Classics in the Classroom: Late Republic Overview
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Classics in the Classroom: Late Republic Overview


In this video we’re going to explore the Late
Republic and what I want to offer today is an overview of the period and in fact what
we mean when we talk about a period in history. You might have heard of the term periodisation
and that’s a term that refers to how historians like to break up history into more digestible
chunks or periods. This is a tool of historical analysis. It’s not necessarily obviously how
the Romans for example experienced history themselves but it helps us understand what’s
happening over the course of Roman history and in this instance the Roman Republic. And
the period that you’re currently studying is often referred to as the Late Roman Republic.
What does that actually mean? When and what is the Late Roman Republic? This is usually a period that refers to the
mid-2nd century BC until the end of the first Century BC. So in order to help us understand what and
when the Late Roman Republic was, I’d like us to actually start by thinking about its
end, which might seem counter-intuitive but this helps us understand as historians what
happened in the period. Where is it moving towards? Because the Late Republic is often
characterised by scholarship as a period of crisis. Of upheaval. Of decline. And scholars
characterise this whole period from the 2nd century BC to the first century AD as one
of crisis – this movement from stability to collapse. So by thinking about the end it
helps us as historians think about what questions we want to ask of the material and the period? An historian who deals with the issues of
periodisation quite nicely and succinctly is a modern scholar called Harriet Flower
and I’d like just to provide you with a quote from her work, called Roman Republics. ‘Our
whole picture of what Republican politics consists of is shaped by when and how we think
it came to an end. By our sense of failure, whether deserved or tragic, overdue or sudden
and unexpected, its ending contributes to a definition of its essential characteristics
as they had evolved over so many generations. The parameters we choose in our definition
of Republican failure inevitably determine which actors take part in the drama and under
which varied historical conditions. The end of the Republic has cast a long shadow over
what came before and has encouraged various teleological ways of talking about earlier
Roman politics’. Harriet Flower’s work rejects the idea of
one single monumental Republic. And scholars had traditionally thought there is an early,
a mid, and the late Republic. She however breaks it up into actually six Republics.
Now, her decisions about when these six Republics occurred are not necessarily arbitrary but
they are based on her own historical analysis about which points in history she thinks are
most important. So it’s not to say that you should necessarily follow her periodisation
but what it illustrates is the importance of historical analysis and how we view the
period. What points in history do we think are the most important in trying to define
a period and the questions we ask of it? However whilst Flower’s six Republics is a
useful historical tool of analysis it doesn’t necessarily get at the way the Romans themselves
viewed the Republic. Indeed, did they view it as a series of Republics, a one continuous
monolithic Republic? Did they see a point at which things started to decline? This is
where we can turn to our sources and we get two quite similar but slightly different viewpoints
from two historians – the Roman historian Sallust who was writing during the triumviral
period – so in the 30s BC which is within the period you’re studying and a later Roman
writer called Appian, who wrote under the Empire. And Sallust saw the Fall of Carthage
in 146BC as a turning point. At a point at which Rome turns in itself and has no external
rivals with which to contend. And I’d just like to read his passage about this: ‘For before the destruction of Carthage, the
people and the Senate of Rome together governed the Republic peacefully and with moderation.
There was no strife amongst the citizens, either for glory or for power. Fear of the
enemy preserved the good morals of the State’. So for Sallust, the loss of a strong external
opponent meant that the Romans lost their strong moral character and began to fight
and compete amongst themselves for power. And this for him was the decline. And often
obviously scholars see the beginning of the late Republic with the Fall of Carthage. For
Appian however, the internal degradation of the Republic begins a few years later but
still within the same period. For Appian, it comes in 133BC with the Tribune Tiberius
Gracchus and I’d like now to read the extract from his history: ‘The sword was never carried in the assembly
and there was no civil butchery until Tiberius Gracchus while serving as Tribune and brining
forward new laws was the first to fall a victim to internal commotion. And with him many others
who were crowded together at the capital round the temple were also slain. Sedition did not
end with this abominable deed’. So what we see from both Sallust as a late
Republican author and Appian, an imperial author is that there is some sort of consensus
as to the point in time at which the Roman Republic starts the decline or at least turn
in on itself as opposed to being a strong external power in the Mediterranean. And this
is the period of the late Republic beginning in the 2nd century BC, the period that you’re
studying, a period defined by crisis and breakdown.

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