Do you think the distribution of political power during the Roman Republic (i.e., giving regular people the chance to vote both on policy and on representatives) was worth the bloodshed and chaos at the end of the Republic? Do you think there was any way that Rome could have continued with a republican form of rule while also putting an end to the bloody civil wars? Please provide specifics.

Broadening the distribution of political power in the Roman Republic’s last years proved to be of limited worth in the long run. The ruling elite often disagreed about the appropriate extent of broad-based political participation. The limited reforms they did allow were insufficient to quell popular unrest. Objections to the high cost of continuous warfare, in both human and economic terms, increased in frequency and intensity. The harsh retribution against reformers facilitated the change to imperial, centralized rule.

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As the Roman Republic pursued a policy of expansion, significant amounts of territory were brought under Rome’s control. Expansion to the East and into North Africa came at a high cost in numerous ways. Enlarging and maintaining the military was expensive in terms of absolute costs, which required high rates of taxation. The expense in manpower was partially met by further enslavement of conquered peoples and required service by poor native Romans. The near-constant wars also depended on the reallocation of food and the land required for growing it, as well as increased arms manufacture and the construction and fortification of numerous installations at strategic points throughout Roman territory.

For Rome’s small ruling elite, represented by the Senate, the increasing privileges and power were worth the expense. The close association of the Consuls with the armies, including leading the forces in battle, served to perpetuate the militarism in the Republic’s top echelon. The members of the Plebeian Council technically were representatives of the masses, but many members were susceptible to bribery and corruption, which kept power consolidated in the aristocracy.

The populist efforts of Plebeian Tribunes, such as the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, proved largely unsuccessful; both men were murdered. The harsh retribution against broad-based political reform paved the way for the consolidation of power in figures such as Sulla, Pompey, and Julius Caesar. Insufficient meaningful reform later contributed to the empire’s downfall.

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