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The Roman Republic: Rise, Formation & Political Structure

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  • 0:02 Freedom in Rome
  • 0:30 Rise of the Roman Republic
  • 1:44 Form and Structure
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

In this lesson you will explore the rise and formation of the Roman Republic and discover the unique systems of government they created. Then, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Freedom in Rome

As a kid, you are always under the control of your parents or legal guardians. So many of us spent the first 17 years dreaming about the freedom of being an adult. Then, 18 hits and you are able to find the freedom and make your own rules. This is sort of how the Romans felt when they overthrew a tyrant king and found the freedom to govern themselves. I'm not saying that your parents are tyrants or anything like that; I'm just saying that freedom is pretty sweet.

Rise of the Roman Republic

According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BCE by two brothers, Romulus and Remus. Romulus made the city into a kingdom, with himself as the king. After him, kings were elected by the people of Rome. The Roman Kingdom also had a Senate, a body of elected representatives who advised the king. While they did not directly make laws, it was expected that the king would heed the advice of the Senate. The Senators were chosen by each district to bring those people's needs before the king. The Kingdom of Rome lasted for over 200 years and grew into a sizable power.

The seventh and final king of Rome was named Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Although Tarquinius strengthened Rome and expanded its borders, he was also a tyrant. The king was known for using violence and intimidation to maintain his power, and he frequently ignored the wishes of the Senate. By ignoring the Senate, he was essentially ignoring the will of the people. In 509 BCE, the situation broke into a revolution, and Tarquinius was deposed. Rather than elect a new king, the people decided that Rome would be ruled by the Senate, forming the Roman Republic.

Form and Structure of the Republic

The new government of Rome after 509 BCE was a democratic republic, meaning that it was ruled by officials elected to represent the people. This is different than a true democracy, in which every citizen can vote on all major issues. Instead, the citizens of Rome voted on the person who they believed would best represent their needs in government. For the first centuries of the Roman Republic, only land-owning elites called patricians could be elected. Eventually, however, it was opened up to any male citizen.

The Romans decided that the Senate would be the main power of their new republic, but they needed a more central authority to directly govern the people. However, after having such a bad experience with kings, the Roman people did not want to give another single person so much power. So instead, they gave it to two people. This new position was called the consul, and the two men that were co-consuls held the main power in Rome. To prevent them from ever becoming too powerful, the consuls were elected by the Senate, only held a term of one year, and could veto each other. The first men to be elected consuls were Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, two of the central leaders of the revolution.

To further limit the power of the consuls, several other offices were created. The praetor held judicial power. The censor had the power to conduct the census. Also, where previously the king had been the head of the Roman religion, two new positions were created to make the main sacrifices to the god and appoint priests.

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