Why was the civilian government of the original Republic unable to survive Rome's many wars of conquest? Discuss and explain the sequence of events that led to both the de facto and de jure end of the Roman Republic (the end, as a "matter of fact" and the "legal end" of Republican government).

Expert Answers

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

It's worth noting that the Roman Republic did survive for a very long time. Despite its longevity, however, instability and turmoil seem to have been built into the Roman political system from very early on, with its political bifurcation between the patrician elites and the far more numerous plebs. The history of Roman politics was one of near continuous struggle between those two groups, with the Plebeians gradually winning greater influence over time.

At the same time, warfare was a critical component of Roman political life as well, dating back to the early history of the Republic. Politically, military exploits were the foundation on which the Roman elite could build their reputation while, economically, warfare provided the Roman population with wealth and land. Long before Roman power expanded throughout the larger Mediterranean World, it had already expanded across Italy itself.

As Roman power expanded, however, the wealth gaps between the powerful and impoverished grew with it, intensifying the economic and political tensions long present within the Roman State. The Gracchi brothers awakened populist strains in Roman politics, mobilizing support among the plebs. Furthermore, the military demands of the expanded Roman State necessitated reforms within the Roman army. Thus, the Marian Reforms played a critical role in this history as well, which expanded the recruitment base of the Roman military but, in practice, had the effect of tying personal loyalty within the army more closely than ever with the commanders rather than with the Roman Republic itself.

These factors served as the context from which the Civil Wars of the Late Republic emerged, perhaps the most famous of which was the conflict through which Julius Caesar emerged as the dominant power in Roman politics—before being assassinated himself. However, this history of intense internal turmoil would continue after Caesar's death and would only be resolved with the rise of Augustus Caesar and the establishment of Imperial Rule.

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

Its many wars of conquest were one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic. One reason behind this is that their government was ill-equipped to properly handle the sudden and vast incoming wealth from Roman overseas conquest. Wealth that was supposed to be distributed equitably ended up in the hands of the senatorial upper class. The prospect of garnering profits from war also led to 1) abuse of power from officials in the field, and 2) electoral bribery, which stemmed from increased competition for high office.

Another reason behind this is that there was a need for sustained military presence in the provinces Rome conquered. This led to a high demand for conscription into the Roman militia. There was, however, little to no profit to be found in being drafted for 16 to 20 years outside Italy, as the soldiers themselves received minimum wage pay for their military service. Additionally, some of Rome’s conquered regions—such as Sardinia, Spain, and Corsica±proved to be highly hostile. And so, more and more men fled their land and property to escape conscription. Military conscription relied on the Roman census’ property assessments, so the abandonment of one’s property would make one ineligible for recruitment.

The event that led to the end of the Roman Republic was the assassination of Julius Caesar, one of the members of Rome’s first triumvirate. When Caesar had assumed power in Rome, he appointed himself as its de facto king or ruler. He attempted to fulfill numerous roles of constitutional power—Plebeian Tribune, consul, Pontifex Maximus, and dictator in perpetuo.

As the Romans themselves were hostile toward this type of tyranny, however, Caesar was murdered as a result of a conspiracy involving more than 60 Roman senators. The Roman Republic's legal end, however, came with the Roman Senate’s endowment of the title of Augustus to Octavian, Caesar’s great grandnephew, which marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial