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The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic


The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. After its founding in 509 BCE, it grew from an unremarkable Italian city-state to the dominant superpower of the Mediterranean world. Through it all, the Romans never allowed a single man to seize control of the state. Every year for four hundred years the consuls voluntarily handed power to their successors. It was a run of political self-denial unmatched in the history of the world. But then Rome exploded out of Italy and began to conquer a world filled with petty tyrants, barbarian chieftains, and despotic kings, and the very success of the Republic proved to be its undoing. The republican system was unable to cope with the vast empire Rome ruled. Almost as soon as they had conquered the Mediterranean, Rome became engulfed in violent political conflicts and civil wars that would destroy the Republic less than a century later.

The Storm Before the Storm tells the story of the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic--the story of the first generation that had to cope with the dangerous new political environment made possible by Rome's unrivaled domination over the known world. The tumultuous years from 133-80 BCE set the stage for the fall of the Republic as the Romans faced rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct, the privatization of the military, rampant corruption, endemic social and ethnic prejudice, battles over access to citizenship and voting rights, and a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it-a situation that draws many parallels to present-day America. And as we all know, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.