The Roman Government


The Roman Government Essay, Research Paper

History of Roman Government

The Romans have had almost every type of government there is. They’ve had a

kingdom, a republic, a dictatorship, and an empire. Their democracy would be the basis

for most modern democracies. The people have always been involved with and loved their

government, no matter what kind it was. They loved being involved in the government,

and making decisions concerning everyone. In general, the Romans were very

power-hungry. This might be explained by the myth that they aredescended from

Romulus, who’s father was Mars, the god of war. Their government loving tendencies

have caused many, many civil wars. After any type of government, the change has been

made with a civil war. There have also been many civil wars between rulers. But it all boils

down to wanting to be involved in government. When the Greeks finally entered Troy

after ten long years of siege, a man named Aeneas escaped the city with his father,

Anchises, and his son, Ascanius. They went to Mt. Ida, where they were to meet Aeneas’

wife, Creusa, but she never showed up. Saddened, Aeneas acquired a boat and sailed

around the Mediterranean. He bounced around from Asia Minor to Greece to Crete

looking for a place to found a new Troy, but he couldn’t find a satisfactory place. As told

by Homer in the Aeneid, Aeneas was cared for by the gods. Venus, in particular, was very

worried about him. She asked Jupiter, king of the gods abouthim, and he said this: “Since

you are so consumed with anxiety for Aeneas, I shall turn forward far The hidden pages of

fate and speak of the future. He shall conduct a great campaign for you And conquer all

Italy and its haughty peoples. He shall impose laws on his own people And build walled

cities for them; the third summer Shall see him rule in Latium, the third winter Of warfare

see the Rutulians [an Italian tribe] subdued. But his son Ascanius… It is he who shall

consolidate your power- For thirty years with all their turning months; Then shall he move

his capital from Lavinium To Alba Longa, which he shall fortify To the uttermost; and

there a line of kings… Shall reign and reign till Ilia [Rhea Silvia], a priestess Of royal

blood, bear twins begotten by Mars; And one of these, Romulus, fostered by a she-wolf,

And joyfully wearing her tawny hide, shall rule And found a city for Mars, a new city, And

call his people Romans, after his name. For them I see no measure nor date, I grant them

Dominion without end. Yes, even Juno… Even she will mend her ways and vie with me In

cherishing the Romans, the master-race, The wearers of the Toga. So it is willed.”(Nardo

13) Finally, he wound up at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. He went inland up the

river, which was a miracle in itself, because the river is very swift. He found Latium, ruled

by King Latinus, and married his daughter, Lavinia. With King Latinus’ permission,

Aeneas and Lavinia founded a city called Lavinium, where they ruled side by side for many

years. When Aeneas died, his son Ascanius took over. Ascanius founded a new city, which

he called Alba Longa, and made it his capital. Now we advance four centuries. The king of

Alba Longa is Numitor. He had a jealous brother named Amulius, who seized the throne

and drove out Numitor. To prevent Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, from having children

who could claim the throne, Amulius made her a celibate priestess. While she was a

priestess, Mars, the god of war, came and visited her and she had twin boys named Remus

and Romulus (Burrell 7). When Amulius found out about the twins, he was furious. He

ordered Rhea imprisoned and the boys drowned on the Tiber. The slave who was ordered

to drown them felt pity for them, and instead sent them down the river in a basket. When

they landed, a she-wolf found them and nursed them because her cubs had just been killed

and she was still fertile. Romulus and Remus were found by a shepherd named Faustulus,

who took them home to his wife to raise them. As they grew up, being sons of Mars, they

turned out to be very athletic and natural leaders, especially of the local boys. When the

boys grew up, they heard the story of Numitor and Amulius. With their local friends, they

attacked Alba Longa, killed Amulius, restored their grandfather to the throne, and freed

their mother. After restoring Numitor to the throne, the boys decided to found a city on

one of the seven hills near where their basket wasfound by the wolf. This was a natural

spot for a city. Accounts Livy, “Not without good reason did gods and men choose this

spot as the site of a city, with its bracing hills, its [spacious] river by means of which the

produce of inland countries may be brought down and inland supplies obtained; a sea near

enough for all useful purposes, but not so near as to be exposed to danger from foreign

fleets; a district in the very center of Italy, in a word, a position singularly adapted by a

nature for the growth of a city.” (Nardo, 12) The two boys couldn’t decide between

themselves which hill to start on, so they decided that whoever saw a vulture first could

pick. Remus saw the first vulture and five others, and Romulus saw twelve. Remus had

rightfully won, but Romulus claimed he should pick since he saw more vultures. He

borrowed a plow and team, and plowed a furrow around the Palatine hill. He told his

brother that was where the city would be, and if Remus crossed the line, he would be

killed. Contemptuous Remus immediately crossed the line, and Romulus killed him.

Romulus later said he regretted killing his brother, but life goes on. Hebuilt his city on the

Palatine Hill, and called it Rome. When Romulus founded Rome in 753 BC, he made

himself the king. Being a brand new city, it had very few people. Romulus built up the

population by allowing anybody who wanted to live there, including criminals who flocked

to the city. This caused a shortage of women. To get some, the Romans hosted athletic

games and invited their neighbors, the Sabines. While they were at the games, some of the

Romans sneaked off and stole the Sabine women (Burrell 14-15). Realizing what had

happened, the Sabines prepared their army. Expecting this, the Romans were ready and

the two forces lined up preparing to fight. Surprisingly, some of the women ran into the

no-man’s-land in between the armies. This is what their leader said: “We were just

daughters a short while ago, now we are both wives and daughters. We did not choose

our husbands – they chose us. We want this fighting to stop. If it goes ahead, many will be

slain. When our fathers are dead, we shall be orphans, but if our husbands die, we shall be

widows. We lose either way.” (Burrell, 14-15) Surprisingly, the two armies listened and

put down their weapons. Since anyone was allowed to reside, Rome had great diversity in

its people. There were three main ethnic groups: the Romans, who were first generation,

the Sabines, and the Latins, who Romulus is descended from. The Sabines lived in the

mountains east of the Tiber and north of the Latins. Later on, another group of people

called the Etruscans started moving in. They were unique in that their language had no

relation to any other known language, the only one like that. Romulus established a

government with a king, who was imperium, “Over all persons and in all causes supreme”

(Adcock 6). Romulus chose one hundred fathers to form the Senate. These people and

their descendants are known as Patricians, from the Latin word pater, meaning father. He

divided the people into three tribes, mentioned above, and each tribe was divided into

smaller curiae. The succession of kings wasn’t hereditary. The previous king appointed

someone, and that person had to show the good will of heaven. Once king he had to keep

the pax deorum, Latin for peace of the gods. Romulus created an army that was to have

three thousand infantry and three hundred horsemen, one-third from each tribe. This was a

national guard, with people keeping their day jobs. When Romulus died in 717 BC, the

two main tribes, the Romans and the Sabines, couldn’t decide how to pick a king. Finally it

was decided that the Romans would pick a Sabine king. They picked Numa Pompilius.

This is what Plutarch had to say about him: “He banished all luxury and softness from his

own home, and… in private he devoted himself not to amusement… but to the worship of

the immortal gods.” (Nardo 19) One of Pompilius’ notable achievements was rearranging

the calendar so it had twelve months instead of ten. The third king, Tullus Hostilius, was a

war monger. He believed his subjects would grow soft if they weren’t engaged in a war.

Conquering neighboring people, including Alba Longa, he extended Rome’s rule out to

twelve miles. Supposedly the gods got angry with him and killed him with a lightning bolt

(Burrell, 12). The fourth king, Ancus Martius, was a Sabine. He extended Rome’s

boundary to the sea and built the Pons Sublicus, the first bridge across the Tiber. He also

captured the Janiculum hill on the far bank. The fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, was

the first Etruscan king. He got the throne when he persuaded Martius to send hissons

away. He was an architect king. He built the capitol temple, drained the marsh between

the Paletine and Aventine Hills, built the Cloaca Maxima, or great sewer, and designed the

Circus Maximus. The sixth king was Servius Tullius, another Etruscan. He divided the

citizens into five social classes, from richest to poorest. All but the poorest had to provide

soldiers. The seventh, and final, king was Tarquinius Superbus. He was a bad king. He got

the throne by marrying Tullius’ daughter, Tullia. He then pushed Tullius down a flight of

stairs. He sent men to finish him off, but Tullia ran over her father with a cisium, Latin for

a light, two-wheeled carriage. As king, he paid absolutely no attention to what the people

wanted. According to Asimov, when he was off at war with the Volscians, the Senate

voted to exile him, and he wasn’t let back into the city. After his reign, the people vowed

never to have a king again, and a law was made where anybody who even talked about

having a king back was executed. A senator named Brutus said, “I swear, and you, o gods,

I call to witness that I will drive [away]… Tarquinius Superbus, together with his wicked

wife and hiswhole family, with fire and sword and every means in my power, and I will not

[allow] them or anyone else to reign in Rome.” (Nardo 25) Republic is English for the

Latin Res Publica, meaning the public thing. A republic is “a country governed by the

elected representatives of the people” (Encarta “Republic”). Instead of a president or king,

the Republic has two praetors, later known as consuls, who were elected annually. The

one exception was emergency dictators, who served for six months and six months only.

The Senators served for life. The object of the Republic was to give the people a voice in

the government, and to keep just one person from having all the power. Noting the Greek

government, the Romans created the Centuriate Assembly of citizens. This was an

assembly where citizens discussed and voted on important issues. Many of the members

were Patricians, but there were a few Plebs, or commoners too poor to own land. Only

free Roman adult men who owned weapons were citizens. Not long after the Republic

was formed, the Patricians closed off immigration of new patriarchal families. In the early

years of the Republic, the Patricians often made laws unfair to the Plebs. Only Patricians

could become consul, thesenate was almost all Patricians, and the Patricians controlled the

Plebs in the Assembly by giving the Plebs financial aid, who in turn voted the way they

were told. Public Officials weren’t paid, so only wealthy people could afford to serve on a

regular basis. One time, the Plebs refused to serve in the army until they got their way. As

Livy said, “The Patricians dreaded the Plebians [who were striking]…. How long could it

be supposed that the multitude which had seceded would remain inactive? And what

would be the consequence if in the meantime a foreign war should break out? No glimpse

of hope could they see left except in concord between the citizens, which must be

re-established in the state on any terms.” (Nardo 28) In 494 BC, the Patricians gave up

and allowed the striking Plebs their own council, called the Popular Assembly, which

excluded Patricians. This assembly couldn’t make laws, but they elected ten tribunes each

year who had the power of veto. The Patricians pronounced the validity of decisions made

by the assembly. As the Republic grew older, it became more complicated. The Assembly

had to elect officials to help. They elected eight praetors, or court judges, four aediles,

who managed public streets and buildings, two censores, who took censuses, admitted

new senators and collected taxes, and twenty five quaestores, or financial officers. In 450

BC, the Plebs demanded that the laws of Rome be written down so that the praetors

couldn’t twist the law in their favor. They were written down on the Twelve Tables. An

example of a law from the Twelve Tables was, “If plaintiff summons defendant to court,

he shall go. If he does not go, plaintiff shall call witness [to this]. Then only shall he take

the defendant [to court] by force.” (Nardo 28-29) The Tribunes of the Plebs protected the

Plebs from unjustness, and the Plebs protected them by threatening to strike. As time went

on, Patrician control over Plebians gradually decreased, until in 366 BC, the Plebs were

allowed to become consul. Soon it became a custom to elect one Pleb and one Patrician

(Nardo 28). In 287 BC, the Popular Assembly gained the right to make laws. Rome was

ever expanding. In 496 BC, Rome conquered Latium. In 449 BC, the Sabines fell, and in

396 BC, the Etruscans. Instead of trying to oppress conquered tribes and peoples, Rome

absorbed them, integrating them into their culture. This made them much easier to control,

because they felt like they belonged to Rome. This is what Cicero had to say about it:

“Every citizen of a corporate town [one annexed by Rome] has, I take it, two fatherlands,

that of which he is a native, and that of which he is a citizen. I will never deny my

allegiance to my native town, only I will never forget that Rome is my greater fatherland,

and that my native town is but a portion of Rome.” (Nardo 31) The Senators of Rome also

felt great loyalty towards the city. In 390 BC, raiders from Gaul invaded the city. Some of

the Senators stayed in the city. Livy tells what happened: “[The Senators sat]…without

fear or concern…. The Gauls, for a great while, stood wondering at the strangeness of the

sight, not daring to approach of touch them, taking them for an assembly of superior

beings. But then one [Gaul], bolder than the rest, drew near to one elderly senator, and…

gently stroked [the Senator's] chin and touched his long beard; the Senator with his staff

struck him a severe blow on the head; upon which the barbarian drew his sword and slew

him. This was the introduction to the slaughter.” (Nardo 32) The Romans didn’t look

kindly upon failures. After the consul Varro lost fifty thousand soldiers in battle with

Hannibal’s army, he was ejected from office. According to Nardo, the only reason he

wasn’t executed was that he fought along side the army, and didn’t desert (45). In the

Punic wars against Carthage, Rome had to develop naval technology. After Carthage was

defeated, Roman merchants adopted ships to do their trading, making them more and

more wealthy. Eventually, these wealthy merchants formed a new class, called the

‘equestrian order’. This new class competed with the patricians for power in the

government. The citizens began splitting into two parties. The Imperialists, led by General

Scipio Africanus, wanted to continue expanding eastward. The Conservatives, led by

Senator Cato the Elder, wanted to settle down and stop expanding. As time went on, the

Imperialists increasingly prevailed. By the second century BC, the government became

more and more imperialistic, to the point that they would attack anything with the smallest

excuse. In 192 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus III took over a few freed Greek cities.

Rome invaded, conquered everything, and drove Antiochus III to Asia Minor. The Roman

army chased him, and conquered the territories he had in Asia Minor. Gaius Julius Caesar

was born on July 13, 100 BC to a prestigious Roman family. His uncle was Gaius Marius,

the consul and leader of the agrarian reform movement. In 82 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla

attacked the city and made himself dictator. Because Sulla was an enemy of Marius, he

ordered Caesar to divorce his wife, Cornelia. Caesar refused, and fled the city until Sulla

resigned in 78 BC. Caesar started his reign in a triumvirate, with himself, Pompey the

Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. According to Nardo, this was just a dictatorship of

three. They ruled the Republic with terror, using the army and their henchmen as

muscle.(77-78) The only person who continually voiced his opposition to the triumvirate

was the famous orator, Cicero. The triumvirate chased him into hiding. In 58 BC, Caesar

et al.’s term ended, but they kept power. Caesar boosted hispopularity by conquering Gaul

and Britain. In 53 BC, Crassus died in battle in Asia, leaving a triumvirate of two. While

Caesar was away in Britain, the senators tried to pit him against Pompey by naming

Caesar a public enemy and Pompey protector of the state. The senators were hoping that

the two would get rid of each other. Caesar was ordered to disband his army, but he

instead marched on Rome. He was just bringing his soldiers home, but it was taken as an

invasion (Nardo 83-84). In 48 BC, Caesar crossed to Greece, where Pompey had escaped

to. Pompey escaped to Egypt, where he sought shelter with King Ptolemy XIII. Ptolemy’s

advisors warned him against the wrath of Caesar, so he killed Pompey and sent Caesar his

head. In 46 BC, Caesar was named the ten year dictator of the state. He promptly

renamed himself dictator for life. On March 15, 44 BC, a group of senators who decided

that Caesar was a danger to the Republic. Led by Brutus and Cassius, they attacked

Caesar in the senate chambers. Ironically, his body fell at the feet of the statue of Pompey,

after suffering twenty three knifewounds. Immediately after Caesar’s death, the senate

outlawed the dictatorship. After Caesar’s death, his adopted grandson, Octavian, formed

the second triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Antony ruled the

east, Octavian the west and Italy, and Lepidus ruled Africa. The second triumvirate was

constituted by an act of state to reconstitute the state. They were given five years, but this

was later extended. The three crushed all of their opponents, including Brutus, Cassius,

and Cicero. Battling against Sextus Pompeius, Octavian summoned Lepidus to Italy to

help him. Upon arriving, Lepidus tried to seize Sicily, and was subsequently kicked out of

the triumvirate. Mark Antony fell in love with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, who was

rumored to be a former lover of Caesar. Together they ruled the eastern Empire for many

years. With the growing support of the Roman people, Octavian declared war on Antony,

to secure power for himself. The two forces, Octavian’s navy commanded by Marcus

Agrippa, and Antony and Cleopatra’s navy, met at the battle of Actium on September 2,

31 BC. Agrippa, a very capable general and a good friend of Octavian, commanded 260

light ships, while Antony commanded 220 heavy ships (Encarta “Actium”). The battle

raged on for a very long time, and was beginning to look like a stalemate, when the

Egyptian fleet withdrew. Agrippa’s fleet crushed the remnants of Antony’s fleet, who

survived and escaped back to Egypt with Cleopatra. Antony received a false rumor and

killed himself by falling on his sword. Upon hearing of his suicide, Cleopatra killed herself

with an asp, which was a symbol of the eye of Ra, the Egyptian sun god (Gibson). After

the war was over, Octavian closed the Roman temple to Janus, the Roman god of

beginnings of wars. This showed that the world was at peace. In 28 BC, Octavian and

Agrippa became consuls. After one year, they turned the state over to “the free decision of

the Senate and People of Rome” (Adcock 74). The Senate and people of Rome gave

Octavian ten years of complete control. Octavian named himself the princeps, which is

Latin for emperor. He ran the Empire as a monarchy, although it was disguised as a

Republic. They still had a senate, but senators only made it into office with Octavian’s

approval. Those citizens who weren’t fooled kept quiet, because Octavian kept things

peaceful and governed fairly. Octavian ended the Roman tradition of conquest, cutting the

army from seventy five to twenty eight legions. In 23 BC, Octavian gave up the consulate,

but the senate forced himto keep power over the provinces. In effect, he ran the Empire

from the background, while others were elected consul. These consuls had power, but

always did what Octavian said. On his death bed, Octavian was advised to forgive his

enemies. He responded with, “Yes father, but how can I? I have [killed] them all” (Adcock

75). Octavian was almost eighty when he died in 14 AD. After Octavian came the

Emperor Tiberius. His reign was non-eventful, and he retired after plots against him were

turned up.After Tiberius came Gaius, who was better known as Caligula. During his reign,

Caligula went crazy. According to Burrell, anyone disagreeing with him was thrown to the

lions in the Arena. He also got the Senate to name his horse consul.(49) Everyone was

thankful when he was assassinated in 41 AD. Caligula was succeeded by several emperors

who did nothing governmentally, including Claudius and Nero. Around the second century

AD, the Empire began to crumble. Wave after wave of barbarian invaders, especially the

Huns, chipped away at the state. Eventually some of the provinces had to be abandoned.

At the end of the third century, Emperor Diocletian decided the empire was two big, and

split it in two. He ruled the east from Turkey, and commissioned Maximian to rule the

west from Milan. He called this form of government the Dominate, from Latin dominus,

meaning master. There were two Augusti, who ruled the east and west, and under them

there were two Caesars, who were like vice-presidents. The two Caesars of the east and

west were Constantine and Galerius, respectively. Diocletian turned his empire into

something like afeudal system, where peasants were deprived of personal freedom and tied

to the soil. He renamed citizens to subjects. In 305, Diocletian and Maximian stepped

down as Augusti, resulting in civil wars between the old Caesars and new Augusti.

Eventually, Constantine the Great came out on top in 312. Constantine’s troops made him

emperor, and he ruled the entire Empire from Byzantium, which he renamed

Constantinople. Constantine was the first Christian ruler of the Empire. Alaric of the

Visgoths helped the emperor Theodosius crush a rebellion. Unfortunately, Theodosius

died before he could reward Alaric. The new emperor, Honorius, cut Alaric off from

Rome, which he resented deeply. Alaric took his army to Constantinople, but found it too

well guarded. He then led his army to the city of Rome, where, in the fifth century, sacked

it. The Empire continued to fall to barbarians. The east and west sides of the Empire were

in a virtual state of war. In 429, Vandals conquered Africa. In 410, Britain fell. In 451, the

Huns took most of Europe. When Atilla the Hun came to Rome, Pope Leo was able to

convince him to spare the city. In 455, Vandals came and sacked Rome. In the year 476

AD, the last emperor died, marking the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the greatest ever.

That last emperor’s name was, ironically, Romulus. The Roman Kingdom, Republic,

Empire, Dictatorship, and others have affected all of us. The United States government in

commonly known as a democracy, but it’s actually a Republic, almost identical to the

Roman one. The Roman government was one of the most powerful ever, at one point

ruling most of the civilized world. It is almost certainly the best known. Ask anyone about

Romulus and Remus, Gaius Julius Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, Nero, Constantine; they’ll

know who you’re talking about. The term Caesar was used to mean ruler for thousands of

years after his death. Both the German word Kaiser as well as the Russian word Czar are

from the name Caesar and mean ruler. Today some three-fourths of the countries are

Republic, styled after the Romans. The Romans are probably the most influential people of



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Oxford: Oxford University, 1991. Caesar. Computer Software. Encarta Encyclopedia,

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Education (16 March 1997). Republic. Computer Software. Encarta Encyclopedia, 1996

ed. Rise of Rome (753-44 BC). Computer Software. Encarta Encyclopedia, 1996 ed.

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