Part one of three on the Eternal City, this episode resurrects the rubble and brings back to life the capital of the ancient world. Focusing on the grandeur of classical Rome, we'll marvel at the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the empire's exquisite art. Then we'll go offbeat by bicycle to see the Appian Way and marvels of Roman engineering.
© 2012 Rick Steves' Europe
Greed, Power, and Prestige – Explaining the Fall of the Roman Republic
“When toil is replaced by an attack of indolence, and self-control and fairness by one of lust and haughtiness, there is a change in fortune as well as in morals and behavior.” This claim, made by the Roman historian Sallust, can be easily substantiated when the characters and actions of the leading men in Rome during the Republic’s collapse are analyzed. For hundreds of years, the Roman Republic was sustained through the practice of traditional customs of honor and conduct. Restraint, honesty, and fairness ensured that the commonwealth was governed by Rome’s “best men,” and accordingly the Republic grew to supreme eminence in the Mediterranean. With an influx of wealth and the absence of outside threats, however, these traditional values began to degrade and become irrelevant. By the 1 st century B.C.E., the most prominent men in Rome were corrupted by greed, jealously, and ambition. Individuals such as Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompey, and Julius Caesar brought the state to chaos, disorder, and eventually tyranny in their quest for ultimate prestige and power. Historians writing on the fall of Rome focused much energy on the character of these men, exploring their qualities to explain why and how the Roman Republic collapsed. Through a description of their moral failures and political dishonesty, these historians wove the narrative of the Republic’s violent and chaotic demise. It is from the retelling of the lives of the prominent Romans at the time that the underlying causes of the Republic’s demise – greed, power, and prestige – are most readily revealed.
A view held widely by historians and contemporaries of the fall of the Republic was that the absence of traditional morals and customs had corrupted politics, and as a result the political system was unstable and, therefore, unsustainable. Sallust argued that the collapse and fall of the Roman Republic was caused through this degradation of traditional values. This process was exacerbated by an absence of external threats and an influx of wealth from conquered territories. He wrote,
“Before the destruction of Carthage the Roman people and senate managed the commonwealth placidly and restrainedly between them. There was no struggle amongst citizens either for glory or for domination: dread of an enemy maintained the community in its good practices. But, when that source of alarm left their minds, recklessness and haughtiness – things, to be sure, which favorable circumstances attract – made their entrance”
Sallust claimed that political stability was maintained because of the “dread of a common enemy,” for no individual could recklessly pursue glory or domination while the Republic was threatened by an outside force. For much of the Early and Middle Republic, Rome’s power and safety was often under peril. Yet following the conquest of Italy and the Second Punic War, Rome’s eminence in the Mediterranean grew steadily. Through the subjugation of Greece in the early 2 nd century B.C.E and the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C.E, the Romans eliminated the two main existential threats to their state. The Roman leadership could now pursue glory without restraint, for Rome’s safety was no longer in question. This pursuit of glory and the power that came with it, however, eventually became reckless. Prominent individuals sought to outdo each other through any means possible, often resorting to corruption and violence to achieve their aims. Traditional norms of competition and political harmony accordingly vanished and the state was plunged into disorder, chaos, and civil war. Cicero too shared this view, having wrote, “Everybody demands as much political power as he has force behind him. Reason, moderation, law, tradition, duty count for nothing.”
This disregard of tradition was recognized by authors writing on the end of the Republic as a primary cause of the fall, especially Plutarch. He drew comparisons between prominent individuals of the Late Republic to illustrate this collapse of custom. Contrasting Metellus, who Plutarch regarded as upstanding for upholding the ancestral customs, with Marius, who had disregarded tradition in his pursuit for power, Plutarch wrote, “Here was a man who seems to have been in other respects remarkable among the Romans for his good sense and particularly remarkable for upholding the dignity of the consular office free from fear and favor in accordance with the ancestral laws and customs which he regarded as immutable decrees.” Metellus’s character is thus celebrated as “particularly remarkable,” for he maintained the traditional customs of order and moral integrity. Plutarch believed that because of this Metellus “upheld the dignity of the consular office.” In contrast, then, Marius’s disregard for custom is presented as dishonorable and unworthy of such an esteemed office. Indeed, Plutarch wrote that “the man whom [Marius] feared particularly was Metellus… who because of his genuine good qualities was naturally opposed to those who used dishonorable methods in their approach to the masses.” The honor of Marius’s actions was thus called into question, a strong critique against a man who disregarded tradition in the pursuit of personal gain. Again, Plutarch reinforced his support for the ancestral traditions by associating Metellus’s good qualities with an opposition to Marius’s dishonorable methods.
Plutarch further directed attention to the unfettered pursuit and love for glory among the leading men of Rome during the fall of the Republic. The dangerous nature of envy and insatiable ambition is a common theme in his biographical sketches of these men. Plutarch, always a moralizer, used his history of their quests for glory as a caution against immoderate ambition, writing, “This proves how wise Euripides was… when he recommended us to beware of ambition, which he calls the most destructive of all powers and the most damaging to those who worship her.” He argued that the pursuit of glory gave “no rest or peace until it ended in an inglorious death and a national disaster,” calling into dispute the ultimate value of ambition. Plutarch further saw the desire for unrestrained power as a quality detested by the people, writing “what made Caesar most openly and mortally hated was his passion to be made king.” When put into context with Caesar’s eventual assassination, this claim serves a clear warning to those who seek power about the deadly downfalls of such a pursuit. Power was also described as having negative influence on the individual’s character. Plutarch wrote, “Great powers bring about a change in the previous characters of their holders – a change in the direction of over-excitability, pomposity, and inhumanity.” In short, the reader of Plutarch’s biographies was reminded that “power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and as much could be seen in the bloody rules of Marius and Sulla.
In his telling of their lives, Plutarch often attributed the motivations and actions of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar to a desire for ever greater prestige and power. The character of these individuals, as described by Plutarch, was shaped by their ambition and love of distinction. He wrote that “Pompey no doubt was actuated simply by his boundless love of power,” and that Marius was gripped by a passion that “proceeded from his own envious nature and lust for power.” Meanwhile, Crassus longed “for trophies and triumphs.” Of Caesar, Plutarch wrote that “his- main efforts were directed towards becoming the first power in the state and the greatest soldier” and that he was “born to do great things and to seek constantly for distinction.” Describing Sulla, he wrote, “[now that he] had become a person of some importance among his fellow-citizens and was enjoying the sensation of being honored, he went so far in his passion for distinction as to have a signet-ring made with a representation of his achievement.” Considering Plutarch’s negative commentary about the quest for glory and power, it is significant that he described Rome’s most prominent individuals as men of such insatiable ambition. After all, it was these men who were primarily responsible for bringing about the collapse of the Republic. By attributing their actions, and the corresponding chaos which ensued, to their quest for glory, Plutarch was again giving a warning against unfettered ambition. Here were men of great quality and capability who, instead of serving the state, tore it apart in their reckless pursuit of singular power. Accordingly, by connecting the collapse of the Republic to the ambition of these prominent men, Plutarch finds a satisfactory explanation as to why Roman politics became so toxic and, eventually, unsustainable.
Of course, this pursuit of glory, when moderated, was not itself a bad thing. Indeed, the competitive drive for glory and prestige was what had earlier powered the Roman aristocratic system, producing from the ruling class individuals who were willing to devote their full energy to the welfare of the commonwealth. Yet this competition was long restrained by tradition and moral norms which ensured a stable transition between leaders and a peaceful sharing of authority. The marked difference between Roman politics before and during the Late Republic was that peaceful and productive competition among the ruling class was no longer so willingly tolerated.
As he had done with their pursuit of glory, Plutarch devotes much attention to describing the envious nature of the prominent Romans in the Late Republic. Detailing the rivalry between Crassus and Pompey, born out of envy, he wrote, “It was in the course of these campaigns, they say, that there first began that jealous rivalry for distinction which [Crassus] felt towards Pompey.” Similarly writing on the envious relationship between Marius and Sulla, Plutarch provided insight into Marius’s jealous nature, saying “[Sulla] greatly irritated Marius, who had the keenest sense of his own honor, no notion of sharing glory with anyone else, and was quick to take offence.” Plutarch further revealed how jealousy led to discord and disorder the by detailing how “Marius nearly went out of his mind with rage and jealous anger at the idea of Sulla stealing the glory of his achievements, and he was planning to have the statues [of Sulla on the Capitol] forcibly removed” Indeed, in his envy of Sulla’s accomplishments, Marius also took steps to undermine the continued growth of his prestige. Plutarch wrote that “Marius was casting a jealous eye on him and, so far from being glad to give him further opportunities to distinguish himself, was standing in the way of his advancement.”
Thus, the ancestral traditions which had sustained the system had begun to collapse, and envy and jealousy began to manifest themselves in violence and conflict. Plutarch considered the collapse of the Republic to be the destructive result of this envy, writing that, “Greed and personal rivalry… had brought the empire to such a pass… here the whole manhood and might of single state was involved in self-destruction – a clear enough lesson of how blind and how mad a thing human nature is when under the sway of passion.” Detailing the relationship between Sulla and Marius, soured by a mutual jealousy, he further demonstrated how the Republic was brought down through unrestrained rivalry and competition. He wrote, “The hatred between these two… led them on… through the shedding of blood in civil war and irreconcilable antagonisms, to tyranny and the utter confusion of the whole state.”
Antagonistic jealousy between prominent Romans was contrary to traditional precedent, and was symptomatic of the growing decay in Roman politics. No longer competing by bettering the position of the commonwealth at the expense of an external enemy, the ruling class now competed for absolute power. In order to achieve this, they turned against one another, ending the “placid and restrained” style of governance and aristocratic unity which Sallust had described. As a result, the integrity of the state was imperiled. The Romans whose lives Plutarch wrote about were presented as flawed individuals, and he associated their flaws with the chaos in Roman politics. By directing attention to their envious characters, Plutarch was again presenting his audience with a moral warning against unrestrained jealousy, which he saw as a destructive tendency. In demonstrating the negative ramifications of these individuals’ attempts to outshine each other, Plutarch was recommending to his audience moderation in their actions and desires. Furthermore, as he had done with his analysis on the quest for glory, Plutarch was seeking an explanation for why the Republic collapsed after centuries of stability. He saw the violence which paralyzed and ultimately ended the Republic as having been motivated by the hostile envy the leading men of Rome had for each other. Writing frequently on their jealous and violent actions against each other, he thus not only described the history of their lives but provided a narrative of the Republic’s collapse.
As Plutarch had done with Marius and Metellus, he contrasted the envious nature of the leading men of Rome with an individual whom he felt was free of the quality. Describing Cicero, he wrote “It must be said that although he was so unreservedly fond of his own glory, he was quit free from envy of other people. He was, as can be seen from his writings, most liberal in his praises of his predecessors and contemporaries.” Cicero, as described by Plutarch, was an individual not immune from the corruption of his time, for he too shared a desire for glory, but he was not driven by jealousy. He was not motivated by jealous hatred of more prominent colleagues or a desire for unrivaled supremacy. Unlike his more powerful contemporaries in the Triumvirates, Cicero played no major role in leading the violence and chaos that plagued the Republic. Unlike Caesar, Sulla, and Pompey, he had not come into and held power as a tyrant. The stark contrast Plutarch provides of Cicero’s actions and those of his contemporaries is associated with the difference in their characters, further reinforcing Plutarch’s moralizing on the dangers of unbridled envy.
Underlying the qualities of unrestrained ambition, envy, and a desire for power was greed. Indeed, it was greed which prompted and accelerated the collapse of moral integrity and tradition, hastening the fall of the Roman Republic. Polybius, in his discourse on the cyclical nature of political systems, wrote that greed was the catalyst to the development of an oligarchy, which in turn would devolve into tyranny. Speaking of the leading men in a hypothetical political system, he wrote that “They dedicated themselves to rapaciousness and unscrupulous money-making… and in the process, they changed aristocracy into oligarchy.” Though Polybius was writing well before the fall of the Republic and was simply theorizing on the changing nature of a political system, his analysis can, and indeed was, applied to the circumstances in Rome by later historians.
Sallust had much to write about the impact of greed on the Roman political system and its corrupting influence on moral integrity. He argued that “avarice undermined trust, probity, and all other good qualities instead, it taught men haughtiness, cruelty, to neglect the gods, to regard everything for sale.”Greed, then, undermined the traditional morality of the Roman people, which prior to the influx of riches was not plagued by “haughtiness” or “cruelty”. As the good qualities which had kept the stability of the commonwealth intact accordingly disappeared, Romans began to violently turn against each other in their pursuit of more wealth. Sallust described this when he wrote, “In the wake of riches… men were attacked by luxury and riches along with haughtiness they seized, they squandered they placed little weight on their own property and desired that of others.” This, in turn, disrupted the political system, for avarice envied not only property but also power and glory. Sallust continued, “After riches began to be a source of honor and to be attended by glory, command and power, prowess began to dull, poverty to be considered a disgrace and blamelessness to be regarded as malice.” Riches, he said, were to be attended by glory, command and power power in Rome was to be held by the wealthiest and, therefore, the greediest. As a result, prowess and capability was no longer honored with highest office. Rather than the “best man” holding power in Rome, it was the wealthiest. Meanwhile, poverty and virtue, which had earlier been the idealized qualities of a Roman, were seen as a disgrace the traditions which had held together the Republic were thus disregarded, and those who held onto them were pushed from prominence by those who were willing to buy their way into power.
As he had done with their other qualities, Plutarch highlighted the avaricious nature of the prominent Romans during the fall of the Republic. In doing so, he again was providing his audience with a critique of greed and explaining how these individuals brought about the collapse of the commonwealth. Writing on Marius, Plutarch concluded that he “would not have brought his career… to so ugly a conclusion… [if not for] his insatiable greed.” In Marius’s fate Plutarch demonstrated how avarice would lead to an ultimately unfavorable demise for the greedy individual. Plutarch further reinforced the avaricious nature of Marius’s character in writing that, upon his death, he lamented “his own fate in having to die before he had attained each and every object of his desires.” Crassus, too, was seen by Plutarch as representing the worst of a greedy character. He wrote that Crassus was “the most avaricious person in the world”. Yet even more significantly, Plutarch argued that the extent of Crassus’s greed could “best be proved by considering the vastness of his fortune and the ways in which he acquired it,” for he “amassed most of this property by means of fire and war public calamities were his principle source of revenue.” Similarly, the public calamities of civil war, violence, and disorder were the principle sources of power for Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar. Greed for property and greed for power consumed the leading men of Rome, prompting them to bring the Republic into chaos so that they could achieve the objects of their desires. It was irrelevant that they achieved these desires through the destruction of their state, so long as their greed was satisfied.
Thus, ambition, envy, and greed were the defining qualities of prominent Romans during the 1 st century B.C.E. Historians such as Plutarch and Sallust focused much attention on the moral characters of the leading men in Rome during the fall of the Republic, highlighting these failings to explain the collapse of the commonwealth. Yet it was not just the inherent qualities of these men that undid the Republic it was their actions, born out of these qualities, which brought about the violence and disorder. Bribery, backroom alliances, political violence, and proscriptions became common features of Roman politics, and prominent Romans used them all to gain for themselves supreme power. Historians and contemporaries of this time were aware of the corrupt nature of politics in the Late Republic, and wrote heavily on the deeds which brought perpetuated and worsened this corruption.
As the influence of tradition and moral custom was gradually abandoned by Rome’s ruling class, a corresponding degradation of politic conduct occurred. Candidates to office had become accustomed to using dishonest methods to achieve their aims. Pandering to the masses through extravagant banquets, games, and shows, the most prominent and wealthiest Romans were able to secure popular support and therefore defeat their less-wealthy opponents. Offices, positions, and powers were openly being bought and sold, with bribery and electoral violence rife in the system. Polybius, in his work on constitutions, theorized that this would occur. He had said, “Finding that their resources and merits were not enough to enable them to get what they want, they squandered their fortunes on bribing and corrupting the general populace in all sorts of ways.” By winning votes through populism and bribery, men of dishonest character were able to secure electoral victory. Support was retained in office through lavish spending on the public. A precedent had been set which completely undermined the stability of the Republic.
Plutarch directed attention to these dishonest deeds, recalling the moments when the leading men of Rome had won power and support through money and largesse. By doing so, he was revealing to the reader how these individual’s moral failings manifested themselves into political action, a demonstration both of the follies of such qualities and the Republic’s decline. Marius, he wrote, “did everything to win popular support, ingratiating himself with the common people and giving in to them. In so doing he was… lowering the standard of his high office.” Such a criticism was significant, in that Plutarch argued that Marius’s actions were lowering the standard of the Consulship. As such, these actions were portrayed as dishonorable, unworthy of high recognition in Rome, and yet Marius won his power through them. Associating his actions with dishonor, yet showing that Marius nonetheless was successful with them, Plutarch had made clear that the Republic’s decay had begun. Plutarch also wrote of Marius that “in civilian life his supremacy was restricted so he resorted to attempts to win the goodwill of the mob, not minding so much whether he was the best man so long as he could be the greatest.” Such a statement is revealing of the nature of politics and competition between prominent Romans near the end of the Republic. Marius was a spectacular general yet an ineffective statesman hence, he was not “the best man” in Rome, and would have likely lost an election in the earlier Republic. Yet through pandering to the mob, he found that he could win their goodwill, secure election, and thereby become “the greatest” man in Rome. Politics in the Late Republic had therefore become a competition not judging value or capability but rather populist appeal, threatening the quality and integrity of the state’s leadership.
Sulla had also come into office through dishonest means. Plutarch wrote, “He was elected praetor in the following year, having won the support of the people partly by flattery and partly also by bribery.” Clearly, bribery and populism had become a common way to secure office, a symptom of the undermined integrity of the state. Yet Sulla, who would rise to supreme power in Rome, found it necessary to employ such methods of politicking when engaging in his struggle for control. Plutarch wrote that “in order to corrupt and win over to himself the soldiers of other generals, he gave his own troops a good time and spent money lavishly on them. He was thus at the same time encouraging the others to treachery and his own men to debauchery.” Through his generosity in finances and discipline, he was able to undermine his opponent’s military efforts while building support for his own cause. Yet, as repeated often by the ancient historians, luxury was a corrupting influence. The soldiers were led to “debauchery” and “treachery,” as were, as can be seen throughout the biographies of the other leading men in Rome, most involved in the political struggles of the time. Cicero, observing the happenings of his time, recognized the change that had occurred in political conduct. In a letter where he warned about Pompey, he said ““He is confessedly working for absolute power. What else signifies this… pouring out of money… They would never have come so far if they were not paving their way to other and disastrous objectives.” Pompey too, then, was an individual who participated in the norms of his day, those of bribery, pandering, and plotting.
Plutarch and Cicero presented Caesar as perhaps the most willing and most successful populist, winning the goodwill of the masses through massive and elaborate shows and bribery. Describing his methods of winning support, Plutarch wrote that, “He spent money recklessly, and many people thought that he was purchasing a moment’s brief fame at an enormous price, whereas in reality he was buying the greatest place in the world at inconsiderable expense” Caesar is said to have been buying “the greatest place in the world,” showing that supreme power and glory in Rome was now something that could be purchased instead of rightfully achieved. The enormous wealth held by prominent Romans of the time and the willingness of politicians to spend lavishly on a greedy public in order to win support can be seen in Caesar’s actions he was said to have spent lavishly and recklessly with enormous costs. Indeed, it is said of Caesar that with his “lavish expenditure on theatrical performances, processions and public banquets he threw into the shade all attempts at winning distinction in this way that had been made by previous holders of the office.” Caesar, the most prominent man in Rome for a time, was thus also one of the most corrupting on the system. Cicero, writing on Caesar, realized that his populism had elevated him to his position of supremacy and presented a grave danger to the Republic. He wrote, “He wasted all the power of his intellect in pandering to popular humors. Thus, having no regard to the senate and to good men he opened for himself that path to the extension of his power which the… manly spirit of a free people could not endure.” Caesar’s rise to power and eventual tyranny, which Cicero said the spirit of the Roman people could not endure, can thus be explained through the support he garnered through his massive expenditures and populism. His dictatorship was the culmination of these practices, which had become precedent after decades of a degrading political system.
Plutarch also wrote that “candidates for office came to get his backing and after bribing the people with the money which he gave them, won their elections and went on to do everything likely to increase his power.” This system of mutual support was common in Roman politics and culture. When mixed with the corruption of the times, it meant that the system became controlled by powerful and wealthy individuals who sought to improve their position. As can be seen in the case of the Triumvirates, they could manipulate elections, legislation, and votes by their use of money and influence. Plutarch thus called Caesar’s use of money to secure his position to attention as a means to explain how Caesar’s tyranny was established. Caesar’s eminence in Rome was also an important consideration when analyzing the bribery and populism that had become rife in Roman politics. Because of his prominence, he was capable of having much influence on the nature and function of the political system. By participating in the corrupt practices of his time, he was thus not only benefiting from them but also strongly reinforcing the precedent of their use. If a man like Caesar was able to win supreme power through dishonest means, others would surely have followed his example. The stability and integrity of the Republic had been doomed by the practices these prominent men had followed.
A marked change had occurred in Roman politics leading up to the fall of the Republic, in that office had come to be won through bribery and populism instead of being achieved through prowess and honor. This allowed individuals whose talents or desires were detrimental and destructive to the commonwealth to find their way into power. Indeed, unlimited power, and eventually tyranny, became achievable through winning the support of the mob. Polybius had predicted that this would happen in his work on constitutions when he said, “Once people had grown accustomed to eating off others’ tables and expected their daily needs to be met, then, they found someone to champion their cause… they instituted government by force.” As the masses became accustomed to greed and desire, qualities which were already becoming established norms in Roman political culture, they came to support whoever would provide them with the most luxury. As can be seen by the careers of Marius and Caesar, ultimate power was indeed obtainable in such a way. The Republic was transformed away from being a system where the aristocracy competed honestly through honor in order to hold authority for a limited time.
Yet bribery and populism were not the only symptoms of a system that was disintegrating. Throughout the late 2 nd and 1 st centuries B.C.E., bloodshed and violence were not uncommon methods used to achieve power. The leading men and their supporters would not hesitate to kill or banish in order to silence opposition or to secure their position. Polybius had theorized that violence would dissolve the state into chaos, and would be the last step to bringing about a revolution in the system. He had written, “They banded together and set about murdering, banishing, and redistributing land, until they were reduced to a bestial state and once more gained a monarchic master.” As can be seen in the case of Sulla’s proscriptions and the civil wars between Pompey and Caesar, these violent tendencies in Roman politics did indeed bring rise to tyrants.
Plutarch and Sallust recognized how violence came to play an important role in Roman politics, and they analyzed the violent actions of the leading men in Rome during the Republic’s collapse in order to describe how they dishonestly came to achieve and secure their supremacy. Because violence had become a norm, men in positions of power began to find it necessary to employ it against their opponents, lest they themselves be eliminated and removed from power by violent means. Plutarch wrote as much when he said, “The man who wanted to be on top had to get rid of the one who at present held that position: the man who was for the moment on top had, if he wished to stay there, to get rid of the man he feared before it was too late” Sallust too recognized this trend, and, writing on it, pointed out how such violence would bring about the downfall of the commonwealth,
“The nobility… annihilated many mortal beings by the sword or by exile and made themselves more fearful than powerful for the future – a circumstance which has often been the downfall of great communities, in that one side wants to conquer the other by whatever means and to extract from the conquered too bitter a vengeance.”
Violence, then, did not secure power for those who practiced it, but rather created an environment of fear in Rome. With a precedent set that eminence could be won through murder and bloodshed, anyone who aspired to greatness would feel the need to employ violence both to achieve power and to hold onto it. There was no way the Republic, which had maintained its stability through justice and restraint, could survive such a change in the way politics was conducted. Political circumstances leading up to the fall of the Republic were markedly different than those during the Republic’s height, when, as Sallust wrote, politicians “exercised command by conferring kindness, not causing dread, and when wronged, they preferred forgiveness to pursuit.” By drawing this contrast, Sallust demonstrated how the Republic had maintained its stability in the past through the good qualities and actions of its leadership in turn, he highlighted the corrupt and depraved practices of the Roman leadership during the collapse of the Republic.
Plutarch, writing on the animosity between Caesar and Pompey, had said that, “Caesar had long ago decided that Pompey must be removed from his position of power and Pompey, for that matter, had come to just the same decision about Caesar.” Considering the violent norms of the time, the civil war and violent chaos that was incited by these two men in their struggle against each other is no surprise. As Plutarch had made note of, both men realized that they must get rid of the other if their designs on supreme power were ever to be realized. The Republic’s downfall was born out of their political competition, a competition that was waged with bloodshed. Writing on Sulla, Sallust said that he, “having taken the commonwealth by arms, had had a wicked outcome…. Everyone started to seize and loot one man desired a house, another land the victors showed neither restraint nor moderation but did foul and cruel deeds against their fellow citizens.” Sulla’s proscriptions were a highpoint of violence in the system, and during his rule murder, looting, and condoned theft were commonplace. He too, then, was influenced by and further perpetuated the norms of violence that had become ingrained in the system. Pompey was also shown by Plutarch to be an individual willing to make use of violence to achieve a political goal. Responding to Caesar, who had asked whether Pompey would come to the support of laws calling for the redistribution of land if they were threatened, Pompey said he would. Significantly, it is written that Pompey said “against those who threaten to use swords I shall bring both a sword and a shield”. Pompey, then, was also prepared to fight violence with violence, thus worsening the chaos that had already endangered the Republic and perpetuating the violence which was gradually bringing about its fall.
Ancient historians writing on the fall of the Roman Republic found explanations for why the commonwealth had collapsed in the qualities and actions of Rome’s leading men. From these ancient historians, as well as contemporaries of the time, the moral failings of the Rome’s ruling class are highlighted. The Republic’s fall can be attributed to their actions, which were manifest from the qualities of their characters. It was argued that greed, developed because of the influx of wealth from Rome’s conquests, had incited an insatiable desire for glory, power, and prestige. The ancient traditions which had sustained the Republic through goodwill and placidity accordingly decayed. The most prominent and powerful men in Rome, filled with this greed but also driven by envy, wanted to outcompete and outshine each other in order to achieve unrivaled supremacy. To do this, they employed the corrupt political methods of their time – violence, bloodshed, and bribery – thereby weakening the institutions of the Republic and eventually bringing the whole state into chaos and civil war. In such an environment, the Republic as it had existed ceased to function the path to dictatorship and tyranny had been opened. The fall of the Republic, as revealed by Plutarch, Sallust, and Cicero, had been brought about because of the corrupt character of Rome’s leading men.
TWILIGHT OF ROME – The Eternal City at the peak of its glory.Rome. Aerial view above the City center, 320 AD
Our History in 3D creative team continues to work on our main project – Rome in 3D. The recent few months have been very productive and we are close to completing the extensive 3D reconstruction of the entire center of the ancient city.
This new video about ancient Rome from our History in 3D creative team shows the Eternal City at the peak of its glory. This 3D reconstruction was made with a high level of detail and accuracy, in accordance with all the latest historical researches. Relatively soon the reconstructions of some most famous Roman buildings and the entire city center will be available for review as virtual applications.
Moreover, in the near future there will be more video about monuments of Rome – imperial forums, baths etc. There I’ll give more information about the project and the historical background of the buildings. Our videos will become much more informative soon!
Rome. Forum Romanum and Capitoline hill, 320 AD
What Exactly was the”Glory” of Ancient Rome?
Does it involve more than architecture and imperial might and conquest?
Is it cultural and does it entail how even today we have elements of Roman law and concepts and Latin words all around?
Just looking for a greater grasp of this concept.
It's important to keep in mind that Western civilization has a trope of classical glory > medieval backwardness > modern rebirth so we have a bit of a habit of exaggerating the greatness of Rome and looking down on everyone before and after. That being said, the Roman Empire did have some pretty excellent features. High economic development and literacy safe, well-maintained roads and ports (usually) a high level of tolerance for local languages and cultures sophisticated diplomacy great public works and engineering a professional army with serious formal training and capable officers and clear law codes with hypothetically fair courts.
Now, the Roman Empire was also a hyper-violent slave society dominated by rich elites who tended to use their wealth and connections to plunge the empire into repeated coups and civil wars. Just to keep things in perspective.
The second part of the first paragraph explains in what ways Rome was glorious well.
For a very long time, the people of Europe looked around and what they had and could build and said "Rome was nicer. Rome's ruins still look a lot better than what we have." For 1000 years at least, it was like that. The small principalities and territories that existed also seemed insignificant to an Empire that stretched from England to Iraq. Rome had a population of over a million people at its height something the other cities didn't begin to reach until around 1800.
Before the start of the industrial revolution, there was still a general sense that "Rome was still better and nicer, and with better water and engineering and construction"
Europe could build awesome cathedrals. Look at Notre Dame. But it took 100 years to build it in the 1200s. Look at St Peter's - but that took 120 years to build in the 1500s.
The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in Rome, built in 308 AD, took 4 years. The Coliseum took 10 years. Nobody built anything like it until around the 1870s.
The glory of Rome (for western europeans) was being the universal empire of Christianity. Rome controlled the known world and everything beyond it's borders was barbarians or heathens. With the fall of Rome, the shadow of it remained until the rise of nationalism as the concept of Dominium Mundi and the idea that all of creation must be subject to a single ruling power was replaced by the idea of representation, republicanism and nationhood.
Your question itself is incorrect. One cannot point to only a single thing that gives glory to Ancient Rome rather, the 'glory' of Rome comes from the totality of its achievements: architecture, infrastructure, sanitation, military, territorial extent, culture, economy, administration, laws, history, literature, longevity, etc.
While most of the world was enmeshed in cycles of tribal one-upmanship, Rome built upon ancient Athens concepts of 'government' and rule of law that went beyond 'might makes right' to something more bound by ideas of ɼivic life'.
Romans were great, great organizers they organized a legal system, they organized their military, they organized a government bureaucracy and in doing so were able to basically prey upon far less organized societies around them, expanding their borders and taking resources that made it possible to create an urbane Roman citizenry freed from the pressures of mere survival to develop technological advances and (to an extent) the arts.
After the ⟺ll' of ancient Rome (really probably starting with the moving of the capital by Constantine) Europe was not to have another federal-based bureaucratic state for hundreds of years and fell into a state of near-chaos and perpetual war.
The one 'old world' culture similar to Rome in its ability to function as a highly organzied bureaucratic state was China.
What new interpretations such as Domina have the power to do is to reframe Livia's involvement in public affairs as evidence of her intelligence and keen political engagement
The wedding plays out against the backdrop of impending civil war following the assassination of Julius Caesar. The so-called Liberators, who saw themselves as rescuing the Roman Republic from the hands of the dictator, are now on the run. Among those leading the campaign to avenge Caesar's death is his adopted son Octavian. Livia's father, meanwhile, supports the Liberators' cause.
Playing fast and loose with the known historical facts, the young Octavian (Tom Glynn-Carney) turns up at Livia's wedding, where they secretly enjoy a passionate kiss. A little while later, as Octavian's forces pour into Rome, Livia and her husband (cast in this series as a charmless brute with a lingering STI) flee with their baby, Tiberius. The historians record that the young family sought refuge in Sicily and Greece. Tragically for Livia, the Liberators were defeated, leaving her father, who fought on their side, to take his own life.
A marriage twist
In a peculiar twist of fate, Livia later returned to Rome with her husband, young Tiberius, and a second son growing in her womb, only to get divorced and marry Octavian. The ancient sources suggest that Octavian took her away from her husband, despite her being pregnant, because he was struck by her beauty and tired of his own wife, Scribonia, and her hostile manner. Refreshingly, Domina gives Livia rather more agency in this episode of her life by having her pursue Octavian, while he sits pining for her dreamily: "Her family connections… she's obviously fertile. I don't even mind that she's clever," he muses. As Livia reminds him, they each have something to gain from a partnership, in his case a connection to her illustrious family, in hers a chance to re-establish her wealth and status following her flight from Italy.
The real Livia must have had a similar strength of character. She was, after all, a woman who had to give up raising her two sons (they went to live with their father until his death six years later) to marry a man who had fought on the opposing side from her father in the war. Whether she accepted this situation, or actively encouraged it, is uncertain. According to Suetonius, Octavian loved and approved of Livia alone throughout his long life, despite having numerous affairs. Theirs was apparently more than a marriage of convenience.
The new drama series Domina looks set to reframe Livia Drusilla in the popular imagination (Credit: Sky)
Roman tyrants in all their brutal glory
A bout midway through “Dynasty,” Tom Holland observes the end of an era, at a Roman funeral in 22 A.D. The deceased is an elderly woman named Junia. The reigning emperor is Tiberius, who, without being on hand physically, is such an overweening presence that the ancestral effigies on display do not include the most celebrated member of Junia’s family: her brother Brutus, who in 44 B.C. helped assassinate Julius Caesar, founder of the dynasty to which Tiberius belongs. Junia’s death has broken one of the last links between imperial Rome and the republic that Caesar left in shambles.
“Dynasty” is a sequel to “Rubicon,” Holland’s account of Caesar’s meteoric career. Many of us have a passing acquaintance with Caesar’s successors in the Julio-Claudian line: the ruthless, power-amassing Augustus, the paranoid Tiberius, the wittily cruel Caligula, the freakish Claudius, the showboating Nero. But as told by Holland with erudition and brio, the truth about these tyrants is more dramatic and complex than we may have thought.
Holland shows us how, after succeeding his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, Augustus won over the populace in ways that have since become tyrants’ stock in trade. By conquering distant provinces and imposing Roman rule there, he stoked his subjects’ pride. By building public works, he let them share in the spoils.
A good example of the latter approach came after the death of one Vedius Pollio, a tax collector whose administration of Asia Minor had markedly increased the revenue flow to Rome while also making him filthy rich. In his will, Pollio deeded to the emperor what Holland calls a “vast property that he had built on a spur above the Forum.” Augustus accepted this windfall only to level the site and hand it over to his wife, Livia, who, “no less conscious than her husband of her responsibilities towards the Roman people, had it rebuilt in splendid fashion, complete with colonnades and fountains, and presented to the delighted public. So, in the new age presided over by Caesar Augustus, was the selfish greed of plutocrats justly treated.”"Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar" by Tom Holland (Doubleday)
Such gestures were almost enough to make the “delighted public” overlook Augustus’s faults, among them sexual promiscuity. One might assume that imperial rutting was something to be forgiven or even winked at. Not so, Holland asserts. “Augustus’s reputation as a serial adulterer, far from boosting the aura of his machismo, cast him instead in an effeminate and sinister light. No man could be reckoned truly a man who was the slave of his own desires. Playboys who chased after married women were well known to be womanish themselves. The [emperor], it was whispered, smoothed his legs by singeing off their hairs with red-hot nut shells.”
Tiberius may have laid off the red-hot nut shells, but succeeding Augustus was a daunting assignment, especially for a poor communicator like himself. As his reign went on, Tiberius grew terrified of assassins. Consider his reaction to the earthquake he endured at his home away from home, above the Bay of Naples. Any good Roman would have taken the quake as a sign from the gods, but what, exactly, were they trying to say? The interpretation given by Tiberius — never to set foot in Rome again — seems wrong-way-round (shouldn’t he avoid the region where the earthquake hit?), but he was probably right to think that on the whole the countryside would be safer for him.
Tiberius got the natural death he wanted, which was more than you can say for some of his successors. Caligula, for one. Holland is at his best in the chapter on this flamboyant figure. Once upon a time, a soothsayer had scoffed that the boy had no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding across the Bay of Baiae on horseback. Caligula accepted the challenge. Once enthroned, he had dozens of ships lashed together to form a gigantic pontoon stretching over the bay, which he then rode across. As a display of limitless power, it could hardly have been bettered.
Caligula delighted not just in breaking with tradition but also in mocking it, as when he announced his intention to appoint his horse Incitatus as consul (one of the most prestigious offices in the Roman government). “So cruel was the satire,” Holland notes, “that it seemed to the aristocracy almost a form of madness.” Conspirators assassinated Caligula after only four years in power, then hunted down and killed his wife and daughter. “So perished the line of Caligula,” Holland writes: “dead of a joke taken too far.”
Next came his uncle Claudius, who, as Holland puts it, was “so despised and discounted by his relatives that not even Caligula had got around to eliminating him.” The slobbering misfit surprised everyone by becoming a savvy ruler, a breath of relative sanity in the Julio-Claudian madhouse.
Maddest of all was Nero, who seems to have been utterly lacking in self-awareness. The spectacle of an absolute monarch entering contests as a musician and an athlete, and then trying his utmost to excel, even though he knew that no judge would dare award him anything but first place — this is egotism as farce. As he swaggered toward his own abrupt end, Holland writes, “Nero remained true to what he saw as his highest responsibility: to delight his fellow citizens.”
This is great material, and Holland does it justice with a chiseled prose style and an eye for the luminous detail. He memorably sums up a region of interest to the Romans as “the kingdom of Armenia, a land of icy mountains, thick forests and notoriously effective poisons.” He emphasizes Roman cruelty by explaining how a soldier tasked with executing a young girl coped with the sacred tradition that forbade putting a virgin to death. He “made sure to rape her first.” And Holland shows how, with Caligula, even fawning could be fatal. Once when the emperor fell sick, a sycophant named Atanius swore “an extravagant oath. Only restore Caligula to health, [Atanius] had promised the gods, and he would fight as a gladiator.” Caligula recovered and “with a perfectly straight face . . . ordered the wretched [man] into the arena, to fight there for the amusement of the crowds. Predictably enough, paired against a trained killer, Atanius didn’t last long.”
A graduate of both Cambridge and Oxford, Holland is a master of narrative history. On the strength of “Dynasty,” he deserves a laurel wreath.
The Ancient World: Rome
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The Second Triumvirate
The Second Triumvirate consisted of Octavian (Augustus), Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony. The Second Triumvirate was an official body created in 43 B.C., known as Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae Consulari Potestate. Consular power was assigned to the three men. Usually, there were only two elected consuls. The triumvirate, despite a five-year term limit, was renewed for a second term.
The Second Triumvirate differed from the first insofar as it was a legal entity explicitly endorsed by the Senate, not a private agreement among strongmen. However, the Second suffered the same fate as the First: Internal bickering and jealousy led to its weakening and collapse.
First to fall was Lepidus. After a power play against Octavian, he was stripped of all of his offices except for Pontifex Maximus in 36 and later banished to a remote island. Antony—having lived since 40 with Cleopatra of Egypt and growing increasingly isolated from the power politics of Rome—was decisively defeated in 31 at the Battle of Actium and thereafter committed suicide with Cleopatra in 30.
By 27, Octavian had retitled himself Augustus, effectively becoming the first emperor of Rome. Although Augustus paid particular care to use the language of the republic, thus maintaining a fiction of republicanism well into the first and second centuries CE, the power of the Senate and its consuls had been broken and the Roman Empire began its nearly half-millennium of influence across the Meditteranean world.
Aggressors : Ancient Rome
Publisher/Developer: Slitherine Ltd/Kubat Software via Steam
This turn-based 4x lets you garner glory in the ancient world as one of 20 different factions. Do you want to bring the light of Greek civilisation to the world? Do you want to vanquish Rome as Carthage? Or do you want to restore Egypt to greatness? In the game, you manage every aspect of your Empire, whether war, diplomacy, culture, or the development of your towns and cities.
Aggressors: Ancient Rome has a good deal of depth as a 4x, and it&rsquos fairly extensive choice of factions, from barbarian tribes to ancient civilisations, allows for a variety of playstyles and campaigns. It also ain&rsquot that bad to look at!
None, but consider checking out spiritual sequel Imperiums: Greek Wars!
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