Sunday, July 15, 2012
World History I: The Romans Establish a Republic
The Romans Establish a Republic
The Romans drove out their Etruscan ruler in 509 B.C. This date is traditionally considered to mark the founding of the Roman state, which would last for 500 years. The Romans established their state with a form of government called in Latin a res publica, or “that which belongs to the people.” In this form of government, which today we call a republic, the people chose some of the officials. A republic, Romans thought, would prevent any individual from gaining too much power.
The Roman Cursus Honorum
Structuring the Republic
In the early republic, the most powerful governing body was the senate. Originally, its 300 members were all patricians, or members of the landholding upper class. Senators, who served for life, strongly influenced the republic’s laws.
Each year, the senators nominated two consuls from the patrician class. Their job was to supervise the business of government and command the armies. Consuls, however, could serve only one term. They were also expected to approve each other’s decisions. By limiting their time in office and making them responsible to each other, Rome had a system of checks on the power of government.
In the event of war, the senate might choose a dictator, or ruler who has complete control over a government. Each Roman dictator was granted power to rule for six months. After that time, he had to give up power. Romans particularly admired Cincinnatus as a model dictator. Cincinnatus organized an army, led the Romans to victory over the attacking enemy, attended victory celebrations, and returned to his farmlands—all within 15 days.
Plebeians Fight for Their Rights
At first, all government officials were patricians. Plebeians (plih bee unz), the farmers, merchants, artisans, and traders who made up the bulk of the population, had little influence. The efforts of the plebeians to gain power shaped politics in the early republic.
In time, the plebeians gained the right to elect their own officials, called tribunes, to protect their interests. The tribunes could veto, or block, those laws that they felt were harmful to plebeians. Little by little, plebeians forced the senate to choose plebeians as consuls, appoint plebeians to other high offices, and finally to open the senate itself to plebeians.
Another breakthrough for the plebeians came in 450 B.C., when the government oversaw the inscription of the laws of Rome on 12 tablets, which were set up in the Forum, Rome’s marketplace. Plebeians had protested that citizens could not know what the laws were because they were not written down. The Laws of the Twelve Tables made it possible for the first time for plebeians to appeal a judgment handed down by a patrician judge.
Romans Leave a Lasting Legacy
Although the senate still dominated the government, the common people had gained access to power and won safeguards for their rights without having to resort to war or revolution. More than 2,000 years later, the framers of the United States Constitution would adapt such Roman ideas as the senate, the veto, and checks on political power.
dominated—(dahm uh nayt id) vt. had authority over
How did the membership of the senate change over time?