HIST 2100: ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME
Lecture 3: The Struggle of the Orders
1. The transition from monarchy to Republic. The evidence tends to suggest that the transition
from a monarchy to a Republic at Rome took place in the late-sixth century BC.
• Literary sources like Livy give 509 BC as the year.
• The fasti start in 509 BC as well. These are perhaps a more reliable ‘documentary’ source
than literary authors like Livy.
2. The new Republican system. Put simply, the new Republican political system had three main
i) The consuls. There were two at any one time. They held office for a year. They were
elected by an assembly of the people. They had both military and civilian powers.
ii) The senate. In later stages of Republic, the senate was a permanent body of
aristocratic men. The senate might have been a less permanent body at the very start of
iii) The Assemblies of the People. There were several different popular assemblies in the
Republican period. The main one in the early Republic apparently was the comitia
centuriata (‘Assembly of the centuries’). This assembly elected magistrates, passed laws,
acted as a court, and had foreign relations functions (e.g., ratifying treaties and declaring
3. Social divisions. The literary sources claim that earliest Rome was a socially divided society
from the earliest period. Various other types of evidence (especially the fasti and the Twelve
Tables) would also suggest sharp social divisions, especially from the middle of the fifth century.
The main social divisions were between:
i) Slave and free. The Twelve Tables make it clear that early Rome was a slave owning
ii) Patricians and plebeians. The literary sources claim that patriciate was ‘closed’ from the
start of the Republic (i.e., no new families could become patrician), and that for the first
century-and-a-half, the patricians monopolized the office of consul. The evidence of the fasti,
however, suggests that only from the middle of the fifth century BC was there a patrician
monopoly on high office. The Twelve Tables also suggests that there was an (eventually
unsuccessful) attempt to prevent patricians and plebeians from marrying each other.
iii) Patrons and Clients. There is also evidence in the Twelve Tables of the institution of
patronage in early Rome, just as there is evidence for this institution in later periods of Roman
history. According to this patrons had the obligation to protect and give benefits to their
lower-class clients; clients, for their part, had to offer various types of support.
iv) Landowners and landless. The Twelve Tables show that already in the fifth century there
was a distinction between landowners, who were liable to military service (adsidui) and
landless people, who usually were not permitted to serve in the army (proletarii).
1 4. The economy of early Rome. The Twelve Tables also provide evidence relating to economic
conditions in early Rome.
i) Agriculture. Agriculture was the main economic activity. Cereal crops, viticulture, and
arboriculture were the most important forms of agricultural activity; raising livestock was
somewhat less impor