call the Roman Republic, which endured for 5 centuries, beginning in the year 509 B.C., according to tradition.
Government of the Roman Republic:
3 Branches of Government
Having witnessed the problems of monarchy on their own land, and aristocracy and democracy among the Greeks, when the Romans started the Republic, they opted for a mixed form of government, with 3 branches: consuls, senate, and an assembly of the people.
Aristocratic men were expected to follow a certain series of life events, from the military to the political. In the political sphere, you couldn't just decide you want to be consul and apply for the position. You had to be elected to other lesser offices first. Learn about of the magisterial offices and order in which they must be held.
Assemblies were an aspect of democratic government. There was an assembly of the centuries and an assembly of the tribes.
At the top of the political ladder -- at least of the political offices were imperium (power), since there wee also censors who lacked imperium -- were the consuls (occasionally, dictators), two of which served for a period of a year. Consult this list of consuls for those pairs of men who held office during the period of the collapse of the Republic.
Censors of the Roman Republic
Censors didn't rate movies in ancient Rome, but did conduct the census. Here is a list of the censors of Rome during the Republican period.
Periods of the Roman Republic:
The Roman Republic followed the legendary period of kings, although history dosed heavily with legends continued into period of the Roman Republic, with a more historical era only beginning after the Gauls sacked Rome [see the Battle of the Allia c. 387 B.C.]. The period of the Roman Republic may be further subdivided 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 (to 134) during which Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean, and
- a third period, from the Gracchi to the fall of the Republic (to 30 B.C.).
The Growth of the Roman Republic:
Wars of the Roman Republic
Rome emerged only gradually as the leader of Italy and then the Mediterranean. Starting in the legendary period under the kings, Rome had joined forces with Sabines (as in the rape of the Sabine women) and Etruscans (who ruled as kings of the Romans). During the Roman Republic, Rome formed treaties with neighboring villages and city-states to allow them to join forces either defensively or aggressively.
Roman Treaties of the Roman Republic
During Rome's early period of expansion, from the fall of the monarchy in 510 B.C. until the mid-third century, she gradually spread her dominion over the peninsula of Italy, making treaties with all the states she conquered.
The Growth of Rome
Rome started gaining strength from about 510 B.C., when the Romans threw out their last king, until the middle of the 3rd century B.C. During this, the early Republican period, Rome made and broke strategic treaties with neighboring groups in order to help her conquer other city-states.
Expansion of Rome Beyond Italy
Rome didn't initially set up to conquer the world, but it gradually did so, anyway. A side effect of its empire-building was the reduction of Republican Rome's democratic policies.
The End of the Roman Republic:
Books on the Late Republic / Roman Revolution
Sometimes it seems as though there is too much material on Rome around the time of Julius Caesar. There's a reason for this -- many first hand accounts -- a rarity in ancient history. The authors of the following books distill the Latin primary sources to present authoritative pictures of the Roman Republic when it was the dominant world power abroad, but in revolt or chaos closer to home.
Articles on the End of the Roman Republic
Look at the Gracchi brothers, the conflict between Sulla and Marius, external forces like Mithradates of Pontus and pirates, the social war, and other factors that strained the Roman republic and led to the formation of the first period of the Roman Empire, the Principate.