The Romans built their republic after expelling the Etruscan king Tarquin the Proud. From that day onward, the Romans were intensely suspicious of any kind of political arrangement that smacked of monarchy. In the Roman Republic, power was nominally shared between two elected consuls and a wholly appointed Senate. In...
The Romans built their republic after expelling the Etruscan king Tarquin the Proud. From that day onward, the Romans were intensely suspicious of any kind of political arrangement that smacked of monarchy. In the Roman Republic, power was nominally shared between two elected consuls and a wholly appointed Senate. In reality, power remained largely in the hands of the Roman nobility; although, they didn't always get their own way and conflict between them and the ordinary Roman people, or plebs, was common. Antagonism was also rife between various leading personalities in the upper echelons of Roman society, leading to frequent military conflict and outbreaks of violent civil disorder.
When Julius Caesar became dictator, it seemed to many that he was turning himself into a new king. To him and his supporters, however, he was bringing much-needed stability to a system that seemed on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, and irrespective of the dire state of the republic, a large and significant body of elite Roman opinion was still unprepared to countenance so much power being placed in the hands of one man. So they made their move, and Caesar was ruthlessly assassinated on the Ides of March 44 BC.
After Caesar's death, his nephew Octavian prevailed against the other two members of the second triumvirate, Mark Antony and Lepidus. In doing so, he became the first emperor of Rome. It is from this point on that historians date the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. Of course the Romans had had an empire under the Republic—it's just that their system of government remained a republican, not an imperial, one.
Octavian—who later had the honorific title of Augustus bestowed upon him by the Roman people—set about accruing far greater power than his murdered uncle ever did. However, he cleverly did so under the guise of maintaining existing republican institutions and values. Outwardly, Augustus was keen to maintain the facade of continuity. But in substance, everything had changed; from now on, Rome would be ruled by a single man enjoying absolute power. Thus was born the Roman Empire.