Rome after the Punic Wars (After 146 B.C.)

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Roman Republic after it absorbed Carthage, Greece and Macedonia in the mid 2nd century BC

Rome’s conquests in Africa, in Spain, in Greece, and in Asia Minor during the Punic Wars period (264-146 B.C.) was arguably the most heroic period of Rome’s history and made it a world power. New provinces were brought under its authority and it became the greatest power of the world. What was the the effect of these conquests upon the character of the Roman people, government, and civilization. Many of these effects were no doubt very bad. By their conquests the Romans came to be ambitious, to love power for its own sake, and to be oppressive to their conquered subjects. By plundering foreign countries, they also came to be avaricious, to love wealth more than honor, to indulge in luxury, and to despise the simplicity of their fathers. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

But still it was the conquests that made Rome the great power that she was. By bringing foreign nations under her sway, she was obliged to control them, and to create a system of law by which they could be governed. In spite of all its faults, her government was the most successful that had ever existed up to this time. It was the way in which Rome secured her conquests that showed the real character of the Roman people. The chief effect of the conquests was to transform Rome from the greatest conquering people of the world, to the greatest governing people of the world. \~\

The oldest Roman government was based upon the patrician class. We have already seen how the separation between the patricians and the plebeians was gradually broken down. The old patrician aristocracy had passed away, and Rome had become, in theory, a democratic republic. Everyone who was enrolled in the thirty-five tribes was a full Roman citizen, and had a share in the government. But we must remember that not all the persons who were under the Roman authority were full Roman citizens. The inhabitants of the Latin colonies were not full Roman citizens. They could not hold office, and only under certain conditions could they vote. The Italian allies were not citizens at all, and could neither vote nor hold office. And now the conquests had added millions of people to those who were not citizens. The Roman world was, in fact, governed by the comparatively few people who lived in and about the city of Rome. But even within this class of citizens at Rome, there had gradually grown up a smaller body of persons, who became the real holders of political power. This small body formed a new nobility—the optimates. All who had held the office of consul, praetor, or curule aedile—that is, a “curule office”—were regarded as nobles (nobiles), and their families were distinguished by the right of setting up the ancestral images in their homes (ius imaginis). Any citizen might, it is true, be elected to the curule offices; but the noble families were able, by their wealth, to influence the elections, so as practically to retain these offices in their own hands. \~\

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Roman Government in the 2nd Century B.C.

The Romans had an unwritten constitution. Starting in the third century B.C., the Senate was the most powerful political body in Rome and it stayed that way for 150 years until Caesar seized control in 48B.C. and established himself as a dictatorial emperor, a trend that continued until Rome fell.

Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.) wrote in “History” Book 6: “The three kinds of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, were all found united in the commonwealth of Rome. And so even was the balance between them all, and so regular the administration that resulted from their union, that it was no easy thing to determine with assurance, whether the entire state was to be estimated an aristocracy, a democracy, or a monarchy. For if they turned their view upon the power of the consuls, the government appeared to be purely monarchical and regal. If, again, the authority of the senate was considered, it then seemed to wear the form of aristocracy. And, lastly, if regard was to be had to the share which the people possessed in the administration of affairs, it could then scarcely fail to be denominated a popular state. The several powers that were appropriated to each of these distinct branches of the constitution at the time of which we are speaking, and which, with very little variation, are even still preserved. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“While each of these separate parts is enabled either to assist or obstruct the rest, the government, by the apt contexture of them all in the general frame, is so well secured against every accident, that it seems scarcely possible to invent a more perfect system. For when the dread of any common danger, that threatens from abroad, constrains all the orders of the state to unite together, and co-operate with joint assistance; such is the strength of the republic that as, on the one hand, no measures that are necessary are neglected, while all men fix their thoughts upon the present exigency; so neither is it possible, on the other hand, that their designs should at any time be frustrated through the want of due celerity, because all in general, as well as every citizen in particular, employ their utmost efforts to carry what has been determined into execution. Thus the government, by the very form and peculiar nature of its constitution, is equally enabled to resist all attacks, and to accomplish every purpose. And when again all apprehensions of foreign enemies are past, and the Romans being now settled in tranquility, and enjoying at their leisure all the fruits of victory, begin to yield to the seduction of ease and plenty, and, as it happens usually in such conjunctures, become haughty and ungovernable; then chiefly may we observe in what manner the same constitution likewise finds in itself a remedy against the impending danger.

“For whenever either of the separate parts of the republic attempts to exceed its proper limits, excites contention and dispute, and struggles to obtain a greater share of power, than that which is assigned to it by the laws, it is manifest, that since no one single part, as we have shown in this discourse, is in itself supreme or absolute, but that on the contrary, the powers which are assigned to each are still subject to reciprocal control, the part, which thus aspires, must soon be reduced again within its own just bounds, and not be suffered to insult or depress the rest. And thus the several orders, of which the state is framed, are forced always to maintain their due position: being partly counter-worked in their designs; and partly also restrained from making any attempt, by the dread of falling under that authority to which they are exposed.”

The historian Oliver J. Thatcher wrote: “Rome, with the end of the third Punic war, 146 B. C., had completely conquered the last of the civilized world. The best authority for this period of her history is Polybius. He was born in Arcadia, in 204 B. C., and died in 122 B.C. Polybius was an officer of the Achaean League, which sought by federating the Peloponnesus to make it strong enough to keep its independence against the Romans, but Rome was already too strong to be resisted, and arresting a thousand of the most influential members, sent them to Italy to await trial for conspiracy. Polybius had the good fortune, during seventeen years exile, to be allowed to live with the Scipios. He was present at the destructions of Carthage and Corinth, in 146 B. C., and did more than anyone else to get the Greeks to accept the inevitable Roman rule. Polybius is the most reliable, but not the most brilliant, of ancient historians.”

Consuls in the 2nd Century B.C.

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (187 BC-153 BC) was a Roman Consul

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “The consuls, when they remain in Rome, before they lead out the armies into the field, are the masters of all public affairs. For all other magistrates, the tribunes alone excepted, are subject to them, and bound to obey their commands. They introduce ambassadors into the senate. They propose also to the senate the subjects of debates; and direct all forms that are observed in making the decrees. Nor is it less a part of their office likewise, to attend to those affairs that are transacted by the people; to call together general assemblies; to report to them the resolutions of the senate; and to ratify whatever is determined by the greater number. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“In all the preparations that are made for war, as well as in the whole administration in the field, they possess an almost absolute authority. For to them it belongs to impose upon the allies whatever services they judge expedient; to appoint the military tribunes; to enroll the legions, and make the necessary levies, and to inflict punishments in the field, upon all that are subject to their command. Add to this, that they have the power likewise to expend whatever sums of money they may think convenient from the public treasury; being attended for that purpose by a quaestor; who is always ready to receive and execute their orders. When any one therefore, directs his view to this part of the constitution, it is very reasonable for him to conclude that this government is no other than a simple royalty. Let me only observe, that if in some of these particular points, or in those that will hereafter be mentioned, any change should be either now remarked, or should happen at some future time, such an alteration will not destroy the general principles of this discourse.”

Power of the Senate Over the Consuls on Military Matters

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “When the consuls, invested with the power that has been mentioned, lead the armies into the field, though they seem, indeed, to hold such absolute authority as is sufficient for all purposes, yet are they in truth so dependent both on the senate and the people, that without their assistance they are by no means able to accomplish any design. It is well known that armies demand a continual supply of necessities. But neither corn, nor habits, nor even the military stipends, can at any time be transmitted to the legions unless by an express order of the senate. Any opposition, therefore, or delay, on the part of this assembly, is sufficient always to defeat the enterprises of the generals. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“It is the senate, likewise, that either compels the consuls to leave their designs imperfect, or enables them to complete the projects which they have formed, by sending a successor into each of their several provinces, upon the expiration of the annual term, or by continuing them in the same command. The senate also has the power to aggrandize and amplify the victories that are gained, or, on the contrary, to depreciate and debase them. For that which is called among the Romans a triumph, in which a sensible representation of the actions of the generals is exposed in solemn procession to the view of all the citizens, can neither be exhibited with due pomp and splendor, nor, indeed, be in any other manner celebrated, unless the consent of the senate be first obtained, together with the sums that are requisite for the expense.

“Nor is it less necessary, on the other hand, that the consuls, how soever far they may happen to be removed from Rome, should be careful to preserve the good affections of the people. For the people, as we have already mentioned, annuls or ratifies all treaties. But that which is of greatest moment is that the consuls, at the time of laying down their office are bound to submit their past administration to the judgment of the people. And thus these magistrates can at no time think themselves secure, if they neglect to gain the approbation both of the senate and the people.”

Senate in the 2nd Century B.C.

Roman senators

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “To the senate belongs, in the first place, the sole care and management of the public money. For all returns that are brought into the treasury, as well as all the payments that are issued from it, are directed by their orders. Nor is it allowed to the quaestors to apply any part of the revenue to particular occasions as they arise, without a decree of the senate; those sums alone excepted. which are expended in the service of the consuls. And even those more general, as well as greatest disbursements, which are employed at the return every five years, in building and repairing the public edifices, are assigned to the censors for that purpose, by the express permission of the senate. To the senate also is referred the cognizance of all the crimes, committed in any part of Italy, that demand a public examination and inquiry: such as treasons, conspiracies, poisonings, and assassinations. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“Add to this, that when any controversies arise, either between private men, or any of the cities of Italy, it is the part of the senate to adjust all disputes; to censure those that are deserving of blame: and to yield assistance to those who stand in need of protection and defense. When any embassies are sent out of Italy; either to reconcile contending states; to offer exhortations and advice; or even, as it sometimes happens, to impose commands; to propose conditions of a treaty; or to make a denunciation of war; the care and conduct of all these transactions is entrusted wholly to the senate. When any ambassadors also arrive in Rome, it is the senate likewise that determines how they shall be received and treated, and what answer shall be given to their demands.”

The Senate consisted of hundreds of members who served for life. It was sort of like the House of Lords in the British Parliament and senators were required by law to have a large fortune. "Not unexpectedly," wrote historian Lionel Casson, "they traditionally came from a circumscribed number of famous old families. For centuries this narrow circle of wealthy aristocrats was the establishment, Elections simply determined which among them would fill the higher offices and whose sons would get the lower."

The Senate was originally an advisory board composed of the heads of patrician families, came to be an assembly of former magistrates (ex-consuls, -praetors, and -questors, though the last appear to have had relatively little influence); the most powerful organ of Republican government and the only body of state that could develop consistent long-term policy. 1) It enacted "decrees of the senate" (senatus consulta), which apparenly had not formal authority, but often in practice decided matters. 2) It took cognizance of virtually all public matters, but most important areas of competence were in foreign policy (including the conduct of war) and financial administration. [Source: University of Texas at Austin ==]

The senate was led by a consul (the equivalent of a president). The consulship was the highest Roman office in the Republic. The main difference between the Roman senate and its modern American counterpart was that the Roman senate was led by two consuls, not just one, and each was elected for one term and had to wait ten years before running again.

The Senate ordered public works and called in magistrates to administer their construction. Legislation was first passed by the comitia and then approved by the Senate and then issued in the name of the senate and the people of Rome. When Roman soldiers marched to the battle field they carried guidons with the initials SPQR that stood for “senatus populusque Romanus” (the senate and the people of Rome).

Heyday of the Senate

Starting in the third century B.C., the Senate was the most powerful political body in Rome and it stayed that way for 150 years until Caesar seized control in 48B.C. and established himself as a dictatorial emperor, a trend that continued until Rome fell.

The Senate consisted of hundreds of members who served for life. It was sort of like the House of Lords in the British Parliament and senators were required by law to have a large fortune. "Not unexpectedly," wrote historian Lionel Casson, "they traditionally came from a circumscribed number of famous old families. For centuries this narrow circle of wealthy aristocrats was the establishment, Elections simply determined which among them would fill the higher offices and whose sons would get the lower."

During the third and fourth centuries B.C. politics was a gentlemanly affair. There were also people's assemblies that passed legislation and administered jurisdictions. Later these popular assemblies "fell into disuse" and power was centered in the Senate. [Source: Lionel Casson, Smithsonian]

Rising Power of the Senate and Decline of Assemblies

The Greatness of the Senate: The new nobility sought to govern the world through the senate. The senators were chosen by the censor, who was obliged to place upon his list, first of all, those who had held a curule office. On this account, the nobles had the first claim to a seat in the senate; and, consequently, they came to form the great body of its members. When a person was once chosen senator he remained a senator for life, unless disgraced for gross misconduct. In this way the nobles gained possession of the senate, which became, in fact, the most permanent and powerful branch of the Roman government. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Although it was an aristocratic and exclusive body, it was made up of some of the most able men of Rome. Its members were men of distinction, of wealth, and generally of great political ability. Though often inspired by motives which were selfish, ambitious, and avaricious, it was still the greatest body of rulers that ever existed in the ancient world. It managed the finances of the state; controlled the erection of public works; directed the foreign policy; administered the provinces; determined largely the character of legislation, and was, in fact, the real sovereign of the Roman state.

We should naturally infer that with the increase of the power of the senate, the power of the popular assemblies would decline. The old patrician assembly of the curies (comitia curiata) had long since been reduced to a mere shadow. But the other two assemblies—that of the centuries and that of the tribes—still held an important place as legislative bodies. But there were two reasons why they declined in influence. The first reason was their unwieldy character. As they grew in size and could only say Yes or No to the questions submitted to them, they were made subject to the influence of demagogues, and lost their independent position. The second reason for their decline was the growing custom of first submitting to the senate the proposals which were to be passed upon by them. So that, as long as the senate was so influential in the state, the popular assemblies were weak and inefficient. \~\

Power of the People in the 2nd Century B.C. Rome

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “In all these things that have now been mentioned, the people has no share. To those, therefore, who come to reside in Rome during the absence of the consuls, the government appears to be purely aristocratic. Many of the Greeks, especially, and of the foreign princes, are easily led into this persuasion: when they perceive that almost all the affairs, which they are forced to negotiate with the Romans, are determined by the senate. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“And now it may well be asked, what part is left to the people in this government: since the senate, on the one hand, is vested with the sovereign power, in the several instances that have been enumerated, and more especially in all things that concern the management and disposal of the public treasure; and since the consuls, on the other hand, are entrusted with the absolute direction of the preparations that are made for war, and exercise an uncontrolled authority on the field. There is, however, a part still allotted to the people; and, indeed, the most important part. For, first, the people are the sole dispensers of rewards and punishments; which are the only bands by which states and kingdoms, and, in a word, all human societies, are held together. For when the difference between these is overlooked, or when they are distributed without due distinction, nothing but disorder can ensue. Nor is it possible, indeed, that the government should be maintained if the wicked stand in equal estimation with the good.


“The people, then, when any such offences demand such punishment, frequently condemn citizens to the payment of a fine: those especially who have been invested with the dignities of the state. To the people alone belongs the right to sentence any one to die. Upon this occasion they have a custom which deserves to be mentioned with applause. The person accused is allowed to withdraw himself in open view, and embrace a voluntary banishment, if only a single tribe remains that has not yet given judgment; and is suffered to retire in safety to Praeneste, Tibur, Naples, or any other of the confederate cities. The public magistrates are allotted also by the people to those who are esteemed worthy of them: and these are the noblest rewards that any government can bestow on virtue. To the people belongs the power of approving or rejecting laws and, which is still of greater importance, peace and war are likewise fixed by their deliberations. When any alliance is concluded, any war ended, or treaty made; to them the conditions are referred, and by them either annulled or ratified. And thus again, from a view of all these circumstances, it might with reason be imagined, that the people had engrossed the largest portion of the government, and that the state was plainly a democracy.

“Such are the parts of the administration, which are distinctly assigned to each of the three forms of government, that are united in the commonwealth of Rome. It now remains to be considered, in what manner each several form is enabled to counteract the others, or to cooperate with them.

Power of the People Over the Senate in the 2nd Century B.C.

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “In the same manner the senate also, though invested with so great authority, is bound to yield a certain attention to the people, and to act in concert with them in all affairs that are of great importance. With regard especially to those offences that are committed against the state, and which demand a capital punishment, no inquiry can be perfected, nor any judgment carried into execution, unless the people confirm what the senate has before decreed. Nor are the things which more immediately regard the senate itself less subject than the same control. For if a law should at any time be proposed to lessen the received authority of the senators, to detract from their honors and pre-eminence, or even deprive them of a part of their possessions, it belongs wholly to the people to establish or reject it. And even still more, the interposition of a single tribune is sufficient, not only to suspend the deliberations of the senate, but to prevent them also from holding any meeting or assembly. Now the peculiar office of the tribunes is to declare those sentiments that are most pleasing to the people: and principally to promote their interests and designs. And thus the senate, on account of all these reasons, is forced to cultivate the favor and gratify the inclinations of the people. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“The people again, on their part, are held in dependence on the senate, both to the particular members, and to the general body. In every part of Italy there are works of various kinds, which are let to farm by the censors, such are the building or repairing of the public edifices, which are almost innumerable; the care of rivers, harbors, mines and lands; every thing, in a word, that falls beneath the dominion of the Romans. In all these things the people are the undertakers: inasmuch as there are scarcely any to be found that are not in some way involved, either in the contracts, or in the management of the works. For some take the farms of the censors at a certain price; others become partners with the first. Some, again, engage themselves as sureties for the farmers; and others, in support also of these sureties, pledge their own fortunes to the state. Now, the supreme direction of all these affairs is placed wholly in the senate.

“The senate has the power to allot a longer time, to lighten the conditions of the agreement, in case that any accident has intervened, or even to release the contractors from their bargain, if the terms should be found impracticable. There are also many other circumstances in which those that are engaged in any of the public works may be either greatly injured or greatly benefited by the senate; since to this body, as we have already observed, all things that belong to these transactions are constantly referred. But there is still another advantage of much greater moment. For from this order, likewise, judges are selected, in almost every accusation of considerable weight, whether it be of a public or private nature. The people, therefore, being by these means held under due subjection and restraint, and doubtful of obtaining that protection, which they foresee that they may at some time want, are always cautious of exciting any opposition to the measures of the senate. Nor are they, on the other hand, less ready to pay obedience to the orders of the consuls; through the dread of that supreme authority, to which the citizens in general, as well as each particular man, are obnoxious in the field.”

What Can Bring a Government Down

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “Now there are two ways by which every kind of government is destroyed; either by some accident that happens from without, or some evil that arises within itself. What the first will be is not always easy to foresee: but the latter is certain and determinate. We have already shown what are the original and what: the secondary forms of government; and in what manner also they are reciprocally converted each into the other. Whoever, therefore, is able to connect the beginning with the end in this enquiry, will be able also to declare with some assurance what will be the future fortune of the Roman government. At least in my judgment nothing is more easy. For when a state, after having passed with safety through many and great dangers, arrives at the highest degree of power, and possesses an entire and undisputed sovereignty; it is manifest that the long continuance of prosperity must give birth to costly and luxurious manners, and that the minds of men will be heated with ambitious contest, and become too eager and aspiring in the pursuit of dignities. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“And as these evils are continually increased, the desire of power and rule, and the imagined ignominy of remaining in a subject state, will first begin to work the ruin of the republic; arrogance and luxury will afterwards advance it: and in the end the change will be completed by the people; as the avarice of some is found to injure and oppress them, and the ambition of others swells their vanity and poisons them with flattering hopes. For then, being with rage, and following only the dictates of their passions, they no longer will submit to any control, or be contented with an equal share of the administration, in conjunction with their rulers; but will draw to themselves the entire sovereignty and supreme direction of all affairs. When this is done, the government will assume indeed the fairest of all names, that of a free and popular state; but will, in truth, be the greatest of all evils, the government of the multitude.

“As we have thus sufficiently explained the constitution and the growth of the Roman government; have marked the causes of that greatness in which it now subsists; and shown by comparison, in what view it may be judged inferior, and in what superior, to other states; we shall here close this discourse. But as every skillful artist offers some piece of work to public view, as a proof of his abilities: in the same manner we also, taking some part of history that is connected with the times from which we were led into this digression and making a short recital of one single action, shall endeavor to demonstrate by fact as well as words what was the strength, and how great the vigor, which at that time were displayed by this republic.”

Rome’s Control It Provinces

“The Organization of the Provinces: The most important feature of the new Roman government was the organization of the provinces. There were now eight of these provinces: (1) Sicily, acquired as the result of the first Punic war; (2) Sardinia and Corsica, obtained during the interval between the first and second Punic wars; (3) Hither Spain and (4) Farther Spain, acquired in the second Punic war; (5) Illyricum, reduced after the third Macedonian war; (6) Macedonia (to which Achaia was attached), reduced after the destruction of Corinth; (7) Africa, organized after the third Punic war; and (8) Asia, bequeathed by Attalus III., the last king of Pergamum. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The method of organizing these provinces was in some respects similar to that which had been adopted for governing the cities in Italy. Rome saw clearly that to control these newly conquered cities and communities, they must, like the cities of Italy, be isolated, that is, separated entirely from one another, so that they could not combine in any effort to resist her authority. Every city was made directly responsible to Rome. The great difference between the Italian and the provincial towns was the fact that the chief burden of the Italian town was to furnish military aid—soldiers and ships; while that of the provincial town was to furnish tribute—money and grain. Another difference was that Italian land was generally free from taxes, while provincial land was subject to tribute. \~\

The Provincial Governor: A province might be defined as a group of conquered cities, outside of Italy, under the control of a governor sent from Rome. At first these governors were praetors, who were elected by the people. Afterward they were propraetors or proconsuls—that is, persons who had already served as praetors or consuls at Rome. The governor held his office for one year; and during this time was the supreme military and civil ruler of the province. He was commander in chief of the army, and was expected to preserve his territory from internal disorder and from foreign invasion. He controlled the collection of the taxes, with the aid of the quaestor, who kept the accounts. He also administered justice between the provincials. Although the governor was responsible to the senate, the welfare or misery of the provincials depended largely upon his own disposition and will. \~\

The Towns of the Province: All the towns of the province were subject to Rome; but it was Rome’s policy not to treat them all in exactly the same way. Like the cities of Italy, they were graded according to their merit. Some were favored, like Gades and Athens, and were treated as allied towns (civitates foederatae); others, like Utica, were free from tribute (immunes); but the great majority of them were considered as tributary (stipendiariae). But all these towns alike possessed local self-government, so far as this was consistent with the supremacy of Rome; that is, they retained their own laws, assemblies, and magistrates. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Administration of Justice: In civil matters, the citizens of every town were judged by their own magistrates. But when a dispute arose between citizens of different towns, it was the duty of the governor to judge between them. At the beginning of his term of office, he generally issued an edict, setting forth the rules upon which he would decide their differences. Each succeeding governor reissued the rules of his predecessor, with the changes which he saw fit to make. In this way justice was administered with great fairness throughout the provinces; and there grew up a great body of legal principles, called the “law of nations” (ius gentium), which formed an important part of the Roman law. \~\

Taxes and Economic Policy of the Roman Republic

The Collection of Taxes: The Roman revenue was mainly derived from the new provinces. But instead of raising these taxes directly through her own officers, Rome let out the business of collecting the revenue to a set of money dealers, called publicani. These persons agreed to pay into the treasury a certain sum for the right of collecting taxes in a certain province. Whatever they collected above this sum, they appropriated to themselves. This rude mode of collecting taxes, called “farming” the revenues, was unworthy of a great state like Rome, and was the chief cause of the oppression of the provincials. The governors, it is true, had the power of protecting the people from being plundered. But as they themselves received no pay for their services, except what they could get out of the provinces, they were too busy in making their own fortunes to watch closely the methods of the tax-gatherers. Like every other conquering nation, the Romans were tempted to benefit themselves at the expense of their subjects. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “Beginning with the third century B.C. Roman economic policy started to contrast more and more sharply with that in the Hellenistic world, especially Egypt. In Greece and Egypt economic policy had gradually become highly regimented, depriving individuals of the freedom to pursue personal profit in production or trade, crushing them under a heavy burden of oppressive taxation, and forcing workers into vast collectives where they were little better than bees in a great hive. The later Hellenistic period was also one of almost constant warfare, which, together with rampant piracy, closed the seas to trade. The result, predictably, was stagnation. [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, /=]

“Stagnation bred weakness in the states ofthe Mediterranean, which partially explains the ease with which Rome was able to steadily expand its reach beginning in the 3rd century B.C. By the first century B.C., Rome was the undisputed master of the Mediterranean. However, peace did not follow Rome’s victory, for civil wars sapped its strength. /=\

“The expansion of the dole is an important reason for the rise of Roman taxes. In the earliest days of the Republic Rome’s taxes were quite modest, consisting mainly ofa wealth tax on all forms of property, including land, houses, slaves, animals, money and personal effects. The basic rate was just .01 percent, although occasionally rising to .03 percent. It was assessed principally to pay the army during war. In fact, afterwards the tax was often rebated.

“It was levied directly on individuals, who were counted at periodic censuses. As Rome expanded after the unification of Italy in 272 B.C., so did Roman taxes. In the provinces, however, the main form of tax was a 4 Eligibility consisted mainly of Roman citizenship, actual residence in Rome, and was restricted to males over the age of fourteen. Senators and other government employees generally were prohibited from receiving grain. A tithe levied on communities, rather than directly on individuals. 5 This was partly because censuses were seldom conducted, thus making direct taxation impossible, and also because it was easierto administer, Local communities would decide for themselves howto divide up the tax burden among their citizens. /=\

“Tax farmers were often utilized to collect provincial taxes. They would pay in advance for the right to collect taxes in particularareas. Every few years these rights were put out to bid, thus capturing for the Roman treasury any increase in taxable capacity. In effect, tax farmers were loaning money to the state in advance of tax collections. They also had the responsibility of converting provincial taxes, which were often collected in-kind, into hard cash. 6 Thus the collections by tax farmers had to provide sufficient revenues to repay their advance to the state plus enough to cover the opportunity cost of the funds (i.e., interest), the transactions cost of converting collections into cash, and a profit as well. In fact, tax farming was quite profitable and was a major investment vehicle for wealthy citizens of Rome. /=\

“Augustus ended tax farming, however, due to complaints from the provinces. Interestingly, their protests not only had to do with excessive assessments by the tax farmers, as one would expect, but were also due to the fact that the provinces were becoming deeply indebted. A.H.M. Jones describes the problems with tax farmers: ‘Oppression and extortion began very early in the provinces and reached fantastic proportions in the later republic. Most governors were primarily interested in acquiring military glory and in making money during their year in office, and the companies which farmed the taxes expected to make ample profits. There was usually collusion between the governor and the tax contractors and the senate was too far away to exercise any effective control over either. The other great abuse of the provinces was extensive moneylending at exorbitant rates of interest to the provincial communities, which could not raise enough ready cash to satisfy both the exorbitant demands of the tax contractors and the blackmail levied by the governors.’ /=\

“As a result of such abuses, tax farming was replaced by direct taxation early in the Empire. The provinces now paid a wealth tax of about 1 percent and a flat poll or head tax on each adult. This obviously required regular censuses in order to count the taxable population and assess taxable property. It also led to a major shift in the basis of taxation. Under the tax farmers, taxation was largely based on current income. Consequently, the yield varied according to economic and climactic conditions. Since tax farmers had only a limited time to collect the revenue to which they were entitled, they obviously had to concentrate on collecting such revenue where it was most easily available. Because assets such as land were difficult to convert into cash, this meant that income necessarily was the basic baseof taxation. And since tax farmers were essentially bidding against a community’s income potential, this meant that a large portion of any increase in income accmed to the tax farmers. /=\

“By contrast, the Augustinian system was far less progressive. The shift to flat assessments based on wealth and population both regularized the yield of the tax system and greatly reduced its “progressivity.” This is because any growth in taxable capacity led to higher taxes under the tax farming system, while under the Augustinian system communities were only liable for a fixed payment. Thus any increase in income accrued entirely to the people and did not have to be shared with Rome. Individuals knew in advance the exact amount of their tax bill and that any income over and above that amount was entirely theirs. This was obviously a great incentive to produce, since the marginal tax rate above the tax assessment was zero. In economic terms, one can say that there was virtually no excess burden. Of course, to the extent that higher incomes increased wealth, some of this gain would be captured through reassessments. But in the short run, the tax system was very pro-growth.” /=\

Roman Government in Late Republican Era

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Up until 133 B.C. the Senate had controlled Roman policy, not by law but by custom. It is commonly supposed that the growth of the empire induced the people to cede authority over foreign affairs to the Senate, where there were experts in foreign policy. The people would not have dreamed, for example, of interfering with the senatorial prerogative in the extremely important matter of the assignment of provinces to ex-praetors and ex-consuls. What was the social structure of the Republic like at this point? The Senate consisted of around 300 landed aristocrats, who made use of the informal system of client/patron relations to control elections and legislation. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“At this point senatorial politics begins to be described in the sources as a conflict between two parties, Optimates ("aristocrats") and Populares ("democrats"). On the standard view, different methods of political action and different ideologies distinguished the two parties from one another and replaced the previous dominance of family ties as the determinant of political alliances. The Optimates worked through the Senate and the traditional avenues, while the Populares worked through the tribunate and the popular assemblies. Some, e.g. Boren, maintain that the distinction between Optimates and Populares arose as a result of rather than prior to the affair of Tiberius Gracchus. ^

“Another important socioeconomic element is the equites, whose numbers and influence had swelled with the growth of the empire in the first half of the 2nd century B.C.; the larger dominion provided lucrative opportunities in banking, mining, public works, and the supply of arms. Many a member of the senatorial class, forbidden by the Lex Claudia of 218 B.C. to engage in business, chose to be an eques; to put it another way, not everyone who could afford to be in the Senate chose to be in it. Farming was becoming increasingly profitable as the rich bought up the ager publicus and worked it as plantations (latifundia) with slave labour, readily available from overseas conquests [Cato's De Agri Cultura]. The 500 iugera limit supposedly set on ownership of ager publicus in 367 was being widely ignored. The direct consequence of this trend was the displacement of the small farmers, who drifted to the city of Rome to become the urban mob.” ^*^

Problems with the Roman Society and Government in Late Republican Era

When we look over these various classes of the Roman people, we must conclude that there were some radical defects in the Roman system of government. The great mass of the population were excluded from all political rights. The Latins, the Italians, the provincials, and the slaves, as we have seen, had no share in the government. This seems quite contrary to the early policy of Rome. We remember that before she began her great conquests, Rome had started out with the policy of incorporation. She had taken in the Sabines on the Quirinal hill, the Luceres on the Caelian, the plebeians of the city, and the rural tribes about Rome. But after that time she had abandoned this policy, and no longer brought her conquered subjects within the state. This was the first defect of the Roman system. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

But even those people who were given the rights of citizens were not able to exercise these rights in an efficient way. Wherever a Roman citizen might be, he must go to Rome to vote or to take part in the making of the laws. But when the citizens of Rome met together in the Forum, or on the Campus Martius, they made a large and unwieldy body, which could not do any important political business. Rome never learned that a democratic government in a large state is impossible without representation; that is, the election by the people of a few leading men to protect their interests, and to make the laws for them. The giving up of the policy of incorporation and the absence of the principle of representation were the two great defects in the Roman political system. \~\

The Decay of Patriotism: We may not blame the Romans for not discovering the value of representation, since this system may be regarded as a modern invention. But we must blame those who were the rulers of the state for their selfishness and their lack of true patriotism. There were, no doubt, some patriotic citizens at Rome who were devoted to the public welfare; but the majority of the men who governed the state were men devoted to their own interests more than to the interests of the country at large. The aristocratic classes sought to enrich themselves by the spoils of war and the spoils of office; while the rights and the welfare of the common citizens, the Italians, and the provincials were too often forgotten or ignored. \~\

The Growth of Large Estates: One of the causes which led to the civil strife was the distress and misery of the people in different parts of Italy, resulting from the growth of large landed estates. Years before, the people had possessed their little farms, and were able to make a respectable living from them. Laws had been passed—especially the Licinian laws (see p. 70)—to keep the public lands distributed in such a way as to benefit the poorer people. But it was more than two hundred years since the Licinian laws were passed; and they were now a dead letter. Many of the small farms had become absorbed into large estates held by rich landlords; and the class of small farmers had well-nigh disappeared. This change benefited one class of the people at the expense of the other. The Roman writer Pliny afterward saw the disastrous effects of this system, and said that it was the large estates which destroyed Italy. \~\

The Evils of Slave Labor: But this was not all. If the poor farmers, who had been deprived of their own fields, could have received good wages by working upon the estates of the rich landlords, they might still have had some means of living. But they were even deprived of this; because the estates were everywhere worked by slaves. So that slavery, as well as large estates, was a cause which helped to bring Italy to the brink of ruin. \~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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