Cry, Republic: Headcount Legion
by: Aldus Marius Peregrinus
For me, the fall of the Republic was a gradual process, like the ending of Roman civilization as a whole several hundred years later. There was no one person to blame, no one moment when you could say "She's had it". But there were, I think, several "points of no return" which, when passed, made it next to impossible for Rome to go on as before...
The return of the soldiers from the Carthaginian Wars: When the Second Punic War ended, there were men in the Legions who had served for fourteen years--been away from their lands for fourteen years--missed harvests, missed mortgages, had their farms seized by creditors who combined lots into huge latifundia and farmed them on an industrial scale. The troops therefore returned to a very different world than the one they left...and to top it off, they owed people money while at the same time having lost the means of producing income. So they drifted into the City, looking for work--and became a new thing themselves, the urban poor who would make up the bulk of the Censores' "Head Count".
The failure on the part of the Senate and Magistrates to effectively deal with any of the problems these veterans presented--their need for land, their need for work, debt relief and competition for City employment from newly-imported slaves, for starters--was the first sure sign that the Republican structure of government was not up to the task of picking up the confetti once the parades had ended. Pandering, politicization, palming-off and sweeping-under-the-rug took the place of real governance. Everyone had an idea but nobody wanted to step up and do anything. So the Senate pretended the urban poor, the landless veterans, were not important. Just for that, I think the Republic got exactly what was coming to it.
The murders of the Gracchi: Damn those pesky Tribunes!! They keep talking about land reform and other forbidden subjects--and they're actually getting things done. Much more of this might be dangerous to the status quo! You know, the one in which a certain faction of the Senate almost always gets its way, and its "way" is to do as little for the poor (Ugh!--them again! --Will they never go away??) as possible and look cool doing it? ...Yeah, that status quo. We like it. Nice and peaceful that way. Hmm, what to do, what to do...
No one had ever done it before. No one had ever violated the sacrosanctity of a Tribuni Plebis. But that certain faction of the Senate just had to have its way, had to rid itself of an inconvenience. So out they came with swords and clubs and chair legs, and committed a crime against the Gods.
The significance of this, in a state that believed itself to have been preserved thus far by its piety, cannot be overstated. This deed, and the similar ones that followed it, had echoes in the spiritual as well as the temporal realm. Once that taboo was broken, could the rest be far behind? Could one man hold six consecutive Consulships? Could another violate the pomoerium, bringing armed men inside the gates of Rome? Could a Consul looking to make a name for himself have Roman Citizens executed without trial? Could anyone still be appointed dictator...for life??
If the Tribunes were not sacred, nothing was...and by the time Augustus took the throne, nothing was.
After the assassinations of the Gracchi, it became apparent to anyone who was paying attention that working within the system was no longer a viable means of getting things done. Then extraordinary men like Marius, Sulla and Caesar took note, and built their own power-bases in the Army or on the streets. That politics became what it did in this era was only the natural result of politicians and People alike thrashing around trying to find another way to restore meaning to their positions. Unfortunately, as long as the boni in the Senate remained entrenched against any kind of meaningful reform, things could only get more desperate...and more violent.
Next: Marius on Marius!