What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman Republic's political structure?

The Roman Republic was strong while its precedents were respected as a matter of religious observance. Once these precedents were broken, however, they could not be remedied and were replaced by the precedent of political violence.

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The greatest strength of the Roman system of government was also its greatest weakness: the reliance on precedent. The way the government was formally constituted was not the way it operated in practice. The Senate, for example, was technically an advisory body without formal role. Laws could be passed through...

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The greatest strength of the Roman system of government was also its greatest weakness: the reliance on precedent. The way the government was formally constituted was not the way it operated in practice. The Senate, for example, was technically an advisory body without formal role. Laws could be passed through the people's assemblies without need for the Senate. Tribunes also had veto power over the laws put forward in the Senate. Consuls could serve more than one term in a row because no law said they couldn't.

Of course that's not how it worked in practice. It was unthinkable to Romans of a middle Republic that laws would be passed without the Senate. The Romans regarded their republic as sacrosanct and thus wouldn't violate its precedents for fear of incurring the wrath of the Gods.

In the late Republic, however, the stakes rose ever higher in the contest between the Optimates and the Populares. The influx of wealth and slaves from conquest disproportionately benefited the wealthy while the common people lost their farms and tradesmen lost work to slaves. As the need for reform became ever more pressing, the Optimates dug in their heels, using the Senate as a roadblock to any reform legislation. Their stubborn adherence to this tactic and refusal to compromise is what finally provided the incentive for reformers to break precedent.

The Gracchi brothers began the unraveling by using the tribune's veto to block all legislation, standing for office for successive terms, and proposing legislation. None of these acts was illegal per se, they were just violations of generally accepted rules. In response, the Optimates introduced their own unfortunate precedent: retaliatory violence. Once the conflict broke into the open in such ways, the system became more perverted. Roman soldiers no longer needed property to join the legions, becoming more loyal to their commanders than the state. Marius, with the backing of loyal soldiers, became consul seven times. He and Sulla marched on Rome with armies, purging each other's followers.

A victorious Sulla tried to bring back the conservative regime by creating the cursus honorum, but no amount of law could undo the example he and Sulla had set by attaining power through violence. The First Triumvirate finally managed to circumvent the Senate without retaliation by pooling their wealth, political, and military strength. The Republic was practically dead at that point. When the Senate declared Caesar an enemy of Rome and he crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, his action was no longer shocking because the precedent of violence had been so firmly established.

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One strength of the Roman Republic that eventually helped it grow into an empire was its military structure. The Roman militia operated on a sense of duty and honor that made soldiers loyal to their deaths. It was highly organized and featured comparably advanced technology that allowed Rome to win many battles and wars. The larger the Roman Republic grew, the more adept their army became at capturing new lands and integrating them into the Republic.

A weakness was the almost constant corruption in the political structure. Although the Republic operated with elected officials, many of these officials had bought themselves into office through bribery. This bribery continued once they were elected, as many officials voted based on who gave them the most money. This also led to an imbalance in representation, as the majority of officials were wealthy upper-class Romans.

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Strengths and weaknesses are matters of opinion, and people who have different political beliefs will likely have vastly different ideas of what constitutes strength and weakness in any government. From a democratic viewpoint, however, the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman Republic government amount to a rift between theory and practice.

One strength of the Roman Republic was that it recognized the right to citizenship. A weakness, however, was that not all citizens enjoyed equal rights. The socio-political structure of Rome was sharply divided along class lines, with rights granted or restricted based on socioeconomic status.

Another strength of the Roman Republic was that it recognized the need for a decisive authority, namely, a Senate. The weakness was that the Senate was composed solely of aristocratic men, and after a period of violent protest, the Senate was stripped of its power and authority.

A third strength of the Roman Republic was that it recognized the importance of equality. The Romans wrote down laws on stone tablets, and those laws guaranteed equality for all citizens. The weakness of the laws was that the exclusive nature of citizenship promoted inequality.

The Roman Republic had a system of checks and balances, which can be considered another strength and which in theory ensured the survival of the best ideas from oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy. A weakness, however, was that the government was controlled by the ruling elite. This made a balance of power impossible.

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One of the strongest features of the Roman republic was its very definition of the principle of republicanism.  In representing a government where elected officials are meant to represent the will of the body politic proved to be a lasting legacy to all governments that followed the Romans.  The United States Constitution used the Roman Republic as an example of leadership and the principle of republicanism was something embedded into the minds and hearts of the framers.  I think that one of the weaknesses of such a system ended up becoming what happens when the citizens' needs are not met by representative government.  Essentially, what redress is there when a government committed to the nature of the people's wishes are not fully embodied by said government?  This becomes a critical issue and something that helped to destabilize the Roman government.  It is also a reality that all representative governments must address, and in the process, one that helps to define the essence of how different principles of government must work with one another to prevent the weaknesses of one being exposed and making the government a crippled one.

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