Roman civil wars

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The years between 133 and 30 BC are considered the epoch of the Roman Civil Wars . In which the Roman Republic initially got into a severe crisis and then finally went under. What began with the failed Gracchian reforms and the "party struggles" between Optimates and Populares ended with the establishment of the absolute monarchy in the form of the principate under the first Roman emperor Augustus .


Paradoxically, the crisis in the Roman Republic was mainly due to military successes. The rise of Rome to the dominant power of the Mediterranean and the enormous expansion of its national territory created profound social tensions between various interest groups in the empire: the aristocratic landowners , the Roman small farmers , the growing urban knight class ( Eques ), especially in Rome itself, and the increasingly powerful military leaders of the empire.

Sections of the Roman nobility , represented in the Senate by the group of Optimates , achieved enormous wealth through the increase in their land holdings and the influx of slaves from the conquered areas, which was further increased through financial transactions. The peasants , who, as legionaries, made the conquests possible, became increasingly impoverished . Because of their service in the legions, they could either not manage their farms at all or, because they could not afford slaves and only had limited cultivation areas, they were unable to compete with the latifundia owners. Many of them descended into the urban proletariat and thus became an interesting reservoir of voters within Rome. The popular group, which included members of plebeian families as well as patricians willing to reform , i.e. members of the senate nobility , took on their interests . In some cases they actually strove for a more equitable distribution of land ownership, in others only to exhaust the proletarian potential of voters and to increase their own power with the help of an army clientele . In addition, the military leaders of the empire, especially the proconsuls and propraetors , became more and more powerful people thanks to the extended campaigns and thanks to the legions sworn in on them, who after their return to Rome could no longer accept the loss of all their powers.


The attempts at reform by the Gracches

The civil wars began in 133 BC. BC with the attempt of the tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus to push through a land reform. Agricultural laws were supposed to limit the power of the big landowners and improve the situation of the small farmers and urban proletarians . The changes in the law provided for the land, which the upper class had bought up under legally dubious circumstances, to be divided into plots and distributed to smallholders and urban proles . In addition to overcoming social tensions, the desire to maintain Rome's military clout - only those who owned could do military service - was decisive for Tiberius Gracchus.

By means of two acts contradicting the Roman state order - the removal of his co-tribune voting against the agricultural laws and the unauthorized release of the Attalos property inherited from the Roman state for their implementation - the agricultural laws finally came into being. In order to prevent his laws, which were opposed by conservative circles in the Senate, from being reversed, Tiberius Gracchus was re-elected as tribune the following year. This again represented a breach of the constitutional order of the republic , in which every office had to be filled annually according to the annuity principle. Thereupon Tiberius Gracchus and about 300 of his followers were slain by senators and supporters of the Optimates on the Capitol . As a result, there were tumultuous uprisings in the streets of Rome, but they were militarily suppressed.

Ten years later, 123–121 BC. BC, Tiberius' younger brother Gaius Sempronius Gracchus gained enough political weight with the support of the Equites , the Roman knighthood, to be able to continue the work of his brother. He made another attempt to solve the agricultural problem.

In opposition to Gaius, consul Lucius Opimius formed a following of dissatisfied, sometimes violent optimates. When Gaius came out in favor of granting citizenship to all Italian allies of Rome , he lost the support of the urban Roman proletariat, which feared for its already limited political influence. The Senate took the opportunity to declare Gaius Gracchus an enemy of the state. Forced to flee, he let himself be killed by a slave. Opimius and his followers eventually instigated street fights in which 3,000 supporters of the Popularen were killed.

The Optimates had prevailed for the time being, but they had also introduced a moment of violence into Roman domestic politics that would eventually turn against them.

Marius and Sulla

Gaius Marius

In 107 BC The general Gaius Marius was elected consul, a representative of the popular and supporter of the ideas of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. From 111 to 105 BC He successfully waged war against King Jugurtha of Numidia and in 102 and 101 BC. In BC he defeated the Cimbri and Teutons in the Cimber Wars , which had previously defeated several Roman legions. With his military successes, Marius' power and reputation grew.

He was the first Roman to hold the consulate several times in a row . This violation of the annuity principle gave him almost dictatorial power, but weakened the constitutional order of the Roman Republic. Laws and rules were increasingly subordinated to the usefulness considerations of the respective rulers.

As a politician, Marius pushed through an army and agrarian reform: instead of the previous citizenry, a professional army , which also included members of the proletariat, was added. The veterans were entitled to a piece of farmland that the after completing their service ager publicus was taken, the Roman state land. Since the respective commanders of the legions were responsible for distributing land to their veterans, a strong bond of loyalty developed between them. The Roman legionaries thus became part of the so-called army clientele. They felt less and less committed to the state than to their respective general. This ultimately brought about a fundamental shift in power, away from the senate nobility as a whole to the individual owners of the highest military authority, which ultimately ended with Augustus' extensive elimination of the power of the Senate.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla

In the Social War (91-89 v. Chr.) Also fought for the Italian allies of Rome full citizenship. This increased the number of Roman citizens entitled to vote, without the urban institutions of the republic being adapted to this. For example, only those who were in the city could take part in the popular assemblies and the annual elections for the offices of the republic. So the soldiers and veterans from the territories of the allies saw themselves much more committed to loyalty to their general than to the Senate and the other institutions in distant Rome, in the creation of which they were not involved.

Under the leadership of the patrician Lucius Cornelius Sulla , who had fought together with Marius in the Jugurthine and the alliance war, the optimates in the Senate attacked Marius' reforms. Sulla was born in 88 BC. Elected consul. After a popular coup, Sulla was the first Roman general in history to invade Rome with his troops and regained power by military force. This destroyed another part of the old constitution.

Gnaeus Pompey Magnus

While Sulla because of the war against King Mithridates VI. Had to leave Rome immediately, the Populares under Marius and the new consul of the year 87 BC took advantage of the BC, Lucius Cornelius Cinna , the favor of the hour. They seized power after a ten-day battle in which many members of the Senate and supporters of the Optimates were killed and then exercised a regime of terror in Rome. Cinna, like Marius, the 86 BC Chr. Died shortly after taking up another consulate, elect to be consul three times in a row.

When he returned in 82 BC BC Sulla, supported by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus , defeated the Populares and in turn established a dictatorship . The trailblazer was the Interrex L. Valerius Flaccus , who had introduced the Lex Valeria's Enabling Act into the Comitia centuriata . Legitimized by this law, he defeated the followers of Marius and had them declared outlawed on proscription lists , systematically persecuted and killed. He put bounties on particularly dangerous political opponents. Eventually he restored the power of the Senate and restricted the powers of the tribunes. After he had secured the traditional republican order once more, Sulla stepped in 79 BC. BC back. With this behavior he corresponded to the republican tradition, despite the fact that his own power was no longer based on the reputation of the Senate, but on his authority over the legions.

The first triumvirate

Gaius Iulius Caesar

After Sulla's resignation, Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus became dominant figures in Roman politics. Both belonged to the Optimates, but made in 70 BC. Almost all changes in the law of Sulla reversed. As commanders of the legions in the 3rd Mithridatic War and during the suppression of the slave revolt under Spartacus , both rose to military potentates who felt obliged to their clientele among the soldiers and veterans. Like Marius and Sulla before them, this enabled them to ignore the Senate, whose position of power they should have stood up for as optimates.

When the Senate decided in 60 BC Refused to recognize Pompey's measures to care for his veterans, he concluded a private alliance with Crassus and a young political climber, Julius Caesar , the triumvirate . This illegal “three-man rule” was intended to ensure “that nothing should happen in the state that displeases one of the three”. (Suetone). The fact that Caesar came from the ranks of the Populares shows that the original conflict - predominance of the Senate nobility or greater participation of the people - hardly played a role. From now on, the question of existence for the republic was: Could it still exist in its traditional form? Would it be able to push back or integrate the power of military rulers that emerged after Marius' army reform, or would it ultimately be subject to it?

Caesar was initially the junior partner in the triumvirate. As agreed, his allies supported his election as consul of 59 BC. Then he took over, like every consul after the end of his year in office, the administration of a province . Caesar used the province of Gallia cisalpina as a starting point to begin in the years 58–51 BC. To conquer the entire non-Roman Gaul up to the Rhine. This not only brought him enormous wealth, but also the authority to command the empire over huge armies. Since Crassus in 53 BC In the war against the Parthians , Caesar now represented the greatest military power factor in the state.

Civil war between Caesar and Pompey

After Pompey's wife, Caesar's daughter Juliet , died in childbirth , an essential element of the alliance between the two power politicians was lost. In addition, Pompey had left the popular fairway more and more, moved closer to the Senate and was for the year 52 BC. Was elected consul sine collega , that is, sole consul. The situation came to a head when Caesar, with Pompey's approval, was ultimately asked by the Senate to resign his command and return to Rome as a private citizen. For Caesar this would have meant the risk of legal proceedings for exceeding his powers. In this situation, Caesar and his troops set off towards the Rubicon river , which separated the military-free urban area of ​​Rome from the northern provinces. Pompey received on January 7, 49 BC. Order from the Senate to defend the republic against Caesar. On January 10th, Caesar crossed the Rubicon and started the war against the republic. He marched against Rome, which was evacuated by Pompey, and then to Spain, where he eliminated Pompey's troops. Pompey himself was later defeated in Greece at the battle of Pharsalus and shortly afterwards murdered in Egypt; the other senatorial armies (which comprised 6 legions) were successively defeated in Africa , at the Battle of Thapsus , and Hispania , at the Battle of Munda . This enabled Caesar to become the sole ruler of Rome.

The Roman world in 56 BC . BC , when Caesar, Crassus and Pompey met at Luca to a conference at which they decided: the Prokonsulschaft of Caesar in Gaul for another five years to extend and Crassus to enter the province of Syria and Pompey the two Spanish provinces and Africa.

The second triumvirate

Map of the Roman Empire after the Treaty of Misenum ( 39 BC )
  • Italy (Senate)
  • Octavian's sphere of influence
  • Antony 's sphere of influence
  • Provinces of Lepidus
  • Sea realm of Sextus Pompey
  • Kingdom of Egypt ( Cleopatra )
  • Vassal states
  • After Caesar 45 BC However, when he returned to Rome victoriously, he failed because of the political task of permanently securing the newly won position of power that had never been seen before in Roman history. Whether he actually aspired to the royal rule was in his time and is still controversial today. His election as dictator for life could only be a temporary solution. Politically, Caesar had reached a dead end. On March 15, 44 BC He was finally murdered by the conspirators around Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus .

    The conspirators' plan to restore rule of the Senate soon proved to be an illusion. Power in Rome fell to those who, as emperors, were able to mobilize the largest and most powerful legions. Caesar's great-nephew and heir Octavian , who later became Augustus , and the Caesarian generals Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus showed themselves to be superior to the Caesar murderers in the long term. They formed the second triumvirate within the constitutional framework of the Lex Titia and ruthlessly eliminated all domestic political opponents by means of proscriptions . a. also Cicero . In the Battle of Philippi , Octavian and Antony defeated 42 BC. The armies of Cassius and Brutus. From that point on, it was no longer a question of whether Rome would remain a republic, but rather what should take its place.

    A reconciliation seemed within reach when Pompey's son Sextus Pompey , who was blocking Italy from Sicily with his fleet, 39 BC. BC reached the rehabilitation of the proscribed in the Treaty of Misenum , but the following year the fighting between Octavian and Sextus Pompey flared up again. After the decision of the conflict and the conquest of Sicily by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in 36 BC. BC Octavian succeeded in politically neutralizing Lepidus.

    After the victory over their political opponents, however, the tensions between the remaining triumvirs grew, and now it all boiled down to a final argument with Antony and the allied Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt . With the naval victory over Antonius at Actium in 31 BC BC and the capture of Alexandria in the following year, Octavian secured sole rule in the Roman Empire.

    Augustus and the end of the civil wars

    Bronze statue of Augustus

    With the end of the civil wars came the irrevocable end of the republic. Unlike Caesar, Octavian , who received the honorary name Augustus ("the exalted") from the Senate , succeeded in replacing it with a new, permanent form of government: the principate was a veiled monarchy in which the old republican institutions and offices remained, but the Princeps united all decisive powers in his person. In his title, the office on which power in the newly emerged empire was actually based was therefore emphasized : that of the emperor .

    100 years after Augustus, the historian Tacitus lamented the fall of the republic. The Romans of that time were well aware of the loss of political freedom that came with the principate. One of the founding myths of Rome has always been the story of the expulsion of the last of the seven ancient Roman kings by Lucius Junius Brutus . Julius Caesar's pursuit of the title of king was fatal. The fact that the Romans finally accepted the barely veiled dictatorship of an individual was not least the result of an entire century of wars and the resulting longing for peace. Augustus knew how to satisfy this: The Augustan age was not least the beginning of the Pax Romana - the Roman peace.

    Global situation of the Roman Empire during the Civil War, 100 BC Chr.



    • Heinz Bellen : Fundamentals of Roman history. From the royal times to the transition of the republic to the principate . Darmstadt 1995.
    • Jochen Bleicken : Augustus. A biography . Berlin 1998.
    • Henning Börm : Hellenistic Poleis and Roman Civil War. Stasis in the Greek East after the Ides of March (44 to 39 BC) . In: Johannes Wienand et al. (Ed.): Civil War in Ancient Greece and Rome . Stuttgart 2016, p. 99ff., Online .
    • Klaus Bringmann : History of the Roman Republic . Munich 2002.
    • Karl Christ : Crisis and Fall of the Roman Republic . Darmstadt 2007.
    • Michael Crawford: The Roman Republic . Munich 1984 (dtv history of antiquity, vol. 5).
    • Ulrich Gotter : The dictator is dead! Politics in Rome between the Ides of March and the establishment of the Second Triumvirate . Stuttgart 1996.
    • Christian Meier : Caesar . Berlin 1982 (several ND).
    • Theodor Mommsen : Roman history . Berlin 1901 (third book: Die Revolution ; fourth book: The foundation of the military monarchy , 1st part; fifth book: The foundation of the military monarchy , 2nd part). [Classic but outdated representation.]
    • Ronald Syme : The Roman Revolution. Power struggles in ancient Rome . Fundamentally revised and for the first time complete new edition, ed. by Christoph Selzer and Uwe Walter, (Original edition: The Roman Revolution , Oxford University Press, Oxford 1939), Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2003. ISBN 3-608-94029-4 .
    • Christian A. Caroli: On the way to the Rubicon. The clashes between Caesar and his political opponents 52-49 BC Chr. Constance 2008.
    • Dominik Maschek: The Roman Civil Wars. Archeology and History of a Time of Crisis . Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2018. ISBN 978-3-8053-4913-0 .

    Web links

    Commons : Roman civil wars  - collection of images, videos and audio files
    This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on June 21, 2005 .