Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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Political crises: role of the Senate; use of the army for political purposes; urban violence

Past HSC question: 2009
Assess the senate’s role in political crises in this period.

Past HSC question: 2005
Explain the role of the army and its use for political purposes in this period.

Past HSC question: 2004
Explain the role of the Senate in the fall of the Roman Republic.

Past HSC question: 2003
Account for the political violence in Rome during this period.

Past HSC question: 2002
Account for the rise and impact of powerful generals during this period.

Past HSC question: 2002
Assess the role of the Senate during this period.

Past HSC question: 2001
Explain the generals’ use of armies for political purposes during this period.

from Booklet 2:
pp12-13 "Anarchy in Rome: Clodius and Milo"
  • What was the impact on the government of urban violence in Rome in 53 and 52?
  • "...since he was the only one with imperium." (p.13) What imperium did Pompey hold at this stage?
  • How did Pompey come to be elected as sole consul in 52?

Plutarch's description of the violence associated with the election of Pompey and Crassus to their second joint consulship in 55:
"Most of the candidates nevertheless abandoned their canvass for the consulship; Cato alone persuaded and encouraged Lucius Domitius not to desist, "since," said he, "the contest now is not for office, but for liberty against tyrants and usurpers." Therefore those of Pompey's party, fearing this inflexible constancy in Cato, by which he kept with him the whole senate, lest by this he should likewise pervert and draw after him all the well-affected part of the commonalty, resolved to withstand Domitius at once, and to prevent his entrance into the forum. To this end, therefore, they sent in a band of armed men, who slew the torchbearer of Domitius, as he was leading the way before him, and put all the rest to flight; last of all, Cato himself retired, having received a wound in his right arm while defending Domitius. Thus by these means and practices they obtained the consulship..."
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 52

Gelzer's description of the same event:
"Then in January 55 the consular elections were completed. Of the rival candidates only Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, tirelessly encouraged by his brother-in-law Marcus Porcius Cato, remained in the field. With Caesar's approval the young Publius Crassus brought a thousand men on leave from over the alps in solid ranks. They sufficed to make certain of the election result. Nevertheless, during the night before the poll Domitius ventured to go to the Campus Martius with his friends. Cato hoped that at the last moment a majority might after all be found, even if hitherto intimidation had been fairly general. Since Crassus and Pompey wished to avoid a surprise of this kind, they had their opponent and his followers forcibly removed. Cato's torch-bearer was killed and Cato himself wounded in the arm, while Domitius took refuge in his house. On the next day Crassus and Pompey became consuls, and immediately manipulated the election of the remaining magistrates as suited them."
Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman, p.127

Grant on the role of the urban mob:
"... the inflamable potentialities of the Roman crowd, in which the high proportion of down-and-outs ready for hire and trouble had become, next to the army, the major factor in contemporary power politics."
Michael Grant, in Cicero, Selected Works, p.91

Plutarch on the effect of urban violence in the late 50s:
"... the collapse of good government in Rome... Often, before an election was over, the place where it had been held was stained with blood and defiled with dead bodies, and the city was left with no government at all, like a ship adrift ith no one to steer her. The result was that intelligent people could only be thankful if, after such a mad and stormy period, things ended in nothing worse than a monarchy... Cato was able to grasp the situation and persuaded the senate to appoint Pompey as sole consul..."
Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 28

Plutarch on Caesar and his army in Gaul:
"He was making his army into something which he controlled as though it were his own body; these native tribes were not the main point; he was merely using his campaigns against them as a form of training... with the final aim of creating a force of his own which would be both alarming and invincible."
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 51