Breakdown of the Roman Republic

As Senator Cato the Censor (234-149 BCE) righteously perceived, the Roman Republic was “not made by any one man, but by many; not in a single lifetime, but over many lifetimes. ” (Rodgers 2006, pge. 89) Cato aimed at preserving the mos majorum (“ancestral custom”), which rejected any new forms of influence that would jeopardies his position as Censor, and the Senates power of ruling authority. ‘He passed measures taxing luxury and strictly revised the lists of persons eligible for the Senate” (www. britannica. om, 2013) The Senate was full of men like Cato, determined not to defy traditional laws and practices. And that’s why it was inevitable for the political system to fail, because their rulers acted only in desire and self-pleasure. Undoubtedly this caused major disturbance to the peasants and farmers of ancient Rome, and resulted in a string of actions instigated by multiple individuals, supported by these communities that weakened the power of the Senate and initiated the breakdown of the Roman Republic. 500BCE is said to be the start of economic, political and cultural breakdown. …partly due to the reduction on trade at the end of the monarchy…’ (Roberts, 2006) The Senate was originally there only as an advisory body, but through wars and international trading, they won absolute power over the republic. The consuls and magistrates still remained, but they had little effect over political change if the Senate refused to pass their laws. The governing system needed to change, the revenues won at war were only divided up against the high-class aristocratic. Leaving the peasants, farmers and soldiers who earned that land nothing.The rich and stubborn males of the Senate became greedy and power hungry, men were elected, but to gain entry, money surpassed power or experience. Yet, no one was willing to give up his privileges in return for an honest functioning state. Sallust (86-35BCE) affirms, “Fortune turned against us and brought confusion to all we did. Greed destroyed honour, honesty and every other virtue, and taught men to be arrogant and cruel…Rome changed: a government which had once surpassed all others in justice and excellence now became cruel and unbearable. ” (Ping, n. d)Farming was the ‘back-bone to Roman society’ (Garnsey, 2004) Traditionally, the lands were filled by strong independent farmers who tended to small individual plots of land. Those able to purchase armour would make up the ranks of Roman legionaries. Those that went off to to war would be gone for the majority of the year, and their land often became neglected and dysfunctional. (Flowers, 2004) After the Punic and Macedonian Wars (264-168 BCE), there was a massive influx of slaves captured by the Roman Republic, which according to Livy (45. 34. 6) was up to 150,000 Epirotes.Large landowners running concentrated holdings, or latifundia bought the slaves, (Butler, 2007) who took over the small farms when their owners were away at war. For those who remained, debt laws became increasing more expense, to the point where a lot of farmers were moving off their land and migrating into the city to make a living by selling their vote. Author and political scientist Dr. Larry L. Ping (1989) supports this statement by claiming ‘any farmers moved to Rome and live by selling the only thing they could: their vote. ’ Ping has been lecturing history for over 23 years and presents a neutral perspective on the topic.Peter Garnsey, a Professor of History and Cambridge University, corroborates Ping’s information suggesting, ‘The fundamental fact is that the Roman peasants has been forced to make, and would continue to make, enormous sacrifices for the cause of Roman militarism, and that the aristocracy responded by enforcing harsh debt laws, turning them off land, and blocking their reinstatement onto the land. ’ (Garnsey, 2004) Professor Garnsey has written multiple publications regarding ancient Rome ad tends to favour the peasants when analyzing the relationship between the lower classes and the government.This entire situation is extremely unfair on the farmers of Rome, as the amount of men eligible for the army began to deteriorate. No army, no money. In 133 BCE a tribune by the name of Tiberius Gracchus (164-133 BCE) launched an agrarian land reform that would distribute currently owned public land to the mass of peasants and farmers, in order to increase the number of men eligible for the army. Motivated either by personal gain, or general interest in reviving the peasantry Tiberius approached the Populas Assembly and presented them with the lex agraria (‘land bill’). Bradley, 1990) This action directly threatened the Senates power as traditionally all new reforms went through them. However Tiberius wasn’t breaking any laws by approaching a different governing body, he just started an unsaid war between the Gracchus, the Senate and the peasants and farmers. His mass slaughter in 133BCE led by the senatorial leader Narsica, (Plutarch, 16-20) set the standard for individuals in the future about what would happen to someone if thee went against the Senate.Tiberius’ reform would have allocated land to farmers and part-time soldiers returning from war, which would have been divided up amongst the aristocratic few. There was even a time, when farmers were being moved out of their land and onto another’s, often of lesser quality to there own. As Appian describes the situation with immense sympathy towards the farmers remarking, ‘…land was resurveyed some owners were obliged to give up their fruit –trees and farm buildings in exchange for naked ground.Others were transferred from cultivated to uncultivated lands, or swamps, or pools. ’ (Appian, pge. 18) Appian of Alexandria is the most reliable and relevant historian of the republican time period. He does however manipulate his sources to support his views of the importance of Alexandria and the virtues of the Romans. Appian is rather unsympathetic towards the ideologies and practices of the republic and thus, shares a different perspective on the farmers and peasants.Ultimately the farmers and peasants were motivated by the actions instigated by the Senate. Their unfair treatment towards the plebs is what fuelled their hatred and dismay, to move into the city and become unemployed. By abandoning their farms and dismantling the deep-set traditional agricultural ways, they lessened the power of the Senate. There was nothing they could do to stop them, without jeopardising their own wealth and power. Thus the actions of the peasants and farmers instigated by Tiberius Gracchus initiated the breakdown of the Roman Republic.

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