Was the Roman Republic "doomed" to fall?

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
Having just finished, for the third time, 'Rubicon' by Tom Holland I am left with a bitter sense that maybe the fall of the republic was inevitable.

So much of what happened in the last century of the republic, from the march of Sulla to the proclamation of Augustus as "First Citizen" could have gone either way but I can't help but be left with the idea that the Romans were victims of their own success. That their entire ideology of 'be the best you can be' eventually lead to men loving glory more than they loved the republic.

One gets the sense, from reading the sources that, in the early days, service to the republic was a civic duty, that no man or woman ever took that for granted. The greater glory was always for Rome and no man could be allowed to be greater than her (something Scipio Africanus learned the hard way).

Better dead than slaves was the feeling as Pyrrhus and Hannibal steamrolled them. Whatever the cost the Republic must conquer or die. By those virtues they conquered and you could argue, without intending to, they made themselves the masters of the world. Suddenly Rome is rushed with riches and opportunities that earlier generations could never have contemplated. The opportunities to do greater things and win eternal glory became too much, if Sulla hadn't marched on Rome would someone else have done inevitably? I recognize that's an impossible question to answer but I want to know what others think on this.

Change was certainly set to come after their startling conquest of the world after the second Punic war, too much gold and power were rushing into Rome which definitely set some people thinking about what else could be gained but also what more they could be.

I think now that their very success as a system of government and society lead to the downfall of the republic. Whether that was a good or bad thing is not what I want to address but whether there was any other way it could have gone?

The sources we have only look good because everything before and after is so dark. So we have to construct things based on whats there, which really isn't a lot. Still, it presents such an interesting picture that we can construct the fall of the Republic piece by piece. I have to wonder, was the republican system capable of being saved or with the changing of times and ideals was its fall inevitable.

I don't expect to get any definitive answers from this but I'm curious to see what others think.
 
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Feb 2017
425
Minneapolis
I'm not sure the downfall of the Republic was such a bad thing for "common folk" who didn't really have much of say in government policy, anyway. Emperors often were quite popular among the masses. I think there's a tendency to idealize the the Roman Republic as if it was something that resembled the U.S. republic, but it really didn't. I'm sure experts will be around to set things straight but my readings in recent years suggest the Romans were more vicious and exploitive during the Republic (at least toward ones they conquered) than during imperial times.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
It depends on the era.

I wouldn't say that the Republic's fall was inevitable early in it's history, or even when Polybius was writing about it, but by the time we get to Caesar's era it had become deeply dysfunctional, unstable, and it's fall was probably inevitable.
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
I'm not sure the downfall of the Republic was such a bad thing for "common folk" who didn't really have much of say in government policy, anyway. Emperors often were quite popular among the masses. I think there's a tendency to idealize the the Roman Republic as if it was something that resembled the U.S. republic, but it really didn't. I'm sure experts will be around to set things straight but my readings in recent years suggest the Romans were more vicious and exploitive during the Republic (at least toward ones they conquered) than during imperial times.
I don't disagree. This is a good point for raising about why the system of government might have had to change. For too long power had been held by the rich families or aristocrats but after the fall, it was really a case of replacing several masters with one. I want to address whether the fall of the republic was inevitable, not whether the empire or republic was better.

That's what I would argue, that it was inevitable and if It wasn't a Sulla or Ceaser it would have been someone else that changed it, eventually.

On your point though,
Refugees were flooding Rome at the time and there were no jobs because all the estates had slaves doing the work, this was something the Senate was very slow or evasive about fixing because they knew that any changes would affect their own power base. There were big problems in Rome at the time which weren't being addressed but whether the Imperium made that any better that's something I hope someone else here can answer.

Their republican system was certainly nothing like how now we would think of as republicanism but I feel that in terms of the people it bread they were more 'hardcore' and willing to go the extra mile then later generations because they had some higher ideal to fight for. It was a game of competition, every roman was in a fight to the top and that encouraged the stupendous achievements they made. After the Imperium it was better not to look too good, otherwise, you might risk being asked to go the way of Seneca, a blade through the gut.
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
It depends on the era.

I wouldn't say that the Republic's fall was inevitable early in it's history, or even when Polybius was writing about it, but by the time we get to Caesar's era it had become deeply dysfunctional, unstable, and it's fall was probably inevitable.
Fair point
ok, let say, from the Third Punic War (149) to Sulla's march on Rome (88).

I would say the first turning point came with the murder of Tiberius Gracchus in 133. Before then no Romans blood had been spilled by another in the city (or at least the precedent for the kind of violence had not been set). This set the scene for the gang warfare that would make the coming century so difficult. It set a precedent, one that would be used to huge effect by Catilina in the 60's.
 
Apr 2018
726
France
In the republican world the control of both civilian an military power given too much power to a lot of people. If we mix a military machine already impressive with growing population and riches, and a model of life that rewarded the commitment... we have created the conditions for what happened.

So, no surprise that Rome needed to change the system of government. And infact one of the main measures taken by Augustus was the Lex Iulia maiestatis that moved in this direction: all activities aimed at promoting war initiatives "without the order of the emperor" (eg enlisting soldiers, moving battle, etc.) could have been done only under Augustus' order.

We can consider that even Cicero tried to celebrate a triumph...
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,637
Australia
Too deep a topic to get into easily. Every system of government is doomed if it doesn't adjust to changing times and circumstances that make it unviable. Rome's republic didn't do that, so it was inevitable it would fall eventually, but it didn't have to. It just couldn't continue to limp along as a de facto Empire with the rules designed for a small city state. Some of the changes that brought it undone were indirect attempts to resolve these problems, but because they were met with hostility from the status quo and not implemented properly they actually created new problems of their own that made the situation even less feasible long term (e.g. military reforms).
 
Oct 2015
932
Virginia
Eric Gruen's "Last Generation of the Roman Republic" provides a counterpoint to the traditional accounts of the "collapse of the Republic". He emphasizes the continuity of republican institutions thru the 70's, 60's and 50's BC and blames the end of the Republic on the extent, scale and destruction of 20 years of civil war.
 
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Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,637
Australia
Eric Gruen's "Last Generation of the Roman Republic" provides a counterpoint to the traditional accounts of the "collapse of the Republic". He emphasizes the continuity of republican institutions thru the 60's and 50's BC and blames the end of the Republic on the extent, scale and destruction of 20 years of civil war.
A lot of the institutions continued, but those institutions were also functionally broken, which is why there were repeated crises and civil wars towards the end of the republic; there were systemic flaws, and the status quo was unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to fix them. Caesar being basically forced into a civil war is an excellent illustration of many of these problems. The guy had the support of most people in Rome, most people in Italy, and at one point had a 370-22 vote in his favour in the Senate for stopping the march to war, and he still has to basically choose between being a human sacrifice and marching on Rome, because all the power is clustered in a small number of people's hands. Utterly ridiculous. It's not a "rule by the people" if only several dozen people really matter, in an empire of millions.