The Transition from Republic to an Empire Government of Rome
At the beginning of the first century, Rome was a Republic governed by the wishes of the citizens through an elected Senate. The Senate had a duty to advice on the appointment of consuls and generals over certain portions of the army. However, over several centuries, the city grew through the conquest of the Italian peninsula, vast areas of the Mediterranean, and beyond. In due course, the Republic and its institutions became dysfunctional and could not govern the emerging empire through the structure of the City State. Mostly, the Republic experienced infighting within the military, the Senate, and greed and class warfare, hence making it difficult to deal with emerging challenges in a concise manner. Consequently, in the lead up to the collapse, the Senate could not handle challenges such as land reforms, military retirement, and living conditions for the urban poor and instead, competed with the Army for honor (Shotter 11).
The expansion of the Republic made it difficult to run the affairs of the government as originally designed for a City State. Mainly, the Senate had its center in Rome and had the power to appoint the consuls and generals commanding vast portions of troops and territory. As the Republic expanded, the military became an integral part of the governance structure, and it was respected for defending the State. As a result, the generals became dominant figures of influence (Miola 280). Therefore, the military and the Senate were important governance institutions in the Republic and were to play important roles in the eventual collapse of the Republic.
The power of the Republic lay in the hands of a Senate elected by the citizens of Rome to govern on their behalf. Their duties included the appointment of military commanders, consuls and passed any changes that were to affect the governance of the state and later on the Republic (Shotter 13). However, with the immense power they held, they began to fight among themselves and fight any reforms meant to improve the lives of the citizens. To counter these challenges, the residents passed most of the important agendas in their assemblies and therefore reduced the powers of the senators. Additionally, the senators were involved in partisan politics (Levick 55). Mainly, there were two groups; the conservatives and the liberals. On one hand, the conservatives desired to maintain the prevailing circumstances and depended on the elite class while the liberals sought the help of the lower classes to bring reforms. The consequence was a society divided along social classes that resembled warring factions ((Levick 55).
For over one hundred years, this was the climate resulting to deaths and brutality and without any hope for changes. Eventually, the senators were more concerned with self-preservation as opposed to serving the people. When reforms in the land sector were suggested by advocates such as Marius and Sulla, the Senate did not approve them because the majority of them were wealthy landowners (Miola 281). Additionally, the Senate was stubborn in allowing for citizenship of people in conquered areas. In instances where there were military generals who were successful and famous, the Senate worked to assassinate them so that their status could not be challenged (Shotter 28). The Senate played a significant role in weakening the Republic and was responsible for its eventual collapse. Therefore, by the time Julius Caesar was crossing the Rubicon, the stage was set for a single man to assume leadership and stabilize the Republic (Miola 282). However, Caesar is not responsible for the fall of the Republic or the man who could have stopped its collapse, but his role in its final demise is real.
According to Levick (59), before the fall of the Republic, three leading generals were in charge of the military, namely; Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompey, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Like generals, they had a duty to defend the State and maintain peace. For this reason, they came up with an unofficial “power sharing” formula that historians term as the ‘First Triumvirate,’ whereby each general had a region to govern; this agreement tact guaranteed peace for approximately ten years (Levick 53). However, the peace did not last long because there was the constant tension between Caesar and Pompey that eventually led to wars between them. Caesar was the more successful and famous general because he waged many battles, winning most of them to the chagrin of Pompey and as a result, tension grew between them.
Whereas military success brought Caesar success and fame, he had a desire to return to politics and lead the Republic. Eventually, the differences between the two generals led them to war in 48 BC where Pompey was defeated and fled to Egypt where he died, leaving Caesar as the general of the Army (Miola 285). Consequently, Caesar conquered the Eastern provinces, northern Africa and returned to Rome a hero to be declared a dictator for life. Because of his successes, he had many enemies; even his allies saw his new position as a threat to the Republic. In spite of the challenges, he undertook many reforms, but he was eventually assassinated on March 44 BC. In the ensuing succession battles, his stepson, Octavian, eventually became the first emperor of Rome as Augustus (Shotter 89). The Republic collapsed and from its ashes rose the Roman Empire.
The transition to an empire in ancient Rome was a gradual process, and it is not possible to link it to a single event. Before the collapse, there was infighting among the senators and army generals. Over time, this weakened the Republic making it possible for a stronger army commander to take charge of the country and restore order. However, because of his successes and the power he had Caesar, was assassinated and in his place was occupied by the first emperor of Rome, Octavian who was called Augustus