Graduation Year

Fall 2013

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Reader 1

Shane Bjornlie

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© 2013 Theodoros Tsirigotis

Abstract

In examining the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the principate, one is inevitably struck by the transformation of the relationship between the individual and the community. Roman society during the Republic was predicated on the communal leadership of the elite and the recognition of excellence in individuals. In the days of the early and middle Republic, this individual recognition served as the vehicle to participation in communal authority, the prize for which aristocratic families competed. Communal authority was embodied in the Senate. The Senate not only acted as the supreme political body in the Roman state, but also acted as the moral and religious arbiter for society. This was in addition to their more easily foreseeable role as the face of the Roman state toward foreign peoples, both diplomatically and militarily. Heads of aristocratic families who were most often already part of the economic elite sought to secure membership within this smaller circle of political elite. Influence was sought in a variety of arenas, all with the purpose of proving one’s worthiness to be part of the administration of the state. Pursuit and possession of the traditional Roman virtues provided the foundation of legitimacy for oligarchic rule, and individual proof of virtue was necessary for inclusion within that rule. One of the chief spheres of proving one’s virtue was war, where martial valor eclipsed all other virtues, and courage on the battlefield and excellence in command proved one’s worthiness to inclusion in communal authority. However, as the Republic found itself facing every more frequent and threatening crises, it increasingly turned to its men of ability, investing them with ever greater license, and permitting, or at least having no choice but to permit, ever greater concentration of state power in the hands of individuals. These men of ambition and ability took advantage of Rome’s changing polity and the professionalization of its military under the reforms of Marius to circumvent traditional avenues of advancement in favor of more direct approaches. Each looked to the man behind him as precedent and to the future as chance for even greater glory. Eventually, Caesar took power at the head of an intensely loyal military force, ready to enforce by force of arms any protests in the name of tradition. Though ultimately assassinated, Caesar’s dictatorship marked the end of Republican Rome and the rise of the principate, defined by an inversion of the traditional relationship between the community and the individual. Now it was the Senate which sought political participation within the overarching framework of individual authority.

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