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The Middle Republic
When discussing Rome we often think of its charismatic and sometimes terrifying emperors such as Caesar, Caligula, and Nero. However, Rome was a republic before the rise of emperors. Let us explore the Middle Republic and the key figures, developments, and reforms that made it distinct from other periods.
Who's Who in the Middle Republic
There were many important figures who lived, fought, and died to preserve the Middle Republic. They were generals and politicians who believed in republican ideals and who helped shape and reform the government of the Middle Republic.
Fabius Maximus (circa 250 BCE to circa 203 BCE) was extremely cautious in his strategy when confronting an enemy, an action that became known as Fabianism. Fabius Maximus was a general during the Second Punic War and is credited with helping Rome catch its breath and leading it in a more measured response to Carthage by not committing full troops to battle but instead harassing the enemy. This gave Roman troops to recover and strengthen. Fabius Maximus was briefly named dictator twice during this crisis so that he could use this power to protect Rome. While he was a dictator he successfully defended Rome against General Hannibal of Carthage. However, it would be our next figure that defeated Hannibal for good.
Scipio Africanus, (236 BCE to 183 BCE), was a general in the Roman army. He defeated the Carthaginian General Hannibal at the end of the Second Punic War when he won the Battle of Zama, which resulted, at least for the time being, in peace between the two empires. At the end of his military career, he went on to become a politician and later served as the head of the Roman Senate and advocated for Hellenism. Hellenism is the adoption or adaption of Greek culture and ideas by another culture.
Cato the Elder (234 BCE to circa 149 BCE) was also an anti-Hellenist politician and contemporary of Scipio Africanus. When he entered politics, he entered as an ultra-conservative, rigid fundamentalist, and gifted orator with a strict sense or interpretation of right and wrong. He fought against Hellenism and new ideas, preferring Roman traditions. Although he was a politician, he still occasionally served in military campaigns which included the suppressing of a rebellion in Spain and another against the Syrian Empire under Antiochus lll. Cato's last political role was as a censor, which was a magistrate that assessed the value of things and, similar to today's census takers, made a list of those living in a particular location. The censor was also responsible for evaluating people's morality. Cato, as aforementioned, disliked Hellenism, as well as anything that was not part of ancient Roman traditions, and in this position, he wrote policies to reinforce his personal perspective, which included taxes for goods he deemed luxurious.
Titus Quinctius Flamininus (circa 229 BCE to 174 BCE) was a soldier, politician, and diplomat who helped conquer Greece, which at the time was under the rule of Philip V of Macedonia. Afterward, he succeeded in winning over much of the populace to accept limited Roman involvement in Greek governance while at the same time maintaining allowing the Greeks to maintain some autonomy and a position as a Roman allied state.
Scipio Aemilianus, also known as Scipio Africanus the Younger, (circa 185 BCE to 129 BCE), was a Roman general who fought in the Third Punic War and also helped settle other conflicts, including assisting Falmininus in dealing with Antiochus lll, the Syrian emperor, who attempted to take over the Greek state, and in suppressing revolts in Spain. He is probably, best known though, as the conqueror of Carthage, the center of the Carthaginian Empire, which he completely destroyed in 146 BCE.
Developments in the Middle Republic
Much of the Middle Roman Republic was occupied with wars and conflicts. This did not mean that at home life suddenly came to a stop. Roman society and the government continued to evolve and change through this period of conflict.
Leading into the Middle Republic things began to change as more common people, plebeians began to have more access to power after centuries of struggle called the Conflict of the Orders. The Hortensian Law ensured that decisions made by the plebeian council had as much weight as those made by the patricians and applied to everyone, regardless of social status. Plebeians and patricians were made more equal in regard to rights and a second upper class began to emerge. This upper class had its roots in wealthy plebeians and the Roman cavalry.
The equestrians also referred to as eques, consisted of a military cavalry that wealthy plebeians, who could afford to buy and bring their own horses to battle. They were terrible horsemen and were replaced by cavalry troops recruited from allies. These wealthy plebeians, who had seen military service, evolved into an influential social and political group, second in power only to the Roman Senate.
Unlike senators, eques could engage in some sort of financial dealings, including taxing provinces and the latifundia, the latter of which were large-scale farms and ranches that were obtained through Roman expansion during the Middle Roman period. The latifundia were owned by rulers and temples and others in the upper-hierarchy of Roman society and worked by slaves and sometimes free commoners. Taxing, however, was sometimes abused and brought on problems for the senators whose job was to manage the provinces. These provinces sometimes revolted because of overtaxing by the Eques.
- Urban populations changed after Rome removed the right of migration and Roman citizenship from conquered peoples in 177 CE. Prior to this, towns suffered from a depletion in their citizenry as people gravitated towards Rome.
- Lex Calpurnia de repetundis, laws pertaining to the crime of extortion were passed in 149 BCE. Extortion is the use of threat, including the threat of physical force, to obtain something of value. The first permanent extortion court to address these crimes was then established. It focused mostly on extortion committed by public officials and the recovery of any monies extorted.
- Magisterial reforms included the Aelian and Fufian law. This allowed for challenges by magistrates to proposed bills based on religious convictions, such as the belief that there were ill omens associated with the bill.
Key things to remember:
- The Middle Republic experienced a lot of conflict including the three Punic Wars with the Carthaginian Empire.
- Five key figures during this period are Fabius Maximus, Scipio Africanus, Cato the Elder, Titus Quinctius Flamininus, Scipio Aemilianus.
- Fabianism is the adoption of a cautious strategy when confronting an enemy.
- Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama.
- Carthage was destroyed by Scipio Aemilianus.
- Hortensian Laws served to increase equality between the patrician and plebeian classes.
- The equestrians were a plebeian wealthy social class that began as part of the Roman cavalry and evolved into a social and political class second only to the Senate.
- Latifundia were large farming/agricultural enterprises that relied on slave labor.
- Hellenism is the adoption of Greek ideas and culture by another culture.
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