General Summary of Roman History, 264BC-14AD

Page 3 of 4 — In 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus, a young tribune of an ancient family who had proposed doling out land to poor Romans, was murdered on election day by a group of conservative Senators opposed to his revolutionary plans. This was the first sign of the rot that was creeping into the Republic. His brother, Gaius, continued after his death to implement what many felt were excessively populist policies, as well as others intended to increase the power of the Equestrian class, who largely controlled the Roman economy. Obviously, this growing power bloc was perceived as a threat by the Senate. In addition, the two groups were split over whether to grant greater rights to the Italian allies of Rome, who had long supported the Republic's endeavors - not entirely voluntarily. Gaius himself was assassinated in 121.

Into this awkward situation came Gaius Marius, one of the most influential men ever to hold a consulship (the consuls were the two heads of state of the Republic, with one-year terms). Marius abolished the property requirement for enlistment (previously only landowners could enlist in the Roman army), thereby making his legions loyal not to Rome - but to him (landowners could go back to their farms, but non-landowners had no source of income outside the army, and thus were literally dependants of their commanders). He also introduced multiple reforms in the way the legionnaires were equipped and organized. After winning multiple campaigns in Africa and north Italy (against the Numidians and Germans, respectively), he returned to Rome determined to obtain the land he had promised his men. With the help of a tribune named Saturninus, he was able to do so. But Saturninus' methods ran towards inducing riots and having rivals murdered, and eventually Marius himself helped to arrest the rabble-rouser.

At this point, in 90 BC, the long-simmering Italian tribes rose up in revolt, with the Samnites of southern Italy at their side. The Romans were able to end what is known as the Social War by 87, but only after granting the Italians the citizenship they demanded. Hardly had this war ended than another began in the east, where King Mithridates of Pontus had invaded Greece, signaling his arrival by instructing local Greek debtors to kill more than 80,000 Roman or Italian businessmen. A former lieutenant of Marius, one Lucius Cornelius Sulla, was appointed to the eastern command, ordered to deal with Mithridates. At the last minute, a tribune named Sulpicius Rufus, an ally of Marius, was able to illegally have command re-assigned to Marius. Sulla refused to accept this and marched on Rome, where he massacred thousands of Marians, then departed for Greece, believing the Marians were too weak to regroup in his absence. While he was gone, however, Marius returned to Rome, and his powerful ally Cinna grabbed political control of Rome, killing thousands of Sullans in turn. Defeating Mithridates by 82 BC, Sulla returned to Rome and wiped out his opponents for the second time, making himself undisputed dictator of Rome.

Sulla was a conservative man, and disliked the plebian (non-aristocratic) tribunes, who were allowed to veto decisions made by the aristocratic senate and consuls - the office had been created to protect the common people of Rome. Sulla destroyed their power, greatly increasing that of the Senate in the process. He also increased the minimum age requirements for running for public office, and packed the government with his supporters. Surprisingly, he resigned from his dictatorship in 80 BC, dying a year later. Continued...

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