This post is not supposed to offer a formal and authoritative or complete account, description or thesis of the rise and fall of the Roman Republic. Instead, it rather quickly and incompletely summarises what small and insignificant information I gathered in a relatively informal manner for the simple purpose of explaining it to myself. The degree of complexity is completely arbitrary and set to satisfy my heterogenous and idiosyncratic intellectual criteria. This post does not claim to be a rigorous work of history, geography, economics, politics or any other mix thereof of a standard to be published. However, it does make use of all of them, if only as sources and as a buffer between what strikes me as relevant and that which does not.
The success of the Roman Republic, as I understand it, was the result of a number of features that made that polity more adaptable than many of its neighbours and opponents, be it politically, legally or militarily. Checks and balances created competition for leadership that was not necessarily adversarial. Conquest and a degree of economic flexibility created the necessary income inequality to eliminate collective action problems, the abuses from which were at least partially mitigated by increasing legal equality of opportunity that extended the political franchise. Supported by what strikes me as a fortuitous order of conquest, which allowed it to build momentum at a manageable pace, these facts seem to have been the driving impetus for Rome’s success. However, the burden of conquest eventually became too much to bear and led to the Marian reforms, which although successful at guaranteeing military success undermined the Republic’s checks and balances, exacerbated the agency of the few against the collective action problems of the many, and facilitated its eventual capture and reform into the Roman Empire.
The post is divided into four sections. The first focuses on the Republic’s military adaptability. The second considers some secondary features of the Roman state, beyond military adaptability, that also helped its expansion, what I term loyal competition, adaptability of legal franchise and the location, timing and sequencing of conquest. The third part considers the self-reinforcing effect of military conquest as a fuel of economic inequality, the evidence of this fact, both statistical and some telling testimonies. It argues that this economic inequality funded the military agency introduced by the Marian reforms to facilitate the capture of government by the few in a manner that institutionally crystallized political autocracy as the defining feature of the Roman Empire.