Republican Intrasigence

Nov 2012
429
Wiltshire
#1
"The decline and end of the Roman Republic in the First Century BC was primarily due to the intransigence of the Senate, which could not accommodate the elite competition and ambition which had been intensified by the effects of Rome's imperial conquests, including especially the transformation of the military into essentially private armies that the elite could wield as political tools."

I realise that there are already far too many threads here and elsewhere on the internet concerning the end of the Republic, but hopefully I've provided a sufficiently different slant on the topic here to merit its introduction. :)

The above quotation is an answer that I gave in a seminar where we were discussing the reasons for the end of the Republic, and one that I'm rather proud of. I think it encapsulates in one sentence the various major reasons, while centralising the issue on the Senatorial intransigence, which I do believe was arguably the single most influential factor.

That's my position, then. To what extent do you agree with this statement? How would you modify it? Was the intransigence of the Senate a significant or insignificant factor?
 
Nov 2015
1,016
Ayton
#2
I have no idea at all! But I liked the way you used italics and the said you had put a different slant on it.
People don't really like different slants which challenge that which they already know.

I was in hospital a year ago and read a book on a Roman Philosopher. If I could remember his name, it would mean that the hospital worked. It grabbed my attention. I had to come back to Cromwell though. Old Habits Die hard.

Which is exactly what happened when an enterprising monk added starch to dye whyen trying to make vestments reuseable. It was like wearing armour!
Old habits dye hard.
 
Oct 2013
117
Tellurem
#3
People don't really like different slants which challenge that which they already know.
Cognitive Dissonance I believe it's called.

That's my position, then. To what extent do you agree with this statement? How would you modify it? Was the intransigence of the Senate a significant or insignificant factor?
You certainly make an interesting point. If I was going to modify this statement at all I would simply add to it. I'm sure you would have said more prior to it which gave it context.

It is evident that no real great reforms were made to the senate to meet the constantly growing requirements. The only real changes made to try and adapt to the conditions the res publica found itself in was the augmentation of the total size of the body and subsequently incrementing the number of available positions for the various offices or magistracies. There are a number of reasons for this which I'm sure most, including yourself, would be aware of (the competitive nature of the individuals within the senate being the most obvious).

We know from stories of the Gracchi that reforms of any nature, especially those which are to the detriment of senators are going to be met with fierce opposition. Important questions to be made regarding this issue are:

  • What reforms could have been implemented to try and prevent competition between senators leading to extreme circumstances without removing the environment for competition which enabled the res publica to accomplish such predominance in the Mediterranean?
I think this question is worth considering as this would have been a highlighted issue among the senate; why change something which appears to be working in this context?

  • Who would have been both capable and willing to attempt to implement reforms which would have prevented the 'decline and end of the Roman Republic'?
This latter question is for me the most difficult to consider as really only the most ambitious and politically capable would have been able to carry out such reforms and in an existing system which enables the possibility for predominance among your peers, the ambitious are not going to desire reformation. Only Caesar and Augustus really reached such a predominant position and the changes made by the latter were essentially in order to prevent himself being superceded.
 
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Oct 2009
3,523
San Diego
#4
A false premise.
Throughout Roman history legions were the tools of the elite and powerful patrician class exclusively.

Your cited "causes" are nothing but symptoms of a deeper economic malaise that was caused by the stagnation of the Empire. Once it got to a certain size, Conquest became untenable as a means to fuel economic growth. It required ever greater expense and effort to net a significant increase in GDP.

They tried to offset this thru increased taxation, which only alienated the subject territories, and thru cutting costs associated with defense... opting for a Pay-for-play arrangement with bordering barbarians rather than funding and equipping traditional legions.
These were all strictly economic measures... not political- i.e. what they could AFFORD.


Because Rome lacked the ability to do complex maths ( try doing long division with roman numerals ) they were fundamentally limited to the science and engineering that was possible using only an abacus to manipulate figures. This resulted in a stagnation of innovation, that coincided with the stagnation of expansion.

( innovation being the OTHER means to increase GDP- new scientific discoveries beget new technologies and economic activity... for example, Rome had a huge economic flowering resulting directly from the invention of concrete- suddenly ordinary dirt could be turned into stone buildings. )

Without higher maths, Rome was destined to fail as their economy ran out of steam and entropy set in.

being still capitalist in nature... over time what money Rome had became focused in fewer and fewer hands, the plight of the hoi polloi worsened and led to disaffection with Rome, and the wealthy became less willing to fund the operation of the State in the form of legions and otherwise. ( kind of like the rich today do not want to pay taxes and agitate for "smaller government" )

Thus, it was the combination of a capitalist economy- which REQUIRES growth to survive- with a zero economic growth reality that led the Romans to make all sorts of really bad choices because they simply didn't have any expectation of greater wealth tomorrow to pay for debts incurred in defense of the realm.


And THAT was caused by lack of higher maths- ( because conquest ALWAYS reaches a limit of diminishing returns )


The renaissance was the first time in human history where civilization managed to continue to grow beyond what every prior civilization had accomplished.

And the ONLY difference between renaissance europe and Rome was that the Europeans by then had Zero- and arithmetic. ( which led to the development of higher maths, scientific exploration and analysis of data not readily evident to derive truths about the natural world that had never been known before, because they require complex maths to observe and analyze. )

The western european powers certainly had their age of conquest... but their economies also grew thru the domestic developments of new technologies and resources in lands they already had.

And, I would point out that Colonial Empire only went out of fashion because Science had advanced to the point where it offered dramatically better economic returns than subjugating foreign peoples.

I don't NEED to OCCUPY China as long as I can convince them to dig up their soils and convert them into iPhones for a price on which I can profit.

People today really have a very poor understanding of how much the world economy utterly relies on scientific understanding and invention.

The control panel in your microwave oven would be impossible without the complex maths of high energy physics.


The cause of Rome's fall is the same cause of fall for every ancient civilization.
You can't have chemistry without higher maths.
You can't even have aluminum cans without it. ( no higher maths, no comprehension of electricity, no electricity, no easy way to separate aluminum from ore )

Everything that sets renaissance Europe apart from prior civilizations comes down to scientific understandings of the natural world that were impossible without facile arithmetic.

Rome declined and fell because they didn't understand the concept of Zero.
 
Oct 2013
117
Tellurem
#5
A false premise.
Throughout Roman history legions were the tools of the elite and powerful patrician class exclusively.
That is true to a certain point as it was almost always those wielding imperium who commanded the legions and therefore would have been a member of the senate and likely a member of a patrician gens. This is until the reforms which saw plebeian families allowed the right to obtain the consulship. More importantly you seem to forget that before the end of the second century B.C.E the way Roman legions were raised and organised was considerably different to that of the first century as has been discussed on these forums before. Notably the reforms which began with Gaius Marius.

Your cited "causes" are nothing but symptoms of a deeper economic malaise that was caused by the stagnation of the Empire. Once it got to a certain size, Conquest became untenable as a means to fuel economic growth. It required ever greater expense and effort to net a significant increase in GDP.

They tried to offset this thru increased taxation, which only alienated the subject territories, and thru cutting costs associated with defense... opting for a Pay-for-play arrangement with bordering barbarians rather than funding and equipping traditional legions.
These were all strictly economic measures... not political- i.e. what they could AFFORD
Conquest of territories continued long after the events which saw the republic become the principate during the first century B.C.E. I understand that the military reforms in the later second and early first centuries may have in part been due to stresses on state finances but there were other reasons, also, such as the dwindling number of citizen farmers and such, which is actually probably a good point for an economic argument.

I didn't quote the rest of your post because I cannot see anything related to Thaladan's original question: "The decline and end of the Roman Republic in the First Century BC" What essentially became the principate lasted for a couple of centuries and then further still into the dominate. I believe what you are trying to discuss here is much further into Rome's future. If you have any argument to make for the decline of the republic in the first century correlating with economic stresses, then I'm all ears, but I have stated what I think.
 
Oct 2015
803
Virginia
#6
Fergus Millar, Eric Gruen and others have challenged the traditional explanation of the "fall of the Republic". They question the idea of "personal armies" etc and maintain that the Republic was a going concern, reforming itself and dealing with the problems of Italy and the empire. They don't concede that there were insoluble systemic problems but contend that it was 20 years of civil war triggered by the opposition to Caesars desire for a second consulship that ended the traditional republic.
Gruens "Last Generation Of The Roman Republic" is an interesting counterpoint to the traditional argument.
 
#7
A major problem that would have developed with the republic as it expanded more and more was the issue of maintaining a pure electoral system with the quality of transportation back then. Imagine the nightmare of having to coordinate elections all across the Roman world, ensuring (mostly) fair and non-corrupt elections. National representatives would have then had to travel all the way to Rome, and managed the complex client-patron system via mail. Big, controversial issues could have deadlocked the Roman government with opinions having to filter in from as far away as Scotland, greatly hampering the governmental effectiveness. Also, while the Romans were very successful in uniting and mobilizing during times of war, any major disagreements in strategy could have seriously jammed up the response time. For example, had the fierce debate over the Fabian strategy involved people weighing in from Britain to Syria, Roman military operations could have ground to a halt.

Now, I will say that this problem might have been addressed with greater autonomy of the provinces, similar to the Byzantine theme system and English burh system, that could have allowed for considerable representative government on the local level while ensuring an overall national agenda. The provinces could have run much of their own affairs and would have been responsible for their own security, but could have been mobilized into larger units for big threats. This might have actually encouraged even greater romanization, as average citizens would have been tied directly into the political process.

With all that said, the logistics of the ancient world were just not friendly to large democracies, as major decisions would have taken far longer to be made; no voting machines, no mass media of any kind, no quick communication.
 
Oct 2015
803
Virginia
#8
The thing is that the Romans never tried, and had no interest, in a representative system. To vote in an election or an assembly a citizen had to be present in Rome, in person.

And since, as you mention, any form of central control of the provinces was extremely limited by primitive communications, significant autonomy WAS the answer, in the form of civic institutions. The various cities of the empire had their own councils, assemblies and elected magistrates and ran most of their own affairs and the affairs of the surrounding rural districts.
Roman governors only intervened when necessary. This is why the Romans encouraged urbanization in tribal areas like Gaul, Spain etc and were reluctant to annex regions like Scotland and Germany which did not have even proto-urban tendencies.
 
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Oct 2015
803
Virginia
#9
Was is really the "Senate" that was intransigent? Apparently all but 22 members accepted Curio's proposal that both Caesar and Pompey give up their armies. Wasn't it the influential minority led by Cato, Bibulus and the consul Marcellus that wouldn't give an inch?