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'The Gracchi Dream': How to make a more equal Republic without being murdered?

Joshuapooleanox

electoral asbestos
Location
Newcastle, innit
Pronouns
they/them, she/her
I've got a challenge for you all. The Roman Republic's systems of elections were either archaic or entirely based on wealth/birth. Much of the economy in the Late Republic was based on slave plantations gained through the conquest and subjugation of foreign lands. Mob violence began to become and more frequent after the Gracchi brothers, and eventually the system fell apart towards the midpoint of the 1st century BC.

My challenge to you is to figure out a way to establish four things:

1. A less stark division of wealth within the Roman population.
2. A far larger voting pool, potentially beyond Italy.
3. A reform to the electoral system leading to far greater plebeian participation.
4. The Republic is able to last as an institution as a result of the reforms.


So far, I'm going to guess that the Gracchi brothers, as mentioned previously, are the best solution here. My guess is more moderate reforms, but working harder to establish a reform minded faction within the Senate and other institutions so that others could build on their work like what happened later on. Both brothers were rather aggressive with their demands and then had people already established crushed them with due time. I've also seen a suggestion for a Roman loss in the First Servile War leading to a more revolutionary/non-electoral approach to creating a better Republic.

Maybe you feel that another figure later on might do better, say Clodius or Caesar, that's fine. I've been working on this idea with a friend for several reasons, seeing its impacts on ideas such as nationalism, monarchy, republicanism and more. So I really hope you all have fun with this.
 
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Joshuapooleanox

electoral asbestos
Location
Newcastle, innit
Pronouns
they/them, she/her
Another question worth bringing up is the question of Slavery. Now, my guess is that no Roman politician would ever even consider the abolition of Slavery. Even a Servile war might only result in the freeing of those specific slaves, rather than that of the entire slave population. Not to mention the difficulty of actually defeating the Roman army in this field. But if there's a way to do something with that I'd be curious to see what is proposed.

And if Slavery was either limited or prohibited, this would massively change Roman attitudes, potentially towards territorial expansion as well as the fundamental Roman system itself.
 
Extending the voting pool beyond the established members was highly contentious for and resisted by a majority of the noble-led Roman elite, as seen by their resistance to the quite reasonable proposals of Marcus Livius Drusus (grandfather of Augustus' wife Livia) in 93-92 BC to extend it to Rome's Italian 'allies'. (That is, the cities, towns and rural tribal-based regions in Italy which had officially 'joined' the Roman state by treaties of alliance with the city of Rome in the C4th and C3rd BC but did not have any rights for their citizens to vote in Roman elections. doing the latter would also mean admitting the personnel involved to the Roman 'tribes' of citizens, ie the legal groupings of male citizens through which the voters were registered and as members of which they physically voted in the city of Rome, one tribe at a time.) The allies were angry at their long-term exclusion from the vote and threatening revolt, and their members had also been excluded from getting any of the large publicly owned landed estates run by the Roman state though their menfolk were short of land to farm and Roman aristocrats were hoarding land ; the reforms would have to satisfy both these issues, and Drusus proposed a partial breakup and sale of the large public estates. A majority of the Senate blocked both matters, aided by street thugs rioting in Rome to disrupt public meetings and stop any voting meetings that the Senate might use, and Drusus was assassinated; inevitably a revolt by the allies followed (the 'Social War', from 'socii' ie 'allies'). Rome won the war only by promising land and votes to those rebels who defected , and then had to carry out Drusus' reforms to secure peace. The same resistance, and probably violence, would meet any similar plans to extend the franchise or sell off more land to the poorer citizens - and when the landless veterans of a large and successful army needed to be given land as a reward by their generals later in the century, the generals (eg Pompey) had difficulty securing senate votes for this and often had to secure it by threats or linking up to ambitious political rivals to force the issue.

Securing popular support by some such measures, though within not outside Italy, was one way of adding to the backing of either genuinely semi-democratic politicians (the 'populares' ) or those who needed support against rivals or had their Italy-wide armies to reward with land (eg Pompey and Caesar). Given the resistance of the rich in the Senate to it and the rising trend for violence, the best placed person to secure a legal measure for this was probably the hugely popular general Marius in the 90s or early 80s , as he had gained prestige and loyalty from the public by saving Rome from the invasions of S Gaul and N Italy by the Germanic tribes of Cimbri and Teutones in the late 100s and had won the N African war against king Jugurtha of Numidia earlier. He thus also had the support of large numbers of military veterans. His best chance was in the struggle of 88 BC against the hard-line nobles of the anti-democratic oligarchic faction led by his ultra-conservative ex-deputy Sulla, who was then consul and due to take charge of the army raised to fight king Mithridates of Pontus who had seized Asia Minor. In real life their violent confrontation in Rome's streets saw Marius' men, aided by the democratic but violent populist tribune Sulpicius, drive Sulla out of Rome but they missed a chance to kill him as he hid from the mob (in Marius' house) and escaped to the army HQ to get the army to back him and attack Rome. They stormed the city and Marius had to flee to N Africa to avoid being killed; after Sulla and his troops left to fight Mithridates he and his allies returned, took over Rome, and massacred the oligarchs. But Marius was too ailing and intent on a purge to initiate quick reforms and he soon died; his heirs Cinna and Octavius and Carbo then had to fight off the returning Sulla who won the civil war and shored up the old order. So if Sulla is killed in Rome and can't lead his army on it in 88, and Marius can take over the army as there is no alternative, he might institute reforms to cut the power of the Senate and physically kill its leading conservatives, or if he does have to flee and takes over later and it's left to Cinna and co. to run Rome they could defeat Sulla or Sulla be killed by the Pontic armies. Then there is a chance for a faction-led democratic, but dictatorial regime in Rome - though it will probably collapse into chaos given personal rivalries. it does not have a coherent system of govt planned to run a stable state, unlike Sulla and later Augustus did. In any case I don't see any of the contenders daring to tackle slavery, a 'given' to the Roman (and Greek) mindset.
 

Joshuapooleanox

electoral asbestos
Location
Newcastle, innit
Pronouns
they/them, she/her
Extending the voting pool beyond the established members was highly contentious for and resisted by a majority of the noble-led Roman elite, as seen by their resistance to the quite reasonable proposals of Marcus Livius Drusus (grandfather of Augustus' wife Livia) in 93-92 BC to extend it to Rome's Italian 'allies'. (That is, the cities, towns and rural tribal-based regions in Italy which had officially 'joined' the Roman state by treaties of alliance with the city of Rome in the C4th and C3rd BC but did not have any rights for their citizens to vote in Roman elections. doing the latter would also mean admitting the personnel involved to the Roman 'tribes' of citizens, ie the legal groupings of male citizens through which the voters were registered and as members of which they physically voted in the city of Rome, one tribe at a time.) The allies were angry at their long-term exclusion from the vote and threatening revolt, and their members had also been excluded from getting any of the large publicly owned landed estates run by the Roman state though their menfolk were short of land to farm and Roman aristocrats were hoarding land ; the reforms would have to satisfy both these issues, and Drusus proposed a partial breakup and sale of the large public estates. A majority of the Senate blocked both matters, aided by street thugs rioting in Rome to disrupt public meetings and stop any voting meetings that the Senate might use, and Drusus was assassinated; inevitably a revolt by the allies followed (the 'Social War', from 'socii' ie 'allies'). Rome won the war only by promising land and votes to those rebels who defected , and then had to carry out Drusus' reforms to secure peace. The same resistance, and probably violence, would meet any similar plans to extend the franchise or sell off more land to the poorer citizens - and when the landless veterans of a large and successful army needed to be given land as a reward by their generals later in the century, the generals (eg Pompey) had difficulty securing senate votes for this and often had to secure it by threats or linking up to ambitious political rivals to force the issue.

Securing popular support by some such measures, though within not outside Italy, was one way of adding to the backing of either genuinely semi-democratic politicians (the 'populares' ) or those who needed support against rivals or had their Italy-wide armies to reward with land (eg Pompey and Caesar). Given the resistance of the rich in the Senate to it and the rising trend for violence, the best placed person to secure a legal measure for this was probably the hugely popular general Marius in the 90s or early 80s , as he had gained prestige and loyalty from the public by saving Rome from the invasions of S Gaul and N Italy by the Germanic tribes of Cimbri and Teutones in the late 100s and had won the N African war against king Jugurtha of Numidia earlier. He thus also had the support of large numbers of military veterans. His best chance was in the struggle of 88 BC against the hard-line nobles of the anti-democratic oligarchic faction led by his ultra-conservative ex-deputy Sulla, who was then consul and due to take charge of the army raised to fight king Mithridates of Pontus who had seized Asia Minor. In real life their violent confrontation in Rome's streets saw Marius' men, aided by the democratic but violent populist tribune Sulpicius, drive Sulla out of Rome but they missed a chance to kill him as he hid from the mob (in Marius' house) and escaped to the army HQ to get the army to back him and attack Rome. They stormed the city and Marius had to flee to N Africa to avoid being killed; after Sulla and his troops left to fight Mithridates he and his allies returned, took over Rome, and massacred the oligarchs. But Marius was too ailing and intent on a purge to initiate quick reforms and he soon died; his heirs Cinna and Octavius and Carbo then had to fight off the returning Sulla who won the civil war and shored up the old order. So if Sulla is killed in Rome and can't lead his army on it in 88, and Marius can take over the army as there is no alternative, he might institute reforms to cut the power of the Senate and physically kill its leading conservatives, or if he does have to flee and takes over later and it's left to Cinna and co. to run Rome they could defeat Sulla or Sulla be killed by the Pontic armies. Then there is a chance for a faction-led democratic, but dictatorial regime in Rome - though it will probably collapse into chaos given personal rivalries. it does not have a coherent system of govt planned to run a stable state, unlike Sulla and later Augustus did. In any case I don't see any of the contenders daring to tackle slavery, a 'given' to the Roman (and Greek) mindset.
Did Marius have any specific plans or would he need to be influenced somehow in order to adopt more populares proposals?

Seeing a popular general smack down Sulla would probably be a great start to a new era of Republican politics, especially if he has a large set of reform ideas to help stabilise and democratise the republic a bit.
 
When Marius was leading Rome as consul for an unprecedented run of successive years in 107-100 BC (necessary and accepted by even the conservative aristocrats to keep him, as Rome's best general, in charge of the army while the wars with the invading Cimbri and Teutones went on) his main concern was getting public lands redistributed so that his soldiers could be given it when they retired. Reforming the lists of voters to admit the 'allies' was not an issue for him then, provided that the existing system and voters backed him up; nor was he prominent in the Roman 'liberal' support for giving the allies voting-rights and land as this issue gained pace in the mid-late 90s. Drusus, of an old established noble family (unlike Marius who was despised by many aristocrats as a 'new man' from the provinces, ie Arpinum SE of Rome,with no noble ancestors) was the chief organiser for the allies - and like the Gracchi he was an aristocrat who could not get his measures to help the poor and the politically excluded through the senate so he turned to being a 'popularis' and sought the office of tribune (elected by the whole voting public) to do this. Marius kept out of this campaign, but once those 'allies' who revolted had been suppressed by force in 90-89 - which he and his rival Sulla both helped to do - he was one of the Roman leaders who successfully pushed the Senate into extending the franchise and giving lands to them to keep them quiet.

Marius was by the point of the military confrontation with the conservatives (88) in his late 60s and driven by personal grudges as much as by principle, namely the fact that he as Rome's best general wanted to be put in command of the war against Mithridates of Pontus but the majority of the Senate were backing Sulla, who was consul in 88 so had the right to be given a top command in his year in office. (Sulla had formerly been Marius' protege in the war against king Jugurtha of Numidia in N Africa and Marius seems to have regarded him as ungrateful for M's help and as trying to push him out of the limelight, especially for harping on about the fact that it had been Sulla not his then boss Marius who actually captured Jugurtha.)

It was only when Sulla secured the command vs Mithridates that Marius linked up with the radical tribune Sulpicius, who was leading a mixture of principled 'populares' reformers and strong-arm thugs to try to get or force more radical laws on voting-rights and land-distribution through the public voters' Assembly. The two of them proposed to admit the new , 'allies' citizens not to just 1 or 2 of the existing legal 'tribes' of voters in the Assembly voting-system but divide them up amongst all of the tribes - which would mean their (pro-reformist ) influence would be larger as the votes were decided by who won the most tribes to back them. Hence this would improve Marius' chances of getting these measures through - and the measures would include transferring the command for the Mithridatic war to him.Probably the command meant more to Marius than the reforms - though he was well known as a supporter of the ordinary man (eg in land for his troops) and he had had a long-running feud with the conservatives so he would benefit from rebalancing the voting-system.

It is however significant that when he returned to Rome in 87 to seize power after his exile in N Africa, leading an impromptu 'army' he had raised of his veterans en route, the reformist cause (ie for measures to split the new 'allied' citizens across all the existing tribes) was led by his ally, the 'popularis' consul Cinna, not him; it was Cinna who had tried to force this measure through the assembly and senate, been defeated by the conservatives and their armed supporters, and fled Rome to gather troops and disgruntled 'allies' to attack it. Cinna (who also offered freedom to any slaves who joined him, in a move like the Unionists in the US Civil War) then asked Marius to return and help him, and M did so. When they took Rome Marius was more concerned with killing his enemies than with reform measures, and later historians (eg Plutarch a couple of centuries later) hint that Marius was by this point unhinged and physically declining; he relied on a bodyguard of thugs to protect him. He died a few months later, and it was left to Cinna and his allies to enact reforms ; though it he had been less exhausted (or traumatised by his narrow escape from Sulla's men as he fled in 88?) he might have been more politically astute and able to enact reforms. Like his wife's nephew Julius Caesar, Marius seems to have been more interested in seizing and holding power for his own safety than in managing a careful and 'consensual' rebalancing of the constitution so he looked less like a dictator; in the long run, Marius as a longer-term ruler in better health in the mid-late 80s is unlikely to have made much reform to the way that Rome was run or stopped the personal feuds of its elite. The same applies to other failed potential 'single rule' power-grabbers with an armed faction or troops behind them - Catiline, Clodius (another renegade aristocrat turned tribune) and Antony. A whole new system was needed - as Augustus more shrewdly reckoned.
 
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