During the five centuries of the Roman Republic there were many periods of danger, when the State was often at risk from external enemies – but the most serious threats to her existence came from conflict between power blocks within the state itself. In early times there was conflict between the Patricians and Plebes – essentially a class struggle. The later clashes between the Optimates versus the Populares was broader based and centred more around powerful individuals and their families. Here are some of the outstanding Roman Republicans: –
Appius Claudius Caecus: ( 340 BC – 273 BC) The Blind. A Roman senator and patrician, who is famous for building the Appian way, a military road between Rome and Capua in the south and for the first of the great aqueducts – the Aqua Claudia. He wrote the first recorded latin prose speech in an address to the senate. He was consul in 307 BC and again in 296 BC. During his term as Censor in 312 BC , he was progressive and extended the franchise to members of rural tribes that did not own land and allowed sons of slaves to enter the senate.
Brutus: Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC – 42 BC) is famous for his part in the assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman senate house, on the Ides of March 44 BC. There is an unfounded tradition that Brutus was actually the natural son of Caesar because his mother, Servilia Caepionis, had once been Caesar’s mistress – this was extremely unlikely as Caesar, born in 100 BC, was only 15 years older than Brutus. Be that as it may, there is evidence that Caesar had shown kindness to Brutus in the past. Caesar’s shock at the betrayal of his friend is clear from his dying words “et tu Brute?” – “and you too Brutus?”.
The traditionalist Optimate faction, consisting mainly old aristocratic families, feared Caesar’s growing power. There was fear amongst many that Caesar, who had had himself declared “dictator for life”, was actually planning to make himself king of Rome. His involvement with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra only added to this paranoia. Kings were an absolute anathema to Roman Republicans and Brutus may well have been motivated to join the plot so as to emulate the example a famous ancestor of the same name, who had helped create the Republic in 509 BC, by deposing the Etruscan, Tarquin the Proud, the last of the Roman kings.
After the murder, Brutus and Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus), his co-conspirator in the murder, were forced to flee Rome and gathered an army. They were defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC by the armies of Mark Anthony and Octavian (Caesar’s grand nephew and heir) and both conspirators subsequently committed suicide.
Cassius: (Gaius Cassius Longinus 85 BC – 42BC) was the main leader of the conspiracy of members of the Roman senate to murder Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Defeated by the forces of Mark Anthony and Caesar’s nephew Octavian at the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he committed suicide.
Cicero: (Marcus Tullius Cicero) 106 – 43 BC. Cicero was a famous Roman orator, politician and legal expert, whose writings have been preserved and are still much in use as a reference in many fields, but he is also important as his writing is seen as the best model of classical Latin prose. He was consul in 63 BC and was credited with saving the Roman Republic, by putting down an attempted coup d’etat by the conspirator Catiline. He had several of these conspirators executed without due process and for this incurred many enemies and was later exiled, though later brought back by a vote of the senate.
Although no soldier, Cicero took the side of the senatorial faction of Pompey in the following Roman Civil War against Caesar, but was forgiven by Caesar, who always put high priority on reconciliation and anyway needed to secure senatorial support for his ambitions.
After Caesar’s death (in 44 BC), Cicero and Caesar’s lieutenant, Mark Anthony were opposed as to how to deal with Caesar’s murderers and Cicero wrote several invectives against Anthony (the Philippics). In spite of Cicero’s efforts, Anthony and Caesar’s young heir Octavian, became allies and their armies won the day, over the murderers at the battle of Phillipi in 42 BC. However Anthony had never forgiven the attacks made on him by Cicero and despite Octavian’s wishes he had Cicero proscribed and Cicero was consequently murdered in the same year.
Amongst Cicero’s many famous surviving works are De Legibus (on the Law), De Republica (on the Republic), In Catilinam (Catiline conspiracy) and Philippicae(The Philippics – against Mark Anthony)
Mark Anthony: ( 83 BC – 30 BC) Marcus Antonius was a charismatic Roman general, who supported Caesar’s faction , as tribune of the plebs. When civil war broke out against Brutus and his senatorial allies, Anthony was de facto ruler of Rome, holding it for Caesar, while Caesar campaigned abroad. On Caesar’s death in 44BC he formed the Second Triumvirate to rule Rome, together with Octavian and Lentulus, but quarrelled with Octavian and was defeated in 31 BC at the battle of Actium in 31, together with his lover, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. Both committed suicide in the following year.
Spartacus: The ex gladiator leader of the most famous slave revolt that destroyed several Roman armies and rampaged through Italy from 73 BC to 71 BC. According to ancient sources Spartacus was Thracian and was a brilliant tactician, probably indicating that he had had military training, before being enslaved and trained as a gladiator.
His revolt, known as the Third Servile Ware began with a fracas in a gladiator school in Capua and after some minor success in raiding the countryside of South Italy, he was besieged on Mount Vesuvius near Naples, He led a sortie by climbing down the mountain using ropes of vines and routed the besieging Romans – killing Praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber and annihilating a force of some 3000 soldiers.
After this victory. the forces of Spartacus and his allied slave leaders were reinforced by many more runaway slaves, who willingly joined the revolt against their former masters. Their numbers rose to a slave army of about 70 000, who proved to be surprisingly effective against conventional forces – defeating two of Rome’s professional legions in open battle.
In 71 BC the millionaire senator Marcus Licinius Crassus volunteered to take charge of Rome’s forces, and with eight regular legions (numbering between 40 000 and 50 000 men), by using skillful containment tactics, he began to wear down the strength of the slave army, who eventually attempted to hire pirates to take them to Sicily to continue the revolt from there. However Spartacus was betrayed by the pirates and was finally defeated in pitched battle by Crassus. This was somewhere in South Italy near Rhegium and Spartacus probably died in a ferocious last stand, together with most of his forces. However Crassus crucified some 6000 prisoners, between ;[ning the road between Rome and Capua, along the length of the Appian way.
Spartacus has become a legend as the quintessential freedom fighter, who is renowned for heroically fighting against the might of a brutal empire and his revolt has been the celebrated in many books and highly successful movies.
Scipio Africanus: (236 – 183 BC). Publius Cornelius Scipio, the Roman general, who defeated Hannibal in the second Punic War at the battle of Zama, near Carthage, in 202 BC