A brief history of the Roman Republic

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/luna-colosseum-rome-night-2224974/
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/luna-colosseum-rome-night-2224974/

Ever since the Romans expelled their last king in 509 BC, it became a republic. What made a republic different to having a king, is that no single person held all of the power in society. Instead of having a king that held power for life, in the republic, the people voted on who held the power, and this was only for a period of one year. Every year, the people would vote for new people to share power.

 

Also, all the power and authority that their kings used to have was shared between multiple people, called magistrates. That way, the Romans hoped that there would never again be kings in Rome. The system of voting and shared power in Rome is known as the Roman Republic. 

A Roman magistrate. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/italy-rome-court-cicero-statue-2510287/
A Roman magistrate. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/italy-rome-court-cicero-statue-2510287/

Roman social classes

In ancient Rome, citizens were divided into two groups, known as the patricians and the plebeians. Patricians were richest families in Rome and were usually the people who were voted into the political positions in the republic. On the other hand, the plebians were the poorer citizens of Rome, but were usually the people who got to vote during the elections. There were always more plebeians in Rome than there were patricians. Even though the patricians were richer, they needed the plebeians to vote for them. 

 

At one point in the early history of Rome, the plebeians became angry that the patricians were the only ones who could be voted into the magistracies. The plebeians threatened to leave Rome entirely. To stop this from happening, the patricians created a new government position, known as the plebeian tribune, that only plebeians could be voted into. 

A picture of the Forum in Rome where the political conflicts took place. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/rome-italy-antique-roman-forum-953367/
A picture of the Forum in Rome where the political conflicts took place. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/rome-italy-antique-roman-forum-953367/

The magistracies

Here is a list of the magistracies that Romans could be voted into every year.

 

Consul

The consulship was the most powerful position in the Roman Republic. As a result, two consuls were elected every year to ensure that no single person had this power. Consuls had the power to raise and lead armies.

 

Praetor

Six to eight people were elected as praetors every year. A praetor acted as a judge to make sure that people followed the laws of Rome.

 

Aedile

Aediles oversaw the day-to-day running of the city of Rome. They looked after the temples, repaired public buildings, organised entertainment and festivals, and were responsible for ensuring the citizens had enough water and food in the markets.

 

Quaestor

Around twenty people every year could be elected as quaestors. A quaestor worked as an assistant for the other roles in the republic, and they did a lot of the administrative tasks. They could be assigned duties in Rome or as assistants to governors in the provinces. Also, questors were responsible for carrying out the entertainments arranged by the aediles.

 

Plebeian Tribune

As mentioned above, only plebeians could be voted into this role. It was the tribune's responsibility to make sure that the plebeians were treated fairly. If the tribunes thought that a particular law was unfair, they had the power to cancel it entirely. 


The Senate

The magistracies were not the only people with power in the Roman republic. There was a larger group of people, known as the Senate, which oversaw the yearly elections and created laws for the Romans to follow. The Senate was made up of senators. Senators were people who had held one of the magistracies during their life and were now considered to be the most experienced politicians in Rome. Once a person had completed their one-year term as a magistrate, they entered the Senate and remained there for the rest of their lives. Since the senators were the most experienced people in Rome, they gave advice to the consuls. 

A picture of the ruins of the Roman Forum, with the Senate house still standing to the left. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/italy-rome-building-antique-1322880/
A picture of the ruins of the Roman Forum, with the Senate house still standing to the left. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/italy-rome-building-antique-1322880/

The end of the republican system

Ancient Rome followed the republican system of government from 509 BC until 27 BC, when it turned into an empire. In the empire, an emperor had supreme power over all of the magistrates. Instead of being voted into the position, emperors held their role until they died. Essentially, emperors were just like kings.