How the Roman Republic become the Roman Empire
Rome was founded as a group of communities or villages along Tiber River in Italy. In 750 B.C, the villages joined and formed a city. The city was known as Rome. Various Kings ruled Rome for more than 200 years, after which the city transitioned into a republic. Consequently, the people elected representatives. The representatives formed a senate, which was recognized as the most powerful administrative body of the government. As a result, the senate had to elect two leaders to take charge of the government and the military on an annual basis. The senate, mainly comprising of politicians, also had its roots dating back to ancient Rome, whereby a plebeian would be recognized as an ordinary male citizen, as well as an employee. While the plebeians were awarded the right to vote, they, however, could not hold a public office (Goldsworth 670). Eventually, they were given similar rights as the patricians. Consequently, the size of the Roman Republic increased prompting the army to expand. Subsequently, the army conquered new lands beyond the Italian Peninsula. More so, the culture and language of the Roman Republic began to spread further to areas such as Greece and Spain (Turchin and Adams 222). The research, therefore, will discuss how the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire. It will provide a crucial intellectual critique of the state’s developments between prehistory and 1500 CE by exploring the Empire’s contemporary political and cultural heritage.
Transition from the Roman Republic to Roman Empire
According to David Mattingly, Rome began to practice policies of imperialism after it became more powerful. Imperialism refers to the action of a state taking control over the cultural, political, and economic aspects of another nation. Imperialism prompted Rome’s legions of soldiers to take over peoples’ lives and other aspects. The imperialism policy prompted Rome to become an international force to be reckoned with by 264 B.C. For example, it had conquered all of the Italian Peninsula. Moreover, its army had become the most affluent military organization in the world. The Romans, however, continued to worry about the Carthaginians seizing the Strait of Messina (Mattingly 15).
The Roman generals had to march their armies in the south of the Strait of Messina to protect the region. The Strait of Messina was a passage between Sicily and Italy. The Roman army managed to protect it by destroying the Carthaginian colonies. This military action led to a war that lasted 25 years before the Roman Carthage surrendered in 241 B.C. After the defeat, the Carthaginians were forced to pay a large tribute. The tribute comprised of land and treasures. Hannibal was a young Carthaginian general. He attempted to attack Rome in 221 B.C by marching over 40,000 troops into the Rome. He included 40 elephants into his army, which marched over the borders to Rome. Hannibal’s attack caught Romans by surprise, and they suffered massive losses. By 216 B.C, The Romans had not given up or surrendered despite Hannibal almost defeating their army. As a result, Roman citizens from all regions of the empire were called upon to join the battle to defeat Hannibal and protect their homeland. Eventually, the Roman citizens defeated Hannibal by 202 B.C. They were under the command and guidance of General Scipio (Mattingly 15).
The Carthaginians, however, also continued to grow in strength and power, causing Rome to worry that they might attack the country again. As a result, Rome decided to attack the Carthaginians first to gain an upper hand. Rome planned the attack with the hope of defeating and ensuring the Carthaginians would be wiped out after the battle was over. As a result, the armies sold Carthaginians into slavery and sowed salt into Carthaginians fields to impede their agricultural activities. The war successfully ended the threats and risks posed by Carthage against Rome (Mattingly 15).
In the years following the war, a Roman general and governor, known as Julius Caesar, used his political authority to become a dictator, ending Rome’s republican government. Consequently, Rome became an empire in 27 B.C. An empire refers to a political unit comprising of territories ruled under a single authority. Caesar, being a politician and a general of the Roman Republic, vastly extended the Roman Empire before he seized power and declared himself the dictator of Rome. His declaration did not impede the imperialism system. He had served as a governor of the Roman province of Spain between 61 and 60 B.C. In 60 B.C, he made a pact with Crassus and Pompey in an attempt to ensure they assisted him in winning elections to become a consul in 59 B.C. He, however, was appointed as the Roman Gaul governor. His reign lasted for eight years during which he added Belgium and Modern France to the Roman Empire. Consequently, Rome was acknowledged as a safe region, free from Gallic invasions (Goldsworth 673).
Caesar’s achievements also included his military actions against the Gallaeci and Lusitani provinces. He managed to conquer and subdue them, as they had been independent of Rome. Caesar’s military accomplishments were also supplemented by his good work in civilian administration. He established good and stable relations with various cities. More importantly, he solved the financial problem that had existed between creditors and debtors. Consequently, his return into Italy after disbanding his army and crossing the Rubican River by disregarding the senate’s authority enabled him to win an ensuing civil war. He defeated the republican forces that were led by Pompey, who was later assassinated after fleeing to Egypt. These successes led Caesar to be recognized as the master of Rome, as well as a self-declared consul and dictator. During his reign, he reformed Rome’s politics, relieved the nation’s debts, and enlarged the senate. He also built the Forum lulium and revised the calendar (Goldsworth 674).
Although Caesar’s reign had been regarded as temporary, he embraced it permanently in 44 B.C. The Republican Senators, whom he had alienated during his reign including Cassius and Brutus, however, assassinated him on March 15th 44 B.C. The assassination led to the eruption of the final round of civil wars that ended the Roman Republic. They also brought about elevation of Octavian. Octavian was also Caesar’s great nephew, known as the Augustus or the first emperor and designated heir. Unlike his father, he used his political affluence to bring peace and wealth. His rule lasted for forty years during which he attained political, economic, social, and cultural growth. Thus, Augustus brought much progress to the Roman Empire by ensuring the increase and expansion of trading activities, while the army maintained peace. He also built major public lighthouses and buildings. The Great Roman literature was also written during Augustus’ rule as the emperor. The success attained by Augustus lasted for 200 years. It is known as the Roman Peace or Pax Romana (Goldsworth 673).
The Roman Republic lasted for at least 500 years while undergoing various political, cultural, and economic transitions before it became the Roman Empire. During the evolution process, powers were transferred from one political affiliation or institution to another in efforts to vie for control of the state. Civil wars also erupted in attempts to control of the state’s military forces. Rome witnessed the rise of several military despots, self-declared, and appointed dictators trying to resolve internal wrangles. The fight for power and control of the Roman Republic, therefore, demanded for a conversion, and the state became the Roman Empire. This, however, brought forth more turmoil despite Augustus being able to consolidate power and authority with support from the senate under one office. The consolidation also helped to establish a stable and working relationship with an almost godlike leader with a restricted republican government. Internal instabilities however, did not end. Instead, they increased as the empire expanded prompting a division. The division led into the Western and Eastern Empires under Diocletian and the restructuring of governmental control under Tetrarchy (Mattingly 15).
Nevertheless, the Romans, having taken the Greek model of government and reproducing it on grand scale, took control of the political authority of the empire. The military also expanded beyond political control by overcoming the senate authority. The military control was under individual generals who were more concerned about their personal affluence than the wellbeing and stability of the Empire. The changes however, did not hinder Romans from experiencing the greatest political peace and socioeconomic prosperity under the Octavian rule (Noren 7).
According to Peter Turchin and Jonathan Adams (222), the transition from Republic to Empire led to widespread influence of Christianity. Christianity originated from the Middle East before spreading into the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Christianity spread throughout the Empire by the third century A.D. Constantine, however, took over as the new emperor in 306 A.D. He had promised he would convert and become a Christian leading the Roman Empire after he saw an apparition of a cross in the sky before the battle. After winning the battle, he converted into Christianity and kept his promise. Consequently, Constantine’s empire embraced Christianity as a religion. Before the transition, Romans were communicating in Latin. The language was a symbol of Roman unity and its cultural heritage. The Roman law courts as well as the military forces, therefore, utilized it. It, however, was not imposed on the people officially which also contributed to the east and west division After the Republic transitioned into the Roman Empire, elite Romans, including men from governing classes and academics, opted to use Greek. More so, the senate encouraged use of Latin to attain bilingual skills. Thus, the evolution process witnessed linguistic and religious changes.
The Roman Republic comprised of various groups of assemblies and interacting officials. The groups were keen on checking each other’s powers. They would also restrain tyranny since Romans loathed both monarchy or dictatorship. Consequently, the Roman Republic began to feel the pressure of becoming an empire with the advent of the first Triumvirate, which also marked the beginning the Empire. After the second Triumvirate, the Roman Republic ended. Consequently, Octavian ensured his dominant position with and without the senate’s support. Eventually, Octavian assumed the supreme power and became the first Roman Emperor. Thus, the Roman Republic transitioned into an Empire due to the struggle for control and power, fueled by political complexities. After ten centuries, fundamental changes attributed to civil wars as well as socio-political, cultural, and socioeconomic evolutions took place and transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
Goldsworth, Adrian. How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower. Yale University Press, 2009.
Mattingly, David. Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire. Princeton University Press, 2011.
Noren, Carlos. Imperial Ideals in the Roman West. Representation, Circulation, Power. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Turchin, Peter and Adams Jonathan. East-West Orientation of Historical Empires. Journal of World Systems Research, vol. 12, no. 2, 2006, pp. 222.