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How The Roman Republic Transformed into The Roman Empire

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Imperialism is defined as “a state policy, practice, or advocacy for extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas” and one of the best examples for an imperialistic society till this date is the Roman Republic. From 499 BC, when the Romans first defeated their neighbors in Latium till 44 BC, when Julius Caesar declared himself as “Dictator Always” and was stabbed 23 times as a result of a conspiracy by many Roman senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, and Marcus Junius Brutus, we witness the imperialistic ideals of a republic blossom into the widespread chaos caused by a large divide in social classes. This was a result of failed cultural diffusion and the inability of a government body to adapt to changes as a consequence of their imperialistic greed. Though historians debate the true reasons behind the need for such rapid expansion, there are two primary schools of thought related to the true nature of their proliferation. Some believe that the motive behind the expansion was the abundance of wealth and resources to be gained from conquering neighboring lands while others believe that preemptive wars to weaken perceived enemies were the best defense against attacks by others.

Yet, the abundance of evidence entailing Rome’s imperialistic greed suggests that the main motif may truly have been wealth and power. By the 4th century BC the Roman army had surpassed all other Mediterranean area forces as an effective weapon of war, they were well organized units of foot solders and cavalry referred to as Legions and within these were subdivisions known as Centurions. They built an intricate road network that spanned the length of the Italian Peninsula and planted colonies of citizens on these networks all for the purpose of aiding in the gradual merging of the diverse cultures of Italy into a more unified whole, but also as means to provide protection to a country dominated by Rome in which Latin came to be the common language. By around 300 BC, as many as 150, 000 people lived within the city’s walls and 750, 000 free Roman citizens inhabited various parts of Italy on land taken from local peoples. The massive divide in the populations came from the large amounts of land Rome had conquered throughout their campaigns. This large rural population had become a victim to increasing economic difficulties which can be traced to a rather unfortunate mixture of a rise in birth rates that resulted in an inability to support larger families, and from the hardships of keeping farms productive when many men were away on long term military campaigns. Many rich landowners however, managed to secure control of vast parcels of this public land for their own use which led to growing anger from the poor as they witnessed the rich become richer through illegal monopolization of public land meant for the use of the working class.

By the 3rd century BC the wealthy and politically successful Patricians and Plebeians saw their interests as similar rather than as conflicting or competing. Their agreement on issues of politics and state finance amounted to a new definition of an upper class, making the old division of their ‘orders’ obsolete. The members of the upper class derived their wealth mainly from agricultural land, but they began to increase their riches from plunder gained through their new rank as officers and successful military expeditions against foreign enemies. The Roman state had no regular income or inheritance taxes so financially prudent families could pass their wealth down from generation to generation which the Upper class began to abuse. All these factors fueled the greed of the rich Romans who had set their heart on expanding to gain even more wealth but they could not foresee the negative consequences of their greed. The true beginning of Rome’s imperialistic conquest came from the wars fought between the Romans and the Carthaginians, commonly referred to as the Punic Wars. Carthage was a Republic like Rome who had established massive sea trade throughout the Mediterranean Sea. They were quite similar to Rome but their advantage lied in their advanced Naval Battle strategies which Rome lacked in as all of their conquests had beem land battles till that point.

The first war began in 264 BC, when a band of mercenaries in the city of Misina at Sicily’s Northeastern tip close to Italy had failed to succeed in their Military Service. Out of desperation, the mercenaries appealed for help to Rome and Carthage simultaneously. Appius Claudius Caudex, the Patrician Consul, persuaded the Senate to vote to send an army to Sicily by promising them rich plunder. When the two armies met, a battle erupted between the forces of the competing powers, the result was a War which lasted a generation from 264 BC to to 241 BC. This decade long conflict revealed why the Romans were consistently successful in their conquest as they were prepared to sacrifice as many lives, spend as much money, and continue fighting as long as necessary as was their tradition: to never surrender. The Romans and their allies persevered in the first Punic war despite losing 250, 000 men and more than 500 warships from their newly built navy.

The second war ensued when Saguntum fell to the Carthaginian siege and this war lasted from 218 BC till 201 BC. The innovative Carthaginian general, Hannibal, hardened by years of warfare in Spain, “shocked the Romans by marching a force of troops and elephants through passes in the Alps to invade Italy”. The shock turned to terror when Hannibal killed more than 30, 000 Romans in a single day at the battle of Cannae in 216 BC. Hannibal terrorized the Romans by marching along the borders of Italy for 15 years. The Romans, led by General Fabius Maximus employed a strategy caller the ‘delayer’ which when combined with loyal support from the Italians became quite the handful for Hannibal. Hannibal was eventually defeated at the battle of Zama in 202 BC by Scipio, a famous Roman General. The Romans imposed a punishing peace settlement on the Carthaginians forcing them to minimize their navy, pay huge war indemnities, scheduled to last fifteen years, and relinquish territories in Spain. The Romans subsequently fought long series of wars for control of the area, but the enormous profits were to be made especially from Spain’s multitude of mineral resources which made the efforts worthwhile. The Romans continued on to win every war they fought in the first 400 years of the Republic. These battles had major consequences as they lasted multiple years with extended amounts of fierce conflict with terrible loss of life, and magnificence expense. These hard won victories had both intended and unintended consequences for Rome and the values of Roman society.

By 100 BC the Romans had established control of an amount of territory more vast than any one nation had. Roman imperialism could be defined as the desire of both the Roman upper class and the Roman people in general to benefit financially from the rewards of war, conquest and the traditional drive to achieve glory. However, the unanticipated socio-economic effects brought about by imperialistic ideals were far more damaging than expected. Firstly, with the expansion of power and diplomacy came the monetary profits that the Roman upper class reaped. This greed for wealth, caused a rise in the demand for newly ranked officials who could not only command foreign campaigns, but take advantage of the plunder. Secondly, as the Romans continued to expand their territory, they required more leaders with political power to govern the land. The traditional elected officials were unable to elect people from the new provinces because not only were they required to be a part of the Roman upper class, but they had to come from wealth which majority of the people living in the provinces were not. As a result of this dilemma, the pre-elected officials, were allowed to maintain their position of power for extended periods of time across a larger number of provinces which went against traditional law that stated that seats could not be held for more than a given amount of time. The level of autonomy that the governors had and the fact that the provinces were ruled by martial law, fueled their greed and corruption and allowed them to commit crimes that they were not held accountable for. For hundreds of years, farmers working in modest size lands in the Italian countryside had become the economic backbone of Roman agricultural production. The farmers who worked these lands were also constitutionally bound to be a principal source of soldiers for the Roman army as only men who owned property could serve. As a result, the Republic encountered grave economic, commercial, social, and military difficulties as the wars of the second and third centuries BC had turned out to be disastrous for many farms throughout Italy.

More than 50% of Roman adult males spent 7 years in military service during this period, which forced them to leave their family and property unattended for large amounts of time, leaving their wives and children to tend to the monotonous and physically tasking labor of farming. In addition to this, women were also responsible for bringing water from wells for their families and weaving to create clothes for their children. As a result, many family farms fell into debt and had had no choice but to sell their land. Rich landowners took advantage of the impoverished farmers by purchasing their plots to create larger states. Land owners further increased their holdings by illegally occupying public land that Romans originally confiscated from defeated people in Italy that had been specifically designated for public use. This was further evidence of the deep corruption that had infiltrated the Roman upper class. This way, the rich gained vast estates worked by slaves as well as free laborers. The rich had a ready supply of slaves to work on their of mega farms because of the great number of captives taken in the same wars the hadn’t promoted the displacement of Italy small farmers. These actions once again deepened the division of the social class as the rich land owners began to take the land owned by the common people and use them for their personal financial benefit.

The damaging effect of Roman expansion on poor farm families became a major issue that heightened the conflict for status that had always existed among Rome’s elite political readers. The situation exploded into murderous violence during the careers of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. Tiberius had become disgusted with the exuberant greed that surrounded the Senate members, and he was quick to enrage the Senate with his actions when he was elected in 133 BC. He decided to adopt reform laws designed to redistribute public lands to landless Romans without the senator’s approval, and he also ignored the will of the senate on the question of financing this agrarian reform. He then violated another long standing prohibition of the Roman constitution when he announced his intention to stand for re-election for the following year. Consecutive terms in office were regarded as unconstitutional, even some of his supporters now abandoned him for disregarding the way of the elders. He was then killed by an upper-class mob on the Capitoline Hill in late 133 BC. Upon his brother’s death Gaius was elected in 123 BC and then again in 122 BC. He kept alive his brother’s reforms and introduced grain sales to Roman citizens as subsidized prices. He also pushed through public works projects throughout Italy to provide employment for the poor and the foundation of colonies abroad to give citizens new opportunities for farming and trade. Most revolutionary of all his proposals to was to give Roman citizenship to some Italians and to establish a court system that held powerful senators accused of current corruption as provisional governors. The citizen that citizenship proposal failed but the creation of new court systems to prosecute senators became an intensely controversial issue as it hurt the power of the senate to protect its own members and their families from punishment for their crimes As retaliation to Gaius’s new rules the senate took extraordinary measure authorized the council Opimius to use military force inside the city of Rome, which had never been granted to anyone before. To escape arrest and execution, guys ordered one of his slaves to got his throat for him. Following this the members of the upper class saw themselves divided into either supporters of the “Populares”, who sought political power by promoting the interests of the common people or as members of the “Optimates” or so called best people, meaning that traditional upper class. This eventual partition of the members of the upper class was quite the picturesque ending to the fall of the Republic as things really began to become uncontrollable.

In hindsight it could be argued that the Republic had fallen when dictators like Caesar took control of all political powers but I feel that the reasons why Caesar was successful in seizing power was because of the Imperialistic Greed that the Roman upper class had, where land was to be plundered and the upper class was to remain prosperous and the social divide grew bigger and bigger which resulted in loyaties changing to whoever did the most for the people and all the power began to truly lie rested with the Generals who kept their armies happy.

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How the Roman Republic Transformed into the Roman Empire. (2020, July 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from
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