Despite enduring for nearly five centuries, the Roman Republic ended in a series of crises and wars that discredited the idea of republics in...

Despite enduring for nearly five centuries, the Roman Republic ended in a series of crises and wars that discredited the idea of republics in the West for centuries. In Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny (Basic Books, 2018), Edward J. Watts examines why Romans traded the liberty of political autonomy for the security of autocracy. As he explains, for all of its longevity the Roman Republic contained a number of inherent weaknesses. These emerged as Rome found itself in a series of wars in the 3rd century BC, which posed an unprecedented strain on republican institutions. In response, a new group of political outsiders emerged in response to the increasing demands of military service and the growing problem of economic inequality. Longstanding political norms eroded in the face of these challenges, with the men who did so rewarded rather than punished for their actions. Though successive leaders endeavored to maintain the Republic in some form, the longevity of both Octavian’s rule as emperor as well as that of his successor Tiberius ensured that when Octavian’s arrangements were first tested the Republic was by then gone from the living memory of most Romans, who appreciated the stability Octavian had brought.

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