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Holland, however, makes the case for Roman personal ambition and competetiveness as major motivators for kingship, and also highlights a variety of additional interest Breezy and brisk, Tom Holland tells the story of the early Roman Republic and the counterintuitive yet inevitable transition to a monarchy in a style that is very easy to read.

Holland, however, makes the case for Roman personal ambition and competetiveness as major motivators for kingship, and also highlights a variety of additional interesting oxymorons built into Roman dogma. The speed with which the reader is whooshed through the narrative makes one worry how thorough a history can be without being stodgy and meticulous.

Carthage , the Punic Wars , and Hannibal receive perhaps two pages. One gets the impression as they read this book that they are zipping through an art museum on a roller coaster. Gladly, the details Holland chooses are chosen very well, which makes his accelerated style very functional. They are concise and illuminating and well crafted, and they make it possible to describe the Carthaginian wars effectively.

The Roman attitude is the primary theme, with all its perks and pitfalls. For example, Romans regarded their city with pride and arrogance, yet Holland and others compare it unfavorably to other cities of its day in terms of layout, consistency, and architectural beauty. The anathema of long-term despotic rule does have its advantages, as Holland indicates, allowing long-term architectural projects and metropolitan organization, compared to 1-year consular rule that prevented extensive plans of action, resulting in a Rome that was, in short, a haphazard dump in which it was easy to get lost.

Romans likewise cherished the illusion of public opinion swaying the direction of their city and nation, when in truth the ruling class held sway more and more as years passed, as the Republic gradually metamorphosed into a plutocracy. Because this period of Roman history has been covered to great extent, it's difficult to question the veracity of historical fact Holland presents--he offers up seven pages of source material in defense of his writings. Holland has degrees in English and Latin, not history, and may take a bit of creative license with the figures in his book, but he doesn't spend much time on anyone without a significant amount of contemporary writing done about them, and it's easy to infer what sort of men Julius and Augustus Caesar, Pompey, Sulla, Cicero, and others were through their actions, and because they constantly wrote about themselves or had someone else do it for them though they may have elaborated somewhat upon their histories--it's plausible that Julius Caesar was not, in fact, a god.

While the opinions and feelings he projects upon the characters may or may not be true, the circumstances certainly were, and Holland uses his Roman Thesis to calculate them appropriately. In the end, Holland covers ground similar to that which Plutarch covers with the latter, Roman portion of his Lives , but with more energy and a great deal of circumspection about the nature of Roman society, with the aforementioned disdain for an inevitable monarchy at the forefront, and how successive personalities laid the path for Emperors.

I liked this book a great deal. View all 20 comments. Jan 17, Arminius rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , nook-book.

Everyone agrees that government isn’t working. Are the founders to blame?

Roman history is well documented and this book does a great job of retelling their superb history. This angered his former deputy Sulla who had campaigned for that job. Sulla then challenged Marius for the job which caused a civil war in Rome. Unfortunately Marius died before he could campaign. Then he marched on Rome and be Roman history is well documented and this book does a great job of retelling their superb history. Then he marched on Rome and became its dictator.

Sulla established peace with Mithridates, in the kingdom of Pontus, but made a list of proscriptions and exterminated most of his enemies. He is not regarded as a great Roman Ruler due to his extreme violence and his unpopular and peculiar relaxation activities. He does one remarkable thing, however,he retired and relinquished his power then returned to his odd behavioral ways. The republic was afterward reestablished. The author points out the mindset of the Roman people. Ambition was their number one goal.

They viewed sex as a weakness. They were xenophobic. Winning was everything and the path to glory was winning wars. Pompey rode this subscription to its highest level. When the Senate decided to try to stop the Pirate harassment of Roman citizens, which had grown substantially over the decade, they called on Pompey. He miraculously wiped out the Pirates in just 3 months. He easily defeated him and continued into Syria and Judea making them Roman satellites.

No Roman general had accomplished so much. In all, countries came under Rome rule due to Pompey. However, there were two other men seeking similar glory in the midst. The other was Julius Caesar. Caesar won a high office due to his great charisma and paying for votes. From this position he was able to secure a part in a triumvirate along with Pompey and Crassus which ruled Rome. While serving as part of the triumvirate he was appointed as governor of Gaul.

This is where he met his first test of his military greatness by soundly defeating a united Gallic force. He then moved through Germany and built a bridge to cross into England and occupy Britain by defeating a Celtic Army. It was the first time in history that a foreign enemy invaded Great Britain. Caesar calculated that the Senate was out to get him, gathered his troupes and assembled them at the Rubicon. Pompey fled to Egypt but rather than the great hero receiving safety, he is murdered. Caesar entered Egypt finding Egypt in the midst of a political power struggle.

Cleopatra, in exile, was snuggled in a blanket then rolled out in front of Caesar. She seduced Caesar. He returned, with Cleopatra, to a shattered and crumbled Rome. The Senate gave him a 10 year period of dictatorship recognizing his brilliance.


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Afterwards Rome capitulated into another civil war. Octavian and Antony agree to joint rule for a while. As Antony relished in power his relationship with Octavian strained until they finally went to war. In Rome he was entitled as Augustus. Augustus ruled for 40 years of peace and prosperity and a happy Rome strived. View all 3 comments. Jun 05, Siria rated it it was ok Shelves: nonfiction , classical-history , history. I am of two minds about this book.

There is no denying that as an overview of the final years of the Roman Republic, running from roughly the time of the Social War to the establishment of the principate, it's a fine achievement. Holland takes events which have been recounted many times over the last two thousand years or so, and makes them fresh and interesting, even to someone like myself who has read of them more times than I care to think about.

There is a great sense of narrative verve and I am of two minds about this book. There is a great sense of narrative verve and energy to the book, and certainly if I were to recommend a starter book on Republican Rome to someone, this would be one of the first I would pick off my bookshelves for that very reason. The intricacies of the various triumvirates and factions can be bewildering at times, and Holland handles them all skilfully. I did have some problems however, with Holland's style, which came across at times as being overly sensational, as if he was trying to shock the reader with some of the more unsavoury to us aspects of Roman life.

He descibes some things in ways that are, to my mind, too anachronistic and exaggerated to give an accurate picture of what was going on at this period in history. Describing Caesar's legionaries as stormtroopers is dramatic, but it gives a completely false idea of the organisation of the Roman army, its function, and projects back the loyalties of the legionaries towards the end of Caesar's life too far back towards the beginning of his career. Caesar was certainly popular with his men, yes, but to imply with the word 'stormtrooper' that his men were fanatically loyal to him when he was just setting out on the trip to, say, Bithynia?

Anticipates too much. No one at that stage could possibly have guessed that he would use the loyalty of his men to manoeuvre his way into a pre-eminent position in the political system of the republic. Holland's translations of some of the primary sources also tended towards the, how shall I put this, ribald, at times. Often unnecessarily so, I think - there's a difference between describing Clodia as flirtatious and as a cocktease, for instance, and I don't think it's a word you can apply backwards to first century BC Latin with any great efficiency.

There are also one or two instances of a slight cultural bias sneaking through, despite Holland's best efforts at cultural relativity - as far as we are concerned, yes, the marital practices of the Ptolemies are incestuous. They weren't considered so by the Ptolemies. I think the author would also be well advised to have a quick glance at Said's Orientalism.

If I had to read the phrase 'Oriental decadence' once more, I would have thrown the book across the room, I think. In all, it's a good, mostly intelligent popular history. I wouldn't rely on it for much more than that, though. Jun 14, Jonfaith rated it really liked it. For the generation that had lived through the civil wars, this was the consolation history gave them. Out of calamity could come greatness. Out of dispossession could come the renewal of a civilised order. A near Footean examination of the short-lived Roman Republic -- the text has flourishes of prose but it is the titanic visiage of the people themselves which carry the text.

It also appears that in the aftermath of the Repu For the generation that had lived through the civil wars, this was the consolation history gave them. It also appears that in the aftermath of the Republic it was Augustus who served as the origins of Conservatism, welding self-interest with tradtional ideals onto the unwashed. Sighs float up to the heavens as Order is found and Property is protected.

View 1 comment. Jan 13, Gumble's Yard rated it it was amazing Shelves: Brilliantly constructed summary of the fall of the Republic — mainly concentrating on the period from the actions of Sulla up to the death of Octavius although with some coverage of earlier tensions such as the Gracchus brothers. As a narrative almost novelistic style history book it is better read by someone already familiar with the history — where it acts as an extremely readable summary and also one which implicitly rather than explicitly draws out its key themes around the reason for the Brilliantly constructed summary of the fall of the Republic — mainly concentrating on the period from the actions of Sulla up to the death of Octavius although with some coverage of earlier tensions such as the Gracchus brothers.

A book for the new reader which very much inspires further reading — and even in Robert Harris case the writing of his Cicero trilogy. Mar 07, Manray9 rated it really liked it Shelves: classical-era. Holland transformed his source material, which often seems dry and obtuse to modern readers, into an exceedingly readable tale -- even though he is guilty of occasionally lapsing into glibness. Holland earned a strong Four Stars from me as well as an interest in reading his other works.

View 2 comments. Apr 07, Ahmed Chowdhry rated it it was amazing. This compulsively readable book put it all together in one seamless narrative, and replaced my slides with a breathtaking movie that has it all: epic battles, dynastic soap opera, noble patriotism, eyecatching eccentricity, treacherously shifting alliances, scheming and backstabbing and dazzling hypocrisy, with the survival of a great democracy always at stake and always at risk.

The end of the Roman Republic, more so than the much later fall of the Roman Empire, is a tale worth pondering. Tom Holland has made this experience exceedingly enjoyable, not to mention educational. Highest recommendation. Aug 24, Harte rated it really liked it. This is a great place to start Anyone who holds an interest in Roman History, indeed the fall of the Republic, should read this.

Not heavy going and extremely well written, well paced and very informative. Apr 02, Palmyrah rated it really liked it. After reading four of his books, I find I can predict his judgements on this or that historical event or personage with considerable accuracy. One simply assumes the worst, and Tom provides it. This can get a bit tiresome after a while. These tricks make me suspect Tom of cynicism regarding his readers as well as his material. He is an expert writing for the general reader, and he packs his books with action and scheming, with crisis succeeding crisis and outrage succeeding outrage, at such a pace that only the dullest of us could fail to pay attention.

Except, of course, that one grows deaf to the fire alarm after so much ringing. But perhaps he is doing it right; his books are very successful, after all. And of course, the periods of history he chooses to write about — the High Middle Ages, the birth of Islam, the Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome and, in this book, the last days of the Roman Republic — are replete with blood and thunder.

But I fear that, sometimes, he is drawing the great men and events of the past smaller and more venal than they really were, because he imputes our own materialistic outlook and sophistication about the external world to our forerunners. His ancients are, in a word, too cynically modern to be quite convincing. I found this book interesting and readable though ultimately the huge cast of characters begins to be confusing.

I have always had this problem with histories of the Republic, and I must say Holland handles the distinctions between Caelius and Clodius, or the elder and younger Gracchi, better than most. But one understands readily enough why the Romans were happy to embrace Octavian and the stability he brought, and pretend that it was just like the good old days. A thug and a sanguinary despot he may have been in his youth, but the age of Augustus actually was like the good old days of the Republic.

Physical information

Actually, it was probably a lot better than the Republic ever was. Jul 13, Roy Lotz rated it really liked it Shelves: one-damn-thing-after-another. And so Rubicon proved to be. Holland manages to condense an enormous amount of history into a novel-sized book. He paints thumbnail sketches of the principle actors Cicero, Caesar, Pompey , and also gives a kind of ethnography of Roman culture.

One also wonders how much apocryphal information Holland ends up relating. He does have a sort of disclaimer in the preface, saying that he fills in the gaps of our knowledge with educated guesses.

Roman Republicanism

Of course, this is what all writers of narrative history must do. Or were they ever? And if not, why? Even with its faults and flaws, this is a book well worth reading. You will learn; you will laugh; you will grieve; you will gasp. Aug 08, Juan-Pablo rated it it was amazing. This historical period is so fascinating that writing a History that reads like a novel doesn't sound like a big deal. But where many provide dry accounts, Holland excels with his sterling prose. Even if you already know the story, this book will give you new insights and a fast paced account of the Roman Republic that is always fun to read.

The author quickly covers in the first part of the book from the beginnings of the republic until the This historical period is so fascinating that writing a History that reads like a novel doesn't sound like a big deal. The author quickly covers in the first part of the book from the beginnings of the republic until the Gracchi brothers. At this point the focus starts to zoom in, and we dive into Marius and Sulla civil wars. What follows in detail is the core of the book; the emergence of Pompey, the biography of Caesar, and the struggle of Cato, Cicero, and others during this complex revolutionary period.

The climax arrives, as expected, when the 13th Legion crosses the Rubicon. The story fades out with Caesar Augustus' death. But the book also covers political, social, religious, and cultural topics. Through these you get lots of insights into the Roman World, how they thought, how they perceived their society, and ultimately Holland's thesis of why the Republic collapsed.

A great read that whets the appetite to learn more. Jul 24, Katy rated it really liked it Shelves: history. This book is a harder one for me to review and decide if I liked it or really liked it. So much is presented in each chapter that I had to do re-reads to figure out what was going on. And we are given more of the "soap opera" part of the story than the action of the story.

I think that I would have enjoyed this one more if I had studied Roman history a bit more. However, it you want to know about this time period in Roman History, you will meet many many characters, if only for a brief moment. Jan 06, Nicholas rated it it was amazing Shelves: history-theme-republican-rome. Rubicon reads with all the taught pacing of a political and military thriller - more spectacular for the fact that it's true.

Author Tom Holland manages to walk the very fine line between the objective scholarship and reporting that is classical history and the analysis, invention and narrative finesse of a master storyteller. Any book recounting events from antiquity suffers from a dearth of primary sources especially when compared to the record keeping of the modern age and while we may know Rubicon reads with all the taught pacing of a political and military thriller - more spectacular for the fact that it's true.

Any book recounting events from antiquity suffers from a dearth of primary sources especially when compared to the record keeping of the modern age and while we may know the broad strokes of the major events of an era, the finer details such as famously uttered lines at pivotal moments are almost surely the inventions of subsequent generations immortalizing key moments in the recent past. Holland is quick to point out this fact and reiterates the problematic nature of pinning down the finer details with absolute certainty in his bibliography of "primary" sources at the end.

There is a great deal that we take for granted in the story of the fall of the Roman Republic and much that we don't know. Holland writes with the authority of an author who has it all figured out, down to the mood and tenor of the time, a cultural post-mortem on an age based on the writings of a handful of men. There is almost certainly invention for the sake of storytelling, but it's invention without sophistry and in keeping with the general themes of the work; primarily, that the unbridled and free ranging ambition cultivated in Roman society was at once a blessing and a curse.

It pushed individuals to achieve glory both for themselves and the Republic in the pursuit of personal ambition, but it simultaneously made citizens nervous and jealous about the heights to which their fellow citizens were elevated. As Rome's reach grew, so did it's wealth and power and the internecine rivalries and political competitions, benign and small-scale at first, took on more and more weight.

Although not limited to politicians, membership in these colleges was at times key for political advancement. One example of this phenomenon in action is the career of Julius Caesar, whose political career took off after his appointment to the religious office of pontifex maximus, head of Roman religion. Ultimately, both public and private religion aimed at the same goal: keeping the pax deorum, peace with the gods, upon which the success of their state rested, as the Romans believed. Whenever any disasters befell the state, however, Romans typically assumed that pax deorum had been violated in some way.

The gods then had to be appeased in order to end the disaster and prevent similar events from occurring in the future. While the legends about the kings of Rome suggest that they had significant military responsibilities, it appears that their military actions were largely defensive. Just a decade or so after the expulsion of the kings, shortly after BCE, however, Roman expansion began in earnest. It is important to note here several key features of the early Roman military. First, until the late Republic, Rome did not maintain a standing army. Rather, a new army was raised for each campaign, and campaigns were typically launched in the spring and ended in the fall.

The festival of the October Horse, one of the religious festivals the Romans celebrated each year, involved a ritual purification of the cavalry and originally was likely designed as the end point of the campaign season. Also, similarly to the Greek world, the Romans had minimum wealth requirements for military service, since soldiers supplied their own equipment. Finally, one significant trend to note in early Republican military history is the repeated nature of Roman conflicts with the same enemies, such as the three Samnite Wars, the three Punic Wars, and the four Macedonian Wars.

This repetition suggests that, for whatever reason, the Romans did not aim to annihilate their opponents, unless absolutely pressed to do so. It appears that the Roman expansion in the s BCE began as a defensive measure. The result was the Battle of Lake Regillus, a decisive victory for Rome. The Roman victory this time resulted in the absorption of the Latin city-states into Rome as partial citizens. The Latins were not the only enemies the nascent Roman Republic had to face.

Romans fought and gradually conquered the Etruscan city-states to the north. Shortly thereafter, the city fell to the Romans. When the Roman soldiers were packing up the cult statue of Juno from her temple in Veii for transportation to Rome, a cheeky Roman soldier asked Juno if she wanted to come to Rome. The statue enthusiastically nodded her head. While still fighting the Latins, the Romans embarked upon what turned out to be a series of three wars with their neighbors to the east, the Samnites.

It also appears that, at some point during the Samnite Wars, the Romans switched from fighting in the Greek hoplite phalanx fashion to a system of their own making, the manipular legion. This new system apparently allowed more flexibility in the arrangement of the troops on the battlefield; it also allowed using both heavy and light infantry as needed, instead of keeping them in a static formation for the duration of a battle.

Weimar Republic

While not much else is known about the manipular legion, it appears to have been an effective system for the Romans for much of the Republican period. It is striking to consider that the Romans spent eighty of the hundred years in the third century BCE at war. They did not seem to have had the ambition to conquer the Greek city-states who were their neighbors in southern Italy; in — BCE, Rome nevertheless became embroiled in a war with Pyrrhus, king of Epirus in northern Greece, after providing help to Thurii in its dispute with Tarentum.

The Romans fought three major battles against Pyrrhus, the first two of which he won at great cost to his army. The Romans finally defeated Pyrrhus at their third battle against him in BCE, showing the superiority of the new Roman manipular legion even against the phalanx of the Macedonians, military descendants of Alexander the Great himself.

This victory united most of Italy, except for the very northern portion, under Roman rule. During roughly the same period, from and BCE, the Romans also fought three Punic Wars against Carthage, originally a Phoenician colony that became a leading maritime power. Culminating with the Roman destruction of both Carthage and Corinth in BCE, the eventual victory of the Romans over both powers allowed the Romans to gain full control over them and their previous land holdings.

Their victory effectively put the entire Mediterranean world under Roman rule. In BCE, when the Romans found themselves in control of a Mediterranean empire, they appeared to foresee little of the consequences of such a rapid expansion on internal stability in Rome proper. A critical question nevertheless faced them: how would the Republic, whose system of government was designed for a small city- state, adapt to ruling a large empire? The preliminary answer on which the Romans settled was to divide the conquered territories into provinces, to which senatorial governors were assigned for terms that varied from one to five years.

The system continued, with minor variations, into the Empire. The new availability of governor positions, however, only made the political competition in the Republic even stiffer than before. Senators competed for the most desirable positions; typically, these were provinces in which military action was on-going—since this provided the potential for winning military glory—or provinces that were wealthy, with the potential opportunity in governing them to acquire wealth. The late Republican historian Sallust, though, grimly saw the Roman victory in the Punic Wars as the beginning of the end of the Republic.

As Sallust and some other conservative politicians of his day believed, this victory corrupted the noble Roman character, traditionally steeled by privation. More importantly, the abundance of resources that flowed in following the victories over Carthage raised the question of distribution of this new wealth and land. The disagreements over this question dominated the politics of the Late Republic, creating two new political factions: the Populares, or those who protected the interests of the people, and the Optimates, or those who protected the interests of the best element of the populace—namely, themselves.

Indeed, if the legends are true, even the expulsion of the kings in BCE was a bloodless event. Starting with BCE, however, the final century of the Roman Republic was defined by political violence and civil wars. Alarmed that the lands acquired through recent Roman conquests had largely been taken over by rich landowners at the expense of poorer Romans, Gracchus proposed a land distribution law, known as the Lex Sempronia Agraria.

Gracchus argued that the advantages of such land redistribution would have benefited the state, since land-ownership was a pre-requisite for military service. This measure resulted in escalating conflict between Gracchus and the rest of the Senate. Since weapons were banned inside the Senate building, enraged Senators grabbed whatever was on hand, including chair and table legs, and clubbed Gracchus to death. As the biographer Plutarch states, this was the first instance of civic strife of this kind in ancient Rome.

The death of Tiberius Gracchus also meant the death of his proposed law. Realizing that the passing of this law amounted to his death sentence, Gaius Gracchus committed suicide. The proposed reforms of Gaius Gracchus were overturned after his death, but the legacy of the Gracchi for the remainder of the history of the Roman Republic cannot be underestimated. First, their proposed laws showed the growing conflict between the rich and the poor in the Roman state. Second, the willingness on the part of prominent Senators to resort to violence to resolve matters set a dangerous precedent for the remainder of the Republic and fundamentally changed the nature of Roman politics.

Finally, the support that the Gracchi received from the Roman people, as well as the residents of Italian cities who were not full citizens, showed that the causes that the Gracchi adopted were not going to go away permanently after their death. The affair of the Gracchi was the first clear instance in the late Republic of Populares and Optimates in a violent conflict.

Forty years later, a conflict between two politicians, representing different sides in this debate, resulted in a full-fledged civil war. Even more shockingly, Marius was not even from Rome proper, but from the town of Arpinum, located sixty miles south of Rome. Marius benefited from the sense of frustration in Rome over the length of the war and the perceived corruption of the aristocratic leaders abroad. Once elected, he took over the command in the war and passed the most comprehensive reforms to the Roman military since the Romans switched to the manipular legion.

First, Marius abolished the property requirement for military service, allowing landless Romans to serve in the army for the first time in Roman history. A second and related change was the new commitment on the part of the Roman state to arm its troops and also pay them for service. Henceforth, the military became a profession, rather than a seasonal occupation for farmers. Finally, Marius changed the tactics of the legionary organization on the battlefield, changing the legion of maniples into a legion of cohorts. As a result of his victories, Marius had gained unprecedented popularity in Rome and was elected to five more successive consulships in — BCE.

While Marius began his military career fighting for Rome, though, he ended it by causing the worst civil war Rome had seen to that point. Marius, however, had another trick up his sleeve. Instead of going lightly into exile, however, Sulla gathered an army and marched on Rome—the first time in Roman history that a Roman general led a Roman army against Rome!

Sulla took over Rome, swiftly had himself declared commander of the war on Mithridates, and departed for the Black Sea. In 86 BCE, Marius was elected consul for the seventh and final time in his career then promptly died of natural causes, just seventeen days after taking office. The civil war that he started with Sulla, though, was still far from over. This time, he truly meant business. Declaring himself dictator for reforming the Roman constitution, Sulla ruled Rome as a dictator for the next three years. His reforms aimed to prevent the rise of another Marius so significantly curtailed the powers of the plebeian tribunes.

In addition, he established the proscriptions—a list of enemies of the state, whom anyone could kill on sight, and whose property was confiscated. While Caesar obviously survived the proscription, and went on to become a prominent politician himself, the confiscation of his property by Sulla ensured that he remained painfully strapped financially and in debt for the rest of his life.

Most historians of the Republic agree, however, that the Republican constitution never afterward reverted to its old state.

Republic City

The Republic after Sulla was a different Republic than before him. The civil war of Marius and Sulla showed the increasingly greater degree of competition in the Republic as well as the lengths to which some Roman politicians were willing to go to get power and hold on to it. This challenge by the newcomers to the old Roman political families was an especially bitter pill to swallow for some.

In 63 BCE, Lucius Sergius Catilina, a patrician who had unsuccessfully run for consulship and who was defeated that very year by another newcomer from Arpinum, Marcus Tullius Cicero, banded with other frustrated Senators to plan a conspiracy to assassinate the consuls and take over the state. The political careers of Marius and Sulla, as well as Catilina, show the increased level of competition in the late Republic and the ruthlessness with which some Roman politicians in the period attempted to gain the consulship.

In 60 BCE, however, a group of three politicians tried to achieve its goals by doing something atypical of Roman politicians who had largely only looked out for themselves: the three formed an alliance in order to help each other. Spectacularly, their alliance even transcended the usual division of Populares and Optimates, showing that, for these three men at least, the thirst for political power was more important than any other personal convictions.

By 60 BCE, however, both Crassus and Pompey felt frustrated with their political careers so joined forces with a relative newcomer to the world of politics, Gaius Julius Caesar. The three men formed their alliance, secret at first, an alliance which Cicero later dubbed the Triumvirate. Together, they lobbied to help each other rise again to the consulship and achieve desirable military commands. The alliance paid immediate dividends for Caesar, who was promptly elected consul for 59 BCE and was then awarded Gaul as his province for five years after the consulship.

A talented writer, as well as skilled general, Caesar made sure to publish an account of his Gallic campaigns in installments during his time in Gaul. His rising popularity was a source of frustration for the other two triumvirs. Finally, the already uneasy alliance disintegrated in 53 BCE. First, Julia died in childbirth, and her baby died with her. In the same year, Crassus was killed at the Battle of Carrhae, fighting the Parthians. With the death of both Julia and Crassus, no links were left connecting Caesar and Pompey; the two former family relations, albeit by marriage, swiftly became official enemies.

Late in 50 BCE, the Senate, under the leadership of Pompey, informed Caesar that his command had expired and demanded that he surrender his army. Caesar, however, refused to return to Rome as a private citizen, demanding to be allowed to stand for the consulship in absentia. When his demands were refused, on January 10th of 49 BCE, Caesar and his army crossed the Rubicon, a river which marked the border of his province.

By leaving his province with his army against the wishes of the Senate, Caesar committed an act of treason, as defined in Roman law; the civil war began. While his military actions on behalf of Rome were largely limited to Gaul, with a couple of forays into Britain, his civil war against Pompey and his allies took Caesar all over the Roman world from 49 to 45 BCE.

Victorious in the civil war against Pompey and his supporters, Caesar was faced with the challenging question of what to do next. Clearly, he was planning to hold on to power in some way. Based on previous history, there were two options available to him: the Marius model of rule, meaning election to successive consulships, and the Sulla model, meaning dictatorship.

This new title appears to have been the final straw for a group of about sixty senators who feared that Caesar aimed to make himself a king. But if the conspirators had thought that by assassinating Caesar they were going to restore the Republic, they turned out to be sorely mistaken. Since Caesar did not have legitimate sons who could inherit—Caesarion, his son with Cleopatra, was illegitimate—he adopted an heir in his will, a common Roman practice. Quickly, though, he showed political acumen, initially using an alliance with two much more experienced former allies of Caesar: Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

Marcus Antonius, who claimed Egypt, although it was not yet a Roman province, proceeded to marry Cleopatra and rule Egypt with her over the following decade. Ultimately, however, another civil war resulted between Antonius and Octavian, with the latter winning a decisive victory in the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. From that moment until his death in 14 CE, Octavian—soon to be named Augustus in 27 BCE, the name he subsequently used—ruled what henceforth was known as the Roman Empire, and is considered by modern historians of Rome to have been the first e mperor.

While modern historians refer to Augustus as the first emperor of Rome, that is not the title that he himself had, nor would he have said that he was inaugurating a new form of government in Rome. Rather, throughout his time in power, Augustus claimed to have restored the Roman Republic, and, with the exception of a few elected offices, he did not have any official position.

Our Broken Constitution | The New Yorker

How did he manage to rule the Roman Empire for over forty years without any official position? Some answers can be found in the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, an autobiography that Augustus himself composed in the year before he died and which he ordered to be posted on his Mausoleum in Rome, with copies also posted in all major cities throughout the Empire. Reflecting on his forty-year rule in this document, Augustus described himself as the first citizen, or princeps, of the Roman state, superior to others in his auctoritas. It is striking to consider that other than these honorary titles and positions, Augustus did not have an official position as a ruler.

Instead, he brilliantly created for himself new titles and powers, thoroughly grounded in previous, Republican tradition. In addition, he proved to be a master diplomat, who shared power with the Senate in a way beneficial to himself, and by all of these actions seamlessly married the entire Republican political structure with one-man rule. The question remains: when did the Roman Republic actually fall? Different historians have proposed several possible answers. One minority position is that the Republic had fallen with the dictatorship of Sulla, since it fundamentally altered the nature of the Republican government and permanently destabilized it.

Another possible answer is the assassination of Caesar in 44 BCE, since afterwards, the Republic was never quite the same as it had been before the civil war of Pompey and Caesar. Another possible answer is 27 BCE, when the Senate granted Octavian the title of Augustus, recognizing his albeit unofficial consolidation of power. Finally, yet another possible answer is the death of Augustus in 14 CE. Overall, all of these possible dates and events show the instability of the Roman state in the late first century BCE.

While the political structure of the Roman Republic in its final century of existence was becoming increasingly unstable, the period from the end of the Second Punic War on was actually one of increasing flourishing of entertainment culture and literary arts in Rome. Although much of Roman literary culture was based on Greek literature, the Romans adapted what they borrowed to make it distinctly their own.

Similarly, while Roman philosophy and rhetoric of the Republic were heavily based on their Greek counterparts, their writers thoroughly Romanized the concepts discussed, as well as the presentation. For instance, Cicero, a preeminent rhetorician and philosopher of the late Republic, adapted the model of the Socratic dialogue in several of his philosophical treatises to make dialogues between prominent Romans of the Middle Republic. While the late Republic was a period of growth for Roman literary arts, with much of the writing done by politicians, the age of Augustus saw an even greater flourishing of Roman literature.

The three most prominent poets of the Augustan age, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, all wrote poetry glorifying Augustan Rome. Clearly connecting the Roman to the Greek heroic tradition, the epic also includes a myth explaining the origins of the Punic Wars: during his travels, before he arrived in Italy, Aeneas was ship-wrecked and landed in Carthage. Dido, the queen of Carthage, fell in love with him and wanted him to stay with her, but the gods ordered Aeneas to sail on to Italy. After Aeneas abandoned her, Dido committed suicide and cursed the future Romans to be at war with her people.

The works of Horace and Ovid were more humorous at times, but they still included significant elements from early Roman myths. They thus served to showcase the pax deorum that caused Rome to flourish in the past and, again now, in the age of Augustus. Ovid appears to have pushed the envelope beyond acceptable limits, whether in his poetry or in his personal conduct. Therefore, Augustus exiled him in 8 CE to the city of Tomis on the Black Sea, where Ovid spent the remainder of his life writing mournful poetry and begging unsuccessfully to be recalled back to Rome. In addition to sponsoring literature, the age of Augustus was a time of building and rebuilding around Rome.

In his Res Gestae, Augustus includes a very long list of temples that he had restored or built. Among some new building projects that he undertook to stand as symbols of renewal and prosperity ordained by the gods themselves, none is as famous as the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, in Rome. The altar features a number of mythological scenes and processions of gods; it also integrates scenes of the imperial family, including Augustus himself making a sacrifice to the gods, while flanked by his grandsons Gaius and Lucius.

The message of these building projects, as well as the other arts that Augustus sponsored is, overall, simple: Augustus wanted to show that his rule was a new Golden Age of Roman history, a time when peace was restored and Rome flourished, truly blessed by the gods. The period from the consolidation of power by Augustus in 27 BCE to the death of the emperor Marcus Aurelius in CE was one of relative peace and prosperity throughout the Roman Empire.

For this reason, the Romans themselves referred to this time as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. During this period, the Empire became increasingly more of a smoothly run bureaucratic machine when commerce prospered, and the overall territory grew to its largest extent in the early second century CE. Of course, some of the Roman subjects did not feel quite as happy with this peace and what it brought to them. Finally, the period of the early Empire witnessed the rise of a new religion, Christianity. This new religion did not have a profound impact on the state yet at this point, but the seeds planted in this period allowed for fundamental changes to occur centuries later.


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  5. This is, after all, one of the marvels of history. It can take centuries to see the long-term impact of events that seem so small and insignificant at first. The historian Tacitus describes in detail the emotions in the Roman Senate upon the death of Augustus. Still, the question that all were pondering in 14 CE was: how do you pass on something that does not exist? After all, Augustus did not have any official position.

    The first succession was a test case to see if the imperial system of government would become the new normal for Rome or if Augustus would prove to have been an exception. Augustus himself seems to have been worried about appointing a successor for his entire time in power. Because of untimely deaths of all other possible candidates, Augustus eventually settled on adopting his stepson Tiberius Claudius Nero not to be confused with the later emperor Nero , son of his wife Livia from her first marriage.

    Over the final years of his life, Augustus gradually shared more of his unofficial powers with Tiberius, in order to smooth the process of succession. Tiberius, a decorated military general in his youth, appears in our sources as a sullen and possibly cruel individual, whose temperament made Augustus himself feel sorry for the Romans for leaving such a ruler in his stead—or so Suetonius tells us. He also appears to have been a rather reluctant emperor, who much preferred life out of the public eye. Finally, in 26 CE, Tiberius retired to Capri for the final eleven years of his rule.

    It is a testament to the spectacular bureaucratic system that was the Roman Empire that the eleven-year absence of the emperor was hardly felt, one exception being a foiled plot against Tiberius by his chief trusted advisor in Rome, Sejanus. Similarly to Augustus, Tiberius had a difficult time selecting a successor, as repeatedly, each relative who was identified as a candidate died an untimely death. While Caligula began his power with full support of both the people and the Senate, and with an unprecedented degree of popularity, he swiftly proved to be mentally unstable and bankrupted the state in his short rule of just under four years.

    In 41 CE, he was assassinated by three disgruntled officers in the Praetorian Guard, which ironically was the body formed by Augustus in order to protect the emperor. The biographer Suetonius reports that, while the confused Senate was meeting and planning to declare the restoration of the Roman Republic, the Praetorian Guard proclaimed as the next emperor Claudius, uncle of Caligula and the brother of Germanicus.

    While Claudius was a member of the imperial family, he was never considered a candidate for succession before. He had a speech impediment; as a result, Augustus considered him an embarrassment to the imperial family. Claudius proved to be a productive emperor, but his downfall appears to have been pretty women of bad character, as he repeatedly weathered plots against his life by first one wife and then the next. Finally, in 54 CE, Claudius died and was widely believed to have been poisoned by his wife, Agrippina the Younger.

    Since the cause, as Suetonius tells us, was mushrooms, a popular joke thereafter in Rome was that mushrooms were the food of the gods—a reference to the deification of most emperors after their death. Castren and H. Although Claudius had a biological son from an earlier marriage, that son was poisoned soon after his death. His successor instead became Nero, his stepson, who was only sixteen years old when he gained power.

    Showing the danger of inexperience for an emperor, Nero gradually alienated the Senate, the people, and the army over the course of his fourteen-year rule. He destroyed his own reputation by performing on stage—behavior that was considered disgraceful in Roman society. Furthermore, Nero is believed in 64 CE to have caused the great fire of Rome in order to free up space in the middle of the city for his ambitious new palace, the Domus Aurea, or Golden House.

    The revolt of Vindex ultimately proved to be the end of Nero, since Vindex convinced the governor of Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba, to join the rebellion and, furthermore, proclaim himself emperor. While the rebellion of Vindex was quickly squashed, and Vindex himself committed suicide, popular support for Galba grew just as quickly. His death marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. In particular, the year 69 CE became known as the year of the four emperors, as four emperors in succession came to power: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

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