Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Rise of Rome



I. The Roman Republic, 753-31BCE

A. Republic of Farmers--the Roman Republic was not a democracy in the modern usage of the term. The Assembly, where sovereign political power resided, only represented the interest of male Roman citizens--and the votes of  the  well-to-do counted for more than the less-well-off.

1. The Importance of Agriculture--Agriculture was the essential activity in the early Roman state, and land was the basis of wealth; because of this, social status, political privilege,  and fundamental values were all related to land ownership. Most early Romans were self-sufficient farmers who owned small plots of land

a. A small number of families eventually were able to acquire larger tracts of land. The heads of these families became members of the Senate--a "Council of Elders" that played a dominant role in the politics  of  the  Roman state.

2. Conflict of the Orders--conflicts between elites in Roman society (known as the patricians) and the majority of the population (known as the plebians) is known as the Conflict of the Orders. On several  occasions, plebians refused to work or fight--and sometimes simply withdrew from the city in order to force concessions from the patricians. To resolve these conflicts, patricians had the grant two concessions:

a. Publication of Roman laws on 12 stone tablets
b. The  creation of the position of tribune, a man drawn from the  non-elite classes who was given veto power over laws passed by the Assembly that he felt threatened the interests of the lower orders.

3. Patron/Client relationships--also helped to regulate the relationship between the upper orders and lower orders. Clients sought advice, protection, and sometimes money from men in the upper order  who acted as their patron. Patrons, on the other hand, gained prestige from being able to gather large retinues around themselves. Many clients also acted as patrons for those below them in the  social order. This helped to alleviate some of the conflict caused by the inequality of the Roman social system, while at the same time reinforcing that inequality.

4. Women in the Republican Rome--we have little first hand information on what life was like for women in Rome. We do know that in early Rome,women were considered child-like, and moved from the control of their father to the control of their husbands upon marriage. Despite these limitations, Roman women were less constrained  than their Greek counterparts; eventually, marriage was reformed for some Roman women, and there were left under the control of their fathers upon marriage--but considered independent when their fathers died.

5. Early Roman Religion--Romans tried to maintain a state of pax deorum (peace of the gods)--a covenant between the gods and the Roman state, by directing priests drawn from the aristocracy to make sacrifices and perform rituals in their honor; in return, the gods were expected to favor various Roman undertakings. After coming into contact with the Greeks in southern Italy, Romans equated their major deities with  Greek gods and the myths created around them.

B. Expansion in Italy and the Mediterranean

1. The Roman Legion--the chief instrument in the expansion of Roman power was the Roman army. As was  the case with most Roman institutions, the model for the Roman Army was appropriated from some best practices, and then changed and improved upon by their own innovations. In this case, they used the idea of the heavily armored infantry soldier (the hoplite) from the Greeks, but sub-dived the command unites to make the force more flexible.

a. Growth of the army was spurred by conflicts between the herders  of the Appine Mountains and farmers in the mountain valleys. Rome was at first the organizer of the common defense, but the experience gained led them  to begin extending "protection" to other cities in the peninsula, eventually demanding soldiers for its army from these other cities. It was the superiority in numbers of the Roman Legion, rather then tactics, which allowed them to eventually overwhelm most opponents.

2. Roman citizenship--while the Greeks had treated "barbarians" with contempt, Romans from very early on decided to incorporate select outsiders within their body politic. They did this by co-opting the most influential local people, and making their concerns Roman concerns.

3. Roman hegemony--the size of the Roman Legion allowed Rome to eventually gain control of the entire Mediterranean basin, and as for north in Europe as the border between England and Scotland.

a. Punic Wars--the Punic Wars were fought between 264 and 146BCE; the Roman triumph eventually obliterated Carthage, which some Romans perceived as a threat to their control of the  Mediterranean.

b. Conquest of the Hellenistic World--while dispatching of the Carthaginians, Rome was also extending its control to the eastern Mediterranean--particularly to Alexandra and Egypt. By 330CE, in fact, the eastern Mediterranean became the the locus of Roman political power with the establishment of Contantinople--the city of Constantine.

C. The Failure of the Republic--the success of the empire project unleashed factors that lead to the end of  the Republic. Most of the wealth generated by the near constant state of warfare and conquest flowed to the wealthiest, while impoverishing small farmers in the countryside. While the male head of household was off fighting, his family often became impoverished, being forced to sell their land and move to the city.

1. Social dislocation--the impoverished masses were eventually recruited to serve in the Roman army--but their dependence upon the largess of their generals meant that their primary loyalty was to them, rather  than to Rome, and the army was used be a series of individuals to seize control of the government.

D. The Roman Principate, 31-330CE--this period of political unrest came to an end in 31CE, when Julius Caesar's grandnephew Octavian eliminated (killed or had killed) all rivals and seized power.

1. Augustus--better known to us by the honorific title bestowed upon him by the Senate, Octavian retained the trappings of Republican governance, while holding all real power for himself. He did such a good job of  hiding where the real power lay that three of his relatives succeeded him to the throne,  despite there well-known problems.

2. Roman law--during the Republic, law developed from decrees issued by the Senate, bills passed by the Assembly, and their application by public officials. During the Principate, the source of law was the emperor.

E.  The Urban Empire--in the first three centuries of  the Common Era, Rome was an urban empire. Although 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas,  most of wealth was displayed  in urban settings. This was the case throughout the empire, as any urban settlement of substance was modeled after Rome.

F. Rise of Christianity

1. Career of Jesus--much debate still rages over his teaching. Christians believe that he was the son of God, and therefore God himself. As depicted in the Christian bible, Jesus of Nazareth was a charismatic preacher, and the attention he attracted, and his criticism of the practice of Judaism, led to the insistence of Jewish leaders that he be arrested.

2.  Saul of Tarsus--his Christian conversion experience led him to change his name to Paul. Paul's frustration with the refusal of Jews to accept that Jesus was the Messiah (who Jews believed would lead them to power in the region), led him to begin to proselytize to non-Jews (gentiles).

G. Technology and  Transformation



1. The Third Century Crisis--from 235-284CE witnesses another period of severe political upheaval in Rome, coupled with growing unrest along the frontiers--particularly in the north, led to a state of civil war  and anarchy. More than twenty men attempted to rule as emperor in this period, some for only a few  months.

1. Diocletian--pulled the empire back from the brink of disaster. He halted inflation by setting state prices for many goods,  and restricted the professions people could move into by decreeing that sons had to follow the professions of their fathers.

2. Constantine--when Diocletian resigned in 305CE, there was again a power struggle, which Constantine eventually won in 312CE. Christianity was a growing power in the empire, and Constantine credited his victory to the Christian god's intercession. With the Edict of Milan, Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, and on his deathbed, after a long  and decadent life, he himself converted.

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