Republic to Empire

In ancient Rome, their republic lasted for 500 years. The ancient Roman Republic succumbed to internal pressure from fighting between the plebeians and patricians.

Historians argue about the exact date of the start of the fall of the Roman Republic.

The fall of the Roman Republic seems to start at the point when the Senate held less power year over year. Beginning in the 2nd century B.C.E., two politicians wanted to make changes to land laws to benefit the poor.

The two politicians were brothers named Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus.

They were tribunes for the plebeians. Together they tried to change Rome’s social and political configuration to increase the standing of the lower class in ancient Rome.

Tiberius introduced land reforms in 133 B.C.E. that would give lands to poor soldiers of the Roman army when they returned home.

He knew the Senate would not agree with his actions. Instead of taking the measure to the Senate, Tiberius took the new law to the People’s Assembly to vote on.

This action was seen as an insult to the Roman Senate. Gaius, on the other hand, also broke many rules and traditions, which were seen as another insult towards the Senate. He worked hard for the empowerment of Italian allies of Rome to become citizens of Rome.

With the new laws for land, citizenship, and slavery, ancient Rome was thrown into chaos.

Social unrest

A primary reason for land reform in ancient Rome was due to war.

Many of the poor soldiers had served numerous years away from home. Upon returning to their lands to farm, the poor soldiers had found their property taken from them by the wealthy patrician families.

Citizenship played a role in the fall of the Roman Republic too.

As ancient Rome expanded during the times of the republic, conquered lands paid taxes or a bounty to Rome.

The conquered people did not have a say in the matter of paying more taxes. The ability to vote for elected officials was a previous problem for the Roman Republic.

The formation of the People’s Assembly helped ease the pressures the patricians felt from the plebeians.

Although the Gracchus brothers were instrumental in starting the move for reforms, citizenship took several decades longer.

Social and Civil Wars

Before Rome permitted citizenship to the conquered people of Italy, there was growing unrest.

The Social Wars between Rome and its allies in Italy occurred from 90 B.C.E. to 88 B.C.E. When the wars were concluded, and citizenship was given to all people in Italy except slaves. Directly after the Social War, there was a Civil War that broke out in Rome.

After the turn of the 1st century B.C.E., Gaius Marius was a successful consul. He held office for more than seven terms. He was also a successful soldier defeating enemies of Rome in Gaul, Africa, and Italy during the Social Wars.

The Civil Wars broke out between Marius and another Roman leader named Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He was instrumental in defeating Roman enemies in the east. During the Civil Wars in Rome, Sulla entered the city with his army and declared himself the dictator of Rome.

Dictators were appointed in Rome during a time of crisis. This office gave leading politicians short term powers that overruled any other type of office in the Roman Republic.

Sulla held this office for more than two years in which he murdered thousands of his political opponents. He eventually retired from being dictator, and the republic stood for another 40 years.

In 70 B.C.E., the Roman Republic restored the office of consul to Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Both were superb military leaders.

Crassus had put down the rebellion by slaves led by Spartacus in 71 B.C.E. Pompey had previously fought for Sulla and was fresh off a victory in Spain during the same year. The two consuls continued to work with each other until the First Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar was formed in 60 B.C.E.

The Rise of Julius Caesar

In the middle of the 1st century B.C.E., Rome went through very rough times when fighting between political gangs supporting politicians and programs started. After the death of Crassus in 53 B.C.E., the consulships were given to Caesar and Pompey.

The two individuals had different agendas and armies to help them fight. Each leader had been successful in leading campaigns against Rome’s enemies. To make matters worse, Julius Caesar supported the former radical policies of the Gracchus brothers.

Pompey was more of a traditionalist and supported the rule of Sulla years before.

In 49 B.C.E., war broke out in Rome between the two leaders. Pompey died in 48 B.C.E. while leading a campaign in Egypt against Caesar. Julius Caesar then assumed the sole role of the dictator and marched on Rome.

This essentially made Caesar the first emperor of Rome. Once he was a dictator, Caesar went to make numerous changes once again. The changes included giving citizenship to all people on conquered Roman land. He also canceled debt owed to many of the patrician families in the Senate, and he offered more land to veteran soldiers.

Caesar’s dictatorship lasted from 46 B.C.E. until 44 B.C.E. when he was assassinated during the Ides of March by Brutus

The Second Triumvirate

After Caesar was killed, other individuals formed a new Second Triumvirate.

The individuals were named Marc Antony, Octavian, and Aemilius Lepidus. Octavian was an adopted son of Caesar, and Marc Anthony, along with Lepidus, were supporters of Caesar. The three men proceeded in going after the liberators that killed Caesar. During this purge of liberators, thousands were executed.

Eventually, Octavian and Anthony were left to fight against each other. In 31 B.C.E., Octavian defeated Antony’s naval fleet in Egypt and assumed the dictatorship of Rome.

After 500 years, the Roman Republic fell and was now officially the Roman Empire ruled by an emperor.

Facts about the Roman Republic to Empire

  • The Roman Republic lasted for 500 years.
  • Civil and social unrest in Rome and its conquered territories led to the demise of the Roman Republic.
  • The Gracchus brothers tried to install several reforms that caused friction between them and the Senate.
  • Land reforms returned the land to poor soldiers that had been previously taken by wealthy patrician families associated with the Senate.
  • In 88 B.C.E., Sulla became the first dictator of Rome. He retired, and consuls were elected again.
  • The First Triumvirate included Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar. Pompey had supported Sulla, Crassus led the victory of the slave revolt in 71 B.C.E. and Caesar was an abled body commander who supported the Gracchus brother’s reforms.
  • Pompey and Caesar were involved in a Civil War against each other. Caesar wanted to follow radical reforms like citizenship to all people in conquered territories, and Pompey was a traditionalist.
  • Caesar killed Pompey in Egypt in 49 B.C.E. and entered Rome with his army in 48 B.C.E., where he assumed the role of a dictator. He was killed two years later during the Ides of March.
  • The Second Triumvirate was formed with Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus. They purged Rome of all traitors against Caesar killing thousands of people known as the liberators of Rome.
  • Octavian defeated Antony’s navy in Egypt and assumed the role of dictator in 31 B.C.E. The Roman Republic was now the Roman Empire led by an emperor.

Questions and Answers

  1. How long did the Roman Republic last?

500 years

  1. What type of reforms did the Gracchus brothers try to pass?

Land reforms for the poor and citizenship

  1. Who was the first consul to declare a dictatorship in Rome?


  1. What reforms did Julius Caesar pass that were seen as radical by the Senate?

Land reforms and citizenship to all people living on lands conquered by Rome

  1. Who was Caesar’s adopted son?