The Roman Republic (page 2)
The Roman Republic
The first step along the road to Roman supremacy and the Roman Republic was the defeat of the Etruscans. The Etruscans were bound to fall; because their civilization was not politically unified, it was not strong enough to defend itself against a determined challenger.
First the Romans and then the Greeks defeated the Etruscans—the Romans on land in 509 BC, the Greeks at sea in 474. The Greeks were content to maintain control of their established power base in the south; the Romans, more expansion-minded, were thus handed control of the rest of mainland Italy.
The last blow to the Etruscan civilization came about 400 BC with the invasion of the Gauls, a northern European tribe. After defeating the Etruscans, the Gauls moved south and in 390 they sacked Rome. The Romans held out against them, however, and the Gauls eventually retreated north.
The Romans used 509 BC—the date on which they defeated the Etruscans— as the founding date for the Roman Republic. It would last in name until 31 BC, although the republican system of government would, in fact, develop into a dictatorship before that date.
Roman society was divided into two classes based on birth: the patricians (aristocrats) and the plebeians (commoners). The Roman leaders recognized this division when they created their system of government. The highest officers were the two consuls, elected for one-year terms. To be elected consul, a man had to have served in at least two lower-level political offices; this ensured that those in charge of the government would always be experienced leaders. The consuls ruled through the Roman Senate, which contained two categories of officials: senators and tribunes. Only a patrician could be a senator; the tribunes represented the plebeians.
Both Senate and society reflected a balance of power. In the Senate, the tribunes had veto power, and, after 366 BC, one of the two consuls was always a plebeian. Outside the Senate, the plebeians had the power of popular demonstration against the government. In addition, since the mass of the army was drafted from the plebeians, the patricians had an incentive not to alienate them. On their side, the patricians had the power and privileges that accompany wealth in any society.
Women enjoyed some degree of rights and freedoms in ancient Rome. No woman could hold office, but even plebeian women could own property and run businesses (such as taverns or laundries). Patrician women were often very well read and educated, although they usually received their schooling at home. A forceful, intelligent woman from an influential patrician family could wield a high degree of political influence.
Around 450 BC, the Romans developed a civil and criminal law code known to history as the Twelve Tables of Law. It banned intermarriage between patricians and plebeians, thus demonstrating the Roman belief in the necessity of maintaining the separation of classes in society. However, its laws applied equally to all.
Geographical Expansion of the Republic
War with Greece
By about 272 BC, all of Italy was a unified, centrally controlled state under Roman authority. Under Pyrrhus of Epirus, the Greeks fought for ten years to maintain their power base in southern Italy; but despite Pyrrhus’s considerable abilities as a commander, the Romans refused to accept defeat and continued the struggle until Pyrrhus eventually withdrew. (Today, the idiom Pyrrhic victory refers to an empty victory or one won only at great cost.) In fact, the Greeks achieved a highly significant long-term victory; their culture would reach and influence successive generations because of its adoption by the Romans. Romans would follow the Greek models in literature, fine art, philosophy, and architecture. They also adopted the Greek religion, with its family network of gods and goddesses. The Romans used different names for the gods: thus, Zeus became Jupiter, Athena became Minerva, Ares became Mars, and so on.
Having driven the Greeks out of their Italian stronghold, the Romans turned their attention to the large islands off the Italian coast. At that time, the Phoenicians were centered in the North African city of Carthage and had established large colonies in Sicily and Sardinia.
Carthage had originally been an important trading post for the Phoenicians. When the Persians conquered Phoenicia, many Phoenicians fled to Carthage, which grew from a trading post into the center of a new Phoenician empire. From the sixth century BC on, Carthage was the most important center of trade in the Mediterranean; this made it a threat to Roman domination in the region.
Conflict between Carthage and Rome over the control of Sicily eventually escalated into the Punic Wars (Punic is Latin for “Phoenician”). In 241 BC, the Romans won the First Punic War, which was largely a naval conflict. The Carthaginians agreed to cede control of Sicily.
The Second Punic War, which began in 218, pitted the great Carthaginian general Hannibal against the Roman army. The Carthaginians had taken over Greek settlements along the east coast of Spain, giving Hannibal a base from which to invade Italy from the northwest, over the Alps. This surprise attack is considered one of the greatest examples of military strategy in history and would be imitated by Napoleon centuries later. Despite its brilliance, it ended in a stalemate, with Hannibal in power in the south and the Romans still in control of their capital city. In 202, Scipio led the Roman troops into Carthage, where they defeated Hannibal.
Fifty years went by before the Third (and last) Punic War. Carthage had begun to show signs of economic and political recovery. This alarmed many Romans, who foresaw an endless struggle for supremacy against Carthage if it recovered its former position of power. The Roman statesman Cato insisted that Carthage must be destroyed; as soon as the Roman troops achieved victory over the Carthaginians, they demolished the city.
The most important effect of the Punic Wars was Rome’s unquestioned dominance of the western Mediterranean. No other civilization could possibly match the might of the Roman military, nor the resources of the Roman state. The Roman Empire was not only vast in physical size, it was politically, culturally, and economically unified. The Romans had created the world’s most powerful civilization.
Today on Education.com
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Social Cognitive Theory
- The Homework Debate
- GED Math Practice Test 1