Term Paper: Western Civilization Final

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Western Civilization Final

The history of the Roman republic and then empire represents one of the most important segments of the history of the world. It represents the first elements of the organization of the state. However, at the same time the development of the system of government pointed out the different means through which a community can evolve from a political point-of-view. From the early days of the republic to the late years of the Empire, the Roman state and its institutions were a representative example for the political development of a form of government.

The history of the Roman Republic must however start at the moment in which the first settlings of what would later be the Roman Republic. Therefore it is rather well-known the mythical creation of Rome with Romulus and Remus (Berstein and Milza, 1994). However, the rule of the kings was not a positive political outcome for the way in which the roman society developed and in 510 the last king, Tarquinius Superbus was expelled from the region and the republic was set in place.

The Roman republic was one of the first exercises of democracy, but not necessarily in the current notion of the term. In this sense, as opposed to the reign of the kings, it was an important change. First, the power was shared among two consuls, a fact which implied the impossibility of tyranny (Berstein and Milza, 1994). Decisions, at least theoretically, were taken by two people, rather than one. Moreover, there was an awareness related to the masses in the sense that the plebe was too taken into consideration. However, the Roman republic was by no means comparable to the current day republics or the Greek republic. This aspect can be seen from the perspective of the distribution of power. In the Roman Republic, despite the fact that at the highest level decisions were taken by two individuals, the people were not represented. The power holders still came from the richest men, which would imply a rule of the most powerful. At the same time, the Senate was yet another tool for exercising power for the richest (Berstein and Milza, 1994). By comparison, the Greek democracy included a different set of values and norms that would differentiate the masses from the people. These included moral values, virtues, and the art of philosophy. Finally, the American Republic has relatively few elements in common with the early Roman Republic. The Senate which would eventually emerge in Rome pointed out a certain consideration for the people. Still, one of the first reasons for which the Republic in Rome failed, along with the incredible desire to expand, was the inability to support a representative body. In the American case, the democratic representation of the people, as it was established in the late 18th century is still the political system on which the U.S. relies.

The sharing of power however set a different question for the Roma Republic. In this sense, there was an increased desire from both consuls to take the reins of power. Thus, while Sulla at one point aimed at reducing the power of the tribunes who were the representatives of the people and increase that of the Senate, the popular party led by Marius tried a different approach, despite the fact that at that moment there could have been no discussion related to a proper representation of the masses. From this point-of-view as well, there was the question of "what do we do with the masses" in the sense that they had to be controlled but not set as part of the political leadership. This perspective however would lead to massive rebellions and in the end to a weakening of the consular system.

The rise and fall of Julius Caesar was an important part of the Roman history. Caesar had been the supporter of a different type of power, as opposed to Sulla who had tried to reduce the power of the people. In this sense "Caesar's father and uncle, with a minority of the nobles, belonged to the party of Marius. It was not actually, as it is sometimes called the 'popular party' for parties as Rome were shifting groups, formed on a personal, not an ideological, basis" (Taylor, 1957, 3). Therefore it can be said that in fact it is not necessarily the political adherence of Caesar which made him emerge in the life of the Roman Republic. More precisely, it is fair to say that in fact it was the military power which enabled him to take control of the Republic. At a time when territorial conquests, wars for supremacy such as the one with Cartagena or for the Greek islands were of immense interest for the politicians as well as for the masses, Caesar's ability to lead the soldiers in battle and to rally their support represented an important factor in controlling the power (Berstein and Milza, 1994). Still, he did confront rivals such as Pompey who was eventually defeated by Caesar's personality and military power.

The fall of Caesar is often attributed to his never-ending desire for grandeur and power. After his appointment as dictator, a step which reduced the elements of the Republic dramatically and discontent for his rule mounted. His assassination however by the same men he had pardoned once Pompey was defeated represented the turning point for the Roman creation (Bonta, 2005). Brutus along with other political leaders who were unsatisfied with the way in Caesar had accumulated the power in a dictatorial rule assassinated Caesar on the steps of the Italian Senate, a moment which marked the beginning of decades of turmoil and disarray.

There are several aspects which are common to the Roman and the Greek cultures. These are often seen in the practical issues such as architecture where the arch and the dome were characteristic for both of them (Berstein and Milza, 1994). However, the way in which the Roman art depicted the individual is rather different from that of the Greek culture. More precisely, the Romans were considered to be more practical in the sense that they valued more the physical appearance and their sculptures are more artistic, rather than philosophical. On the other hand, the Greek sculptures try to picture the inner beauty rather than the external beauty. This perspective on culture and the human being is representative for the actual individual perspective on life which was more relaxed in the case of the Romans and more profound, philosophical for the Greeks.

The end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire was marked by the naming of Octavian Augustus emperor for life. It came as a result of the Senate's decision to grant him the powers in the Republic following the reorganization and submission of Spain and the rest of the Roman provinces (Berstein and Milza, 1994). Following this decision, "The Roman Empire of the first and second centuries a.D. comprised the largest, wealthiest, most diverse, and most stable society of the ancient world. No other ancient empire -- not the Assyrian, not the Persian, not the Athenian -- had succeeded on such a scale at holding together in harmony so many peoples, faiths, and traditions. Historians commonly describe these two centuries as the period of the Pax Romana ("the Roman Peace"), an age when a strong central government engineered and maintained the social stability that allowed people to prosper" (Backman, 2003, 7). Still, the Empire was not able to maintain its grip on the provinces.

The era of the Five Good Emperors included the reigns of Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Antonius Pius (138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (161-180) who followed a peaceful line of succession started by Nerva, a senatorial appointee (Backman, 2003, 15). However, the fact that the expansion of the empire had included different peoples and increased the borders of the empire to an extent that the Roman army could no longer control, rebellions erupted and the stability of the empire was placed in question. In addition the tribes that threatened the borders of the empire were violent and destructive which only increased the state of chaos. The major problem concerning the inability of the ruling family to follow a correct line of inheritance however was largely due to two factors. On the one hand, it is suggested that the successors were evil in their nature and several fights for succession occurred, each of the parties involved being supported by a certain political group (Potter, 2004, 86). On the other hand, once in power, they were unable to secure their investiture because of the various additional forces who were either against the issues promoted by the emperor or demanded additional influence in return. In any case this situation led to constant chaos.

Diocletian and Constantine were some of the most important figures of the Roman Empire at that time. They managed to reform the system of administration, of taxes, of the political representation to such an extent as to ensure the lasting of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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