(The ROMAN REPUBLIC – continued)

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Sulla to Julius Caesar

Sulla created a political constitution that he believed would restore order and dignity to Rome. Believing in firm government by leaders of the upper classes, he reduced the powers that had been given the tribunes and the people's assembly (Comitia Plebis) more than a three centuries earlier, when Rome was holding to a spirit of compromise. He gave seats in the Senate to members of the business class, the equites, believing that they too should be a part of the ruling elite. He made it law that one had to hold a lower office before being elected to a higher office, and he reorganized administration of the provinces. He created term limits, making it law that one had to wait ten years before running for another term for the same office. He ended the distribution of free grain among Rome's poor, hoping this would encourage some of them to leave the city. He moved against what he saw as subversive religions, prohibiting what he viewed as magic, nocturnal rites and witchcraft. Those found guilty of performing these were to be crucified or thrown to wild beasts. In the year 79 BCE he retired, and after one year of peace and contentment he died

Spartacus and Slavery

Spartcus Falls

The leader of the slave revolt, Spartacus, falls. In ancient times, very few were opposed to slavery.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, reformer and, like Jefferson, an Epicurean.


Pompey. His opportunism put him at odds with Caesar, his former ally. One of Rome's big heroes, he died a loser on a shore in Egypt.

It is said that a soldier from Thrace named Spartacus deserted and become an outlaw, and for survival he joined drifters in bandit raids, and he was caught. For punishment, Roman authorities sold him as a slave. He became a prisoner at a training school for gladiator contests in the city of Capua. And there, in 73 BCE, he and seventy-seven other prisoners and slaves escaped and seized control of Mount Vesuvius, 9 kilometers southeast of Neapolis (Naples). As before, news of the revolt encouraged other slaves to revolt, and they joined Spartacus on Vesuvius – an army of from 50,000 to 100,000. Thus began what historians called the Third Servile War.

The slaves on Vesuvius were too diverse for any one leader to control. Some wished to go north across the Alps and disperse. Others wished to remain in Italy and plunder. Despite their disorganization they managed to hold off the first legions sent against them, which were incompetently led. Rome sent more legions, led by the talented Marcus Crassus, an ambitious aristocrat. He had amassed a great fortune, much of it by buying estates cheaply from Sulla's victims and reselling later for a big profit. He had acquired political position by lending money to young aristocrats with political ambitions, and he had made money by operating a fire brigade in Rome that would rush to the scene of a fire and buy the property at a bargain price before agreeing to put the fire out.

The slave army broke through Crassus' lines and pushed south to the toe of the Italian peninsula, where it hoped to cross into Sicily. But the slaves were unable to buy passage or commandeer ships, and Rome's legions cornered them. To escape, the slaves scattered. Piecemeal they were defeated and captured, and, to advertise their defeat and lift the morale of Roman citizens, Crassus had them crucified along the Appian Way – the road to Rome.

After this latest slave uprising the demand for slaves declined among the Romans, largely from fear of slaves in great numbers. Landowners in Italy began replacing gangs of slaves with what they saw as an easier and less frightening alternative: freemen farming as tenants, the landlords receiving a third or more of their harvests. Slaves would still be used by the Romans, especially in workshops and as domestics. They would work as firemen, torturers for the police, laborers in the military, accountants, and guards for public buildings, but slavery had seen its peak among the Romans. With less warring abroad and a reduced supply of slaves, the price of slaves would rise and the purchase of slaves decline.

Julius Caesar

The two generals credited with defeating the slave revolt, Marcus Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey, became consuls. Their friend, a young aristocrat named Julius Caesar, acquired a position as quaestor in Spain – a position responsible for government finances.

Pompey went to the East where, at the head of an army, he intended to create peace and stability. In Syria, Seleucid princes had been feuding. Pompey defeated Jewish resistance and put that area under Roman authority. Then he went to Judea to end civil war there. In the year 63, Rome annexed Syria and Judea. In 62, Rome annexed Pontus (in Asia Minor), and it put the island of Crete under Roman authority.

Benefiting from an alliance with Crassus and Pompey, Caesar was elected consul in 58. And as consul he proposed to the Senate a land bill for Pompey's veterans. The legislation failed. Back from the East, Pompey's veterans were a dominant force in Rome. Threatened with violence the Senate acquiesced and passed Caesar's bill. Caesar supported legislation that Crassus sought, and Caesar's alliance with Pompey was reinforced by Pompey marrying his daughter, Julia.

Forbidden by law to run for a second term as consul, Caesar won a five-year appointment as governor of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul. In Rome, news of each of Caesar's victories against the Gauls inspired a celebration. The more glory that Caesar won the more conservative senators feared him as another Marius. They described his victories as cheap aggressions against inoffensive peoples. The death of Caesar's daughter, Julia, ended a tie between him and Pompey. And Crassus was jealous of Caesar's successes in Gaul.

In Rome, a popular gang leader, Clodius, supported Caesar, and he fought for legislation that would give more free food to Rome's poor. His gang clashed with a rival gang led by Milos, a friend of Pompey. A clash between these two gangs in the year 57 left some dead. Another clash in 52 left Clodius dead, killed by order of Milos. Irate supporters of Clodius carried his body into the Senate, where they made a funeral pyre from Senate benches and burned his corpse along with the Senate building.

Pompey's head delivered to Caesar

A sketch of Pompey's head delivered to Julius Caesar. Caesar is aghast.

The Senate allowed Pompey to raise an army to restore order and suppress the gangs that roamed Rome's streets. Pompey was delighted by the opportunity. The Senate established special courts to prosecute those responsible for the recent disorders. Milos was convicted and given lenient punishment: exile to the port city of Massilia in Roman controlled southern Gaul. Then, despite its illegality, Pompey won another term as consul, leading one Senator to quip that any government was better than no government.

Sulla's constitutional law was of little account. The Senate passed a bill that called for Caesar to be replaced as governor of Gaul. A tribune ally of Caesar's vetoed the bill. The Senate ignored the veto and demanded that Caesar disband his army and resign unconditionally. Rather than accept an end to his career and perhaps death, Caesar chose to attack. With his army he crossed the Rubicon River, another illegal move. Some Italians and other soldiers rushed to join his forces. Faced with a popular rising and the might of Caesar's army, most of the Senate fled the city in panic, leaving behind their wives and children. Pompey believed his force too meager to combat Caesar and his supporters, and, comparing himself to Sulla, he fled with his army to the East – his place of recent victories and power – in hope of gathering to his side the troops stationed there.

Caesar entered Rome triumphant. People throughout Italy cheered his success. Caesar and his army confronted Pompey in Greece, Pompey having twice as many infantrymen as Caesar and seven thousand cavalry to Caesar's one thousand. But Caesar was brighter and his troops more experienced. His army crushed Pompey's army. Pompey fled in the direction of Egypt. Continuing his policy of reconciliation, Caesar offered a pardon to those whom Pompey left behind, and many of them joined Caesar's armies, while others fled. The young Egyptian king, Ptolemy XII, saw Pompey as a loser and a danger. He had Pompey stabbed to death soon after he stepped ashore.

In the autumn of 47, Caesar returned to Rome to a torchlight parade that included forty elephants and delirious crowds. Then Caesar turned his attention to creating a stable government and solving economic and social problems. He gave land in Gaul and Spain to his veterans. Seeking order, he announced that the revolution was over. He began to create a politics of consensus and a government of laws – but not democracy, which was commonly believed to be an unruly form of government. He banned the gangs that had created turmoil in Rome's streets. He restored the Senate, which now consisted of many new members and fewer aristocrats. And he accepted the title of "Dictator for Life."

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"Demise of the Roman Republic (50 to 30 BC)"


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