Posts Tagged With: republic

Republican Rome: Part Two

The First Triumvirate and Civil War

The alliance that formed between three individually powerful men of Rome was tenuous at best and borderline illegal at worst. In part one we talked about increasingly powerful generals, leading armies that were loyal to the commander they had served with for years. In this part, we will see perhaps the two greatest generals at odds with each other.

If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games series, you might have some idea of what this alliance will turn out like. The three tributes may work together as long as they see personal benefit, but only one will be crowned victor. Once the balance of power shifts, alliances are broken. In this arena of eastern and western provinces, Rome is the cornucopia each man strives for.

Siege-alesia-vercingetorix-jules-cesarThe First Triumvirate was made up of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey Magnus. After this we’ll shorten the names to Crassus and Pompey. Within the alliance Crassus and Pompey were the more senior members. Crassus was enormously wealthy, perhaps the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Pompey was a celebrated military leader of several victorious campaigns. Julius Caesar, though younger, was a popular up-and-coming politician with charm and promise. Together, the Triumvirate was able to politically out-manuever the opposing political party, the Optimates, led by Cicero and Cato the Younger.

While the situation was detrimental to the Republic’s integrity, the members of the Triumvirate had successfully taken power. With the support of Crassus and Pompey, Julius Caesar was elected consul, then proconsul in 58 BCE, making him governor of provinces. Caesar’s land reforms were pushed through with the help of his allies and he left Rome to pursue a successful campaign known as the Gallic Wars. But in 53 BCE, Crassus sought his own military victory against the Parthians, was defeated and murdered. His death tipped the scales of power and set Caesar and Pompey at odds against each other. The death of Pompey’s wife Julia, who was also Caesar’s daughter, severed the last link between the two men. Distrust, suspicion and ambition drove the two men apart.

With Caesar pursuing victory after victory in Gaul, his loot was able to fund his generosity and win him loyal allies. He doubled the pay of his troops and called in more legions to reinforce him from Gaul. But in 51 BCE, a motion was put before the Senate to order Julius Caesar to give up his command at the end of his term and return to Rome. Caesar counter-offered, and declared he would give up his command if Pompey was ordered to do the same. The Senate threw their support behind Pompey and granted him funds and troops should Caesar become a greater threat. In January of 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, the border of the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Roman territory, with his 13th Legion. To enter Rome with an army was considered a strike against the Republic and it is said Caesar uttered the phrase “Alea iacta est” meaning “The die is cast” as he did so.

In the absence and growing mistrust of Caesar, the Senate had appointed Pompey as sole consul, effectively kicking Caesar out of the club. When Caesar marched toward Rome, Pompey declared Rome indefensible and fled to Brundisium, then across to Greece. Once Caesar had secured his position in Rome he pursued Pompey across Greece where the final battle took place at Pharsalus in 48 BCE. Julius Caesar defeated the army of Pompey, who escaped and sought asylum in Egypt, but was murdered as soon as he stepped off of his ship. The last supporters of Pompey were finally defeated in Spain, at the Battle of Munda in 45 BCE.

After the battle of Pharsalus, Caesar set out for Pompey anticipating that he would seek funds and support from Ptolemy XIII, the young king of Egypt. He arrived too late as we know, but resolved a dispute over who would rule Egypt, a very young Ptolemy XIII or his elder sister Cleopatra VII. After a siege, reinforcements arriving, and consequently being locked in the palace while this all happened, Caesar’s forces captured the port and Cleopatra emerged as ruler as well as pregnant with a child who would be called Caesarion.

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome, he did so as an emperor in all but title. His military victories had made him the master of the Roman world. He was generous in forgiving old grievances and instead of a widespread massacre of old enemies, he sought amnesty instead. He initiated many reforms both on economic policy as well as political. He expanded the senate, took a census, planned the Forum of Caesar, and created the Julian calendar. But just because Caesar was the first to forgive, doesn’t mean his contemporaries would extend the same courtesy. In the wake of Caesar’s many changes opposition remained wary of Caesar’s concentration of power. In an end made famous by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ignored the advice of the soothsayer and went to the Senate on the ides of March 44 BCE, where he was assassinated by a mob led by Marcus Junius Brutus. The conspirators meant to save the Republic perhaps they only proved that city needed a single manager over the factions that vied for Rome.

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Republican Rome: Part One

The Republican period of Rome lasted from roughly 509 BCE until 44 BCE with the death of Julius Caesar. It began with the oath of Brutus  after the death of Lucretia and ended with a similar oath from Brutus’s relation by the same name.

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Rome and foreign territory in 500 BCE

Rome was never a republic in the true sense of the word. Society was still harshly divided into economic, patriarchal classes of patrician and plebian, slave and free. Once the last King was expelled from the City, power was quickly consolidated by the patrician founding families who were able to hold the highest elected offices of the state. The powers of the King were transferred to two elected consuls, each serving a one-year term. To hold this position bestowed nobilitas on patrician families and the first person from a family to hold the position of consul was condescendingly referred to as a novus homo, or new man.

Further executive and judicial positions were added as the new constitution matured. A censor was in charge of financial matters, taxes, and public works. Praetors served as law officers and judges, overseen by the consuls. Aedile’s were more of a plebian rank that supervised markets and temples. And although the patricians had considerable power in the political arena, the plebians were able to bargain and irritate the patricians into a few concessionary positions of their own during the Republican period. The position of Tribune of the People was created to be a direct link between the Plebians and the Senate. This was an especially large win for the plebians because a Tribune carried a great deal of political power.

Militarily, the Republican era would see Rome grow into the military power we associate with red capes, standards and discipline. We left the Romans defending the city walls against the Etruscans in 509, but by 265 BCE, Romans had conquered the entire Italian peninsula south of the Arno River. They had scored a literal “Pyrrhic victory” against the Greeks and were about to embark on the first of the Punic Wars, after which Rome would emerge as a Mediterranean power.

The defeat of Carthage left Rome with new territories and provinces to maintain in Spain, Africa and the East. The Eastern Provinces were often kept as client kingdoms, but the provinces of Europe were eagerly sought after by would-be governors. Serving in the military, beginning a political career in Rome, then returning to lead an army became a typical career path for many famous Roman’s including Gaius Marius. Fame and fortune could be won in the provinces, for the generals as well as the soldiers, and increasingly, Roman soldiers were loyal not to Rome but to the commanders who awarded them for success and loyalty. Men like Lucius Cornelius Sulla were able to use their loyal veteran forces to enforce their own political agenda.

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Roman Expansion during the Republican Period

But as we get to the 2nd century BCE, things in the military begin to quiet down. Rome takes a depth breath and rests for a moment, pausing in its great expansion. As a result many of its soldiers were no longer required. They returned home and exacerbated the unemployment within the city. The bored soldiers combined with a sudden influx of newly minted Roman citizens from the provinces called for a bit of gerrymandering. The system that had served the agrarian society of the early Republic so well needed to be revised to suit a more international level.

The canary in the coalmine came in the form of the Gracchi brothers. Political reformers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi were sons of a prominent politician and military commander and Cornelia Gracchus, daughter of Scipio Africanus, hero of the Second Punic War. Patrician to the core they were each elected Tribune of the People and proposed a wide sweeping redistribution of land, and fixed grain prices to resolve the growing number of landless, urban poor. They both met violent ends for their reforms, but they proved the people were capable of challenging the Senate.

With powerful generals now eyeing Rome herself like a city for the taking, it was left to them to sort out who would enter the city in triumph. As the last century of the Republic closes in,  we see Generals begin to vie for political power with their loyal legions close at hand. In 59 BCE, a forty-one year old Julius Caesar was made governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, and Illyria. Within a decade, he had conquered Gaul, explored Britain and joined an alliance known as the First Triumvirate, the results of which we will see next.

Republican Rome: Part Two >>

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Cloelia: Heroine of Republican Rome

800px-Frans_Wouters_-_Cloelia_and_Her_Companions_Escaping_from_the_Etruscans_-_WGA25866

Though the bravery of Horatius was worthy of legend, at the time it only stalled the army of Lars Porsenna and the Etruscans, intent on taking back the young republic of Rome. He besieged the city and eventually a truce was negotiated. A group of female hostages were given to the Etruscans, among whom was one named Cloelia.

One day, while bathing at the river she and the other women quickly swam back to the Roman side. Although this violated the terms of the truce, Lars Porsenna was so taken by the act of bravery that he allowed Cloelia to choose which hostages he would allow to return back to Rome. Cloelia chose a group of young boys, remembering that Rome would need young men in the future defense of their city.

The Romans honored her act of courage and loyalty by erecting an equestrian statue of her along the Via Sacra. The statue was lost centuries ago, but it was one of the first honorary monuments to be awarded to a woman.

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The Rape of Lucretia

The Oath of Brutus

The Oath of Brutus

Rome has her fair share of heroes and heroines, all chosen and remembered for displaying the attributes of a true and honorable Roman. Part history, part legend, thses stories have worked their way into the Roman ideology as moralistic folklore.

The story of Lucretia is a bit different, not only the tone of the story, but the outcome. Here, Lucretia becomes a catlyst for political action, one of the few times a woman is placed in that role.

As the story goes, Sextus Tarquinius, son of King Tarquinius Superbus, was on military furlough with a group of men, all claiming their wife was more virtuous than the other. Collantinus claims that his wife Lucretia is by far the most virtuous. They ride out to see what each wife is doing while their husbands are away, only to find each is feasting and enjoying herself. Only Lucretia is diligently at her loom weaving.

Over come by her chastity, Sextus return to Collantinus’s home several days later and forces himself on her. He blackmails her, threatening to kill her than kill a slave, implicating Lucretia in commiting adultery with a slave, dishonoring her husband. Lucretia submits to Sextus, then sends word to her husband and father, both authority figures for a roman woman.

When they arrive, she tells them what Sextus did, and confesses her adultery. She begs Collatinus to pursue Sextus and make him pay for his deeds, which Colantinus promises. Then, rather than live in dishonor as an example to other women, Lucretia stabs herself with a knife.

One of the witnesses, Lucius Junius Brutus, immediately takes up the promise Lucretia asked of them. Here is Brutus’s speech according to Livy, posted by Fordham University. Follow the link for full text.

“By this blood, which was so pure before the crime of the prince, I swear before you, O gods, to chase the King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, with his criminal wife and all their offspring, by fire, iron, and all the methods I have at my disposal, and never to tolerate Kings in Rome evermore, whether of that family of any other.”

Tarquinius Superbus and his family were chased out of Rome. He sought support from the Etruscans to no avail. By the time the dust from his horse’s hooves settled, Rome was on its way to becoming a Republic.

We’ll be seeing another famous relation of Brutus, once again at the heart of political unrest, in 44 BC.

(Fordham University has a ton of great sources like this one and I’d recommend reading a few if you have an interest!)

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