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The most basic answer to this question is that in the Republic, power was concentrated in a popularly elected Senate while in the Empire power was concentrated in a singular leader known as an Emperor.
The Republic revolved around a massive buerocracy which centered on the Roman Senate, an elected legislative body which held the power to make laws. Although these laws were supposed to take the form of "advice" government officials always followed them. The Senate also had all but unnamed control of the military. If an emergency arose, such as invasion, the senate would appoint a dictator who had ultimate power for a specified period of time.
In the Empire, power was concentrated in a single, dictator-like executive named the Emperor. Although he ruled along side the Senate, which still wielded legislative power, he had the power to enact reforms and laws as well. He also had ultimate control of the military, making him a virtual dictator for life. The Emperorship was usually passed down bloodlines or with an appointment from the Senate.
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