The Benefits Of The Roman Republic

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Over nearly five hundred years Rome expanded from a humble city-state into the hegemon of the Mediterranean world. The Republic had to incorporate new and diverse peoples in a way that incentivized contributing to the state while maintaining the supremacy and profitability of the state. Put simply, the Roman state had to find a solution to the free-rider problem – the fact that rational self-interested individuals will naturally avoid the costs of group membership while enjoying its benefits. The Roman Republic attempted to address this problem by creating a political and social system where citizenship presented significant benefits and required and incentivized contributions to the state. This convergence of interests created a self-sustaining…show more content…
Plebeians were only offered full citizenship when it became clear that “the patricians constituted a small and shrinking minority, whose position became increasingly untenable as the plebeian elite harnessed wider social and economic grievances in support of their demand for political influence.” Similarly, full citizenship was only granted to the socii, allies who could trade and intermarry, following the Social War as the Roman state, “in order to ensure the loyalty of the rest, as also of the Latins…granted them citizenship.” Attempts to expand citizenship on moral grounds were met with violent resistance from the Roman center; Gaius Gracchus “though opposed by all persons of distinction...[proposed] giving the Italians equal suffrage rights with the citizens of Rome…consul Opimius…sent his…show more content…
The Republic accomplished this with a mixed constitution of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in the form of the consuls, Senate, and citizen assemblies respectively. This system diffused power preventing one element of government from becoming too powerful as to undermine the rights of citizens. As Polybius describes, “it was impossible…to pronounce with certainty whether the whole system was aristocratic, democratic, or monarchical…such being the power that each part has of hampering the other or cooperating…their union is adequate to all emergencies, so it impossible to find a better political system than this.” That said critics of the Republic would identify the failings of this system to maintain balance once put into practice. Prominent among these was that the aristocracy had de-facto control over the entirety of the state; the senatorial class set the agenda for the assemblies, monopolized the consulship, and controlled much of the citizenry through patronage networks. Even in the Century Assembly the wealthy controlled over half of the voting blocs. Nonetheless, this does not invalidate the Roman solution to the free-rider problem. Equality of influence was never a privilege that Roman citizens would have expected. Equally, aristocratic hegemony was a necessity for the free rider problem to be solved;

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