The Beginning of the Fall of the Roman Republic

As the gap between rich and poor widened, angry mobs began to riot.

The Wife was perusing a textbook entitled World History by Elisabeth Gaynor Ellis and Anthony Esler (2008, Prentice Hall), when she came across this piece about Rome, in a chapter called From Republic to Empire (p.157):

Conquests and control of busy trade routes brought incredible riches into Rome. Generals, officials, and traders amassed fortune from loot, taxes and commerce. A new class of wealthy Romans emerged. They built lavish mansions and filled them with luxuries imported from the east.

Wealthy families bought up huge estates, called latifundia. as the Romans conquered more and more lands, they forced people captured in war to work as slaves on the latifundia.

The widespread use of slave labor hurt small farmers, who were unable to produce food as cheaply as the latifundia could. The farmers’ problems were compounded when huge quantities of grain pouring in from the conquered lands drove down grain prices. Many farmers fell into debt and had to sell their land.

In despair, landless farmers flocked to Rome and other cities looking for jobs. There, they joined an already restless class of unemployed people. As the gap between rich and poor widened, angry mobs began to riot. In addition, the new wealth led to increased corruption. Greed and self-interest replaced virtues such as simplicity, hard work and duty, which had been so prized in the time of the early republic.

Thus endeth the reading.

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