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The Collapse of the Republic. Roman Empire at death of Julius Caesar. Land Reform. By 133 B.C., Roman politics had polarized around two factions in the Senate. On the one hand were the "Optimates," the better people –– people whose only interest lay with wealth and the senatorial class.

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The collapse of the republic

The Collapse of the Republic

Roman Empire at death of Julius Caesar


Land reform

Land Reform

By 133 B.C., Roman politics had polarized around two factions in the Senate.

On the one hand were the "Optimates," the better people –– people whose only interest lay with wealth and the senatorial class.

Numerically small but politically powerful, the Optimates were by all accounts conservative – they were the defenders of the good old days, defenders of the status quo.

On the other hand, there were the "Populares," the champions of the depressed portion of the citizenry.

The Populares demanded the redistribution of the land to the dispossessed peasants who now flooded into Rome as well as a reform of the voting procedure.


Tiberius and gaius gracchus
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus

  • The struggle between these two factions came to civil war when the Senate resorted to the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus (168-133 B.C.).

  • Tiberius had been elected Tribune in 133. He proposed a land bill to the Assembly of Tribes that would effectively divide the land and give it to the Roman citizenry – he wanted the citizenry to be independent of the Senate. The bill limited the amount of land to an individual to about 330 acres

  • The Senate would not pass his land bill and so Tiberius went directly to the concilium plebis.


  • As a result, Tiberius and 300 of his followers were killed. The bodies were thrown into the Tiber River. The next day more supporters of Tiberius were rounded up and met a similar fate

  • The program of Tiberius was taken up by his brother, Gaius Gracchus (159-121 B.C.).

  • Elected tribune in 123, Gaius wanted to transform Rome into a democracy along Hellenic lines. In his attempt to place checks and restraints on the power of the senators, he had the near total support of the public Assembly.

  • He also won the support of the Assembly by legislating to keep the price of grain sold to citizens permanently low.


  • Gaius built new storehouses and his road-building program kept the citizens at work.

  • He revised the terms of military service, which amounted to a pay raise for soldiers and he also reorganized the way taxes were collected in the provinces.

  • The Senate would have nothing of this and so they declared martial law.

  • Riots broke out and 3000 of the Populares, along with Gaius, were killed. Gaius was beheaded and his body thrown into the Tiber.A bounty had beem put on the weight of his head [in gold]. One of the co-conspirators in his murder then decapitated Gaius, scooped the brains out of his severed head, and filled the cavity of his skull with molten lead. Once the lead hardened, the head was taken to the Senate and weighed in on the scale at over seventeen pounds. He was paid in full.


The rise of generals
The Rise of Generals kept the citizens at work.

  • Gaius Marius – 157-86 BCE

  • By the time Marius came to power, around 107 BCE, the typical Roman recruiting base was literally non-existant. There simply weren't enough landowners available who weren't already fighting the Germanics or Jugurtha to field a new army

  • He had little choice but to 'break' the law in order to fulfill his political and military ambitions


Marius & Sulla kept the citizens at work.


  • Gaius Marius – 157-86 BCE kept the citizens at work.

  • By the time Marius came to power, around 107 BCE, the typical Roman recruiting base was literally non-existent. There simply weren't enough landowners available who weren't already fighting the Germanics or Jugurtha (Numidia) to field a new army

  • He had little choice but to 'break' the law in order to fulfill his political and military ambitions and fill the military with poor, landless citizens


  • The opposition recruited a foe of Marius’ named Sulla kept the citizens at work.

  • A Civil War (called the Social Wars because it pitted upper vs. lower classes) followed and lasted 4 years

  • Marius was defeated, Sulla marched on Rome and many believe began the Collapse of the Republic, setting the stage for Julius Caesar


  • Marius & Sulla had discovered that power really didn’t lie in the hands of the Senate, but in the hands of a general with a strong army.

  • An ambitious man with pedigree credentials worked his way up the ladder until he finally was wealthy and strong enough to propose a triple alliance, or triumvirate with another general, Pompey, and the richest Roman, Crassus (who had been the general who defeated Spartacus)


To make money, Caesar had himself appointed in charge of Gaul (France) where he went about fighting anyone he could find. This is the great king, Versingetorix surrendering


Pompey fled from Rome and joined his army in Greece. Caesar was declared absolute ruler, or one who has total power


  • Caesar and his army followed Pompey finally defeating him in Egypt. Upon his return he made many changes

  • Gave Roman citizenship to many people in Roman provinces

  • Expanded the Senate (adding many friends to support him)

  • Created jobs, built buildings, started colonies for landless people and increased the pay of soldiers




  • Civil War broke out between the supporters of the Senate and those of Julius Caesar

  • 3 leaders emerged to root out the assassins

  • Mark Antony, Caesar’s friend and head general

  • Lepidus, a close friend of Caesars. He was Master of the Horse, which is like Speaker of the House today

  • Octavian, Caesar’s adopted 18 year old son

  • This was the 2nd Triumvirate



  • Octavian took the title “ caused Octavian to come after Antony. He defeated him here, at Actium in Greece. Antony fled to Egypt with his girlfriend, Cleopatra where they committed suicide.Augustus” which means “exalted one”.

  • He kept the title “imperator” which the term emperor comes from

  • Although he claimed to support the Republic he never gave up the power he had gained


  • Augustus ruled for 46 years caused Octavian to come after Antony. He defeated him here, at Actium in Greece. Antony fled to Egypt with his girlfriend, Cleopatra where they committed suicide.

  • This began the time known as Pax Romana, or Roman Peace that would last until 180 CE

  • The empire would peak somewhere between 60-80 million people – Rome would have up to one million.


90% of the population was engaged in farming



  • In the provinces, the soldiers were typically not Romans but locals.

  • When they were discharged they would get full Roman citizenship

  • Augustus was probably the best, most capable of all the emperors (too bad he was the 1st)

  • In spite of a number of poor, lousy, malicious, and insane emperors, the empire would last another 400 years after his death due to the civil service he set up.

  • These paid workers would manage the day to day affairs of the empire


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly locals.

  • Pax Romana depended upon a number of factors, and none more important than peaceful transition from one emperor to the next

  • Quite often there would be a power struggle when the emperor died, and more often than not, it would be sudden (since more were killed than died naturally)

  • There was a string of 5 emperors that ruled for 84 years. This period is known as the 5 Good Emperors.


Trajan – born in Spain. He was adopted by previous emperor, Nerva – expanded Empire

Hadrian – he was a Stoic. Spent a lot of time putting down rebellions and building (remember his wall in N. England to keep out the Scots


Antonius Pius – Got his name not from being a religious man, but forcing the Senate to make Deify Hadrian

Marcus Aurelius – also a Stoic philosopher. Spent most of the last 10 years of his life leading troops against Germanic tribes.


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