What is the difference between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The primary difference between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire was the form of government practiced during the different periods.  Ancient Rome went through three political periods in its long history.  Rome was founded in 753 BC as a monarchy.  This period lasted until 509 BC when the seventh king was overthrown.  This began the period known as the Roman Republic.  During this period, Rome was governed as a representative democracy with the Senate being the primary voice of the people.  As Rome expanded, it became difficult to manage and the military leaders started to wield more power and prestige.  This led to the institution of emperors.  In 27 BC, Octavian, or Augustus Caesar became the first emperor.  He ushered in an unprecedented period of peace and trade that is called Pax Romana by historians.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team