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Rome Travel Guide

The Roman Republic

After 500 BC, Rome joined with the Latin cities in defense against incursions by the Sabines. Winning the combat of Lake Regillus in 493 BC, Rome based again the supremacy over the Latin countries it had lost after the fall of the monarchy. The era of the great expansion of Roman power and civilization is the era of the Roman Republic, in which Rome is ruled by its Senate and its assembly, which were institutions conceived at the beginning of the monarchy. The history of the Republic is a history of continuous warfare; all of the historical stories which the Romans will use as stories of Roman virtue and values date from this tumultuous period of defense and invasion.

The Romans possessed at the beginning of the Republic a constitution which had set down the traditions and institutions of government; this constitution, however, was not a formal or even a written document, but rather a series of unwritten traditions and laws. These traditions and laws were based on the institution of a monarchy, so while the Romans did not revive the monarchy, they still invested enormous amounts of power in their officials. At the top were the consuls, who were two patricians elected to the office for one year. These patricians exercised imperium in much the same way the kings had in the Roman monarchy. These consuls initiated legislation, served as the head of the judiciary and the military, and served as chief priests to the nation. They even dressed as monarchs, by wearing purple robes and sitting on the seat traditionally reserved for the monarch: the ivory chair.

Then the Romans reformed their government as the need appeared rather than pursuing any particular plan of reform or development. At the same time, the Romans constructed their territorial power with the same lack of planning and purpose. Originally, the wars which the Republic fought were largely defensive wars; the expulsion of the Tarquins provoked many attacks by their allies and by Etruscans. Soon, however, the Romans were moving to gain control over neighboring territory in order to neutralize the threat of attack. Their logic was that control over these territories would eliminate any potential attack from the people occupying those territories and at the same time provide a buffer region between themselves and potential attackers. Roman conquest, then, was pursued largely for Roman security; the end result of this process would be, first, the conquest of the entire Italian peninsula by 265 BC, and then the conquest of the world. The Roman Empire was an accident, so to speak; it was formed in the pursuit of other policies, namely, security. Only in its later stages was the Roman Empire a deliberate objective.

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