Rome, Blood and Power – Reform, Murder and Popular Politics in the Late Republic 70-27 BC, Gareth C. Sampson

Rome, Blood and Power – Reform, Murder and Popular Politics in the Late Republic 70-27 BC, Gareth C. Sampson

This book looks at a very familiar period. The civil wars of Marius and Sulla, Pompey and Caesar and Marc Antony and Octavian are amongst the best documented and most studied events in Roman history, so any new book on the period really needs to find a new approach. In this case the focus is on the various attempts to restore stability to the Republic, how long they worked, what they were trying to achieve, and in all but the final case what caused them to collapse. We thus get a much more detailed account of the political activities at Rome and far less on the military actions of the period. One interesting result of this is that Caesar is a surprisingly absent figure for long periods, away fighting in Gaul, and only appearing when he needed to renew his command, and again at the end of the war when he was about to return to Rome at the head of his army.

This is a period in which a series of major figures managed to struggle their way to a position of dominance in Rome, but then discovered that they were unable to maintain that status. The key problem for a series of figures from Sulla to Octavian was that the Roman system was designed to prevent one man from dominating, by giving each magistrate at least one colleague of equal rank – two consuls, ten tribunes of the plebs etc, officially limiting their period of office to a single year and forbidding anyone from serving two terms in a row. The best anyone willing to work largely within the rules could hope for was to arrange for the election of their supporters into key roles for the following year, but once they were out of office even such major figures such as Pompey struggled to maintain any political dominance and you could almost guarantee that within a year or two of someone implementing reforms they would come under attack and would start to be reversed.

In many ways that emerges as the biggest weakness of the Republican system – the lack of any principle that an incoming magistrate should respect their predecessor’s major reforms. Indeed the general principle appears to have been quite the opposite – that anyone wanting to make a name for themselves could do so by attacking those very reforms. In a way this demonstrated that the rules of the Republic were quite robust – repeated attempts were made to reduce the power of the Tribunes of the Plebs for instance, on the grounds the office had been at the heart of most of the worst periods of disorder, but they were almost always repealed within a few years.

This is an interesting approach to the period, and one that I found to be of great value. The detailed approach to the day-to-day politics of Rome brings to the fore many key developments that are often skipped over in books that include more military history, but that actually played a major role in the continued instability of the Republic. The detailed look at the workings of the Roman Republic also helps explain why so many attempts to reform it failed, and why Augustus’s eventual reforms were so cunning, and so succesful.

Part I: The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Republic (146-70 BC)
1 - The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Republic (146-70 BC)

Part II: The New Republic Challenged (70-59 BC)
2 – An Outbreak of Peace? Political Reform and the ‘New’ Republic (69-64 BC)
3 – The Sullan Legacy and the Second Civil; War (64-62 BC)
4 – A Stronger Republic? The Shadow of the Triumvirate (62-59 BC)

Part III: The Crisis of the New Republic (58-49 BC)
5 – Bloody Chaos: The Tribunates of Clodius and Milo (58-56 BC)
6 – The Rise and Fall of the ‘Triumviral Republic’ (55-52 BC)
7 – The Rise and Fall of the ‘Pompeian Republic’ (52-49 BC)

Part IV: The Fall of the New Republic (49-30 BC)
8 – A New Model: The Rise and Fall of the Caesarian Republic (49-44 BC)
9 – The Ghost of Caesar and the Bloody Rise of the Triumviral Republic (44-42 BC)
10 – The Rise and Fall of the Triumviral Republic: From Philippi to Actium (42-2_

Author: Gareth C. Sampson
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military

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