What was the basis of the Roman Republic's social and economic life?

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The ownership of land was at the heart of the Roman Republic's social and economic life. Republican Rome was a predominantly agrarian society, and so the ownership of land conferred wealth and social status. Those at the upper echelons of society, those aristocrats who dominated the Roman political system, were extensive landowners, and it was largely by virtue of their ownership of land that they enjoyed such enormous wealth and power.

As the Roman Empire expanded, however, more Romans had the opportunity to gain land for themselves. And this inevitably made society a good deal more fluid, less rigid in its class structure. At the conclusion of a successful military campaign it was common practice for Roman soldiers to be granted plots of land on their return home as a reward for their service. This allowed soldiers to rise up the social ladder and play a more prominent part in political affairs.

Even with an increasing share of Rome's wealth coming from trade, the old ideal of land ownership continued to exercise a powerful hold on the imagination. The countryside was venerated by statesmen, poets, and philosophers alike as a peaceful idyll free from the corruption and intrigue of Rome. The management of a vast rural estate was seen as a microcosm of how Rome should be run. And the ownership of land in general was widely held to be an essential prerequisite to the exercise of political power as it gave the property owner a stake in the land he wished to govern.

Though Roman society changed rapidly towards the end of the republic, this ideal remained a very powerful one and was often harked back to nostalgically during times when the excesses of Roman emperors were at their worst.

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