From Monarchy, to Republic, to Empire

Rome had three forms of government from the 700’s (B.C.E.) until 476 (A.D.):  Monarchy; Republic and Empire.

Rome was ruled by the Etruscan monarchy in the seventh century B.C. – as a monarch, there was one ruler and it appears there were seven kings.  But sometime around the year 500 B.C., Roman citizens took control from the Etruscans and established a Roman Republic.

In a Republic, the government becomes “public.”  Government officials are elected and the people – the citizens – share leadership responsibility. Under the Roman Republic,  magistrates were elected who represented Roman citizens.  At its beginnings, a magistrate was elected only from the patrician class – a group of elite Roman families. At some point, commoners, known as plebeians, could be elected as a magistrate – ultimately affording most Roman citizens a voice in their government.

Two of the magistrates were known given the title of “Consul” and they had the power to decide when to wage war and when to add new laws, although they worked in collaboration with the Roman Senate which was made up of men from wealthy Roman families – often holding their senatorial positions for life. While the Senate began as advisors to Consuls,  but gained power steadily throughout the years of the Republic.

As the Roman Empire grew, each time Rome conquered another land, they invited the people there to become Roman citizens, with all the rights and an equal voice to those of people born in Rome.  Also as the empire grew, more categories of government officials were established: Tribunes and prefects, in addition to magistrates and senators.  All of them, at one point during the republic, were elected by the Roman Assembly, a group of Romans representing the various different sections of Rome.

Over the years Senators began to fight amongst themselves – increasingly violently. As Rome grew, the military increased in power probably the result of Rome’s armies stationed far away from Roman Senate and controlling vast sections of territory captured by the Romans. In  83 B.C., after a number of successful military campaigns, a Consul, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, seized power and assumed the title of dictator, with complete control of the government – the fall of the Roman Republic.

In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar became dictator and after his murder in 44 B.C., Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, became the ruler.  It was Octavian, who introduced the concept of an Empire and he became Rome’s first Emperor in 27 B.C.  With full control of the Roman army, even though Octavian kept the various Senators, Tribunes and Prefects as government officials, the Emperor’s word was sovereign.

The Roman Empire lasted for another 300 years and then started to decline in power and most historians ascribe the date of 476, following the rule of Constantine, that the Roman Empire fell and the Middle Ages began.