Crisis of the Late Roman Republic 133-43 BCE

The Late Roman Republic 133 – 43 BCE

A major review and encyclopedic survey for this period is now the Cambridge Ancient History Vol IX (CAH IX 2008).  The end point of the Republic is ascribed to 43 BCE because of the deaths of both Marc Antony in August and of Cicero on December 7, 43 BC and because Cicero represents the cultural and philosophical aspirations of the Republic as a representative form of elite administrative power and rule by the wealthy landholders of the Late Republic.  If Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March in 44 was a crisis point for the Fall of the Republic, it is the total ursurpation of power by Octavian (later to be called Caesar Augustus) in August 43 BC that also signals the Fall of the Republic. Thereafter we find a major power shift away from the active role of the Senate as a body of consultation and toward imperial rule as an institution reliant upon the strong man, military command.  Here one may see that the needs of empire outweighed the more localist or regional homeland needs of the Senate and Republic and that the form of the Empire called for a new and more centralized system of command and control with the provinces. A study of whether or how Senators shift their interests to overseas landholdings and profit from the Empire would be worthwhile.

A survey of recent methodologies and historical research of the Late Republic offers an attempt to balance socio-economic, cultural and political sources with advances in archaeological research (Lintott 2008).  Of particular note are the Greek historical accounts by Polybius and Posidonius, both of whom offer interpretive analysis that move beyond the writing of history as annals of events.   The chief Roman historian of the period was Livy, whose works takes us through the period of Cicero.  Unfortunately, Livy’s later works and volumes have been lost.  Two later Roman historians, Appian and Cassius Dio also commented on the period of the Late Republic.   It is the substantial collection of essays, speeches and letters  of Cicero, the contemporary Senator and master of rhetoric, and a prominent villa owner, that renders the most vivid of insights into the politics and culture of the late Republic.  Some of his accounts of the politics and intrigue are now regarded as politically charged and exaggerated, but these problems actually may be read as insight into what we may call the deep  politics of Late Republic power and conflict.  What was the nature of secret dealing and back handed compliments, of double dealing and bribery?   A reading of Cicero provides both the philosophical ideals and the questionable ethics and doubts of the times.   

I would argue against this rather conservative approach to history and to read of the very ordinariness with which Cicero describes his own wealth and status.  In his letter to his brother Quintus in Thessalonika, Greece, he casually discusses the arrangement of sending slaves to his brother (Cicero 1909).  The geographic range of his letters to contacts and family, from Greece to Sardinia, and to Britain, as well as numerous letters to or from his country estate at Brundisium to Rome, also indicate the geographic range of his immediate contacts and interests.

Sallust is also highly instructive to read, both for the Catiline, his chronicle of the complex intrigue of the Catiline Conspiracy, and his Histories of the Jugurthine war in Africa.  From Sallust we derive much about the nature of acquisition of sudden and vast wealth and the disparity of rampant poverty throughout the empire (Lintott 2008, 8).  The classic modern history of the Roman Republic is the 19th century German historian Theodor Mommsen, who accepts the inevitable rise of the military into power and the collapse of the Republic.  Later works by Münser and Gelzer and Brunt take up more of the political struggle and question of struggle between patricians and plebeians. It is certainly the latter who suffer a loss of status with the demise of the Republic. 

From the middle of the 2nd century BC, even after the sack of their archrival Carthage in North Africa, the Roman Empire still faced challenges to the limits of its power, particularly in Capadocia and Cyprus.  Despite this the Empire of the Roman Republic consolidated its gains in Macedonia and in North Africa. 


CAH IX. 2008. The Cambridge Ancient History: The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 B.C. Second. Edited by J.A. et al. Crook. Vol. IX. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Cicero. 1909. "Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero." In The Harvard Classics: Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicer and Letters of Gaius Plinius Caecilus Secundus, edited by Charles W. Eliot, translated by E.S. Schuckberg. New York: P.F. Collier & Son.

Lintott, Andrew. 2008. The Crisis of the Republic: Sources and Source-Problems. Vol. IX, in The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 B.C., by CAH, edited by J.A. Cook, 1. Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Livy, The History of Rome (multivolume link at Project Gutenberg

Mommsen, Theodor, The History of Rome (Römische Geschichte) multiple volumes at Project Gutenberg

Sallust, Conspiracy of Catiline and the Jugurthine War. (Project Gutenberg)

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