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The Decline Of The Roman Empire Essay

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To this day historians debate the reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Republic; some arguing that conquests by Roman generals allowed them to overpower Republican institutions. To say that these powerful military leaders and their influence over Rome were solely responsible for the fall of the Republic would be nearsighted at best. The decline of the Republic began in the middle of the second century B.C. with political, economic, and social events. These events in addition to the burdens of civil war on Rome, lead to the inevitable failure of the Republic. As to the question of whether or not I agree that Roman generals strong armed the Republican government, I only partially agree. I agree that the generals and their influence over Rome, as well as their civil wars were a cause of the fall of the Republic. I feel that there were many other contributing factors, too, which happened over the course of hundreds of years.

The Roman Republic flourished between 509 and 200 B.C. By the mid-second century they controlled Mediterranean Europe and Africa. (Spielvogel 86) While the empire expanded under Consular generals, the internal stability of Rome weakened. The landed aristocracy gained power as small farmers lost their lands to the ravages of the Punic War and extended military service. (Spielvogel 99) Many of the former farmers went to Rome to compose a class of landless laborers. This new urban proletariat was a highly unstable mass with the potential for much trouble . (Spielvogel 99) The aristocracy bought up the land from the farmers. They also purchased public lands to form large estates, latifundia, on which they grew cash crops. This contributed to the decline of the small farmer, who was traditionally the backbone of the Roman state and made up the army. The political aristocracy was divided into two groups, the optimates, who controlled the Senate, and the populares. The populares, through the people s assemblies, wished to lessen the control of the optimates. These conflicts between these two types of aristocratic leaders and their supporters engulfed the first century B.C. in political turmoil. (Spielvogel 99) Before the armies of Caesar and Pompey, and Octavius and Mark Antony clashed, the Republic was in a state of political turmoil.

Tiberius Gracchus, a new tribune who was known for his personal merits rather than his noble birth , felt that the decline of the small farmer was the cause of the Republic s problems. (Plutarch 156) Tiberius bypassed the unfriendly senate and used the council of plebs in order to pass a land redistribution act, which distributed former public land to the landless. The outraged senators assassinated him, only to have him succeeded by his brother, Gaius, who seems to have been drawn into public life by necessity rather than by choice. (Plutarch 176) Gaius broadened the reform effort to benefit the equestrian order, a rising group of wealthy people. Senators opposed to Gaius s reformers stirred up mob to violence that ended in the death of Gaius and many of his supporters. The attempts of the Gracchus brothers to bring reforms had opened the door to more instability and further violence. (Spielvogel 100)

Domestic problems, such as violence in the city of Rome, political turmoil, and social unrest were all important factors in the Republics inevitable collapse. The actions and conquests of Roman generals thousands of miles from Rome were by no means the only cause of the collapse. Internal stability in Rome was precarious and hard to come by. Regional problems, the expanding power of the aristocracy, the decline of small farmers, and recent military failures were all causes of the destabilizing of the Roman Republic. This allowed powerful conquering generals to gain such prestige and far-reaching influence over the Republican government.

Recent defeats of Roman legions in North Africa encouraged Gaius Marius to run for consulship. Marius was a self made man with no aristocratic ties. He implemented sweeping reforms for the military. Instead of the traditional army of conscripts, Marius began the tradition of professional armies. Volunteers for this army came mostly from the urban and rural proletariat. These new volunteers swore allegiance to their general, and not to the state, as the armies of Rome had previously done. Generals now enticed their men with promises of land. (Spielvogel 100) Lucius Sulla, a general, would change Rome forever, which had much to do with the fall of the Republic. Under order from the council of plebs, Lucius Sulla was to have his army in Asia transferred to Marius s command. Sulla balked at this order. A civil war ensued between Sulla s forces and a Senate raised and controlled army. Sulla marched his army into Rome, the first time in the Republic s history, and defeated the Senate s army. He rewrote the constitution and conducted a reign of terror to wipe out opposition. After he had done what he had come to do, he retired. His example of using an army to seize power would prove most attractive to ambitious men. (Spielvogel 100) The Roman generals that exercised such influence, and flexed such political muscle helped to bring the Republic s decline to the Republic s fall.

The greatest test of Rome came in the civil wars between Caesar and Pompey, and finally Octavius and Mark Antony. Their politics and civil wars tore Rome open and Octavius s victory over Mark Antony marked the death of the Republic and the birth of the Age of Augustus.(Spielvogel 107) The wars between these generals unquestionably marked the end of the Republic. What caused the conditions that lead up to these civil wars was the aristocratic politics, policies and economics of Rome for the last 200 years. The failure of the Senate to produce any great and inspiring leaders was as much a cause of the crumbling of the Republic, as the wars between rival generals. Economic hardships stemming from the Punic Wars and the influx of the landless farmers into Rome caused as much friction as Rome could bear. This eventually tore the Republic to pieces.

In closing, the ever expanding power and influence of conquering generals played a great part in the collapse of the Republic, which is an unarguable point. The events of 200 years of the Roman Republic s politics and turmoil lead up to the failure of the Republic. It was the inevitable conclusion of the fate of the Roman Republic, and it had been on a course to destruction since the mid-second century B.C., long before the generals who tore the Republic apart had been conceived. They were not even a twinkle in their father s eyes when the Republic began to decline. There were many reasons for the fall of the Republic, headstrong generals full of hubris were just a part of the problem.