HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 6)

HIST 101

Week 6

Romans and Republicans, 753-27 BCE



Mary Beard, “Meet the Romans,” 3 parts (BBC, 2017):

Episode 1: All Roads Lead to Rome  (59:06 min.; start at 9:00 min.):

Episode 2: Street Life (59:03 min.):

Episode 3: Behind Closed Doors (58:58 min.):

Lecture by Prof. Mary Beard: “Lucretia and the Politics of Sexual Violence” (1:19:42 hours; start at 4:00 min.):


Cultures, pp. 163-187 (Italy and the rise of Rome; from monarchy to republic; the republic of virtue; size matters)

753 BCE     Legendary foundation of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus:

Romulus (c. 753-715 BCE) kills Remus, gives his name to the city, and is the first of 7 kings of Rome. Organizes the army into legions of 6000 infantry and 600 cavalry, and the legendary kidnapping of Sabine women to become wives for his troops.

The Roman king was advised by a council of distinguished men, the Senate (“seniors”).

Because of the N-S range of Appenine mountain range, and the majority on the west of  harbors and agricultural plains, and the west-running rivers, Rome and most of Italy faced west, not east.

c. 616-589 BCE    The 5th king, Tarquinius Priscus (like his two successors) allegedly was an Etruscan, who conquered Etruria (map) and used the booty to build Rome’s Forum (marketplace), Circus Maximus (chariot-racing arena), and also built the sewer system (Cloaca Maxima) (map of Republican-Imperial Rome)

The Etruscan kings also built a defensive wall around Rome, as well as  temples to Janus, Vesta, and Diana.

The comparatively poor, rusticplain-living, and culturally undistinguished Romans viewed the wealthypleasure-lovingsophisticated Etruscans with ambivalence as both culturally impressive and personally decadent. Their religion combined polytheism with a belief that a life of virtue would be rewarded and a life of vice punished in the afterlife. The Romans admired their expertise in divination and copied their practice. It was from the Etruscans that the Romans took gladiatorial contests, the toga (the formal dress of male citizens),  and the solar calendar.

509 BCE     Rape of the Roman matron Lucretia by the son of the 7th king, Tarquinius Superbus (“the Proud”), leads to the overthrow and expulsion of the king  and creation of the Roman Republic (“res publica,” or “public matter”), which pioneered the concept of government by multiple institutions that created a balance of power.

The government was headed by two consuls who were elected annually to conduct domestic policy and serve in wartime as commanders-in-chief. They were advised by the Senate (council of wealthy aristocrats), which was the dominant institution and controlled the treasury. but shared power with three assemblies that initiated legislation, and with 3 sets of executive magistrates, elected annually: praetors (very senior, with judicial and military powers), tribunes (ten plebeians), and aediles (supervisors of Rome’s infrastructure, temples, and markets).

The three main “orders” (social groups) of Roman citizens were the patricians (hereditary aristocracy and highest class), the equestrians (lesser aristocrats/upper middle class), and the plebeians (all others).  From c. 500 to 287 BCE there was a “Struggle of the Orders” between the patricians and plebeians, in which the plebeians slowly forced the patricians to share power and access to office (such as creating the office of tribunes of the plebs).

Roman society was deeply patriarchal. Men who were heads of household (pater familias) had absolute authority (patria postestas) over their entire household (familia) and control of all property. A pater familias could unilaterally divorce his wife (she retained her dowry); kill his children; and sell his children into slavery up to three times (after which they were free of him). He was also responsible for daily worship of the family’s ancestors (lares familiares) at their household shrine (lararium).

Women lived their entire lives under male guardianship (father, husband, or other close relative), but were not kept secluded (as in Greece), could own property and businesses, and could divorce their husbands on sufficient grounds. It was common for working-class women to hold jobs. Six noble priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, held the very high-status position of guardians of the sacred fire in the temple of the goddess Vesta. All hearths in Rome were ceremonially kindled each year from that fire. Religious practice required the performance of regular, letter-perfect rituals both in temples and in private households. Rituals included prayers, animal sacrifices, vows, divination, curses, etc. Favors received from the gods required ritual thanks; this could include animal sacrifice. There were no holy books and no spiritual or ethical or intellectual element to Roman religion – it was a mixture of ancestor worship and patriotic worship of the state gods. One could add additional deities as desired.  For the good of the Roman state and  people, everyone had to make sacrifices to the state gods, but one’s private beliefs were of no interest to the state.

A powerful magistrate, the censor, was responsible for:

maintaining a census of all citizens of Rome, their property and legal class
administering the finances for all public works
preserving public morals – the censor’s black mark of infamia in the census would permanently degrade an entire familia

c. 450 BCE    creation of Rome’s first written law code, the Twelve Tables

387 BCE     Sack of Rome by a Celtic tribe from Gaul; municipal archives burnt

264-146 BCE     3 Punic Wars: Rome fights the Phoenicians based in Carthage for control of the W. Mediterreanean (Sicily, Spain, and N. Africa). The Romans also invaded and conquered Greece and most of Anatolia. The Punic Wars forced the Romans to become a naval power, and by 146 BCE Rome controlled the northern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

As Roman conquests grew, the Romans had to devise practical means to govern their expanding territories. They developed a pragmatic approach that favored efficiency and workable arrangements that were broadly acceptable to those they now ruled. The Romans were quite willing to absorb new ideas and practices from other cultures if they seemed helpful. The Latin language, Roman law, Roman state religion, Roman roads, and Roman public amenities such as aqueducts, public fountains, sewers, markets, courthouses, temples, theaters, stadiums,  and baths became unifying agents.



Can the Republic be Saved?


The Brothers Gracchi: How Republics Fall, Extra History #1 (8:27 min.):


Cultures, pp. 187-193 (Can the republic be saved?)

Sources, pp. 78-95 (Livy, “The Battle of Cannae;” The land law of Tiberius Gracchus; Virgil, The Aeneid; “In praise of Turia”)


133-31 BCE    Internal wars and struggles  within the Roman Republic:

133-122 BCE    The Gracchi brothers vs the Senate over land redistribution to displaced farmers (Gracchi lose)

c. 100-79 BCE    Internal struggles:

  • Rome vs its Italian allies (socii), leading to the “Social War” (91-88 BCE): the allies wanted Roman citizenship and a share of conquered lands and booty
  • The patricians, including Sulla, (d. 78 BCE), vs Marius (d. 86 BCE) and the plebeians over power
  • Marius and other generals vs the Senate and Sulla:  Landless recruits, rather landed militiamen, become the backbone of the army, and these landless soldiers now owe their loyalty to their own general rather than to the Republic
  • Both Sulla (twice) and Marius (once) seized control of Rome for a time by force and had their enemies murdered; as Dictator (82-79 BCE) Sulla had 3,000 people “proscribed” (proclaimed to be killed by any citizen; the killer could then seize the victim’s assets).

79-31 BCE    Further Roman foreign conquests and struggles between the wealthy and the poor, and  competitions for power among powerful generals, especially Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) and Pompey “the Great” (106-48 BCE). Open civil war flared between Caesar and Pompey 52-48 BCE; Caesar defeated Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus in Greece, and Pompey fled to Egypt for help, but was assassinated. Caesar seized Rome, and became dictator. In 44 BCE, after he declared himself dictator for life, Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Senate by a group of senators. In the struggle for power that followedCaesar’s great-nephew and adopted son Octavian (63 BCE -14 CE) defeated his rivals, the last of whom, Marc Antony (formerly Julius Caesar’s ally at Pharsalus), he defeated at the battle of Actium (31 BCE). Antony fled to Egypt, where he and his lover, queen Cleopatra, committed suicide. Octavian returned to Rome, consolidated all power in his own hands, and in 27 BCE the Senate awarded him the title Princeps Augustus (“first in honor”). He ruled Rome until his death in 14 CE as the first emperor (a title invented later; for convenience, history books call him the “emperor Augustus”).

Primary sources:

Livy, “The Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE”: During the 2nd Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, coming from Iberia (Spain), marched through S. Gaul (France) to cross the Alps and invade the Italian peninsula. At Cannae, in the SE, he annihilated a large Roman army, and then marched on Rome, but the Senate refused to parley and the city refused to surrender. After 15 years of campaigns, Hannibal returned to Carthage, where he was defeated by a Roman invasion force, and sued for peace. According to Livy:

Before the Cannae campaign, the Romans were politically divided, and elected two opposing consuls (the plebeian demagogue Varro, and the conservative patrician Aemilius Paullus),  and had been alarmed by disturbing portents (showers of stones, men killed by lightning, statues of gods sweating blood, hot springs running cold, etc.), so that the Decemvirs consulted the Sibylline Books (allegedly dating from the 6th cent. BCE) to see how the Romans might propitiate the gods and ward off disaster. When Fabius the Dictator saw the two consuls and their army off from Rome, he warned Aemilius Paullus about Varro’s inexperience and rashness, and said that conservative tactics would be most effective against the invaders. The two consuls led the army on alternate days. Hannibal’s army numbered about 50,000; the Roman army about 86,000. During the battle, Hannibal pioneered a pincer movement by his cavalry, encircling and annihilating the Romans’ much larger force, and killing some 50,000 of them, including the consul Aemilius Paullus.

Plutarch, “The land law of Tiberius Gracchus” (133 BCE):  The Gracchi brothers (Tiberius and Gaius), who were Tribunes of the Plebs, tried to have government-owned land distributed to landless plebeians, to make them eligible for military service. This was opposed bitterly by wealthy senators who had been renting the land and considered it their own. Tiberius, a hero of the 3rd Punic War, was murdered in a riot drummed up by the senators, the first use of violence in Roman politics.

VirgilThe Aeneid (29-19 BCE):  The opening scene tells of Juno’s love of Carthage and its Phoenician founders, and her hatred of Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises (a cousin of the king of Troy), and how she drove him to Italy. (Aeneas was the alleged ancestor of Romulus and Remus, and of the Julian family of Julius Caesar and of the new Roman emperor, Augustus.)

In praise of Turia” (?c. 40s BCE): A bereaved husband’s eulogy for his dead wife, praising her courage, resourcefulness, wisdom, sense of duty, generosity, and kindness throughout their long marriage.