Why Did The Roman Republic Transition to a Monarchy?

The Roman Republic was born in 509 B.C. when the Romans, under the leadership of Lucius Junius Brutus drove out the last King, Tarquin Superbus.

The Republic was not very democratic, even though the leadership was elected. The aristocracy had far more say in affairs of state than the common people. It was, essentially, a plutocratic oligarchy.

The Romans, during the Republic, did, indeed, have a strong belief in keeping power out of the hands of a single individual. One very effective way to destroy a political adversary was to accuse him of the ambition to be King. Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, a hero of the Gallic siege of Rome in the 4th century B.C. tried to better the lot of poor plebeians. His aristocratic opponents accused him of wanting to be King and he was thrown to his death from the Tarpaean Rock.

In the second century B.C. Tiberius Gracchus’ enemies made similar claims against him and he and 300 followers were killed in a riot by aristocratic Senators who opposed his reforms.

After the battle of Baecula in 208 B.C. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus freed the Spanish prisoners without ransom and they acclaimed him a King. He admonished them never to use that term as “The title of King, revered in other countries, was something that was reviled in Rome.”

In 44 B.C. at least 24 Senators were involved in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar who had been declared Dictator for Life. The conspiracy was led by Marcus Junius Brutus, a direct descendant of Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Republic. There was still strong sentiment among the aristocratic class to maintain the Republic and oppose monarchy.

What changed that led the Romans to accept the re-introduction of a monarchy? It seems that, after the Marian reforms, which abolished property requirements for joining the Roman legions, the state lost control of its military. Soldiers gave their loyalty to their general and not to the state itself. In the first century B.C. there was a series of civil wars. Marius versus Sulla, Sertorius versus Pompey and Metellus, Caesar Versus Pompey, Octavian and Marc Antony versus the assassins of Caesar, Octavian versus Marc Antony.

These civil wars took a dreadful toll upon the Roman aristocracy. In addition, the aftermath of Marius versus Sulla and the war against the assassins of Caesar both featured proscriptions. The victims of these proscriptions were mostly wealthy patricians and equites who were either killed or forced into exile. Many of the traditional leading aristocratic families went into severe decline.

After three generations of intermittent civil war and proscriptions the aristocratic class was so depleted they they could no longer mount any effective resistance when Octavian, now called Augustus, gradually imposed monarchy. The Roman people were sick of the constant civil strife and were grateful for an era of peace and stability. They were happy with their bread and circuses.


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