The Fall of the Roman Republic (78-31BC)



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The Fall of the Roman Republic

The Roman Republic refers to the times of the ancient Roman civilization when the government was run in the form of a republic. The overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the replacement by consuls were initial stages leading to the collapse of the Roman Republic (Frost, 1901). Frost (1901) further observed that internal turmoil was at the heart of the collapse of the Roman Republic. Economic stagnation in Rome, slave revolts, and military dissension were major factors that influenced the direction taken by the empire. In the midst of these problems, leaders from various corners of the Empire fought for power leading to the collapse of the Republic. The Second Triumvirate also proved to be an important factor in the collapse.

In 43 BC, Julius Caesar, a nephew of the great Caesar, Marcus Aemilius, and Mark Antony, entered a political union that became referred to as the Second Triumvirate. The formation of this alliance virtually ended the reign of the Roman Republic. Before the formation of the union, the three leaders were engaged in an endless war on the Italian territory. A month before agreeing, the three kingpins held several discussions regarding how to rule Rome. Later the Triumvirs agreed to form a Consular Power (Werner, 2003).

After the formation of the Power, the three titans enjoyed absolute power over the Roman people. Only one aspect was in place to check powers, which the leaders arrogated themselves (Harriet, 2004). The check entailed giving the three leaders a five-year term of leadership at a time. The only reconfirmation was necessary for the leaders to carry on after the lapse of the five-year terms.

The Second Triumvirate lasted two terms beginning from 43 BC and ending in 33 BC. As the end of this period approached, Octavian was attempting to work against Mark Antony. At that time Mark Antony was residing in Egypt with Cleopatra in the Egyptian country. Despite being in a marriage with the sister of Octavian, Mark had promised a sizable fortune to Cleopatra. Octavian chose to ensure that this act became public in Rome. Moreover, the demand by Antony to be buried in Egypt was bound to be a cause of concern. Such aspects soiled the character of Mark Antony. Consequently, when Octavian waged war against Antony and Cleopatra, it was not surprising that he achieved success. The defeat of Antony came in 31 BC following the Battle of Actium. After a comprehensive defeat, the two went ahead to kill themselves in Alexandria (Harriet, 2004).

After defeating all his enemies, the dictatorship of Caesar played an important role in crumbling the Roman Republic. Caesar was given a ten-year term to restore the Republic to its former state (Caesar, 58–50 BC). He chose to reconstitute himself into a Hellenistic king with divine powers. This was in contrast to the expectations of Romans, who were in a celebratory mood having expelled the Etruscan King leader (Holland, 2005).

This perception that the new leader was a dictator prompted Roman citizens to react. As such, citizens felt that they had a civic duty that entailed suppressing any attempts aimed at reintroducing tyranny using any form of action. In the end, the employment of political assassination became the most feasible form of action to curb the emerging form of impunity. Although Caesar attempted to distance himself from the term “rex”, attempts to exhibit such facets as a consul, dictator, plebeian and others remained unquestionable. Dictatorial tendencies continued and reached a climax in 44 BC when he declared himself dictator IN PERPETUO. These were details inscribed into the currency of the Republic (Holland, 2005).

Romans were unhappy with the course of events. As such, it was not surprising that sixty-odd senators hatched a plan and murdered Caesar. Although the one-man rule was not popular, the precedent had been set and the question was who among his followers was to take over the reins. It was his nephew, Julius Caesar (Octavian). Octavian entered an alliance with three other leaders to form the Second Triumvirate.

The collapse of the Roman Republic can be summed in four steps apart from the issue of the Second Triumvirate. Understanding four factors are critical as they precede the formation of the Second Triumvirate. The first step entailed the emergence of popular tribunes during the period of 1333-121 BC. At this time, Sempronius Gracchus and Ti took advantage of their power due to the plebian tribuneship and seized power in Rome. Using what they termed as “sacrosanct veto”, they controlled all public activities. However, the two leaders were killed alongside their followers after an uprising against the aristocracy (Werner, 2003).

To understand the Second Triumvirate, it is important to look into the first one. The First Triumvirate occurred in the period from 59 to 53 BC. The three leaders were Julius Caesar, Pompeius Magnus, and Licinius Crassus (Flower, 2004). They combined their forces to get the leadership of the Roman Republic. The compromise of the civil liberties of citizens of the Roman Republic offered fertile grounds for sowing seeds of discord. As such, leaders who promised alternative ways of the ruling could easily get support. The fact that the group of three succeeded is partly due to the dictatorial nature of the leadership of the Republic at that time.

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Rapid economic and social changes were critical in shaping developments in the Roman Republic. Due to imperial engagements of the Republic, profits of war proved to be too much for the leaders and citizens alike. For instance, the overseas conquest led to capturing prized possessions and wealth that flowed into the Republic. The acquisition of wealth was too fast to allow equitability in its distribution within the society. In addition, rising expectations of war outcomes interfered with the way governors treated citizens and wealth. As such, great expectations led to the creation of powerful extortion offices in the Republic. This proved to be a big mistake as it heightened the pursuit of public office in the Empire. Increased competition for the public office is a recipe for chaos as it enhances enmity among competitors, who are likely to set their supporters against others (Flower, 2004).

Having forced his political agenda in Rome, Antony remained precarious. He reached Gaul and reinforced his base by securing the support of Lepidus of Spain. With the support of Lepidus, Antony became powerful and posed a danger that Octavian could not singlehandedly match. Having passed legislation that found all those involved in the assassination of Caesar, Octavian could not find much support from his backyard. In the face of weakening the base of Octavian, the only sound idea was to reconcile with Antony. Such a move would prove beneficial in the process of stabilizing the Caesarean section (Flower, 2004).

After deliberations, the three leaders decided to partition the Empire among them. Antony was entrenched in Gaul as Lepidus took control over the Spanish land and Narbonensis, while Octavian was in charge of Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia. However, Octavian was a junior member in this arrangement. At the same time, the rise of Pompey made it difficult for Octavian to exercise his powers. By the time of the formation of the Second Triumvirate, Pompey posed a danger to the region (Holland, 2005).

Whereas the First Triumvirate was a secret agreement among Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, the Second Triumvirate was an open legal pact. As such, the first pact left the Republic intact as opposed to the second one that provided for joint dictatorship. The three leaders had powers to disregard both senatorial and republican traditions by using military force (Holland, 2005).

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After the agreement, the Triumvirate focused on sourcing funds to stabilize their authority and negate political opposition in place. As such, the leadership paved way for the return of Sulla. That was a system that promoted the use of prescriptions (Werner, 2003).

The second factor revolves around the emergence of private armies. After the failure on the part of the oligarchy to handle the military problem, army generals, Cornelius Sulla and C. Marius, decided to recruit private armies, whose loyalty laid first with army chiefs as opposed to the State. The two generals came to disagreement amidst the Asian rebellion and the Social War. As such, the transfer of loyalty from the State to individuals provided ample grounds for the disintegration of the Roman Republic (Frost, 1901).


Octavian, the eventual victor following the formation of the Second Triumvirate, completed the collapse of the Republic by introducing major reforms that saw him become the first citizen (princeps). Although no specific event, such as the Second Triumvirate, explains the collapse of the Roman Republic, evidence suggests that it was pivotal in the reformation of the Republic.

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