Roman Republic: Government & Fall

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the development, government, and fall of the Roman Republic and test your understanding about ancient civilizations, systems of government, and the role of the republic in world history.

Roma

The Roman Republic was an era of ancient Roman civilization from roughly 509 BC-27 BC, in between the earlier Roman Kingdom and later Roman Empire. The Roman Republic was distinguished by its system of government, the republic, that featured a Senate to represent the people. The Roman Republic holds a significant place in history as the first major republic government, and is the model for many modern nations today, including the good ol' US of A.

Map of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic

Brief History of the Roman Republic

Around 509 BC, a revolution in Rome ousted King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Two leaders of the rebellion, Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, were elected as co-leaders called Consuls, and the Roman Republic began. The new Consuls restored power to the Senate, the Roman institution created by the founders of Rome in which elected officials represented the will of the people in their district. The Senate could pass laws, veto motions of the Consuls, and direct finances. The Roman Senate was the first elected and representational form of government in a major civilization.

Through conquests, alliances, and economic power, the Roman Republic expanded its influence beyond just the city of Rome. By 282 BC the Romans had defeated the last of the Italian kingdoms of the Etruscan and Samnite civilizations and controlled the Italian peninsula. The Pyrrhic War from 280 BC-275 BC established Roman control over parts of Greece, and by the end of the Punic Wars in the 2nd century BC, Rome essentially controlled the Mediterranean region.

Caesar Augustus
Augustus

Internal factions inside the Roman Republic lead to a series of civil wars throughout the first century BC, resulting in the general Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon River in 49 BC and becoming the dictator of Rome. After Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, people started fighting for power. Caesar's supporter, Octavian, defeated the other major contender, Mark Antony, in 31 BC. In 27 BC the Senate awarded Octavian supreme powers and he took the name Caesar Augustus, officially initiating the Roman Empire. The rise of an emperor with nearly absolute power meant the end of the Roman Republic, although the institution of the Senate survived and continued to represent the will of the people in the government.

Government of the Roman Republic

The government of the Roman Republic was divided between the Consuls and the Senate. The Consuls were elected officials, the highest elected position in Rome, who served one-year terms before being re-elected or dismissed. The Senate was composed of elected officials called senators who represented the people of their district.

Roman Senator
Senator

Because Roman culture was hierarchical, meaning it had strict levels of different social classes, Roman government often struggled to find a way to be truly representative. Originally, only land-owning aristocrats called patricians could be senators. As the Roman Republic grew, the laws changed and allowed leading members of the common classes, called plebeians, to become senators as well. The Senate was highly respected. Officially, their duty was to pass decrees, or advice, for the Consuls. The Senate authority was so respected that this advice was essentially always obeyed and the decrees made laws.

Members of the Roman Senate
Senate

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