AN02b2_New Directions in Government and Society: The Roman Republic
Timeline: 6th C. – 1st C. BCE
FS: Roman Civilization: Shaped and molded by Crisis- The Roman Republic
The early Romans established a republic, which grew powerful and spread its influence. In Rome we see a body politic develop characteristics that meet the needs and desires of a society that is rapidly changing from ~5th C. BCE onward. Politically, the changes are great. However, those changes are often the products of change themselves, and in turn, initiate further change in fields beyond government. Some of the most fundamental values and institutions of Western civilization began in the Roman Republic.
I. Pivotal Circumstances: Political
A. Monarchial Period
Until the late 300’s BCE, Rome was an insignificant state, largely agricultural and almost entirely illiterate. From Rome’s mythical birth to approximately the end of the sixth century (BCE), the government of this village on the banks of the Tiber river was a monarchy. The monarchs were not Roman, per se. They were Etruscan rulers who had politically enveloped the small and weak city-state. Culturally, mighty Rome owed much to the centuries of exposure to Etruscan civilization. Politically, however, there doesn’t seem to be many historical records indicating Roman adoration of Etruscan rule, monarchial government, or foreign domination.
The end of the 6th C. BCE witnesses the city-state of Rome embarking on a path that would lead its people to a future different than the time spent under Etruscan control.
B. Republican Period
Much of what politically developed in Rome from ~500 – 100 BCE could be generally classified as a response to what prevailed the ~200 years prior.
1. The Etruscan monarch is deposed and replaced by an oligarchy composed of hereditary (Roman) aristocrats. (1) These aristocrats (Patricians), like their counterparts in the early Greek polis, ruled by means of a permanent council of elders (the Senate), and a monopoly of the state’s judicial, executive, and religious offices.
2. The Patrician Senate, having the dominant authority, would rule in concert with an “Assembly” consisting of the citizenry (Plebeians). The principal function was the ratification of acts promulgated by the Patricians. The Twelve Tables is a list of basic rights guaranteed to all Romans. It was a defense against the possible abuse of power by the Patricians. Adoption of the Twelve Tables coincides with the start of the republican period.
3. The humble, somewhat meager, origins of the city-state are ‘historically modified’ via myth to create a ‘suitable’ pedigree. (2)
4. Republican Governmental Structure (3)