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Quotes / The Roman Republic

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From the Romans

The savage beasts in Italy have their particular dens, they have their places of repose and refuge; but the men who bear arms, and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but the air and the light.They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and wealth of other men.They were styled the masters of the world, but in the meantime had not one foot of ground which they could call their own.
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, Parallel Lives: Life of the Gracchi

The death of Tiberius Gracchus and even before that the whole rationale behind his tribunate, divided a united people into two distinct groups.

Civis romanus sum [I am a Citizen of Rome]
From In Verrem by Cicero, where an accused invokes this to demand justice. Subsequently cited by many as an example for human rights to civil liberties.

I'm not keen, Gracchus, on you getting the idea of sharing out my property man by man, but if that's what you're going to do, I'll take my cut.
Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi, to Gaius Gracchus who noted that he was standing in line collecting his share of grain after opposing the law as an optimate.

Sulla potuit, ego non potero? (If Sulla could, why not I)

I assure you that I'd rather be the first man in this village, than the second man in Rome.
Julius Caesar, Parallel Lives: Life of Caesar.

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio. [Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latin.)

Our ancestors, Fathers of the Senate, were never lacking either in wisdom or courage, and yet pride did not keep them from adopting foreign institutions, provided they were honourable. They took their offensive and defensive weapons from the Samnites, the badges of their magistrates for the most part from the Etruscans. In fine, whatever they found suitable among allies or foes, they put in practice at home with the greatest enthusiasm, preferring to imitate rather than envy the successful.
Julius Caesar, qtd. in The War with Catiline by Sallust.

A city for sale and doomed to speedy destruction if it finds a purchaser!
Jugurtha, qtd. in The War with Jugurtha by Sallust.

About the Republic

For Romans in Rome's quarrel spared neither land nor gold
Nor son nor wife nor limb nor life in the brave days of old
Then none was for a party; then all were for the state
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great
Then lands were fairly portioned and spoils were fairly sold
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old
Lays of Ancient Rome by Sir Thomas Macauley

"It's simple: the Praetor's like a mayor, quaestors are judges, and the censor does the census and bans smut..."
Larry Gonick (on the structure of Roman Republican government), The Cartoon History of the Universe

The distribution of cheap grain was [Gaius Gracchus]'s most influential reform. Though it was amended and occassionally suspended over the decades that followed, its basic principle lasted for centuries: Rome was the only place in the ancient Mediterranean where the state took responsibility for the regular basic food supplies of its citizens...Unlike all earlier Roman reformers, Gaius sponsored not just a single initiative, but a dozen or so. He was the first politician in the city, leaving aside the mythical founding fathers, to have an extensive and coherent "programme", with measures that covered such things as the right of appeal against the death penalty, the outlawing of bribery and a much more ambitious scheme of land distribution than Tiberius had ever proposed...It is impossible now to list all the legislation that Gaius proposed in just two years...But it is the range that is the key. To Gaius' opponents, that smacked dangerously of a bid for personal power. The programme overall certainly seems to gave added up to a systematic attempt to reconfigure the relationship between the people and the senate.
Mary Beard, SPQR : A History of Ancient Rome.

"I do not believe that the Roman lower classes deserve the vituperation they have recieved from Roman (and Greek) writers, especially Cicero, from whom so much of our historical tradition about Late Republican political life derives. If indeed they were to some extent demoralised and depraved, it was largely because the oligarchy had made it impossible for them to be anything else, and perhaps preferred them to be so, as our ancestors preferred to keep the English labouring classes ignorant and uneducated and without a voice in the government until well on in the nineteenth century. What chance did the humble Roman have of acquiring a sense of political responsibility? The unfortunate thing is that we can virtually never feel we are seeing things as they really were: our sources normally present us with a mere stock caricature."
G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World.

The Roman senate, who were so unjustly, so criminally proud as not to suffer the plebeians to share with them in anything, could find no other artifice to keep the latter out of the administration than by employing them in foreign wars. They considered the plebeians as a wild beast, whom it behoved them to let loose upon their neighbours, for fear they should devour their masters. Thus the greatest defect in the Government of the Romans raised them to be conquerors. By being unhappy at home, they triumphed over and possessed themselves of the world, till at last their divisions sunk them to slavery.
Voltaire, Letters on England


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