Chapter Summary

There was, of course, one civilization that shared a high degree of closeness with the ancient Greeks: the Romans. Although they became a highly distinctive civilization on their own, there is no denying the influence of the Greeks. The Romans may have faced some of the same challenges as did the Greeks, but for some reason—perhaps their native Stoicism—the Romans were much better prepared to move forward and create the kind of world they wished to inhabit. Perhaps the Romans were cosmopolitan by nature? Perhaps the Romans were able to create the kind of world the Greeks had only dreamed about?

After expelling the last Etruscan king, the Romans attempted to build a republican form of government. Such a task was precipitated by social inequalities between patricians and plebeians. It was possible that the patricians could have subjugated their social inferiors, but instead they did something typically Roman—they accommodated them. In fact, this idea of accommodation is manifest throughout the Republic and offers at least one explanation for Rome's greatness. Rather than subject conquered peoples to their way of life—as Alexander had done—the Romans sought accommodation. And with accommodation came some form of citizenship. Upon this edifice, the strength and durability of Rome was perhaps insured.

By the first century B.C.E., and following the defeat of the Carthaginians and the Greeks, the republic faced its greatest challenge. Military generals, tired of dealing with members of the Senate, as well as the powerful equestrians, made their own bids for power by marching on Rome with their own armies. This pattern of aristocratic reaction ended when Julius Caesar proclaimed himself emperor for life. With his murder in 44 B.C.E., the first triumvirate appeared, only to be crushed by Octavian, Caesar's grand nephew, who soon became known as Augustus Caesar ("blessed leader").

Under Augustus, the Roman Republic was transformed into the Principate, an empire by any other name. Augustus was a smart man who tried to accommodate everyone, but only if that accommodation left him with absolute power, which it did. Although he died in 14 C.E., Augustus managed to lay the foundation for that more glorious period of Roman history—the Pax Romana. Of course, Augustus was a difficult leader to replace and despite the period of the Five Good Emperors (96-180), there was no one emperor who could match the strength or skill of Augustus. The Romans were, perhaps, aware of this and also had need, as did the Hellenistic Greeks, for therapies (Stoicism and Neoplatonism) as well as diversions (gladiatorial contests at the circus).

As is well known, mainly thanks to the works of Edward Gibbon, Rome eventually fell to Germanic invasions. The causes of that fall are varied and debatable. For Gibbon, the main point of contention was, not that Rome fell, but that it lasted so long. Although we may never arrive at the definite reason for Rome's collapse, a few things are certain: the Romans never determined a clear law of succession, and as a result, when times got tough, the Romans resorted to violence and palace intrigue.