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Old September 27th, 2008, 05:33 PM   #1
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Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


I don't really understand the difference between these two, politically, culturally, and economically. All I know between the two is that the Roman Republic are for the citizens of Rome. However, the Roman Empire is ruled by a Emperors. Now, the connotations of emperors are considered bad I think. But isn't Marcus Aurelius and Augustus very good leaders. Does anyone have some insight on how Roman R and Roman E differ from each other.
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Old September 28th, 2008, 04:00 AM   #2

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


Excellent topic! I am eager to answer, as I studied the Roman Republic. So here is my view of it.

The Roman Republic was what made Rome great. The Roman Empire was what brought about its decline and fall.

When Rome became a Republic in 509BC, Rome's territory consisted of little more than the city itself. Rome was barely more than a collection of villages. By the time the Republic was effectively abolished by Octavian at the end of the 1st century BC, Rome had become a huge empire, as this map shows.

Click the image to open in full size.

The Republic was a system that, in its heyday from c.500BC to c.100BC, was based on the rule of law, and a cleverly balanced constitution that was not a written document, but consisted of an accord between the 3 elements, democracy, monarchy, and oligarchy. As the historian Polybius wrote, it is this balance which gave ancient Rome its greatest strength.

Rome was not ruled by any single man. That was contrary to the whole philosophy of the Republic, which was about having a balance of power. Two annually elected Consuls held the highest position of power. They could veto each other, so neither had absolute power, and they were strictly limited to one year in power.

This system greatly helped to prevent the kind of tyrannical abuse of power that happens all to often in dictatorships and monarchies. Nobody was above the law, and all free men were citizens with a stake in their future. All citizens could vote, and the assembly of the people could pass laws that applied to all.

All of this contrasts with the Roman Empire, which was a system based on an emperor. One man had total, absolute power. And as we all know, complete power corrupts a man completely. Corrupt, insane tyrants like Nero, Caligula and Commodus often ruled the empire with appalling cruelty and incompetence. Under the Empire, Rome slowly began to decline. By the time of the third century crisis, the empire was at the point of collapse. That it held together for another century and a half was a miracle, due largely to a series of strong soldier-emperors. But they failed to reform the system, and since it was largely a matter of luck who came to the throne next, sooner or later weak emperors took power again, and Rome entered its final decline.

Last edited by RoyalHill1987; September 28th, 2008 at 04:30 AM.
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Old September 28th, 2008, 05:13 AM   #3

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


I have great sympathy for the argument that the empire is overated and the republic ignored.

However I don't think Octavian was the death of the republic, it had died a century before with Marius, Sulla and the 1st and 2nd Triumvirates.

A lot of the reasons for the move to empire was because the republic was failing politically and the poorest citizens victims of increasing exploitation and abuse. By the time of Sulla and Marius the gap between rich and poor had reached huge polarities and the wealth of the republic was concerntrated in the hands of a few rich men, these men themselves were becoming an oligarchy. A few powerful senators were pretty much untouchable by the law, running roughshot over the legislation and running the republic as a personal money making venture. They were seizing wealth and lands from poor Romans and taking it for themselves, failing to gove soldiers promised lands as payment for service, instead keeping it for themselves.

The empire was brought about largely by Caesar who was a man of the people and rose on a popularist platform of protecting the citizens rights against the greed of the senate and redistributing wealth. He wasn't the first to try it, but the first with an army. Octavian followed this model, and emperors kept power by popularity with the masses and were seen by the masses as protector of their rights and interests in senate. The most successful emperors were the ones who enjoyed popular support by keeping senate greed and exploitation down.

Last edited by Toltec; September 28th, 2008 at 05:17 AM.
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Old September 28th, 2008, 08:15 AM   #4

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


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Originally Posted by Toltec View Post
I have great sympathy for the argument that the empire is overated and the republic ignored.

However I don't think Octavian was the death of the republic, it had died a century before with Marius, Sulla and the 1st and 2nd Triumvirates.
Yes, that's a fair point. Marius' career was around c.100BC, and Sulla marched on Rome in about c.80BC. There isn't really a precise date for the end of the Republic, but I agree that their actions were the beginning of the end, since they were basically incompatible with the whole point of the system! Octavian's main contribution is as the first Emperor, establishing the Principate.

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A lot of the reasons for the move to empire was because the republic was failing politically and the poorest citizens victims of increasing exploitation and abuse. By the time of Sulla and Marius the gap between rich and poor had reached huge polarities and the wealth of the republic was concerntrated in the hands of a few rich men, these men themselves were becoming an oligarchy. A few powerful senators were pretty much untouchable by the law, running roughshot over the legislation and running the republic as a personal money making venture. They were seizing wealth and lands from poor Romans and taking it for themselves, failing to gove soldiers promised lands as payment for service, instead keeping it for themselves.
Yes, in its later years the Republic was no longer following its original principles, as I described them earlier. The result was indeed as Toltec says. This happened from c.100BC onwards in particular.

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The empire was brought about largely by Caesar who was a man of the people and rose on a popularist platform of protecting the citizens rights against the greed of the senate and redistributing wealth. He wasn't the first to try it, but the first with an army. Octavian followed this model, and emperors kept power by popularity with the masses and were seen by the masses as protector of their rights and interests in senate. The most successful emperors were the ones who enjoyed popular support by keeping senate greed and exploitation down.
Yes, although it's argued whether Caesar actually believed in his cause, or whether he was just cynically using it to gain power for himself. I suspect the truth was somewhere in between.

However it is important to remember that, with the end of the Republic, 500 years of Roman freedom had come to an end.

Under the empire, the people have no say. They cannot make laws, as they did under the Republic. They have no vote anymore. They cannot decide who the emperor will be.

They have become essentially no different to any other ancient people. Their ancestors, the old Republican Romans, had looked down upon other peoples such as the Persians with scorn, since they were slaves to their rulers. Now the Romans themselves were slaves too.

Out of interest, has anyone read Rubicon? A truly excellent book about the Republic, it inspired me. Well worth a look if you want a good, entertaining and readable account of the times.

Last edited by RoyalHill1987; September 28th, 2008 at 08:24 AM.
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Old October 11th, 2008, 12:05 AM   #5

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


Quote:
Originally Posted by Toltec View Post
I have great sympathy for the argument that the empire is overated and the republic ignored.

However I don't think Octavian was the death of the republic, it had died a century before with Marius, Sulla and the 1st and 2nd Triumvirates.

A lot of the reasons for the move to empire was because the republic was failing politically and the poorest citizens victims of increasing exploitation and abuse. By the time of Sulla and Marius the gap between rich and poor had reached huge polarities and the wealth of the republic was concerntrated in the hands of a few rich men, these men themselves were becoming an oligarchy. A few powerful senators were pretty much untouchable by the law, running roughshot over the legislation and running the republic as a personal money making venture. They were seizing wealth and lands from poor Romans and taking it for themselves, failing to gove soldiers promised lands as payment for service, instead keeping it for themselves.

The empire was brought about largely by Caesar who was a man of the people and rose on a popularist platform of protecting the citizens rights against the greed of the senate and redistributing wealth. He wasn't the first to try it, but the first with an army. Octavian followed this model, and emperors kept power by popularity with the masses and were seen by the masses as protector of their rights and interests in senate. The most successful emperors were the ones who enjoyed popular support by keeping senate greed and exploitation down.
You could actually even take a step further and put the demise of the Republic with the Gracchi brothers. Afterall, it was Tiberius who set the stage for undermining Republican constitutional principles by over stepping his limits as tribune and firing his rival when he disagreed with him. Both of them used their powers as demogougue to muster popular support to override the power of the Senate, which, legally at least, didn't have much to begin with. You rightfully did blame the overall incompetence of Republican institutions in dealing with the internal and external problems of Rome as one of, if not the, main cause of its demise. The popularity of Caesar, and reaction against Brutus and his fellow conspirators proves that few were actually mourning the loss of the Republic.
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Old October 12th, 2008, 05:59 AM   #6

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


And yet the Republic was Rome's greatest strength. Over-emphasis on its collapse in the last century BC should not be allowed to detract from the fact that it was as a Republic that Rome made its astonishing rise to power. Rome encountered overwhelming adversity in its early years, and yet it managed to triumph and overcome problems that would easily have swamped any other power.
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Old October 12th, 2008, 07:31 AM   #7

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


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And yet the Republic was Rome's greatest strength. Over-emphasis on its collapse in the last century BC should not be allowed to detract from the fact that it was as a Republic that Rome made its astonishing rise to power. Rome encountered overwhelming adversity in its early years, and yet it managed to triumph and overcome problems that would easily have swamped any other power.
I completely agree. Despite Hannibal defeating the Romans in numerous battles and the Celts sacking Rome and giving the Romans such a hard time that one writer (I can't remember his name) had to admit that Rome fought others for glory, but the Celts for survival, Rome showed an uncanny sense of endurance. It's power lay not only in it's ability to win battles, but to loose battle after battle after battle and keep coming back until it eventually tired its oppenent's resources. As shrewd diplomats they knew when to bargain and when to use sheer brutality to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, possibly because of the Bible, an inordinate amount of attention has gone to the Roman Empire while the Roman Republic has been partially ignored, yet it was during this time that the Roman Empire grew into the Roman Empire.
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Old October 13th, 2008, 06:44 AM   #8
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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


Was the Roman "great leap forward" not fueled by the spoils of the looted Macedonian treasury (168 BC battle of Pydna and subsequent macedonian fall)? Wasn't that the checkbook that funded the Rome's wars of expansion?

Here is my question: Did this looted treasure destabilize the republic? Did it provoke wars, attenuate the requirement to acquire state income from taxation, incite political in-fighting over its control and/or simply corrupt its executors? How much credit should be given to this critical inflection point, this massive infusion of cash, as a critical event that help to make Rome and its empire?
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Old March 25th, 2009, 03:22 AM   #9
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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


Quote:
Originally Posted by RoyalHill1987 View Post
And yet the Republic was Rome's greatest strength. Over-emphasis on its collapse in the last century BC should not be allowed to detract from the fact that it was as a Republic that Rome made its astonishing rise to power. Rome encountered overwhelming adversity in its early years, and yet it managed to triumph and overcome problems that would easily have swamped any other power.
Couldn't agree with you more, that is summed up and very succinctly put. The wierd thing with them was that they could as earlier pointed out fight and fight and fight and fight (even if they were losing) and Home Insurance always came back for more and came back stronger which is the really amazing thing with them, the amount of endurance they seemed to have was astonishing at times.

Last edited by HistoryHoudini; May 6th, 2009 at 06:53 AM.
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Old March 25th, 2009, 09:26 PM   #10

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Re: Roman Republic vs. Roman Empire


I too agree that the Republic was certainly Rome at its best, especially militarily.

However, it should be noted that Rome as a civilization flourished under the Empire. The Roman Empire was in itself an incredible achievement in how it joined so manydiverse lands and people together and maintained relative unity for so long.
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