What are the differences between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire?

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As a republic, Rome was ruled by a Senate and various executives. It was governed by two consuls and, later in the life of the republic, one praetor and then later still two. The Senate was known for being incredibly divided and was often unable to reach agreement. Since Rome...

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As a republic, Rome was ruled by a Senate and various executives. It was governed by two consuls and, later in the life of the republic, one praetor and then later still two. The Senate was known for being incredibly divided and was often unable to reach agreement. Since Rome was in a near constant state of war, the Senate was able to appoint a dictator who wielded near-absolute power for short periods of time. In theory, this allowed the republic to respond to crises quickly and then return to a governing system that that had checks against individual tyranny.

The Roman Republic was always an incredibly unequal system. Patricians, the elite, had special rights and powers for much of the Republic's existence. Other people living in Rome were divided between Plebs (free Roman citizens), non-citizens, who had further reduced rights, and slaves, who had no rights.

Rome became a formal empire when the Senate declared Julius Caesar a dictator without any limit on his term. The Senate continued to exist but had massively reduced power, and the position of dictator became hereditary. With this shift, Rome began to expand outward more quickly, becoming a sprawling empire.

Rome as a republic positioned itself as having evolved to avoid the evils of monarchy. We can question the extent to which there were meaningful differences between monarchy, the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire. Power was shared by slightly more or slightly fewer people, but huge potions of the populations (such as slaves and non-citizens) had very limited power, regardless of the form of government. How easily the Roman Republic became an empire is also a sign that it did not evolve that much from the monarchies it looked down upon.

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The difference between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire was primarily one of a patina of democracy versus outright dictatorship. Under the Republic, Rome was governed by a Senate, its members appointed by two powerful consuls whose tenures were strictly restricted to avoid the emergence of an absolute dictator. The Republic was in no sense a democracy, but the size and influence of the Senate at least allowed for deliberative debate and consensus. It was precisely this deliberative construct, however, that eventually undermined its effectiveness, and its tenure proved short-lived. Senators sometimes disagreed on important issues, such as the benefits of a senate over alternative, less deliberative, forms of government. With no real countervailing parliamentary body to oppose or against which to propose policy, the Roman Senate devolved into a rudderless, useless morass of dissent and greed. Enter, then, the autocratically-included members of Rome’s ruling elite, such as Marcus Licinius Crassus, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, otherwise known as Pompey the Great, and Gaius Julius Caesar, whose name would become synonymous with dictatorial and imperial ambitions and whose assassination by his one-time colleagues became one of the seminal events in human history. These three individuals collectively ruled as the First Triumvirate: in short, a trio of autocratic personalities with little to no regard for the concept of elective government.

While the Roman Senate as an institution had been rendered ineffective and Rome increasingly dominated by Pompey and Caesar, these two military and political leaders turned against each other and became bitter and violent enemies, the former continuing to, at least ostensibly, support the concept of a senate, the latter adamant that he and only he could save Rome. Caesar ultimately prevailed in this conflict, and his accession to the pinnacle of political power in Rome was both absolute and exceedingly temporary, his assassination a sign of the city-state’s continued weariness of one-man rule.

In short, then, the Republic was ruled by a number (originally around 900) of senators whose individualism and conflicting personal and political agendas led to concerns about chaos—concerns that were exploited by Julius Caesar and others whose ascent to power and marked proclivity for military expansionism marked the transition from Republic to Empire. The defining feature of the Republic, however, was the size, composition, and influence of the Senate. As the Senate weakened, the Republic faded, replaced by autocratic rule.

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There are differences between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. During the days of the Roman Republic, the people elected their leaders. The main leaders of the executive branch were the consuls and the praetors. Consuls were elected yearly. At first, they came from the wealthy class called the patricians. Eventually, the plebeians were able to elect the consuls also. They were responsible for running the government and conducting war. The praetors handled civil law and financial matters. At first, there was only one praetor, but eventually, there were two praetors.

During the Roman Empire, the people no longer elected the chief ruler. The emperors ruled Rome and were allowed to choose their successors. While some emperors, like Augustus, tried to make it appear that a republic still existed, the emperor was really in charge. The Roman Emperor had lots of power during the time of the Roman Empire.

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