The Roman Republic Vs Roman Empire and The Imperial System

When Augustus became the sole ruler of Rome in 27 BCE, the Rome Empire began. Maintaining the Roman Republic image was a way of power preservation. Augustus commenced the journey to build more monumental structures that transformed Rome, which brings us to the topic,  the Roman Republic vs Roman Empire. 

Transitioning from the Roman republic to the Roman Empire happened after a power shift. Romans were represented in a democracy but shifted to a centralized imperial rule. And, the emperor had the most power, and he made all decisions in the autocratic government. 

roman republic vs roman empire

Although Augustus is referred to as the first Rome emperor, he never assumed the title emperor or king nor did his successors. They preferred the title Princeps, first citizen, or primus inter pares meaning first among peers. The titles gave an appearance of limited power that was crucial under the Republic.

Roman Empire

The period between 27 BCE and 180 CE is when the Roman rule became stable with less war, and it was known as Roman Peace. Augustus took over power after civil wars, and his administration brought positive impacts on foreign relations.

After establishing the social structures of the empire, they remained unchanged for many centuries. As a result, regular trade was established between Rome, India and China hence increasing material wealth in peaceful ways. 

Roman Republic 

The Romans form of government was a republic, and other countries like the United States later copied it. It began when the Roman’s took over from Etruscan conquerors in 509 BCE who was centred north of Rome and ruled Romans for hundreds of years.

After getting their freedom, Roman’s established a republic government where citizens elected representatives to rule them. A republic differs from democracy in the way each citizen is expected to be active in the governing state.

In the early Roman Republic, the wealthy class dominated Rome and they were known as patricians. Two leaders held the highest positions known as consuls, and they ruled the Roman Republic. The senate was a composition of patricians who were responsible for electing the consuls. Lower-class citizens plebeians had no say in the government nor did women. And, only men were allowed to vote.

According to tradition, patricians and plebeians were supposed to be separated, and intermarriage between them was unlawful. As time went on, the plebeians tribunes to represent them, and they gained the right to accept or decline any decisions made by the senate. 

Slowly the plebeians obtained more power to the point of holding positions of consul. Even with the changes, patricians still used their wealth to influence elections. 

Imperial Rome

In the 1st Century, BC was a period of unrest and civil war which marked the transition of the Rome Republic to an empire. During this time, the career of Julius Caesar kicked off, and he ruled Rome as a dictator. He was assassinated in 44 BCE, and Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Caesar’s nephew Octavian took over. 

Octavian fought and won Antony in northern Africa; he has crowned Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. He ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE with a difference, and his governance was characterized as stable and peaceful.

roman republic vs roman empire

Augustus’ combined elements from the Republic and the traditional monarchy powers was known as principate. He was in control of the government as the prince, but the senate was functional. Rome prospered under Augustus making the emperor rule be looked at as a god, and after death, the good emperors were worshipped as gods.

Roman Republic Vs Roman Empire

1. Imperial institutions

Although Augustus and his successors were powerful, they strived to maintain the Republic image. Power was shared under the Republic among many officeholders in short limited terms. Augustus made changes by taking most of the power but held the different offices that could be under someone else. For instance, he was the high priest(Pontifex Maximus) and the censor(Overseer), but the offices existed physically. 

The control over the military was one of the significant components in Augustus’ power while in Republic consuls were military commanders for a one-year term. There were occasional changes significantly during the civil wars, but the fact that the army command was temporal gave hope to Romans. 

Instead of taking over military power, Augustus made the ingenious move to be a stand-in governor. He took control of the dangerous Roman provinces that were home to many Roman legions. A move that made Augustus look like the good guy doing a favour to Romans.

2. Currency

The Roman currency was not an economic tool but a political tool under the empire rule. Julius Caesar put his portrait on coins, a practice that Augustus carried on. Before Caesar took over power, coins had pictures of emperor gods. 

roman republic vs roman empire

Having a sitting emperor on the cash was a power reinforcement and economic connections with him as well as shaping his image to the Roman people. Portraits on coins also popularized family members and political allies, especially the chosen heirs. 

3. Infrastructure

Most of the technology in Roman Republic vs Roman empire was similar, but Augustus altered some systems. He made permanent the positions of those who watched the construction and maintenance of these projects, which helped improve accountability. It was also a way for the emperor to reward his supporters with secure jobs.

4. Monumental building

Augustus, directly and indirectly, commissioned the construction of multiple temples and public buildings. The monumental arch and the famous Ara Pacis, an altar of Augustan Peace, was also part of his erections. 

The projects were milestones that solidified Augustus’s power. Also, he served the Roman people with the beautification of the city and hazard reduction by building stone houses which were less susceptible to fires. Romans had suffered frequent losses on their property caused by fires.

Like any other affluent Roman leader before him, he lived in a typical house on Rome’s Palatine Hill, creating an illusion of another wealthy Roman citizen. Later palatine hill was taken over by emperors who built an imperial palace.

5. Foreign policy

The Roman Empire grew significantly in 117 CE, during emperor Trajan’s rule. After his death, most of the territory he had conquered in Mesopotamia was lost, but from then on, Rome was relatively stable and focussed on foreign policy. In the early Republic times, the military only conquered and brought the loot home, including slaves. 

Later in the Empire, Rome’s legions served a defensive role by building fortifications as they were stationed in the frontier. They helped regulate the people’s movements, public works and regulating the activity of goods. Mostly the Roman foreign policy’s focus was control over the people who lived along borders and interfering politically, rather than militarily.

Conclusion

Comparing the Roman Republic vs the Roman Empire is like watching the power change hands from legions to a centralized zone. Augustus made fundamental reorganization to the Roman state function, but the ordinary Romans did not benefit from the changes. 

His reforms did not cause significant differences in social and economic structures. The massive buildings projects boosted foreign trade goods, knowledge and entertainment to Romans. The Roman people swapped their old patrician patrons for emperors who ruled all Romans. 

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