|The Roman Republic
The Latin words res publica which mean 'commonwealth' or 'state' is the of today's term 'republic'.
Rome was never a democracy as would be understood today, or as the Greeks understood it. Roman society was firmly divided by class.
Naturally, there was a division between the free and the enslaved. The free were further divided. If they free from birth or had been released from slavery, if they were Roman citizens or Latins, if answerably to a guardian, etc...
The Republic was solely ruled by the two upper classes, the senators, who qualified by birth and wealth, or the equestrians or knights.
The latter were the second most wealthy group in Roman society. Their name stems from the fact that they were supplied, by public expense, with a horse when required for military duty.
The change from Monarchy to Republic was a gradual one. What was the King's main function, including the waging of war, was then taken care of by two consuls of equal rank, elected for one year.
It was Lucius Valerius Publicola who decreed that the lictors, the bearers of the fasces(see Kings) were to march in front of each consul on alternate months, so that there was not to be more symbols of power under the Republic than under the Kings.
From 367 BC one consulship was normally held by a Plebeian. However, by that time the office of consul was largely a formal position. Varro describes the consul being called so, "as he consults the senate".
However, the Roman constitution allowed that in times of crisis and particularly war, that one 'dictator' be appointed who could exercise total power for six months. It was an ancient office, having originated from the rule that one military commander being appointed over the armies of several Latin cities. This rank was referred to as 'master-of-infantry'. In republican days the title survived in form of the dictator's second in command who was 'master-of-cavalry'.
356 BC Gaius Marcius Rutilus became the first plebeian dictator to repel an Etruscan invasion force. Despite vehement opposition by the patricians he set across the Tiber with his army, launched a surprise assault on the enemy's camp, took 8000 prisoners and killed or routed the rest.
As in any large society with growing sophistication and complexity there arises the need for ever more governmental offices to oversee and regulate aspects of life.
Religion was firmly in the hands of the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) - a title still held by the present day pope. The pontifex maximus was, as were pretty much all official positions, an elected office. But unlike other offices its holder enjoyed a residence at the Forum in the very heart of Rome. His duties entailed the calendar, presiding at state ceremonies and nominating the vestal virgins as well as some priests. He also held punitive powers over the members of the priesthood.
The Censor (of which there were two) was the chief registrar of Rome, its finance and tax officer, inspector of public works and arbiter of public morality.
His office compiled lists of all citizens, including their age, antecedents, families and means. They oversaw the maintenance of temples, roads, water system, treasury and revenues. They were in charge of the division of Rome's citizens into the three tribes and listed them according to wealth, age and rank. They also assigned the young men into cavalry and infantry. Their powers of moral guardians were sweeping ones. Not only were they charged to discourage the unmarried state of the lower ranking Romans, would they punish anyone who did not properly maintain his land, did not plough his fields or would let them become overgrown with weeds, but they even possessed the power to suspend from the senate any senator guilty of improper conduct. Simply for not seeing to his lands properly a citizen could be reduced to the lowest rank of citizenship. Even the equestrians, second only to the patricians could be charged with negligence if their horse, provided to them by public funds, was to be found badly turned out.
The office first arose in 444 BC, the first plebeian to hold it was Gaius Marcius Rutilus in 351 BC. Usually it was only ever granted those who had ascended the 'ladder of honour' from quaestor to consul. From the second century BC elections were held every five years, coinciding with the census of the people. A censor would hold office for only eighteen months, though his acts would remain in force until the next election.
The Praetor (of which there were six after 197 BC) was the chief law officer, judge and understudy to the consuls, particularly with the administration of the provinces. Provincial governors were usually drawn from the ranks of former consuls and Praetors. The first Praetor took office in 366 BC. About a century later the second one was appointed. The first plebeian Praetor was appointed 337 BC.
The Aedile (of which there were four after 421 BC) was the supervisor of public works, temples, markets and games. Two at least were plebeians.
The Quaestor (of which there were four after 421 BC, and ten after 267 BC) was an assistant to the consuls, in particular controlling the military or civic treasury, and keeper of records. The minimum age was 25, to allow for his completion of military service. The first plebeian Quaestor took office in 409 BC.
The Senate consisted of about 300 members up until the reforms of Sulla. nominations to the senate were originally automatic and by birth or rank, later they were made by the consuls and, after about 350 BC, by the censors. Plebeians were admitted during the fourth century BC, after which the senate became a body predominantly composed of former government officials. It didn't pass any laws of its own, but far more offered advice. However, it did possess complete control over finance, administration of the state and its empire and foreign relations. Furthermore it adjudicated in religious matters and was the intermediary between the Roman people and the gods.
The comitia curiata was an assembly of wards, ten each from the three tribes of Rome, which had been the people's council at the time of the Kings. It formerly ratified the election of consuls and was the court of appeal. In the fourth century BC its functions were largely assumed by the comitia centuriata.
The comitia centuriata was originally the assembly of the representatives of military units (the centuries). The assembly elected senior state officials, declared war and, until the function was completely transferred to the courts had the last word in matters of execution or exile.
The concilium plebis, the original plebeian parliament, sat and voted in 35 tribal or district divisions. It elected its own officers and issued decrees (plebiscita) for observance by its own kind which, after 287 BC, could be made binding on the whole community.
The comitia tributa, the tribal assembly, was organized in tribes like the concilium plebis but was open to all citizens. It elected minor officials and was a means of approving legislation on a different basis to that of of the comitia centuriata.
At the outset of the republic, the patricians did not only the means to exercise power, but all the actual power as well. The general rise of influence of the plebs was not achieved by revolution but by a gradual in their influence as Rome developed. One major concession was the creation of the office of the tribunis plebis (tribune of the people) in about 494 BC to present the people's grievances to the consuls or the senate. A tribune had extraordinary powers. Whereas a government official could hinder or quash an act of an official of the same rank, a tribune could hold up almost any business of state, including resolutions of the senate, merely by pronouncing his veto. He was required to be on call day and night to any citizen who required his help.
The Twelve Tables
Another significant development if the Roman Republic was the appointment of the decemviri in 451 BC, a comitte of ten men to refine, standardize and record a statutory code of law. The result, known as teh twelve tables, was engraved in copper and permanently displayed to public view. The tables constituted a clear set of rules for public, private and political behaviour.
If a thief was a freeman, he was to flogged and bound over to the plaintiff. If he was a slave he was to be flogged and thrown off the Tarpeian Rock.
Other laws ruled over hygiene and fire-hazards. No burials or cremations were allowed within the city limits. The upkeep of roads was deemed the responsibility of those on whose property they bordered. Tehre was a statutaroy maximum rate of interest. Anyone ajudged to be a debtor was given thirty days to pay, after which he could be sold into slavery by his creditors.
It was an offence to cast or have cast any spells on someone. Also to demonstrate in teh streets against an individual (instead of for or against a cause) was forbidden. You could remove any part of a neighbour's tree which overhung your property.
There was a fixed penalty for assault, which was reduced if the victim was a slave. Stealing crops was a capital offence, so was slander (by clubbing to death). Accoring to Pliny teh Elder (a chronist of the time) the penalty for murder was less than that for stealing crops.
There was a distinction between an intentional and an accidental killing. The father had to right to kill his deformed child.
The Roman code lasted as long as the Roman Empire itself. Though more importantly, it was the first time that written code was put dow which applied right across the social scale from the patricians to the plebeians. The Twelve Tables are generally seen as the beginning of European law.
By 265 BC Rome had had conquered the entire Italian peninsula below teh River Arno. They also had successfully ressited repeated attempts by the Gauls, who occupied the Po Valley, to incur on their territory. By 275 BC the Romans ahd also finally seen off King Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, (318-272 BC) and his army who had been called in by the Greek city states in teh south. The victory over Pyrrhus was a significant one as it was teh defeat of Greek army which fought in teh tradition of Alexander teh Great and was commanded by the most able commander of the time.
It is to Pyrrhus we owe the expresssion of 'a Pyrrhic victory. For after having deated teh Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC by inspired use of his elephant corps, but otherwise very considerable cost to his own forces, he reported to have said that one more such victory would lose him the war.
the tale goes that Pyrrhus died during an assault on Argos, wehre an old woman seeing him fighting her son sword to sword in the street below supposedly threw a rooftile on his head.
As Rome set about conquering the Italian peninsula it employed intelligent tactics of granting some defeated city states some form of Roman citizenship. Some states were sometimes allowed the right of intermarriage with Rome, but never amongst each other. 'Divide and conquer' is an ancient Roman proverb.
All conquered states however were required to supply manpower to the Roman army. Until the second century BC soldiers may not have received any formal pay, but from 406 BC they were reimbursed for some of their field expenses. A soldier's reward was in spoils and land. Much of the growth of the roman Empire may be seen as a means by which to provide these.
A crucial date in teh Romanization of Italy was the capitulation of teh Latin league of states, and the subsequent establishment of Roman colonies along the coast of Latium.
Shortly after treaties were made with the Campanian cities Cumae and Capua, originally Greek colonies but by then under Etruscan domination, granting the people a form of Roman citizenship and military protection in return for the supply of soldiers to teh Roman army.
It wasn't long before the promised military protection was called upon against invastions of Campania by teh Samnites.
Teh Samnites posed a new problem to the Roman army. Whilst in teh plains of central Italy they were easily routed by the superior Roman forces, once they reitred to their mountaineous homelands altogether new tactics were required. The war lasted with several interruptions for 37 years until 290 BC. The Romans scored a predictable victory, but not without suffering the most humiliating defeat in their entire military history.
Trapped in the Claudine Forks, the whole Roman army, with its consuls and officers, was forced to surrender. Six hundred knights had to be handed over as hostages.
Thereafter the entire army, with all its commanders was sent 'under the yoke'. This ancient ritual was a form of subjugation by which the defeated had to bow and pass under a yoke used for oxen.
By the latter part of the fifth century BC the last remaining Etruscan footholds in Campania had been cleared away. The destruction of teh rest of the Etruscan empire was begun when in 310 BC a Roman army not only reached as far as the wooded slopes of Mount Ciminius, but forced itsway through the forest, got into the rear of the Etruscan army and crushed it. Three major Etruscan cities immediately sued for peace. All others had followed suit by 283 BC, by which time the Etruscan capitulation was complete.
The Gaulish tribes occupying the Po valley resisted Roman attempts to annex their territory until 191 BC and though Ligurian tribes on teh east coast resisted for another twenty years or so, everyone by now recognised Rome's control over entire Italy.
Cato teh Censor (234-149 BC)
Teh progress from quaestor to consul via offices of aedile and praetor was a natural one and came more quickly to men who had proved themselves able soldiers in times of war. However, no one man could hold teh same office twice in ten years. Tehrefore, unless there was a provincial governor needed somewhere, some men could at teh very height of their power suddenly find themselves unemployed.
This befell Marcus Porcius Cato, a political leader of great integrity and determination, also known as Cato the Elder to distinguish him from his great grandson.
Cato senior was born at Tusculum where he was brought up on his father's farm. He first experienced military service at 17. He was consul in 195 BC and led his army to great victory in Spain. He retired from the army in 191 BC. As a senator he participated fervently in debates. In 184 he was elected to the office of Censor.
Cato took his duties as the guardian of public morals rather seriously. He expelled Manilius, a prospective candidate for the consulship, from teh senate on the grounds that he had embraced his wife in front of their daughter !
He strenuously prusued those who would misuse public property. He cut off pipes by which people habitually siphoned off part off the municipal water supply into their houses and gardens and knocked down private buildings which encroached on public land. He imposed heavy taxes on the rich and severe taxes on teh very rich. He introduced police regulation to restrict luxurious living and entertaining.
He was hated for his rural ways, his harshness and his outspokenness. Though he was respectedas a skilled politician and a effective public speaker.
And it was in his last political act, as an eigty-four year old senator, that he should initiate a war which should result in teh complete destruction of an entire civilization - Carthage.
Cato never really retired from active life. He compiled the earliest Roman encyclopedia, wrote a medical work, a history of Rome, and even a treatise on agriculture; teh latter being the oldest surviving complete prose work in Latin.
The Punic Wars (264-146 BC)
The Punic Wars is teh generally used name for the lenghty conflict between the two main centres of power in the western Mediterraenan, Rome and Carthage. CArthage was originally a Phoenician colony. The Latin name for a Phoenician is 'Poenus' which leads to our English adjective 'Punic'.
The language of the Carthaginians was Semitic, their gods to were those of the Phoenicians, notably Ba'al-Hammon, god fo the sky and of fertility, and Tanit, the moon-goddess.
The Carthaginians can, until teh outbreak of teh Punic Wars, be seen as one of the most successful civilizations of teh ancient world.
Virgil refers to it as 'opposite Italy (in teh Mediterranean) and severe in the pursuit of war'. Carthage was a sea-going nation, using its fleet, maned by its own citizens, to virtually close off teh western Mediterranean to other nations, to wage war, and to trade all across teh Mediterranean as well as down teh West coast of Africa as far as Guinea in gold, bronze, ivory, tin, pottery, grain, perfume and slaves. It founded colonies along teh north African coast, in souther Spain, Carsica, Sardinia and in western Sicily. If teh Carthaginians manned their own fleet, they left teh fighting to someone else. The army being mainly composed of African consripts and mercenaries from all over teh Mediterranean - and through its wealth, Carthage could afford to employ the best. Naturally the army's commanders were Carthaginians and porfessional career soldiers.
Teh Greek cuty of Messana, situated on teh northeastern tip of Sicily had been occupied by a force of Campanian mercenaries in 289 BC. In 264 BC they were still there, once the King of Syracuse, a Greek city further to the south decided to drive them out.
The mercenaries asked teh Carthaginians for help in breaking the siege. Carthage held parts of teh west coast of Sicily. The Carthaginians agreed and sent a fleet to raise teh siege, but their ships thereafter stayed in Messana's harbour. Once more the mercenaries sought help, though this time from Rome. Their argument was that as Campanians they should enjoy the same protection from Rome as the Rome's Campanian allies in mainland Italy. The senate was reluctant to intervene and simply passed the buck to the comitia tributa. And so it was decided not to declare war, but to send a expeditionary force which woudl restore Messana to the Campanian mercenaries.
At the sight of a Roman force arriving the Carthaginian commander lost his nerve, embarked his troops and sailed home. This in turn angered the Carthaginian government, which felt humiliated and resolved to recapture Messana.
And so began almost by accident the first major war in world history to be waged, not for gold, territory or power, but for principles.It lasted, in three parts with intermediate breaks, for over a century. By teh time it finally ended, Carthage, a once shining city state with, according to teh Greek geographer Strabo, 300 cities in Lybia and 700'000 people in its own city, was annihilated.
The First Punic War (264-241 BC) was largely fought at sea. The Romans built entire fleets to match the Carthaginian numbers and crewed them with marine commandos trained in hand-to-hand fighting. It the age of only such rudimentary artillery such as catapults the usual naval tactic was to attach grpples to an enemy ship and then overwhelm the opposition with superior numbers.
The losses on both sides were enormous. The Romans, however, managed to commit ever more resources into the struggle. Under ever greater strain, the Carthaginians sued for peace and agreed to relinquish any claim to Silicy.
However, shortly after the hostilities had seized, the Romans used a temporary weakness of the Carthaginians due to a revolt in the ranks of their mercenaries to attack, seize and occupy Corsica and Sardinia.
Carthage reacted by increasing its empire by overrunning entire southern Spain. This Spanish campaign was led by a family tro of brilliant generals. Hamilcar (d. 229 BC), his son-in-law Hasdrubal (d. 221 BC), and Hamlicar's son Hannical (247-182 BC). So successful were the Carthaginians that now the Romans found themselves on the back foot. That declared that the river Ebro was to be seen as the boundary between the interest of Rome and Carthage, the town of Saguntum remaining under Roman protection.
In 221 BC Hasdrubal was murdered by a slave whose master he'd had put to death and Hannibal succeeded to his command.
He started teh Second Punic War (218-202 BC) by attacking and capturing Saguntum.
Two things motivated teh Carthaginians to the re-opening of hostilities. For one they sought revenge for their earlier defeat, particularly for the Roman foul play of occupying Corsica and Sardinia after the war had stopped. But so too did they fear roman incurrsions into their newly-won Spanish territories.
The Romans wrongly assumed this war in tactics would be a continuation of the previous one and prepared ships for a renewed naval onslaught. Hannibal though confounded them by doing not merely the unexpected, but the impossible. He marched his army - infantry, cavalry, baggage train and his famous elephants - out of Spain and across the river Rhone (french^ !) on boats whilst fighting off constant opposition by Gallic tribes. Then he spectacularly crossed the Alps; at one point having to blast away a wall of solid rock by heating it with fires before dashing on quantities of raw wine. Accordng to Polybius, Hannibal entered Italy with 20'000 infantry, 6'000 cavalry, having lost 18'000 infantry and 2'000 cavalry alone by warding off the Gauls. With these, and his surviving elephants he soon gained control of Northern Italy, having outflanked a Roman army before the river Trebia and trapped another at Lake Trasimene.
Rome itself he deeme dto tough a nut to crack, so he bypassed the city and continued into the south, wehre at Cannae he he outmanaeuvered a numerically much superior force and practically annihilated it. Thereafter for another fourteen years he and his army rampaged around southern Italy before being lured back to Italy and to defeat at Zama in 202 BC, by an African campaign conducted by Cornelius Scipio (234-182 BC), who had already driven teh Carthaginians out of Spain and who was thereafter awarded the honorary surname 'Africanus'.
Scipio in particular managed to neutralize the attack of Hannibal's famous elephants. Hannibal himself survived the battle spent the rest of his life in exile in Asia, after failing in his attempt to revive his country's fortunes by political means.
After the Second Punic War, Rome confiscated Spain, leaving Carthage with only its north African dominions. No sooner was this done Rome waded into local Spanish conflicts to keep the tribes in order, besides being in full-scale wars in Macedonia, Asia Minor and Syria. In spite of teh sanctions and conditions imposed on Carthage there was a possibility that it might rise agan and once more wreak havoc on teh Roman Empire.
Cato teh Elder believed this more than anyone else. He sought Carthago's destruction like no-one else. It is said that he even contrived to drop a Lybian fig on teh floor of the senate. Then, as the senators admired its size, he warned that the land from which it came was only three days away by sea. Furthermore he famously incorporated the words 'Carthago must be destroyed !' (Delenda Carthago !) in every speech he held in teh senate, no matter waht the subject of the matter debated was.
The Carthaginians were alas manoeuvred into teh position of having to defend themselves against Numidian invasions of their territory. This was technically a breach of theri treaty of 201 BC with Rome under which they were forbidden to take up arms without Rome's permission. The senate, egged on by Cato, and having already made plans for such an ocurrance, voted for war. They sent out a trained army of 80'000 infanrty and 4'000 cavalry to whom they had given orders not to occupy Carthago, but far more to raze it to the ground.
The Third Punic War lasted merely three years (149-146 BC). Carthage was now a shadow of its former self. That in even continued for so long was largely due to a heroic defence of the city. However, Carthage was duly defeated and destroyed. The 50'000 survivors of the siege were all sold into slavery.
Tiberius Gracchus (168-133 BC) and Gaius Gracchus (ca. 159-121 BC)
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were men from Rome's very elite, their father a famous consul and military leader and their mother a Scipio (one of the most distinguished potrician families) who, when widowed turned down an offer of marriage from teh King of Egypt.
All the more unusual does their background appear once one learns that they were to become politicians whose political reforms and championship of the poor and needy did most to upset the established order in republican Rome.
As all young men of his social class, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus werved in the army. This he did with considerable disticntion and was elected quaestor. In a campaign in Numantia in Spain, his talent in negotiations saved the lives of 20'000 Romans and countless auxiliaries and campfollowers from annihilation. But the surrender did not go down well in Rome. Largely thanks to his brother-in-law, another notable member of the Scipio clan, Tiberius and his fellow officers were spared any further indignity, but their commanding officer was put in irons and returned to the enemy.
Tiberius then turned to politics and was elected Tribune of teh People for 133 BC. The main reform he proposed was teh redistribution of large tracts of land which had been acquired by the state in its conquests of Italy to smallholders with guaranteed tenure in return for rent. Those currently living on the land would be restricted to what had for some time been the legal limit of ownership (500 acres plus 250 acres for each of up to two sons; i.e. 1000 acres), and would be compensated by being granted a hereditary rent-free lease.
This was a significant political package at a time of general unrest and of expension abroad. It also restored to the list of those eligible for military service (for which a tradition of qualification was teh possession of land) a section of society which had fallen out of the reckoning.
Though teh bill had teh backing of several prominent members of teh senate Tiberius questionable tactics in trying to get the law passed were reflective of what was to follow in later years.
Instead of submitting the bill to the senate Gracchus went straight to the comitia tributa, where it was bound to succeed.
This obviously annoyed the senate which therefore persuaded one of the tribunes to veto it as it was being read out. Tiberius retaliated by envoking his own right as tribune to suspend all business. Then, instead of listening to any advice to refer teh bill to the senate, he took teh unprecedented step of asking the comitia tributa to vote the tribune who'd vetoed him out of office, which it promptly did.
The bill wsa subsequently passed and three commissioners were appointed to dminister the scheme; Tiberius himse, his younger brother Gaius Sempronius Gracchus and Appius Claudis Pulcher, 'leader' of the senate - and Tiberius' father-in-law.
The commission began work at once and in all about 75'000 smallholding may have been created and farmed as a result.
As the commission began to run out of money Tiberius simply proposed to the comitia tributa to use the confiscated funds from the newly acquired kingdom of Pergamum. The senate was in no mood to be outwitted again, particularly not on matters of finance, which were its prerogative. It unwillingly passed the proposal. But Tiberius was not making any friends.
Roman state officials could not be prosecuted during their term of office, however, they be brought to court afterwards for acts commited during their term. Hence Tiberius was in a vulnerable position.
His solution to this problem though was unconstitutional, as he simply announced his candiday for tribune for a second term in office. The senate failed in an attempt to bar him from standing again, but a group of enraged senators charged into a electioneering meeting of Tiberius', broke it up and, alas, clubbed him to death.
the Gracchus family, however, wasn't finished yet. Nine years after Tiberius' assassination, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was elected tribune of teh people. And he was unopposedly re-elected the following year. There is the suggestion that one of his first acts of office was to repeal the law whereby a man could not hold office for two years in a row; teh very problem which had doomed his brother.
Gaius was a different and much formidable proposition than Tiberius. He was more flambyont and a very powerful speaker and demagogue.
His reforms passed by the comitia tributa were wide-ranging and designed to benefit all interests, except of course the Gracchus' old enemies, - the senate. He reaffirmed his brothers land laws and established smallholdings in Toman territory abroad. For the city dwellers who couldn't be persuaded to leave the teeming streets of Rome, he introduced corn laws which entitled every citizen on demand to a monthly ration at a fixed price.
Whilst the nobility still dominated the senate, wealth and trade lay largely with the equestrian class. Gaius Gracchus gave them greater power, and yet more opportunity to further enrich themselves, by awarding them the right to contract for the collecting of the enormous taxes due from the newly created province of Asia. Also he granted the knights teh right to act as jurors (instead of senators !) in cases of extortion brought by teh state against provincial governors. Further he forced through massive expenditure on public works, wuch as roads and harbours, which again benefitted the business community.
His most enlightend piece of legislation fell foul however, even of the comitia tributa. This was teh proposal to extand full Roman citizenship, including voting rights, to the population of teh surrounding area of Latium and to give all states in Italy teh rights so far enjoyed by teh Latins, such as trade and intermarriage with Romans.
When Gaius Gracchus in 121 BC stood for yet another term of tribune, teh senate conspired to put forward their own candidate with an entirely fallacious programme which was by its very nature simply designed to be yet more populist than anything Gracchus proposed.
Naturally, this straw candidate was elected. Gaius Gracchus' supporters held an angry mass demonstration on the Aventine Hill, making the mistake of carrying weapons.
The consul Lucius Opimius, armed with an order of highest authority, a senatus consultum optimum which gave which gave him senatoral backing to take action against those who were endangering the stability of the state, raised a large group of citizens, backed up by a company of solderis and archers, to disperse the demonstrators. The scene turned very ugly, resulting in a literal massacre on the side of Gracchus' demonstrators. Gaius himself escaped the first wave of violence, but recognising that the cause was hopeless he ordered his personal slave to stab him to death. It is said that 3'000 of his supporters were rounded up and thrown into jail where they were strangled.
The actions of the Gracchus brothers and the way of their demise represented a watershed in Roman politics. Their legistlation showed up
the links between poverty, the army, land ownership and the extentoin and retention of an empire. The sheer fact that political conflict surrounding such matters had twice resulted in violence had changed the rules of teh game, which subsequently is understood to having sparked of periods of anarchy and civil war.
Gaius Marius and his Reforms of the Roman Army
For a primarily agricultural society such as Rome to be a perpetual war machine is to attempt to combine two incompatibles.
What Tiberius Gracchus had tried to halt when he was tribune in 133 BC wa a trend which had begun centuries earlier and whcih , by the very success with which Rome had conducted military operations, had become a vicious circle/
Ancient armies were armed by peasant farmers. A society constantly at war required a constant flow of conscripts. Smallholdings fell into disuse because there was no one to tend to them. As Roman conquests spread through the Mediterranean lands, even more men were required, and wealth and cheap corn poured back into Rome, moch of it into the hands of entrepreneurs, who carved out vast areas for vegetables, vines, olives and sheep farming, all managed by slave labour. The dispossessed rural poor, became the urban poor -so becoming ineligible for military service as no longer being nominal property holders.
Not only was there threfore a shortage of recruits, but the soldiers had nothing to return to between campaigns or at the end of their service.
A working solution to this problem was finally devised by Gaius MArius, A man of humble origins who was born near Arpinum, a town in Latium about 100 km from Rome. He first saw military service in Spainand did not hold any public office until he was elected tribune of the people at the age of 38. Four years later, in 115 BC, he managed to become praetor and made a good marriage, to Julia of the powerful patrician Julius clan, whcih made him uncle by marriage to Julius Caesar.
He then served in the African wars agsint Jughurtha, who in the wake of teh destruction of Carthage had usurped the whole of Numidia after being granted only half of it. Marius returned to Rome in 108 BC to stand successfully for consul, in which capacity teh comitia tributa elected him to assume command in Africa, an infringement of the traditional power of the senate to make military appointments. Abandoning teh usual methods of enlisting servicemen, Marius openly recruited volunteers from the ranks of the urban poor, promising them victory, booty, glory and, of course, permanent jobs. He introduced new training methods and, with the first professional army the Romans ever had, brought the war with Jughurta to a speedy end, though the final negotiations were conducted by a young quaestor called Cornelius Sulla.
At about this time the Roman general s Caepio and Manlius suffered a disastrous battle against the Gauls which caused consternation throughout Italy. The Romans as a whole were generally convinced that wars agaisnt other people coudl be won, but when you fought the Gauls it was for survival, not glory. On learning that Marius' triumph over the Numidians, bringing Jughurta back to Rome in chains, one elected him consul in his absence and assigned him the province of Gaul.
The Gauls in question were teh displaced Cimbri and Teutones who in 105 BC near Arausio (modern Orange), had inflicted the greatest defeat on Rome since Cannae.
Marius having been elected consul for a second term for the year 105 BC was re-elected for the four successive years 104-101 BC, during which he destroyed the menace of both the Cimbri and the Teutones.
As a professional soldier at the head of a now professional army he sought to establish the means for his soldiers to receive allotments of land on discharge and to continue his own career by gettig a new command. He threw in his lot with the tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, a man not above using street violence to achieve political ends, with whose helphe was elected consul for a sixth time for teh year 100 BC. Saturninus now put forward on Marius' behalf a number of legislative proposals in teh Gracchus mould, including teh usual controversial measures for land allotments to be made to army veterans from the Italian states and full franchise for some of them.
The whole programme was accepted, but without predictable opposition from both the nobility and the people of Rome which culminated in violent demonstrations. These were put down by Marius' soldiers, who of course had a vested interest in teh outcome of teh debate. This appeareance on teh streets of Tome of armed military, and their use, without an act of teh senate, was a precedent of profound significance. From that time onwards, teh rule of Rome was always in the hands of whoever should command the support of the army.
The rest of Marius' life is sheer melodrama.
Saturninus instigated the tragic sequence of events by organizing the assassination of an inconvenient political opponent. The senate issued a senatus consultum ultimum obliging Marius to take action against his principal supporter, which he did by arresting him with an armed force. Teheafter an enraged mob broke into the prison and lynched Saturninus. The senate now repealed all Saturninus laws on that grounds that they had been implemented by force, which strictly speaking was true. This however left all Marius' reforms in tatters. He fled into exile at the end of his year in office. When he returned, it was to take an active part in the Social War (91-89 BC). A confederacy of Italian states in the south, fed up with having to fight for Rome without being treated as equals, rebelled. They lost the war but eventually gained their objective, most of them being granted full citizenship. In 88 BC attention then turned to the east where Mithridates (132-63 BC), king of Pontus, had invaded the Roman province of Asia and massacred 80'000 Roman and Italian citizens. The senate appointed Sulla who was consul that year to lead the troops against Mithridates. But the tribune Sulpiicius Rufus (124-88 BC) passed through the concilium plebis an order calling for the transfer of command to Marius. Sulla promptly marched on Rome with his six legions and had the decidsion reversed. This was the first time that the Roman army had been used against Rome itself. Tribune Sulpicus went into hiding but was discovered and killed. Marius was, by now 70 years old, fled the city of Rome but was picked up at the coast of Latium and sentenced to death. But as no one could be found prepared to do the deed and executed he was instead hustled onto a ship. He ended up in Carthage where he was ordered by teh Roman governor of Africa to move on.
In teh meantime Sulla was carrying out his oders in Asia with some distinctionCornelius Cinna (d. 84 BC), one of the two consuls for 87 BC took the opportunity to reintroduce one of Sulpicus' proposals; - teh enrolement of newly enfranchised Italians into the 35 section of teh three tribes. He was prmoptly ejected from teh city by his consular colleague. But Cinna was having none of it. He raised an army of Italian volunteers. He was then joined by Marius, now miraculously back in Italy with a small force of cavalry, which were further augmented by breaking into the quarters of farm slaves and enlisting them as fighting men.
Together Marius and Cinna now marched on Rome with their ramshackle army.After a siege in which thousands perished, the government capitulated, having been promised that there should be no further bloodshed.
Marius however, having kept silent during such negotiations, saw himself no party to such agreements. No sooner had the gates been opened the slaughter began. It lasted for five days.
Marius and Cinna then proposed themselves as consuls for the next year. No one dared oppose them. On 13 January though Marius died, possibly of drink, possibly of old age. He had reformed the army and had been consul an unprecedented seven times. And yet he ended having destabilized Rome for years and having raped her in a gruesome siege and a five day massacre.
Sulla (138-78 BC) and his constitutional reforms
Lucius Cornelius Sulla came of a good family and moderate means. When returned in 83 BC from hsi successful eastern campaign he had no political power beyond that which a man at the head of a trained army of veterans would command. This however gave him better chances of capturing rome in the face of less noteable opposition raised by the consuls, Gnaeus Papirius CArbo (d. 81 BC) and Marius junior (110-82 BC), but not without unnecessary butchery. This accomplished he then had himself appointed not consul, but dictator. In this position his first act was to rid himself of all political opposition by the novel device of proscription - the posting up of lists of undesirable characters whom anyone was now at liberty to bring in - dead or alive.
Sulla himself called public assemblies where he spoke much like in later history the likes of Mussolini and Hitler) in outburst of self glorification and menacing threats towards others, as well as his own audience.
He then prnounced teh death sentence on forty senators and about 1600 equestrians. He appears to have been teh first to proscribe those whom he wished to see murdered, rewarding the executioners and informers and punihsing any found heloing the victims.
It wasn't long before he started adding other senator's names to the list. Some of them were killed in their homes, in the streets, even in temples. Others were dragged before him and thrown at his feet. Again others were dragged through the streets and kicked to death. Teh lucky ones were simply expelled from Rome or had their property and belongings confiscated. Spies were abroad looking everywhere for those who'd managed to flee.
Allas, Sulla reorganized teh constitution in such a way that it restored power back to the upper classes. He re-established the orignial right of teh senate to veto an act o any of teh other assemblies and virtually extinguished the power of the tribunes of teh people. He double teh membership of teh senate by admitting some 300 equestriansand some selected Italian holders of office in other cities. He also made a quaestorship an automatic qualification for membership of teh senate and raised teh number of quaestors to ten. This, togethr with rstoring teh traditional ten year gap in holding the saem officeand teh introduction of a new regulation whereby two years needed to pass between the holding of an office and the election to teh one above it, meant that there now were more junior state officials seeking fewer senior posts and having to wait longer for them. Naturally, as these pressures grew the overly ambitious would be prepared to seek illegal means by which to achieve their aims.
His legal reforms were less contentious. He established new courts to deal with specific offences, and crystallized teh difference between civil and criminal law, although he removed teh right of anyone except senior senators to adjudicate in lawsuits.
After three years of a reversion to what constituted a tyranny, Sulla retired in 79 BC to his estate at Puteoli adn wrote his memoirs. He died not much later. Although teh Roman Republic technically still had some fifty years to go, Sulla pretty much represents its demise. He should stand as an example to others to come that is was possible to take Rome by force and rule it, if only one was strong and ruthlessness enough to do what ever deeds were required.
The twenty years following Sulla's death saw the rise of three men, who if Rome's fouders were truly suckled by a whe-wolf, who surely had within them teh stuff of wolves.
Te three were Marcus Licinius Crassus (d. 53 BC), Gnaeus Pompeius MAgnus (106-48 BC) and Gaius Julius Caesar (102-44 BC).
A fourth man, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), who lived through these times and left to posterity many examples examples of his oratorical and prose styles. All four were stabbed to death withint ten years of each other.
Cicero, like Marius, was born near Arpinum. He and his brother were sent to Rome to finish their education, which was interrupted by military service in 89 BC.
Cicero's first important speech in teh courts was in defence of a man called Roscius, charged with murdering his father for which under Roman law the penalty was to be tied up in a sack with a dog, a cock, a viper and a monkey before being flung into the nearest river. Roscius was aquitted and Cicero prudently cose to go abroad 'for reasons of health and study', the charges having been brought by one of Sulla's favourites.
On his return to Rome, after Sulla's death, he ascended the political ladder, helped by his oratory skill, which led the Sicilians to retain him as prosecutr in Rome for their former governor Verres (d. 43 BC), a notorious embezzler adn extortionist. Cicero won the case, getting the defence counsel to concede in whilst the evidence was still being called.
Cicero was elceted consul for 63 BC when he distinguished himself dealing firmly with a conspiracy against the state by Lucius Sergius Cataline. Having during a speech in the senate shamed Caaline inot leaving Rome, he had the fellow conspiritors arrested and executed on recommendation of the senate. The turning point in Cicero's highflying career came in 61 BC when he apperaed in court as a witness and destroyed the alibi of Publius Clodius, accused of having attended a religious ceremony in women's clothing at which only females were allowed.
Clodius though was not only powerful in his own right, but also one of Caesar's hangers-on.
Ceasar distrusted a man of tremendous politcal and oratory talent who had refused to join him in the triumvirat with Pompey and Crassus and used the affair wiwth Clodius to drive Cicero into exile. Only reluctantly did Caesar eventually allow Cicero back in 57 BC.
Crassus began his tril to fame and wealth by buying cheaply from the state hte houses of those proscribed by Sulla. He also had on call a team of 500 slaves trained as skilled builders. He would wait for a fire in the city, which were frequent; wood being a major part of buildings and there being no fire service. At the first alarm he'd already be on his way to make a nominal offer not just for the burning house, but for all the houses in the immediate neighbourhood. In this way, and by rebuilding the damaged properties, he is said to once have owned most of Rome. He used much of his wealth to gain popular favour, an essential asset for an aspiring politician.
As teh supreme commander in 72 BC againt teh slave revolt of Spartacus the gladiator he is known for two acts. After his second-in-command engaged the enemy with disastrous results he revived the ancient punishment of decimation, dividing the five hundred men he felt were most culpable and choosing fifty of them to be executed in front of the entire army. When as praetor he finally defeated Spartacus, he crucified the 6000 survivors of teh battle along the main road from Rome to Capua, where teh rising had started.
Crassus and Pompey were consuls in 70 BC and again in 55 BC, after which Crassus solicited for and obtained the governorship of the rich province of Syria, with its promise of furtehr enrichment for a governor. Tehre, in a misguided attempt to add military laurels to his wealth, he began a conflict with teh Parthian. Crassus was disastrously defeated, and was murdered while trying to negotiate terms of surrender. It is said that his head was cut off and molten gold poured into his mouth as a symbol of his greed.
Pompey, teh consular colleague of Crassus on two occasions, was first elected in 70 BC while under the age limit and without having held any government office previously. He has however already made himself a name as a soldier, having raised his own army in support of Sulla and won famous victories over the party of Marius in Africa and the renegade Sertorius in Spain.
His next command in 67 BC was an unusual one. He was to rid the Mediterranean of its infestation of pirates, who were making things intolerable for shipping and trade. Teh resources and powers put at Pompey's disposal were enormous, but then so was teh task. 250 ships, 100'000 marines and 4000 cavalry, which he further reinforced with volunteers from othe interested nations. He divided teh Mediterraenean and the Black Sea into sectors, each the responsibility of a deputy with his own forces. By a concerted sweep against the pirates and their strongholds he forced them out of business in three months, taking 20'000 prisoners, most of whom he spared and offered employment as farmers.
Teh following year Pompey was transferred to a more conventional command, against Mithridates, the king of Pontus who had been a thorn in teh side of teh Romans in Asia Minor for over 20 years. Pmpey succeeded totally where others before him had failed and in the process considerably enlarged teh Roman Empire. Unwilling at that time to assume sole rule in Rome he threw in his lot with Crassus and Caesar whose daughter Julia he married in 59 BC, as his fourth wife. Though it was undoubtedly originally a marriage of political convenience (such as he had made before with Sulla's stepdaughter, who was forced to divorce her husband) it became a successful partnership while it lasted. Julia died in childbirth in 54 BC, breaking teh bond between Pompey and Caesar which stopped them from eventually fighting it out for supreme rule.
For it is generally believed that of these two men of such military genius, Caesar could not bear anyone to be his superior, nor could Pompey have an equal.
Caesar, at the end of his campaign in Gaul, wanting a further consulship and fearing prosecution for past irregularities, more likely deliberately provoked the confrontation.
He returned at teh head of his army, had himself appointed temporary dictator, and pushed Pmpey, his army and senatorial supporters out of Italyand to final defeat at Pharsalus in Greece. Pompey himself escaped, but was assassinated on arrival in Egypt.
Casesar in hot pursuit of Pompey was then persuaded by Cleopatra (68-30 BC), joint ruler of Egypt with her to stay a while as her personal guest. Such was teh hospitality that a son, named Caesarion, was born the following year. Back home Caesar had been confirmed dictator in his absence, an appointment which was regularly renewed thereafter. With this began an era, teh rule of Rome being held by men who successivevly held teh name Caesar, by birth or adoption.
Gaius Julius Caesar was born on 12 July 100 BC in Rome, son of Gaius Caesar and Aurelia. Governor of Gaul 58-49 BC mAppointed dictator for ten years in 47 B, for life on 14 February 44 BC. Married initially to Cornelia (one daughter, Julia), then to Pompeia, alas to Calpurnia. Assassinated on 15 March 44 BC. Deified in 42 BC.
He was embarrassed by his baldness, which was a frequent subject of jokes on the part of his opponents; so much so that he used to comb his straggling locks forward from teh back, and of all honours heaped upon him by senate and people, the one he most appreciated was to be able to wear a wreath at all times.
At teh age of thiry the most famous Roman of them all was regarded a dandy who had squandered his wife's fortune as well as his own. He was though a fine public speaker which served him well when campaigning successfully for office of quaestor (he served in Spain); aedile (his extravagance in providing gladiatoral shows and renovating public buildings at his own expense to gain further popularity put him even deeper in debt); and praetor in 63 BC. His duties as praetor took him to Spain were he discovered a talent for military command and amassed enough by way of booty and tribute to pay off his debts.
The formation of teh ruling triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey was a mark also of Caesar's determination to push through geniune and innovative measures in teh face of a senate which was suspiscious of his motives and to ensure that there was some continuity of progressive legislation after his term as consul was over.
He then obtained for himself the governorship of Gaul for a period of five years, which was later extended for a second term. Gaul at teh time comrpised the subjugated region south of the Alps and to the east of the Apennines as far as teh river Rubicon, together with a small portion of territory on the other side of the Alps, roughly corresponding with today's Provence and Languedoc.
The following military campaign Caesar then embarked upon against the Gauls is still subject of study to students at military academies today. In 51 BC the decisive battle at Alesia was held, where he not ony succesfully besieged teh Arvernian chief Vercingetorix who was holding out in the fortified hill-city of Alesia with 80'000 troops, but Caesar also fought offf a Gallic relief force of another 250'000 infantry and 8'000 cavalry while teh siege lasted.
When Caesar had finished his series of briliant campaigns, during which an estimated 2 million men, women and children are said to have died, he was master of teh entire region to teh west of teh Rhine, which he twice crossed to ensure that the Germanic tribes would not be of any further trouble.
In 55 and 54 BC he had even mounted expeditions across teh Channel to Britain which hd until then been unknown to the Roman world.