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Useful Notes / The Roman Republic

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"There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile."
Marcus Aurelius, Gladiator

The Republic and City of Rome, has several origin tales. In its early years, its legendary founders were Romulus and Remus, Raised by Wolves, founded the city itself on the curiously precise date April 21st, 753 BC. This was the origin most popular and beloved by the Roman people during the Republican era. Aspects about the founding myths have a curious plausibility and the idea that the original Romans were an outlaw band or fleeing refugees does seem believable. Rome, founded on the seven hills, was ruled by a succession of seven kings, the last few showing heavy Etruscan influence. Another legend, dating much later after contact with Ancient Greece, argued that the Romans were descendants of Aeneas and Trojan exiles from the Sack of Troy. Much later, The Aeneid put Canon Welding by stating that they were founded in fact by refugees from the sack of Troy and that Aeneas is the true founder of Rome. This origin was obviously favorable to Augustus, the commissioner of the epic, who saw Aeneas as a Propaganda Hero, and coincidentally, Augustus' Julio-Claudian family claimed descent from Aeneas as well so Rome was intended to be an Empire all along, isn't that convenient. As such, historians tend to favor Romus and Romulus as a more authentic founding myth, albeit they note that it's not the only one.

The second one is the overthrow of the Tarquins. The Romans were once a Kingdom ruled by this Etruscan family. Their last King was the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proudnote ). This King was overthrown by conspirators from the aristocratic families, led by Lucius Brutus. After overthrowing the King, he and his fellow aristocrats swore a vow that Rome would never be ruled by a King. They formed what they called a respublica (literally, "Thing of the People"), from which we gain the term "Republic."note  Rome was organized as an oligarchy with the Aristocracy, called patricians or "fathers", controlling the Senate (derived from senex, meaning "old man"), though the public had some say on the issues through the tribunesnote  (lit. Protector of the Tribes) who had veto power over the Senate, as well as the less formal ability to beg favors from their patrons. This organization is reflected in the famous Roman slogan SPQR which stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, or "The Senate and People of Rome." The Republic in social structure was quite family-oriented with various clans becoming centers of webs of patronage, a patron/client relationship that has modern answers in political machines and The Mafia. While Rome's system was oligarchical by modern standards it had for its time a reputation for justice and stability and its elaborate checks and balances were often admired by Greeks whose cities were often troubled by chaos.

The Republic expanded through Italy both through its Badass Army and its genius for wooing conquered people from nearby cities who shared similar cultures. The extreme early myths such as the Rape of the Sabine Women portray how much of Rome's early growth was due to both of these factors. At this point Rome was a regional power in Italy. The three Punic Wars took Rome from merely being the dominant power in Italy to become the largest power in the Mediterranean Basin (to the point where the Romans simply called the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum, or "Our Sea"). The best known of these wars was the Second Punic War, involving the famous Hannibal. Due to these conflicts, Rome inherited the domains of Carthage's Empire, and sway over the Mediterranean rim. Unfortunately, the Roman governmental system wasn't up to governing a large multicultural empire, and internal power struggles grew more and more intense. Added to this was massive corruption and outright stealing of veterans' lands by large landowners. Popular pressure (represented by the famous Gracchi brothers) and Civil War broke out (first between Marius and Sulla, following a war with the Italian "allies"; then between Pompey the Great and Caesar), until finally The Republic was taken over by Julius Caesar. Caesar's successor Octavian, after a long struggle first with Caesar's assassins, then with Caesar's right-hand man Marc Antony, assumed the name Augustus and supreme power as the first Emperor of Rome (princeps, lit. "first citizen," originally a title awarded to the person entitled to speak first in the Senate—Augustus was leery of putting on airs. "Emperor" came from "Imperator" or "commander" in Latin, i.e. commander-in-chief of the armed forces, another of his titles. Obviously having the military backing him was essential for his regime). Though Augustus pretended he was merely first among equals and actually declared the Republic restored, the ascension of Augustus is considered the death of the Republic.

The Republic had a succession of executive magistrates with one-year terms, including quaestors (low-level magistrates, 20 a year), praetors (mid-level judicial magistrates, the lowest office to grant its holder the benefit of lictors/bodyguards carrying around their telltale ''fasces''), and two consuls (top executives with executive powers checked only by each other and the Senate). In addition, the Republic came with a safety valve: in times of crisis, a six-month term for a special office, dictator, could be granted to one person, granting him complete control of the state. There could be good dictators (Cincinnatus, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator), who owing to the strong political culture of civic virtue and patriotism would ostentatiously step down and relinquish powers back to the (unwritten) constitution, especially since there was no political advantage and pressure in using those powers when the interests of the oligarchy were safely kept in balance with that of the Plebs. This decayed in the final century of the Republic where dictators like Sulla and then Julius Caesar would declare themselves dictator pro vita, or dictator for life, granting them supreme power to act on behalf of the interests of the Optimate and Popularii faction respectively.

The Optimates were traditionalists who sought to maintain the power of the Senatorial class (ie themselves)note  above all else. The Populares were populists who sought (or claimed to seek) to make the lives of the lower classes better. Contrary to what might be expected, by the time of the late Republic patrician families only made up a minority in the Senate; plebeians (that is, anyone not a patrician) could be just as wealthy and powerful and by Marius' day the majority of the Senatorial class were from plebeian families.note  There were several plebeians who were leaders among the the Optimates, to preserve their own power or simply to arrest the power of Popularii demagogues like Caesar, including such notables as Cato and Cicero. Conversely, the Popularii faction was often led by patricians like Caesar, though the the movement had originally been founded by the plebian Gracchi brothers and it was Caesar's plebian uncle and mentor Gaius Marius who brought him into the Popularii fold. It's quite unclear whether the Popularii genuinely cared much about the commoners' well-being (whether plebian or patrician, the Popularii leaders were always rich enough to become Senators and thus had little in common with the average Roman), or just saw they greatly outnumbered the upper classes and wanted to prevent proletarian rebellions, or saw the mob as a path to political power for themselves.

The Roman Republic left a lot of imprints in Western culture in fields ranging from military tactics to engineering to philosophy (when they weren't plagiarizing the Greeks) to rhetoric (Marcus Tullius Cicero especially) to politics and the nice big one, law. The legal systems of most of Europe are wholesale borrowings of Roman Law with some adjustments, and even English-speaking nations will find a lot of old Roman Law in their own (the first rule of codified Roman Law is otherwise known as the subpoena).

Episodes from the history of the Roman Republic that show up in fiction, folklore, art, and literary references with some frequency are:

  • The Early Republic: The Rebellion against the Tarquins, Lucius Brutus and others founding the Republic, Lucius Brutus killing his royalist sons, the Horatii Brothers defending the Bridge (the latter two are subjects of iconic paintings by Jacques-Louis David), Caius Marcius Coriolanus turns renegade and betrays the Republic in opposition to the rise in power of the Plebeians, the dictatorship of Cincinnatus, the Gallic sack of Rome. The sources for this era are largely from the works of historians writing several centuries later in the Imperial Era, namely Titus Livy and Plutarch. As such the historicity of some or all of these events is widely contested and subject to much debatenote . In particular, the Gallic sack of Rome ca. 390 BC destroyed most historical records, rendering the earlier history at least semi-mythical.
  • The Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC): Remembered best for the proverbial Pyrrhic Victories achieved by Pyrrhos, the ambitious king of Epirus (north-western Greece), who battled the expansion of Roman hegemony over the Greek colonies of Southern Italy, and eventually had to give up after winning all battles but the last.
  • The Punic Wars against Carthage (264-146 BC). The biggest wars of the Ancient Mediterranean, featuring numbers, battles on sea and land, of the kind you wouldn't see until centuries later. Famous for the proverbial campaigns of Hannibal Barca — especially crossing the Alps with War Elephantsnote . Hannibal and his (eventually futile) campaign into Italy are among the best-remembered episodes of ancient Roman history, partly because of the sheer magnitude of Hannibal's military achievements, and partly because this was the last time for several hundred years to come in which, for a moment, the very existence of the Roman state seemed to be at stake. The famous scientist Archimedes of Syracuse was working for Hannibal and when the Romans captured the city, Archimedes was killed by a Roman legionnaire, despite the orders to spare him by the commanding centurion. The third Punic War is the earliest period in Republican Roman history for which we have an eyewitness account, chiefly the works of Greek Historian Polybius, whose Histories is a crucial work on the rise of Republican Rome as the superpower of the Mediterranean.
  • The Celtiberian Wars (181-133 BC) and the Lusitanian Wars (155-139 BC) were part of Rome's attempts to transform previously Carthaginian territories in Spain into productive Roman provinces. However, what the Barca family had accomplished through intelligence, vassalage and mercenary alliances, Rome tried to do through forceful pacification and delegating on incompetent and/or greedy governors, which inevitably resulted in a powder keg of bloody rebellions that lasted fifty years at its peak. People in Rome ended up seriously fed of the situation after the continuous victories of the Lusitanian warlord Viriathus, the ungodly resistance of the Celtiberian tribes, and the obstinacy of tribes who used to spring back to war right after being pacified, so dire measures had to be taken by the Senate (including paid betrayals and brutal sieges) in order to drown the conflicts for good. Still, the totality of Spain would not be taken until the times of The Roman Empire, two whole centuries after the beginning of the affair.
  • The most notable era of the Republic is the First Century (133-31 BCE), simply because we have a richness in wealth and volume of primary sources from this era, exceeding that of any other century before and even several centuries afterwards. Certain events and places can be traced day-to-day. It also includes just about all the famous Romans:
    • The Gracchi (133-121 BCE): Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, descendants of Scipio Africanus, act as Tribunes hoping to aid the Roman poor but trigger a crisis in the institutions, leading to the polarizations between the "Populares" and the "Optimates" (both factions incidentally were named by the Patrician class, one for their enemies, and the other for themselves). It's seen as the Prequel to the end of the Republic with the brutal fates of the brothers, setting a precedent for political violence and violation of norms.
    • The Socii Wars and Sulla's Civil Wars (100-78 BCE): Gaius Marius, "The Third Founder of Rome" (and Julius Caesar's uncle), wins an unprecedented six consuls leading several victories over Italian and Alpine tribes over several decades and passing reforms allowing poor men to enter the army. Towards the end he forms a rivalry with Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The rivalry becomes political when Marius aligns with the populare and Sulla with the optimates, resulting in Sulla unprecedently marching his army into Rome, forcing Marius and his sons on the run, then a counter-coup by Marius which lasts until he dies, and then Sulla marches a second time (accompanied by Crassus and teenage Pompey) becomes appointed Dictator for Life and issues a series of proscription and mass purges with 10,000 dead in the capital. Sulla eventually quits being Dictator and dies a year or so later. This era was the childhood of Cicero, Cato the Younger and Julius Caesar, who very nearly became Sulla's victim.
    • The Spartacus Rebellion. In 73 BC, a rebellion broke out in a gladiatorial school in Capua, resulting in about 70 gladiators escaping. The gladiators, led on by a certain Spartacus, defeated an army detachment sent to bring them in, and, by systematically freeing other slaves, ignited a general slave rebellion, also known as the Third Servile War. At the height of the rebellion, a multitude of 120,000 former slaves — men, women and children — marched through Italy, supplying itself by plunder. After a series of spectacular victories for the rebels, fortunes changed and in 71 BC, the slaves were defeated in a Last Stand at Rhegium in Calabria by legions under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus. Some 6,000 survivors were crucified along the Appian Road, while Spartacus' body was never identified.
    • The Catilinarian Conspiracy (63 BCE): One of the greatest and most influential political spectacles of its time and afterwards. Cicero unearths a conspiracy to destroy the Republic, with the enemy being Catilina. The latter tries to plot an attack on Rome and several of its senators and Cicero is granted Emergency Authority to summarily execute without trial several suspects, while Catiline dies in battle. This incident increases the polarization and paranoia in the political and senate class of Rome.
    • The First and Second Triumvirates (59 BCE - 31 BCE): The real end of the Republic. The Gallic Wars, Gaius Julius Caesar's consulship, and pretty much the bulk of his career. It ends with him crossing the Rubicon, defeating formerly ally (and son-in-law) Pompey in Civil War at Pharsalia, his expedition to Egypt where he romances Cleopatra VII, his assassination in 44 BCE, the decade long civil wars that followed, the struggle between Octavian and Mark Anthony, ending with the former's victory at Actium in 31 BCE, and the rise of Octavian as Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

See also The Roman Empire, its successor state. For the Roman Army specifically, see The Glory That Was Rome. See also the following pages of eminent figures of the Roman Republic:

Trope Namer for:

  • The Republic (from res publica, "[government is a] public affair")

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Alternative Calendar: The Julian Calendar we use today with modification by Pope Gregorius is in fact the alternative to the original calendar of the Republic, which dated itself AUC (Ab Urbe Condita, from the Founding of the City). The calendar was based on lunar cycles and was notoriously impractical, and Caesar after consulting with Egyptian astronomers, helped to devise the more practical one we use today.
  • Bookends: Writers of historical fiction and non-fiction never fail to point out that the Republic was founded by a man named Lucius Brutus who deposed a tyrant and even executed his own children for betraying the newly formed Republic and it ended with his supposed descendant, Marcus Junius Brutus claiming to have ruefully killed a man who was a father-figure to him, out of fears that he would betray the Republic and become a King.
  • Cincinnatus: The Trope Namer is the famous Dictator Lucius Quinctius or Quintius Cincinnatus. The only source for him is in Livy and historians more or less see him as a conservative Propaganda Hero (a bit like Chapaev) about civic virtue since according to the story his main goal was opposing rights of plebians for equality before the law, and his storied dictatorship was to put down a revolt by the plebes.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: The legends surrounding the foundation of Rome, either Romans or other outlaw bands.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: The Romans claimed to despise barbarians (anyone not Roman: other Italians, Gauls, Germans, Greeks, Carthaginians, Persians) but in practice were gluttons for the culture of conquered peoples, albeit to an extent:
    • They had some liking and appreciation for Carthaginian culture, the reverse-engineered a Carthaginian trireme to make their own navy. And in the time of the third and final Punic war, one of the explicit orders given was to preserve a book on Agriculture from Mago, an encyclopedia of the ancient world that the Romans wanted a copy of for their own work.
    • Greece was the big discovery for them. Hellenistic culture became all the rage, and Roman aristocrats started reading up and patronizing Greek oratory and culture. Scipio Africanus and his circle were major players in bringing Greek culture to Rome. This became significant enough that Cato the Elder repeatedly condemned the Greek fad and argued for pure Latin but even he sent his son to study Greek and apparently modeled his own attempt to write a history on Latin on Greek works, all to surpass it of course. Cicero and later, Caesar followed and plays by Menander and Plautus were highly popular in the Republican era.
    • On the other hand some Greeks started to like Rome. Polybius in his Histories wrote about how Rome quickly became the major power of the Mediterranean, surpassing the Hellenophone. He was quite fascinated with Rome's Republican government which he saw as the true reason for their success and the main reason why Greek city-states failed. A lot of the best historians and writers in Rome, during and after the Republic, were Greek (Polybius, Plutarch, Appian).
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Many Roman-era fiction, especially those set in the Empire, regard the Republic as Glory Days and works like Gladiator, IClaudius cultivate sympathy for its characters by having them talk about "restoring the Republic".
    • The wholesale corruption of the later Republic, the brutal crackdown of slave uprisings, the series of consquests (which began during the Republic) and the opposition of the Optimates to any reforms goes unmentioned in this Nostalgia Filter
    • This has as much to do with the modern day conception of the Republic as a fair, just, democratic, and peaceful system of government. The Roman Republic was anything but, being an oligarchical, slave-owning, elite-controlled, and extremely violent system of government by its necessary downfall in the 1st century BC.
    • The Romans themselves internalized this to the extent that it became part of their propaganda. They had contempt for all kings, feeling superior over their neighbors and refusing to consider any state with a crown a legitimate ruler, and their soldiers, generals, senators felt that any of them was greater than any king, and it was their justification to expand, grab and take over territory. The word "rex" or "regnum" was such an insult that not even the most autocratic and hereditary of the Emperors used the word. And it was the reason behind such Serial Numbers Filed Off titles as Imperator and Princeps (from which we derive Emperor and Prince).
  • Great Big Book of Everything: Polybius' Histories and Livy's Ab Urbe Condita are the sources for most of the history of the Republic dating to the era before the First Century.
  • Historical Domain Character: Caesar, Cato, Cicero, Pompey, Mark Antony, Octavian, Sulla, Marius, Catilina, Scipio Africanus and the enemies of Rome, Hannibal Barca and Spartacus, appear in literature and works of art centuries after they walked the earth.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Happened to quite a few eminent Republicans:
    • Cincinnatus is a major one, and most historians consider Livy's account as a little too good to be true. He was the Trope Codifier for constitutional responsibility and for peaceful transition of power, cited as a hero by Washington. Yet Livy's own account notes that he was a remarkably aristocratic man, opposed to any rights by plebeians and earned his reputation for putting down one uprising.
    • From the late Republican era, Cato the Younger became the major one. He was a model for incorruptibility to the extent that Maximilien Robespierre considered him his role model, even if his politics was way on Cato's left. The Roman poet Lucan in his poem Pharsalia famously made Cato the hero of an epic poem. Modern historians feel that Cato's intransigence shares much of the blame for the decay of Republican institutions. They also question his courage, noting that he would often go after Pompey's henchmen for profiting of Sulla's proscriptions but never go after Pompey or Crassus themselves, that he often seemed more interested in being a Spanner in the Works to Caesar out of some personal grudge rather than any true principles, citing Caesar's unconstitutional alliance with Pompey, where he and the senate nominated him to a Consul with Emergency Authority when that was an elected post. The fact that he was an influence on the Confederate Lost Cause myth also calls his influence into question.
    • Marcus Junius Brutus is often invoked as "the last of the Republicans" and one of the last great Romans. A man of principled Republican virtue burdened by Conflicting Loyalty and a tragic hero who failed to save the Republic. The real Brutus was according to Cicero a corrupt Loan Shark who extorted the poor with exorbitant interest rates, which considering Cicero's own attitudes to the poor, is saying a lot. Likewise, the "Liberators" during the Civil War cast coins with Brutus' likeness on it, glorifying their assassination with the words Ides of March coated with daggers and a Pileus (a hat worn by freed slaves symbolizing liberty) which regardless of Brutus' motives, does not support someone who was as modest, remorseful and reluctant the way William Shakespeare wrote him. Likewise, putting the likeness of a living Roman on a coin is a mark of autocracy, an illegal action which Pompey and Julius Caesar did, which suggests that Brutus was more or less angling to be a strongman of some kind or another, and it's only his defeat and death that made him "Republican".
    • Spartacus has received this almost unanimously since The Enlightenment. Karl Marx called him the greatest hero of the Ancient World, and he's celebrated for being a remarkably prodigious general leading a Slave Liberation, a cause most people today wholeheartedly support. Of course, the only sources we have are Romans, who naturally won't be too keen on taking his side, but there's no evidence that Spartacus had goals for general abolition, or that he was seeking a revolution, which in any case doesn't mean his actions aren't Slave Liberation or can't be seen as revolutionary (the many crucifixions overseen by Crassus certainly proves how the Romans saw it). It's also pointed out that Spartacus' servile army was largely composed of rural slaves and when they sacked towns, they tended to kill urban slaves and attracted little support from them, which while taking nothing away from his exceptional story, does complicate the picture a little bit, and accounts for his overall failure.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Catilina got this thanks to Cicero. He was a corrupt patrician who participated in Sulla's purges, . However there is serious debate if Catilina really was planning to overthrow the state in the manner Cicero framed it, or if the threat was serious enough to justify Emergency Authority and summary execution without trial. Sallust, who was a populare, criticized Catilina but he noted that he did have some good virtues and genuine grievances, and some see Cicero, Cato and other optimates making a scapegoat of Catilina to intimidate reformists and tarnish the populares by association.
  • Hit So Hard, the Calendar Felt It: Most Romans dated years by the tenure of the Consuls who were in office. People would say "I was born in the Consulship of X and Y". This was part of the reason why becoming Consul was such a big deal, because it guaranteed you immortality, because your term in office didn't just go on the record or honour roll, it became a cultural and historical milestone.
    • This also crept into some jokes. One wag, whose name has been lost to history, referred to two years of Julius Caesar's consulship—59 BC (the first) and 48 BC (the second) as "the year Julius and Caesar were consuls" because Caesar's co-consul (Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus and Publius Servilius Isauricus, respectively if anyone's curious) were such complete non-entities. To be fair, Bibulus was the only one who made an active effort to oppose Caesar: Isauricus, up until Caesar's death, was a loyal puppet.
  • Mission Creep: Modern historical takes on the Republic (namely Coleen McCullough's works) usually invoke this as the true cause for the downfall of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire, rather than the more older (and still commonly found) theories (i.e. decline in political virtue, rise of ambitious men, and flouting of norms) that are more symptoms than causes:
    • Rome's Republican institutions and civic culture was simply not up to the mark in governing a large swathe of land, and the sudden transformation of Rome, from regional power to Mediterranean superpower in the Punic Wars, created a series of problems that Rome's political elite and institutions were unprepared, unwilling, and incapable of dealing with. For example, the wars led to a huge number of land, and a great number of slaves to enter into the property of a few wealthy patricians who bought up land that was intended to be sorted to and tended by Roman freedmen. The debate on how to deal with this land, and the failure to resolve it led to the Gracchian crisis which led to a polarization in Rome's patrician elite.
    • The failure to effectively reward and honour Rome's fighting men, meant that many of them were dependent on generals to pay for them and look after their interests. The senate's refusal to heed their complaints led to greater weight to fall on the office of the tribunes creating a major crisis. This problem began in the Punic Wars itself, where Scipio Africanus had to go under the Senate to pay some of his men, and built a large clientele of soldiers who were dependent on him rather than the Roman patrician class. This fear of the power of the generals led the Senate to jealously guard important commands in Rome's various theaters, since each command, and potential victory, meant a rise in favour and glory of the generals. The failure to extend Roman citizenship to other Italic cities as suggested by the Gracchi and even some optimates led to the Socii Wars, and the Socii Wars in turn led to the Marius and Sulla wars, where two generals out of personal grudges and bitterness resented the fact that either one of them, and their respective faction, would get the prestigious command against King Mithradates.
  • Momma's Boy: Motherhood was a big part of Roman culture and many famous mothers of Romans were celebrated for their loving and nurturing nature, and many stories of mothers defending and protecting their children. It was considered right for Roman men to love and honor their mothers. Later authors, have noted startling similarities between this and the Virgin Mary motif in Christianity, seeing the latter as a Hijacked by Jesus take on this pre-existing mentality. Other historians note that the drastic contrast between the Republican cult of motherhood with that of the Empire (where Livia and Aggrippina are described as Vicariously Ambitious evil matriarchs):
    • Shakespeare's Coriolanus actually depicts this quite accurately. Volumnia encourages Coriolanus' ambitions and is prized and celebrated for her virtue even as her son becomes a renegade. In the end, Volumnia tells her son to stand down and give up his rebellion against the Republic, which he obeys and the mother is celebrated as a hero of the city and an embodiment of its virtues. Volumnia wasn't there in Plutarch's account of Coriolanus (which is what Shakespeare used as a source) but the way he framed her is quite similar to other narratives in Plutarch and other Latin works available in Elizabethan chapbooks that might have inspired her characterization.
    • Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, was a famous and celebrated socialite in her era, and so popular in her own right, that a Ptolemaic King proposed to her, which she refused. She had a loving marriage with Tiberius Gracchus the Elder and gave birth to 12 children (which was such a huge deal that her own son Gaius, as per Plutarch, proudly boasted it as her accomplishment, which is fitting since childbirth was the number one killer of most women in the ancient world). Her children invoked Cornelia's chastity and virtue when appealing to people. When she died, long after her famous sons were killed, a statue was erected in her honour. Cicero's letters discuss her long afterwards which mentions her surviving letters that were apparently published and studied for its rhetorical qualities. The only things that survive is a disputed fragment by Cornelius Nepos' Latin biographers which is not seen as entirely authentic but it's indicative of how popular she was.
    • Roman authors also saw Aurelia Cotta as The Mentor to her son Julius Caesar, since his father was mostly absent in his childhood, and the former spiritedly defended her headstrong son from the proscriptions of Sulla Felix.
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • Part of the founding myth of Rome and a subject of one of Jacques-Louis David's paintings. Lucius Brutus the man who overthrew Tarquin and helped found the Republic ordered the deaths of his own sons when it was revealed that they joined the royalist faction to bring the Tarquins back. To the Romans, this was a glorious action to celebrate how civic virtue and patriotism triumphed family bonds. More modern writers and historians, might see it, and the Romans uncritical adulation of the same, as an example of ideological fanaticism.
    • Another darker story in Livy is that of Verginia. 10 years after the founding of the Republic, the plebes demanded a written constitution (known as the Tables of Rome) that was supposed to be framed by the Decemvirs. Verginia was the daughter of a plebe and engaged to an ex-Tribune, but a corrupt oligarch lusted after her and wanted her as his concubine (more or less a proto-Droit du Seigneur with Patrician-Plebeian). After trying and failing to appeal to the law and the court to save her, her father finally killed her to spare her the fate of being raped and this triggers a mass uprising. Livy notes that the story is similar to Rape of Lucrece.
  • One-Steve Limit: Historical Fiction and actual historical accounts can be baffling because of how often names like Gaius, Marcus, Lucius, Quintus, Quintillus, and others keep repeating again and again. Since family honor and reputation was all, names and family names were Serious Business so people kept using certain well known names.
    • Historians use conventions such as Cato the Elder and Cato the Younger, Tiberius Gracchus the Elder, and Younger to differentiate between names while also using Anachronism Stew. For instance, in his early career, Octavian after being nominated Caesar's heir, called himself Gaius Julius Caesar as per the adoption conventions and it was as Caesar that he was declared Princeps and recieved Augustus, and was referred as such by Mark Antony. This is too much even for the likes of academic historians like Sir Ronald Syme, let alone most period films that call him Octavian and/or Augustus.
    • The Romans themselves helped us by giving titles and nicknames to each other. Cato the Elder was called Cato Censorius or Cato Sapiens, Marcus Tullius was given the nickname Cicero (which means bean). Lucius Cornelius Sulla earned the name Felix referring either to his fortune. Likewise Publius Claudius Pulcher helpfully renamed himself Publius Clodius Pulcher to sound more plebian.note 
  • Raised by Wolves: The Founders of Rome were Feral Child mothered by a wolf.
  • Start My Own: Groups which rebelled against the Republic often sought to establish counter-institutions that still based itself on the Republican organization and symbols:
    • During the Socii War, the various Italian tribes (of whom the Samnites, Rome's old enemy was the chief) called themselves Italia (the earliest instance of Italy as a political entity and state) and established a capital called Italica. They printed their own coinage, which shows a Bull (a Southern Italian heraldic symbol)note  goring a wolf (guess who?). Their coinage, and their institutions were based on Rome as was some of their army. They knew Rome quite well having been allies during the Punic Wars but feeling stiffed at Roman corruption.
    • Quintus Sertorius, a Marian General had earned his spurs as a cunning infiltrator who could blend in the Gallic and Germanic tribes and also learnt their languages. Later he served alongside Marius and Cinna after they took over the city after Sulla's First March on Rome. When Sulla returned, angry and bloodier than ever, Sertorius fled back to Gaul and later Hispania where he managed to be the biggest and longest-lasting holdout against the Republic, forming a rival state in Hispania formed by him, other generals, local tribes that included among other things its own public school and other infrastructures. He was called "the Roman Hannibal". He was more or less making his own Roman Republic in the wild, complete with its own slave revolts and brutal suppression of the same. Sertorius repelled all of Sulla's generals and even Pompey, finally being assassinated by his own associates at a banquet, which Pompey "claimed" as his victory.

Works produced during this time period:


Works about or including the Roman Republic include:

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     Comics Books 
  • Asterix: Takes place during Julius Caesar's era. Doesn't prevent the comics from having an anachronistic Imperial-looking city of Rome, with the Colosseum most notoriously.
  • Suske en Wiske: In De Nerveuze Nerviërs the cast travels to Belgium around the time Caesar conquered the regions. They battle alongside the Belgian tribe the Nerva against Roman troops. In Hannibal the cast travels to the time when Hannibal Barca crossed the Alps.

     Films — Live-Action 

     Live-Action TV 

  • Lays of Ancient Rome by Sir Thomas Macaulay: A collection of poems about The Republic. They are imagined to be what early Roman literature would have sounded like if much of it hadn't been lost (and it had been written in 19th century English, rather than Latin.)
  • In Over the Wine-Dark Sea there are a few references to Rome, as well as a sea-fight with a Roman trireme. But it is otherwise agreed that it was one of those Barbarian cities "that would never amount to anything.".
  • Scipio Africanus: The Man Who Defeated Hannibal by Ross Leckie: A fictional autobiography of Scipio, the general who commanded in the Second Punic War and was possibly Rome's greatest general ever.
  • Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series.
  • As if the real Roman Republic wasn't badass enough, John Maddox Roberts' Alternate History Hannibal's Children has them take a level or three in reaction to being exiled north of the Alps. When they come back one hundred years later, a Greek thinks that the sound of Roman laughter reminds him of swords clashing against shields. They don't swagger or bully; they're too badass for that. In one battle, an "inexperienced" Roman army under a "second-rate" general faces a veteran mercenary force twice their size and led by Carthage's best general. The Romans are wiped out — but the Carthaginian army is wrecked, with two-thirds of its troops killed outright, and most of the rest badly battered.
  • Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series, chronicles the era from Marius and Sulla's friendship to the Battle of Actium. Notably for taking a pro-populares view, and taking much inspiration from Sir Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution.
  • David Drake's Ranks of Bronze has intergalactic traders buying a legion of Roman soldiers (the survivors of Carrhae) and using them as muscle against primitive civilisations.
  • Plutarch's Parallel Lives is one of the most famous and influential secondary sources for the Republican Era. It's biographical essays on figures like Cato the Elder, the Gracchi, Cato the Younger, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Brutus, Cicero, Caesar, Mark Antony has greatly defined the Pop-Cultural Osmosis of Ancient Grome.
  • Lucan's Pharsalia, an epic poem telling the Roman Civil Wars. The poem's author was a critic of Nero and finally fell victim to one of the Emperor's purges. As such the work, attacks Nero indirectly by attacking his ancestor, Julius Caesar and glorifying Cato and Pompey at the titular Battle of Pharsalia. The famous phrase, "the losing cause pleased Cato" gave the name to the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" and is emblazoned on the memorial of the Confederate Cemetery at Arlington.
  • Robert Harris' Imperium trilogy, chronicling the life of the famous Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Republic of Rome is a board game designed for people who consider Diplomacy to be too tame. In it, players assume control of senatorial factions jockeying for influence and prestige in the Senate and, on occasion, raising a legion or ten to fight the enemies of the Republic.
  • One of five campaign settings released for SHASN is "Fall of the Republic: Rome 40 BCE". As the title implies, it focuses on the political turmoil and issues that plagued the Roman Republic around 40 BCE, i.e. after Caesar's assassination but before the Second Triumvirate fell apart.

  • Dan Carlin's Hardcore History has had many episodes covering popular topics from the Republic; such as the Punic Wars, it's gradual collapse into the Empire, and Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars.
  • Mike Duncan's The History of Rome details the history of Rome from the legendary founding by Romulus to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer in 476. Naturally, Duncan details the history of the Republic—and by his own admission, his favorite part of Roman history is the mid-to-late Republican era, particularly the period before the end of the Punic Wars.


     Video Games 

     Web Animation 
  • Extra Credits tackles the Republican Era in Extra History.
    • The Second Punic War is covered in its entirety from Hannibal's march through the Alps, his early victories, Fabian Cunctator's tactics, and Scipio's final victories.
    • The Brothers Gracchi is the 2016 series that tackles Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus' attempts to bring important reforms in the Republic only to be met by opposition that ultimately tore the fabric of the Republic.

    Web Video