The Problems of Expansion
While Rome was fighting the Punic Wars in the west, its
forces were also engaged in the east. Between 230 BC and
130 BC, Rome brought the entire eastern Mediterranean area
under its influence. As a result of this conquest, Romans
began referring to the Mediterranean as mare nostrum— "our
sea." Because Rome now controlled a vast area, the
republic and its government had to change. It remained
a republic, but the Senate gained almost complete control
over the army and foreign policy. The nobles gained even
The Romans loosely governed the new territories, called
provinces. They did not allow the people of the provinces
to become citizens, nor did they make them allies. Instead,
the Romans simply made the people of each province subjects
of Rome . Each province was administered by a governor
who was backed by the power of the Roman army. Some provincial
governors took bribes and paid little, if any, attention
to the needs of the people. In addition, tax collectors
tried to squeeze as much money as they could from the provinces.
Rich, Poor, and Slavery
The Romans also had problems at home. The Roman farmer-soldiers
who returned from the Punic Wars were sickened to find
their livestock killed, their homes in ruins, and their
olive groves or vineyards uprooted. The farmers did not
have enough money to restore their farms and thus had little
choice but to sell the land to wealthy aristocrats.
Many of the farmers who lost their land moved to the
cities. Not all of them could find jobs there, however,
and they depended on the government for food. In contrast,
trade within Rome 's vast empire had created a class of
business people and landowners called equites (EK-wuh-teez).
They had great wealth and political influence. Within the
republic, the gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless,
continued to grow.
As time passed, Rome became dependent on the provinces
for grain, its chief food. Turning agriculture into a profitable
business, the aristocrats created large estates called latifundia (LA-tuh-FUHN-dee-uh)
that provided grain, sheep, olives, and fruits for urban
markets. Labor for the latifundia was cheap because
Rome 's conquests brought thousands of captives and prisoners
of war to work as slaves. By 100 BC, slaves formed about
30 percent of Rome 's people.
As slave labor replaced paid labor, thousands of small
farmers and rural workers poured into the cities seeking
employment. Jobs, however, were not readily available,
and the new arrivals gradually formed into a class of urban,
landless poor. Angry and without hope, the urban poor eked
out a meager living and supported any politician who promised "bread
and circuses," cheap food and free amusements.
It became increasingly obvious that the Roman Republic
was unable to meet these enormous challenges. Brave
leaders attempted to reform the government, but the days
of the republic were numbered.
Two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius (GAY-uhs) Gracchus (GRAK-uhs),
saw the need for reform. Together the brothers were known
as the Gracchi (GRAK-ee) . They were the sons of a famous
patrician father, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, twice consul
and censor, and a patrician mother, Cornelia, the daughter
of the legendary war hero Scipio Africanus the Elder who
had defeated Hannibal during the Second Punic War.
Together the Gracchus brothers ruled Rome during the
period of roughly 133 to 121 BC, a time just after Rome
had endured nearly a century of repeated wars of conquest. The
Roman machinery of government, directed by the patrician
Senate, had become increasingly ineffective in dealing
with its overseas dominion and in dealing with the problems
that gaining a territorial empire had caused at home.
Tiberius was elected tribune in 133 BC. He was deeply
troubled by the fate of the farmer-soldiers who lost their
land. He proposed limiting the size of the latifundia and
distributing land to the poor. Although these suggested
land reforms made him popular with the common people, they
angered and frightened many senators. The Senate, made
up of the wealthiest Roman patricians, opposed the reforms
of Tiberius. A mob of senators and their supporters clubbed
Tiberius and hundreds of his followers to death.
Gaius was elected tribune in 123 BC and again in 122
BC. He used public funds to buy grain, which was then sold
to the poor at low prices. This and other acts outraged
the senators, who sought to cancel some of the laws Gaius
had passed. Ten years after the murder of Tiberius, Gaius
and many of his supporters were killed in a riot. The deaths
of the Gracchi marked a turning point in Roman history.
From this point on, violence replaced respect for the law
as the primary tool of politics. Army leaders came to power
in Rome . The period of violence that was introduced by
the combination of the Gracchi followers and the power-hungry
senators and aristocrats helped to bring an end to the
Roman Republican system of government.
The Social War
During this period, Rome 's relationship with its allies
throughout the Italian Peninsula entered a crisis. Citizens
of the Italian cities had served in the Roman army and
had endured much hardship in defense of Rome during the
Punic Wars. The ruling groups of these cities wanted to
share in the benefits of Rome 's growing power. Above all,
they wanted the right to hold public offices in the Roman
government, and they called for Roman citizenship. The
Senate, however, sought to maintain its hold on power and
stubbornly resisted the allies’ demands.
Finally, in 91 BC, the allies rebelled. The war that
followed was called the Social War, from the Latin word socius,
meaning "ally.” Many of the allied cities' troops
had served with the legions and were as well trained and
disciplined as the Romans themselves. Thus, the war that
followed was one of the bloodiest in Rome 's history. Ultimately,
Rome won. The Senate, however, finally agreed to the allies'
calls for citizenship and political participation. With
this decision, people throughout Italy began to view themselves
as Romans, and the Roman state grew to include the entire
Generals and Rebels
Gaius Marius, a Roman general who was elected consul
in 107 BC, brought major changes to the Roman political
scene. Marius became a consul after saving Rome from attack
by Germanic tribes. Because the dwindling number of small
farmers had made a citizen army (made up of landowners)
obsolete, Marius turned to the unemployed urban poor to
build a new army. Unlike the citizen soldiers, Marius's
recruits were paid, given uniforms and equipment, and were
promised land when they had finished their military obligation.
As a result of Marius's action, Rome for the first time
had a professional army in which soldiers owed allegiance
to their commander, not to the Republic.
To advance their political ambitions, rival military
and political leaders formed their own separate armies
and used them against each other. From 88 BC to 82 BC,
Marius and a rival general named Sulla fought for control
of Rome .
In 88 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla was elected consul. After
his term expired, he wanted to take a military command
that promised to gain him great fame and fortune. His enemies
in Rome , led by Marius, tried to prevent him from doing
so. Sulla responded by marching on Rome , an action that
led to civil war. Sulla finally drove Marius into exile,
and from 82 BC to 79 BC Sulla ruled as dictator. Sulla
tried to restore power to the Senate, enlarging it by 300
members and giving it complete control over the government.
Uprisings lead to Stronger Leaders
As the gap between rich and poor steadily widened, upper-class
Romans lived with the constant danger of revolts. To quell
mounting unrest, Rome stationed legions in most provinces.
Even Italy was not safe from uprisings. From 73 BC to 71
BC, an army of 70,000 slaves led by the slave Spartacus
plundered the Italian countryside in an effort to win freedom.
With great difficulty, the Roman legion of a general named
Pompey finally crushed the uprising and killed about 6,000
of Spartacus's followers, crucifying them along the Appian
Way (Rome’s most famous road).
Putting down the many revolts cost Rome troops and money
and placed a strain on its resources. It also led people
to allow military leaders to become increasingly powerful
in hopes that peace and order could be achieved. More and
more, however, any army commander with loyal troops could
force the Senate to do his bidding. This practice of using
the army to gain political power was copied by a rising
young politician named Julius Caesar.