The Decline of the Roman Republic

The Decline Part I:

The rapid decline of the Roman Republic began in the second century B.C. with two Gracchi brothers.

Tiberius Gracchus (c. 163 – 133 B.C.) was a Plebeian tribune. He ignored traditional Roman customs and laws to the farthest extent. When his tribunal term expired, Tiberius stubbornly ran for re-election, an unheard of and unlawful thing to do.

Gaius Gracchus Addressing Plebeian Council

Gaius Gracchus Addressing Plebeian Council

However, the determined Tiberius is most noted for his profound desire to transfer the immense wealth from the rich Patricians to the proletarian Plebeians. However, he did not show his idea or bill to the Senate and it was passed without their consent. This had not been done before in the history of Rome. Finally, Tiberius was murdered in the Senate.

Gaius Gracchus was Tiberius’ younger brother. Because his brother had died trying to defend the rights they believed in and with an unceasing grief over his brother’s death, he became a fearless speaker in his attempt to stand for those rights. He was a popular tribune and was, unfortunately and disgracefully, killed in the Senate in 121 B.C., like his brother before him.

The two opposing political parties at that time in Rome were the Populares and the Optimates. One of the most prominent figures in the Populares was the fierce General Marius. He had been elected consul six times and had fought along with General Sulla against an invading Asian general. However, in 100 B.C. Marius retired from the army.

General Marius

General Marius

The second political group was the Optimates. This group upheld the ancient Roman traditions, especially those that had to do with the Republic. In their vehement efforts to retain the ancient Roman customs, they pushed to increase the power of the Senate versus that of an individual ruler.

General Sulla, a warrior-like politician and frightening foe, was an Optimates. He was appointed dictator by the Senate in 81 B.C., after several ferocious battles and victories in the Social War. (90 – 88 B.C.) The Social War had been an attempt, by Rome, to fully unite Italy under one political banner.

Sulla, as dictator, wrote the deadly proscriptions. These were documents in which the names of Populares, who could be killed on sight, were listed. This was done unmercifully. In 80 B.C., Sulla resigned his dictatorship and re-established the greatly desired consulship. He himself was once again elected as consul.

This first lenient Roman dictatorship and the gradual disregard for the Ancient Roman traditions is what eventually brought about the decline of the Roman Republic.


The Decline Part II:

The second half of the Decline was set in motion by the Cataline Conspiracy in the first century B.C. This was an all-out attempt to overthrow the Republic. The conspiracy also included burning the city of Rome. It was overseen by the deceitful Roman senator Cataline, who also wanted to kill prestigious Roman orator Cicero. But Cicero was able to discover the deadly plot, warn the Senate and flee for his life before the plan was initiated. Cataline was then forced to flee Rome or be executed.

The First Triumvirate (60 – 53 B.C.) was the last step to dissolving the Roman Republic. It consisted of a secret group of three who had a subtle plan to take over the government. The three members were Crassus, Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar, all great rivals of each other, yet in league.



Crassus (115 – 53 B.C.) was one of the richest aristocratic men in Rome and had been a consul twice (70 B.C.) along with his life-long rival and accomplice, Pompey.

Pompey the Great

Pompey the Great

The treacherous Pompey the Great (106 – 48 B.C.) was a member of the Optimates. He was married to Julia, the beautiful daughter of the cruel Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, snobbish, prideful and martial (104 – 44 B.C.), was a Populares and therefore a rival of his confederate, Pompey. He had been consul in 60 B.C. Then, proving unfaithful and unreliable, he launched an attack on the Optimates and Pompey after Crassus died, and the First Triumvirate was dissolved.

In 48 B.C Julius was named dictator by the Senate. However, when his powers broadened until he was in control of all Rome, he was assassinated unmercifully in the Senate by Brutus. (44 B.C.) His heir was his adopted son Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar.

Thus, the First Triumvirate led to an established dictatorship in the growing Roman Empire.




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