What led to the end of the Roman Republic?
What led to the end of the Roman Republic? 146 BC. was a triumphant year for the Roman Republic – and a year that sent shockwaves around the Mediterranean. A century earlier, Rome was a regional power confined to central Italy, at a time when the Mediterranean was dominated by four other powers – Carthage in North Africa and Iberia, Macedonia in Greece, the Seleucid Empire in Asia and Levant, and Ptolemaic Egypt. A century later, Egypt was the only remaining power of these powers, albeit reduced to a Roman vassal, the remnant having been crushed by the bulldozer of the Roman legions.
The fall of Rome: 476, the definitive end of an empire
In 146 BC. BC, Rome destroyed Corinth and Carthage, adding to its firmly established overseas provinces in Greece and Africa. His remarkable expansion took legions in all directions, with Scipio himself ending the decade-long Iberian siege of Numantia, while Greek control made expansion across the Aegean impossible to resist. Despite this domination, the cracks in the Roman system were already becoming clear.
The Gracchi brothers were widely regarded as some of the first demagogues in the republic. They identified clear and obvious issues that would destroy – and have destroyed – the republic, although senators at the time refused to address these issues and murdered the brothers as they hid their heads in the sand instead. Rome was facing a labor crisis. His legions had excelled in using small citizen farmers, who could afford their own equipment, and therefore had a stake in the republic they fought for.
As farmers, this was an appropriate model for a city-state, when they could return home for the harvest (as the Saxon armies of the fjord of England would a millennium later). As Rome began to move abroad in Greece, Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and beyond, these seasonal campaigns lasted for years, even decades. Not only were huge numbers of men needed, but many more were needed as the campaigns grew, and many more died too. Besides the human toll, their absence from farms has often seen these farms reduced to ruin.
This problem came at the same time as huge amounts of wealth were flowing to the Roman upper classes.
Rome quickly went from being a regional agrarian power to that of an economic juggernaut dominating the Mediterranean.
Not surprisingly, wealth was not evenly distributed when it ebbed and was instead hoarded by oligarchy senators. As the small farmers faced problems with their land, these senators bought up the Italian estates, thus reducing the number of men eligible to serve in the legions.
Not only the land was purchased. But the large number of slaves that flowed into Italy meant that these farms were maintained by slaves and not by Roman citizens. Rome faced a jobs crisis as the rich got richer. This land was also used for luxuries like figs, olives and wine, rather than grain. Which was now imported from the granaries of Sicily, Sardinia and Africa.
Rome had a growing population in poverty, which could not feed itself.
Rome’s management of its provinces only compounded these problems, as tax collection was essentially contracted out. Tax collectors would bid for a contract, pay the Senate an initial fee, and then be largely free to collect what they wanted – which, inevitably, was a profit. People had no recourse against this greed, and in times of slavery their very person was the guarantee of payment of the debt – not paying meant slavery. So when Rome called on allies for auxiliary troops, often they simply didn’t have the manpower to make those troops, as many had been enslaved. When King Mithridates of Pontus expanded into Asia Minor and Greece, many people greeted him as driving away the aggressive Roman tax collectors.
The Gracchi brothers’ reforms included subsidized grain for the masses (so they would maintain a stable price and not be affected by fluctuations caused by things like drought and storms), distribution of land to the masses to ensure more of landed citizens who could be legionnaires (Rome had masses of “public land” following these conquests), and the deployment of citizenship more widely throughout Italy.
All of these reforms were blocked by the senators, who enriched themselves from these problems at the expense of the state – and yet these reforms turned out to be strangely prophetic. At the end of the republic, cereals would be distributed freely to the masses and would become a social welfare system so ingrained that no emperor would dare to interfere with it, land would be allocated to veteran soldiers after each term, and the general emancipation of Italians . became the only way to end the social war that threatened to destroy Rome.
Caesar crosses the Rubicon
At the end of the 2nd century BC. AD, when Commander Gaius Marius faced the same manpower shortages to raise legions, he made the obvious decision: abolish land requirements. An influx of the landless poor was then pouring into the legions, and although this solved Rome’s immediate problem (the invasion of the Germanic Cimbrian coalition), it ensured that the legionnaires no longer had any “interest” in the republic. . Their loyalty thus shifted from the state to their commander, and the legions became the personal playthings of the generals. They demanded huge bonuses and land allotments, and the generals wielded them against each other. First Sulla and then Marius marched on Rome, making Caesar the last to do so when he crossed the Rubicon to begin the war that would end the republic. Augustus made the legions a standing army and in doing so ensured their loyalty to the emperor and not the republic.
The republic was also rocked by an influx of wealth and property from abroad, eroding the values of those who, like Cato, took pride in traditional Roman stoicism. With the fine silks and gold flowing into Italy, it was inevitable that as the wealthy grew richer, the generations that followed them knew nothing of the poverty their ancestors struggled with. Just like how the Mongols completely changed following the wealth of their conquests, so did the Romans.
Genghis Khan’s generation had worn clothes made from mouse skins sewn together, while two generations later Kublai Khan led a generation that reigned over the riches of China and the Islamic caliphates. How can these generations retain the values of their ancestors when their lives are so different? Scipio Africanus would come to be mythologized as the last of the great virtuous Romans, Carthage as the last real enemy to threaten Rome.
Why did Rome lose Africa?
All of these factors accelerated the malaise of the republic, but Rome persevered. From the ashes of the decaying republic came the empire, which would continue to dominate the Mediterranean for another 500 years. Carthage was the last external state which threatened the existence of Rome. There would be many more enemies and many more wars. There would be many defeats, although Rome’s main enemy from the Punic Wars would still be itself. Disasters like Arausio, Carrhae, Teutoburg and Adrianople will never shape Rome as much as battles like Pharsalus, Phillipi and the Milvian Bridge. As in all great empires, Rome ends up falling back on itself, these victorious generals fighting among themselves.
The fall of Rome was due as much to internal struggles as to the great migrations from Germania. Rome’s victory in the Punic Wars paved the way for it to dominate the Mediterranean, but also laid the groundwork for its destruction. Although the empire reached a greater territorial zenith, many—especially contemporaries—considered the Punic Wars the pinnacle of Rome’s cultural and military achievements. With the rest of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire’s existence being one long litany of civil wars, Carthage was arguably Rome’s greatest enemy.