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Roman Republic. Three Major Periods of Roman History. Start of a new Roman Government. * Rome was founded about 509 BCE. Romans founded a new type of government called a republic . In a republic people chose officials to represent them.

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Roman republic

Start of a new Roman Government

* Rome was founded about 509 BCE. Romans founded a new type of government called a republic. In a republic people chose officials to represent them.


Roman republic

  • Rome’s republic was shaped by a struggle between wealthy nobles and regular citizens.




Roman republic

  • Plebeians

  • Majority of the population

  • Artisans, shopkeepers, small farm owners

  • Citizens (male)– could vote, pay taxes, serve in army

  • Could not marry a Patrician

  • Could not serve in government

  • Patricians

  • Wealthy land owners

  • Nobles that made up the ruling class

  • Citizens (male)– could vote, had to pay taxes and serve in the army

  • Could not marry a Plebian

  • Could serve in government

Roman republic

  • Although the PATRICIANS controlled the government, they found themselves unable to exist without the plebeians.

  • The PLEBEIANS produced the FOOD and supplied the LABOR that kept the Roman economy going.

  • They also supplied the soldiers for the Roman MILITARY – especially important since Rome was in continual military conflict during the age of the Republic.

Roman republic


How the Republic Works

Division of Power

1 person


2 men


300 members


Rest of



Roman republic


  • Top government official

  • Two chosen every year

  • Headed the army and ran the government

  • Served short term….avoided risk of abusing power

  • Veto

  • The right of the consul to reject the other’s decision. Latin for “I forbid”

Roman republic


Latin for “old men”

300 men

Chosen for life

Advise Consul

Deal with other countries

Proposes laws

Approve public works

Deal with daily government problems

Roman republic


Citizen soldiers – a voting assembly

Power comes slowly

3. First step



Roman republic


  • For more than two centuries following the establishment of the Republic, the plebeians struggled for political and social equality.

    • Outright civil war was averted by the willingness of the patricians to compromise.

    • Much of the plebeians’ success in this struggle was also due to their tactics of collective action and to their having organized a corporate group within the state.

  • The unofficial body was known as the PLEBEIAN COUNCIL.

  • It was presided over by plebeian officials called TRIBUNES, whose job was to safeguard the interests of the plebeians and to negotiate with the consuls and the Senate.

Roman republic

The Roman Republic –

The System of Checks and Balances

The system was based on balance of interests

Roman republic


  • Because the consuls often interpreted Rome's unwritten customary law to suit PATRICIAN INTERESTS, the plebeians demanded that it be written down.

  • Plebeians go on strike for more say in the government.

  • Leave the farms and the army to go sit on the Palatine Hill (Forum)

  • Patricians compromise- Pass a written code of law called the TWELVE TABLES.

  • Laws were harsh, but equal

    • As a result, about 450 B.C., the law was inscribed on twelve tablets of bronze and set up publicly in the Forum.

    • The LAW OF THE TWELVE TABLETS was the first landmark in the long history of Roman law.

Roman republic

  • The plebeians in time acquired other fundamental rights and safeguards:

    • They secured the right to APPEAL A DEATH SENTENCE imposed by a consul and to be retried before the popular assembly.

    • The tribunes gained a VETO POWER over any legislation or executive act that threatened the rights of the plebeians.

    • MARRIAGE between patricians and plebeians, prohibited by the Law of the Twelve Tablets, was legalized.

    • The enslavement of citizens for DEBT was abolished

Roman republic


  • Little by little, the plebeian class acquired more power in the functioning of government.

    • In 367 B.C., ONE CONSULSHIP was reserved for the plebeians.

    • Before the end of the century, they were eligible to hold other important positions: PRAETOR (in charge of the law courts), QUAESTOR (treasurer), CENSOR (supervisor of public morals and state contracts).

  • Some plebeians succeeded in gaining entry to the SENATE.

  • The long struggle for equality ended in 287 B.C. when the PLEBEIAN COUNCIL was recognized as a constitutional body, henceforth known as the TRIBAL ASSEMBLY, with the right to PASS LAWS that were binding on all citizens.

  • The Roman Republic was now technically a democracy, although in actual practice a senatorial aristocracy of patricians and rich plebeians continued to control the state.

Problems facing the senate
Problems Facing the Senate safeguards:

  • the various expansion and conquests of war changed the dynamic of the Roman Republic as the wealthy had enjoyed the spoils of war, the slave population had increased and depressed the wages of poorer Romans

  • In turn the poor Romans could not join the military (as it was expensive to afford all the armour) so army numbers decreased as well as cohesion and loyalty to the state

  • the Senate did not do anything to resolve this problem

Gracchus brothers
Gracchus Brothers safeguards:

  • Gracchus brothers (Tiberius and Gaius) were both tribunes who tried to bring in land reforms to give publically owned land to dispossessed farmers which would in turn increase the wealth of farmers who could then join the army.

  • BUT he submitted his bill without the approval of the Senate and eventually the Senate had him murdered.

  • His brother Gaius tried to limit the powers of the Senate such as assigning governors to provinces who were notoriously corrupt and as well tried to pass land reforms. The Senate passed a resolution known as the 'last decree' which declared martial law and Gaius was hunted down by a mob and killed.

New reforms
New Reforms safeguards:

  • Marius Reforms: Gaius Marius made reforms to the Roman army that men did not need to own property to join the army, volunteers would be accepted which changed the army to be largely of poor men who served their commander, received booty from him (land) which changed the army into an instrument of ambitious commanders

  • Senate denied a bill made by Marcus Livius Drusus that would have granted Italian ppls who were Rome's allies Roman citizenship. They then killed him.

Caesars grab for power
Caesars' Grab for Power safeguards:

  • Caesar's conquest in Gaul enriched Rome but the Senate was worried that he would use his popularity to seize power as a dictator. Senate ordered Caesar to lay down his command, and under the martial law 'last decree' ordered Pompey to command his armies against Caesar.

  • Senate then threatens the lives of any tribunes who opposed the Senate (which allowed Caesar to campaign that he was defending the rights of the tribunes (common ppl) and of his men in his army). Caesar then crosses the Rubicon and 'invades' Rome.

Caesar vs the senate
Caesar vs the Senate safeguards:

  • After Pompey's death by the Egyptians and his political and romantic establishment with Cleopatra VII and Egypt, Caesar becomes dictator and consul in Rome in 44 BCE. He extends his dictatorship beyond the legal 6 month limit and names himself dictator for life and takes complete authority to pass laws, declare war and appoint men to office.

  • He raises the membership of the Senate to 900 men and includes his veteran officers. Here the Senate loses its former authority and settles his soldiers in new colonies and grants citizenship to some provinces.

Ides of march enter octavian
Ides of March… safeguards: Enter Octavian!

  • Senate then conspires and assassinates Caesar as self proclaimed 'defenders of liberty' which effectively destroys the Roman Republic

  • Octavian (Augustus) becomes the first Emperor and gives the Senate control of the pacified provinces (Asia, Africa, Greece) to be ruled by governors appointed by the Senate- After the transition of the Republic into the Principate, the Senate lost much of its political power as well as its prestige.

  • Emperor Diocletian put into constitutional reforms which made the Senate became politically irrelevant, and never regained the power that it had once held. When the seat of government was transferred out of Rome, the Senate was reduced to a municipal body.